Industrial encroachment in North America's 1.5 billion-acre boreal forest could endanger billions of birds and other species. A new report calls for saving half of boreal forest acreage to protect the habitat for more than 300 migratory bird species. The northern landscape is beset with oil, gas, mining and other industrial hazards destined for a vast, pristine woodland.
Stretching from Alaska to Newfoundland, the boreal forest -- the circumpolar woods that circle the upper Northern Hemisphere -- provides habitat for up to 3 billion nesting and migratory birds, according to the report, "Boreal Birds Need Half: Maintaining North America's Bird Nursery and Why it Matters," released this week by the Boreal Songbird Initiative, Ducks Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited Canada.
More species have become threatened and endangered due to industrial encroachments into the birds' habitats. For example, Canada warblers and evening grosbeaks have both recently experienced close to 80 percent declines in numbers, says the report. The document outlines the economic and ecological importance of these species. For example, birding-related business generates some $100 billion per year in the U.S. and Canada alone, said Jeff Wells, associate scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the report's lead author.
While the boreal forest remains one of the largest intact forests on Earth, it is "also seen as the last great frontier for natural resource extraction," said Wells of the urgency to protect these areas.
Southern boreal forests have already been affected by oil and gas mining, forest product industries, hydropower, and roads and infrastructure.
Currently, Canada is considering usage policies that will affect the remaining intact 70 percent of the boreal area. "Decisions are being made today about what will happen over the next 100 years," said Wells.
In Canada, most land use decisions are made at the provincial or territorial level, said Wells, adding that hundreds of indigenous communities still live in remote boreal areas, where they rely on the land and water for their survival.
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