Canada's Boreal Region

The Wilderness Committee has worked on boreal forest research and protection for decades. We were inspired to take action because the boreal forest makes up over half of Canada, is threatened on multiple levels by numerous industrial activities such as the tar sands, and has many wildlife and plants that are declining. In response to these threats we opened the Boreal Research Station in northern Alberta in 1992. The wildlife research we conducted in partnership with the University of Alberta and Forestry Canada led to the creation of Alberta’s largest provincial park, the Caribou Mountains Wildland Park.

Our boreal studies also led us to conclude that scientific understanding of how boreal ecosystems function is in its infancy and that research on boreal forests is inadequate to justify massive extractive resource activity such as oil and gas, tar sands, mining and logging.  Recent studies have found that the carbon stored in our boreal forests is equivalent to more than 900 years of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Another study found that the boreal forest in Canada is worth 13.8 times more than the combined value of all resource extraction. We must use precaution when managing the boreal forest. Industrial activities must be ecologically justified, and protected areas be prioritized.

The Wilderness Committee continues to strive to unlock the mysteries of boreal forest ecology with cutting-edge exploratory and natural history research with the goal of helping identify protected area proposals. In 2009 the Wilderness Committee completed a survey of birds in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. This research inspired a unique publication called “Canada’s Threatened Bird Nursery; the Boreal Forest” in which we chronicle the collapse of many boreal bird populations and identify an area that should be a priority for protection called the Bird Nursery Conservation Area. We also recently produced a report chronicling the negative effects of the tar sands on climate and ecology, and tar sands mail-in opinion postcards addressed to the Canadian Prime Minster and American President Barack Obama.

The need for boreal forest protection goes beyond birds; many other plants and wildlife, including numerous endangered caribou herds rely on a healthy boreal forest. We have joined numerous other organizations in calling for the protection of 50% of the boreal forest, including areas encompassed by tar sands land holdings in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the East Shore Wilderness in Manitoba and Ontario.

Photo Credit: Garth Lenz

Google Map of Canada's Greater Boreal Region

Boreal Forest (core) is shown in green, Taiga (stunted boreal northern transitional forest, transition to treeless arctic tundra) is shown in orange, Aspen Parkland (southwestern boreal transitional forest, transition to prairie grassland) is shown in yellow, Great Lakes Forest (southeastern boreal transitional forest, transition to deciduous forest) is shown in purple. At least 50% of the Boreal Forest core is proposed for protection. Note that the boundaries are at a coarse scale and are not very accurate if you zoom in too much.

View Canada's Greater Boreal Region in a larger map

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Recent Developments

15 hours 55 min ago

During a recent trip to the movie theatre, I gained some unexpected insight into the way oil lobbyists want us to view tar sands oil extraction in Alberta. Before the movie, I was subjected to an advertisement which sought to convince me that the tar sands was something to be proud of – a true Canadian enterprise.

In reality, digging up the boreal forest for one of the dirtiest fossil fuels in the world is something that's opposed by a growing number of Canadians. And contrary to popular belief, the tar sands industry is not all that important to our economy.

7 weeks 25 min ago

The benefits of new government initiatives in the North

March 6, 2014

Manitobans don’t always think of polar bears and beluga whales when they think of their province. But for visitors from around the world, polar bears and beluga whales are major attractions that we are increasingly known for. Churchill is the pre-eminent place for tourists to watch belugas and bears, and take in the tundra, subarctic conditions.

13 weeks 2 days ago

January 2014

In Manitoba’s North, the Bushline and Bayline communities rely on the Hudson Bay railway for access to the outside world. Omnitrax, the company that owns the railway, wants to begin putting these communities and the lands and waters of the North at risk by shipping crude oil up this dangerous rail line.

Take Action

Write a Letter to Save The Boreal

In our newspaper Canada's Threatened Bird Nursery: The Boreal Forest we outline a bold plan to save not just the Boreal's three billion song birds, which are in dramatic decline, but also one of the most important carbon sinks in the hemisphere.

Now we need your help to make this vision a reality. Please take a few minutes to write a letter to the Prime Minister and to your Premier telling them how you feel about protecting 50% of the Boreal starting with the area mapped on Page 2 of the paper as the "Bird Nursery Conservation Area".

Help Stop the Manitoba "Peat Rush"

Manitoba is suffering from a “peat rush” right now, with companies currently trying to get approval to strip mine thousands of hectares of boreal lowlands to harvest peat moss. Peatlands, however, are an important part of a healthy Manitoba environment.

Peatlands, which are all wetlands, are natural filters that provide and store clean, clear fresh water. Peat lowlands also provide important habitat for unique plant species like the carnivorous pitcher plant (right), as well as moose. But the most significant benefit of peatlands is that they store vast amounts of carbon, which helps mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Mining peat will reduce or eliminate all of these ecological benefits.

Please write to the Minister for Conservation and Water Stewardship, and let him know your opinion on this important public land issue.

Write your letter today!

No Crude Oil Shipments Through Churchill, Manitoba!

Write a letter now!

We need you to raise your voice against a terrible plan to ship crude oil through northern Manitoba communities to the Port of Churchill, and then by tanker through Hudson Bay. It’s a terrible idea that would put this fragile ecological area at risk!

Most people only know Churchill as the place to see polar bears and beluga whales; in fact, it’s the best place in the world to see them. Omnitrax, the company that owns the port and railway, plans to put those polar bears and belugas in jeopardy by shipping crude oil through this region.

We’ve already documented many aspects of this plan that simply won’t work. You can read about the area’s lack of oil spill containment equipment on our blog post here, and even see a government video of cleanup equipment failing in icy northern waters. You can read about how dangerous this rail line is in this blog post, which chronicles four separate derailments and accidents that occurred on this rail line while I was travelling to and from Churchill in the fall of 2013.

For some of the remote communities along the rail line, this single railway is their only access to the outside world – and to each other. How can oil spill response equipment be transported into these communities, when the only rail line has an accident on it? How do you evacuate people when there is no road into these communities? How do we safeguard the population, the wildlife, and the lands and waters that provide for them, when the only access – the rail line – is blocked by a train derailment?

Finally, Hudson Bay itself has no crude oil being shipped through it right now. We do not need to put Hudson Bay at risk. Nunavut, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec will all share the risk if crude oil is transported through Hudson Bay. This plan does not need to happen!

Please use this letter-writing tool to contact federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, and voice your opinion today! Share this information with your family, friends and neighbours – the more people who speak up, the better.

We must ban crude oil shipments through Hudson Bay to protect marine ecosystems, to protect the fragile northern ecology, and to protect the Bushline and Bayline communities – and the territories they rely on to thrive.

Click here to write to the Minister of Transport today.                      


Photo: The rail line heading into the Port of Churchill, Manitoba (Eric Reder).

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