Named after the Greek God of the North Wind, Boreas, Canada’s boreal forest extends from the Yukon Territory to Newfoundland and Labrador in a vast stretch of land more than 1000 kilometers wide. Covering over 33% of Canada’s land mass, it is home to two-thirds of Canada’s 140,000 diverse species of plants, wildlife, insects and microorganisms. Natural boreal forests include wetland areas which act as sponges to help purify water, prevent erosion and regulate flooding. The boreal’s wetland areas are home to more than 40% of North America’s duck population, and the forests as a whole are used by nearly half of all the birds in North America every year. The role of Canada’s boreal forests cannot be underestimated in stabilizing climate change. In the spring and summer when boreal trees are growing the most vigorously, worldwide levels of oxygen rise and worldwide levels of carbon dioxide fall.
Currently, the management of Canada’s boreal forests is largely the responsibility of the provinces, with the federal government owning only 5% of boreal forest land. Less than 8% of Canadian Boreal forests are protected from development. Logging and tar sands operations have made the boreal forests the location of the second fastest rate of deforestation on the planet behind the Amazon Rainforest Basin.
Extraction processes strip mine boreal forest land, and leave behind a series of toxic mines and tailings ponds. This contributes to habitat loss and fragmentation of wildlife populations, and native communities near oil sands operations have reported a high occurance of tumors and deformities on fish and other wildlife downstream from tar sands operations. As mentioned earlier, reclamation does not return land to its original state, and wildlife populations and ecosystems remain disturbed.