Canada contains more forested area than nearly any other country in the world, and these lush boreal forests are central to Canada’s culture, environment, and economy. The Canadian boreal forest stretches from the Atlantic coast all the way to British Columbia and is the largest intact forest left in the world. Forests provide habitat for many species as well as natural resources that benefit Canadians economically, socially, and environmentally. Over 600 Indigenous communities call the boreal forest their home, and their lives are inextricably tied to this land and its resources. From the environmental aspect, the boreal stores vast amounts of carbon, absorbing it out of the atmosphere and depositing into the soil. At least 12 percent of the world’s terrestrial carbon stock is stored in Canada’s boreal forest, making it a key player in the fight against climate change.
The trees in the forests provide ecosystem services such as the preservation of soils. Plants also have the ability to filter pollutants from both air and water, serving as natural cleansers. From an economic standpoint, the forest industry provides jobs and incomes, and this is true especially among rural and Indigenous communities. In 2017, the industry accounted for over 300,000 jobs, ensuring the economic sustainability of rural communities, which then benefit local economies. When people think of forestry, the first product that comes to mind is timber, but the forest has much more to offer! Non-timber products, including forest-based foods such as maple syrup, blueberries, mushrooms, and game meat, contribute significantly to many rural economies.
In spite of all its benefits, the Canadian boreal forest is facing numerous threats. Industries such as oil and mining seek to exploit the boreal, but the biggest culprit is logging. While the logging industry provides economic benefits to Canadians, doing so in excess without concern for the environment will prove detrimental. Centuries-old trees become throwaway commodities such as toilet paper and paper towels. Logging tends to happen in intact forests at the expense of Indigenous peoples and species like the boreal caribou. Caribou are known as an indicator species, meaning that the health of their populations reflects the health of the forest. The loss of intact forest endangers other species including the Canada lynx and billions of migratory songbirds.
It’s not too late to take action, however. One of the most impactful actions to take is to empower Indigenous peoples to manage their land and establish Indigenous-led protected areas. Time and again, Indigenous peoples around the world have proven that they are the best stewards of their environment.