By Stephanie Poff
|Photo : Jacques Pelletier, member de la club photographie de la FCF|
If I told you 2011 is the International Year of the Forest, would it make you look at the trees outside your window any differently? The trouble with celebrating a year like this is that we often don’t know how to embrace the cause (aside from actually hugging a tree).
It’s hard to know the true value of Canadian forests even when you find yourself in one, beautiful yes, but its benefits go far beyond beauty. How about for a moment I take you to Canada’s tremendous sprawling Boreal forest through the eyes of Canada’s songbirds? Picture century-old spruce trees gently swaying, sunlight peeking through branches and peppering the ground, the smell of sweet pine needles and the sound of hundreds of songbirds singing to one another.
Flight across Canada
The boreal forest stretches from the northern edge of Alaska, across western Canada, down through most of Ontario and Quebec and all the way to the east coast, think of it like a backwards check mark. Covering more than 1.5 billion acres, the boreal is home to many trees such as spruce, pines, fir and aspens that provide summer and year-long habitat to all kinds of species.
Actually, every 2.5 square kilometres of the boreal can support as many as 500 pairs of migratory birds! That’s extremely close quarters if you ask me but just imagine the chirping and singing you’d hear in that square mile. This mostly unspoiled ecosystem is one of the largest remaining on Earth.
Of the more than 300 species of birds in the boreal, roughly 30 per cent are North America’s land birds, 40 per cent are waterfowl and 30 percent are shorebirds that nest in the wetlands of the boreal forest. Speaking of which, did you know the boreal is packed full of lakes, ponds, rivers, and other wetlands too? So many rich and diverse places for the three billion – yes billion – warblers, thrushes, sparrows, flycatchers, hawks and other birds to live.
The biggest threat to these birds is the continuing development of resource extraction like logging and oil and gas in the boreal forest. But how can we keep so many species from feeling the effects of the habitat degradation taking place? The trouble is that we can’t. Migration is a major activity in the boreal forest and it’s near impossible to re-route species from the area being tapped for resources, especially the many migratory species in the boreal.
For example, the lesser scaup, a North American diving duck, has experienced a 70 per cent decline in population over the past 50 years. It sees its migration pass through the section of the boreal that is under development from the oil sands. This adds to the risks already posed to the lesser scaup by a range of factors including: degraded habitat in important migration, wintering and breeding areas, invasive species, human disturbances and more. The olive-sided flycatcher has also had one if its largest declines seen in the past 40 years. Some attribute this decline to the fact that this flycatcher depends on airborne insects during its spring migration. However, due to warmer temperatures insects in the boreal are hatching earlier than usual and there are less airborne bugs during the flycatcher’s migration. Other species such as the black-throated warbler and the evening grosbeak are at continued risk of population decline due to habitat loss.
The Bright Side
It’s clear the changes to habitat are affecting wildlife in the boreal. CWF is currently working on a conservation initiative in the western boreal forest that will examine the future impacts of development and the effect this will have on species such as songbirds. It is our hope to find a balance between the best practices of development and wildlife conservation.