November 19, 2008

Canadian Officials Vow To Protect Boreal Forest

Scientists said politicians have set what may be a powerful precedence in the battle against global warming by making a point to protect Canada's boreal forest.

Last year, 1,500 scientists from more than 50 countries called on politicians to protect the large swatch of trees.

Bigger than the Amazon and better than almost anywhere else on the planet at keeping climate-warming carbon out of the atmosphere, the boreal forest stretches across 1.4 billion acres from Newfoundland to Alaska.

"There's not a lot of these really big chunks of ecosystem left," said Stuart Pimm, a conservation biologist at Duke University, said in a joint interview on Tuesday with several environmental experts.

The large swath of trees and wetlands is the world's largest land-based storage space for carbon. It holds twice the amount of carbon per square yard as tropical forests because of its rich soil.

"So we understand that were we to destroy this, the consequences would be vast. The carbon implications alone are significant, especially at a time when 20 percent of global carbon emissions come from deforestation," Pimm added.

Pimm is a member of a team of 14 environmental experts yet to be announced which has been commissioned to monitor the protection of the boreal forest.

Only 10 percent of the forest is now protected, and much of the land is under pressure from corporate logging, mining and oil and gas operations, Steven Kallick of the Pew Environment Group said in the interview with Pimm and others.

In July, the government of Ontario agreed to strictly protect half of its boreal lands and to sustainably manage the other half, with no extraction of minerals or other natural resources allowed.

Last week, Quebec Premier Jean Charest, now campaigning for re-election, pledged to do the same if he wins. Canadian businesses also have endorsed the plan, and Kallick said there is a good chance most provincial governments will as well.

Scientists see boreal as the key to new protection opportunities in other areas such as western Amazon, Siberia, Congo and the Australian outback.

"As scientists, for decades ... we have targeted our efforts at saving the last remnants of things that have been pushed to the brink of total destruction," said Jeremy Kerr, a biogeographer at the University of Ottawa.

"Here ... we have massive intact ecosystems and we have advised policymakers that if they want to have a sustainable future, they have to protect those intact ecosystems, and they have actually started to do so."


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