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Natural Boreal Forest Habitat Shrinking

Study highlights need for conservation in advance of development to avoid wildlife extinctions

January 30 , 2008 - Edmonton

A business-as-usual approach to development in the Mackenzie Basin watershed may profoundly alter the region’s forest landscapes and risk regional extinction of woodland caribou and sharp declines in bird populations.  But, if conservation is increased as recommended by the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, a study released today finds the potential to protect wildlife in most regions while still allowing for economic growth from resource development.

Today's study, “Seeking a Balance,” evaluated the oil sands region of northeastern Alberta where extensive industrial development is already scheduled, compared with the relatively undeveloped Dehcho territory of the southern Northwest Territories.  The study was released by the Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI) in conjunction with researchers from the University of Alberta and Forem Technologies.

Computer simulations concluded that growing industrial disturbance will fragment intact areas of older forest if development continues according to present plans.  These changes would eliminate woodland caribou populations in the region and would reduce the abundance of songbirds, such as a predicted 60% decline in the black-throated green warbler population.

“This study demonstrates the profound impacts of industrial development in the Mackenzie Basin ecosystem,” said Larry Innes, Executive Director of CBI. “It is increasingly important to plan and strike a balance with conservation efforts before development takes place.”

Proposed conservation strategies modeled in the Alberta study area predicted substantially reduced declines in songbird populations by limiting the amount of old forest logged and the size of industrial disturbance.  However, doubling protected areas from 3 to 6% of the studied region did not reverse declines in woodland caribou populations under the model.  This research demonstrates that strategies for conservation within the oil sands region need to set more ambitious goals for increasing the protected area networks across northeastern Alberta.

The report also models the impacts of implementing the proposed Dehcho Land Use Plan, which prescribes protection for approximately half of the Dehcho region and sustainable management over the remaining landscape. This scenario provided the researchers with a “conservation first” simulation for the southern NWT.  The simulation predicted that woodland caribou declines could be avoided and songbird declines reduced.  This finding confirms the importance of work by the federal, territorial, and First Nations governments to establish a system of protected areas in advance of proposed large scale development such as the Mackenzie gas pipeline. Last November, the governments announced plans to protect over 10 million hectares in three regions of the NWT, one of the largest conservation set asides in North American history.

“Partnership between governments, First Nations, conservation groups, industry and science is necessary to ensure that future generations can enjoy Canada’s Boreal Forest,” added Innes.

This is the first time the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework has been tested through applied modeling to a large region of Canada's Boreal Forest. The Boreal Framework recommends that at least half of Canada’s Boreal Forest be set aside in large protected areas with cutting edge sustainable development in the remainder of the landscape. Currently, 10% of Canada’s Boreal Forest is protected.  The Framework is supported by over 1,500 scientists and a diverse coalition of conservation, First Nations, and industry groups.

The Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI) works with First Nations, governments, conservation organizations, industry leaders and others to link science, policy and conservation solutions across Canada’s Boreal Forest.  CBI works to advance the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework as a balanced vision for conservation and sustainable development. 


Read the report (PDF - 5MB)

For further information please contact:

Katherine Lim

Communications Coordinator

Canadian Boreal Initiative

T: 613.230.4739 x228