Wildlife

Reports suggest protecting songbirds means preserving the boreal forest

  • May 15, 2014
  • 374 words
  • 2 minutes
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Environmentalists are hoping two recent reports will instigate a major push to protect Canada’s boreal forests.

A couple of international conservation groups have released reports suggesting half of the 3 million square kilometres of untouched land between the Yukon and Newfoundland needs to be preserved to protect the breeding grounds of about 300 species of songbirds.

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Ninety-eight per cent of palm warblers breed in the boreal forest. (Photo: © Jeff Nadler)

Unlike seabirds, which live in very dense colonies, songbirds spread themselves out more evenly across their habitat. Part of the reason for this is because a songbird’s habitat is always changing due to factors such as growth, forest fires or windstorms.

“A really large area is necessary for them to track the changing dynamics of their habitat over that space,” says Jeff Wells, a senior scientist at the Boreal Songbird Initiative.

Currently, about 70 per cent of Canada’s boreal forest is untouched. As one of the reports notes, this is an unprecedented opportunity to protect one of the world’s last remaining northern ecosystems that support healthy populations of many animals that are extinct or endangered in other regions. For instance, only seven per cent of the Canada warbler’s boreal habitat is protected, though its overall population has declined by 80 per cent.

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Boreal wetlands in the Northwest Territories (Photo: © Ducks Unlimited)

According to Wells, both Ontario and Quebec governments have already committed to protecting half of their land and many aboriginal communities are calling for protection of more than that.

“It’s moving pretty quickly across the Canadian boreal region and we think it’s very likely to continue to be taken up,” Wells says.

Bird watchers can also help by writing letters to industry and government leaders if they want the birds to be protected.

Right now, all the cities in the U.S. and southern Canada are being flooded with billions of songbirds heading north to the boreal forest, and even the little bit of thrill urbanites share when making a connection with these migrants can make a difference.

“You might not be able to go to this globally unique place, but the idea that you’re connected to a creature that is going there is really exciting,” Wells says.

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