Media Release


The time is now to protect the songbirds of Ontario's boreal forest

You might be surprised to hear that the beautiful little birds cheerfully singing in your neighbourhood every spring nest far to the north in Ontario's boreal forest.

The boreal forest is an incredibly important ecosystem that contains vast woodlands rich in wildlife, and shelters many rivers and lakes with clear, clean waters. This haven is also the single most important breeding ground for birds in North America.

This globally significant forest is also one of our best defences against global warming as it absorbs and stores millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas. The boreal forest, provides us with these and other numerous benefits such as cleaning our air and water, and it does all of this for free. If we act now to protect the boreal forest we'll ensure that these incredibly important benefits continue to flow to current and future generations.

The boreal forest is the single most important breeding ground for birds in North America. Approximately 300 species and 2 billion individual birds breed there before migrating south. Lying at the heart of Canada's boreal region, Ontario's boreal forests form an enormous part of this songbird nursery. As you watch the musical visitors in your backyard this year, remember that their survival depends on a healthy, intact boreal forest.

The southern parts of Ontario's boreal forest (from north of the Great Lakes up to places like Red Lake, Armstrong, Hearst and Kapuskasing) have been altered by industrial development - especially logging - and the road network that accompanies it. Forestry practices, mining and hydroelectric development have had huge impacts on natural ecosystems, leaving the region almost devoid of sensitive boreal species like woodland caribou and wolverine. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of songbird nests have been destroyed as trees are cut to feed the demand for forestry products. These birds literally are some of our best "canaries in the coal mine¯," with some species showing worrying signs of decline due to changes in the boreal forest.

Recently released reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the North American Free Trade Act Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC) show that the destruction of Ontario's boreal forest is being ignored by decision-makers at the same time as it is having dramatic impacts on the health of the forest and the songbirds that depend on it. The CEC found that clearcutting in Ontario has led to the destruction of more than 45,000 migratory bird nests in 2001 alone. Its report suggests that the Ontario government has allowed logging companies to destroy migratory bird nests in the boreal forest in violation of the Migratory Bird Convention Act.

Until recently, Ontario's more northerly boreal forest has remained largely free from large-scale industrial activities and roads. Now, industrial activity is starting to move into this sensitive landscape. The frontier of development is quickly shifting north, and could bring with it extinction for plants and animals at risk and the devastation of songbird habitat. There are already 4,400 mineral claims staked in the north and plans exist for roads, hydro trans-mission lines, more logging, and open pit mines.

Premier McGuinty made a commendable promise during the last provincial election to protect Ontario's boreal forest. He said he would carefully plan so that the values and benefits of the northern boreal region are protected before decisions are made about where and how to develop. Heading into the October provincial election, Mr. McGuinty has a tremendous, and unique, opportunity to demonstrate that his government truly is "green¯". Protecting the boreal forest would also position the government and the province of Ontario as leaders in defending against the consequences of climate change.

But this conservation opportunity has not been acted on yet and could already be considered a "broken promise"¯. Premier McGuinty has been in office for almost four years and has not protected one hectare of boreal forest during that time. At the same time, he has approved a new open pit diamond mine that will cause negative impacts on a huge area of a currently intact boreal landscape. The time is now for the government to fulfill its promise of protecting the boreal forest before proposed development endangers its ability to trap and store carbon and to provide habitat for billions of songbirds and many other plants and animals. Let's take advantage of this golden opportunity to ensure we can hear the melodies of songbirds for generations to come.

Jen Baker is the boreal campaign coordinator with Ontario Nature.


Jennifer Baker
Boreal Campaign Coordinator
Ontario Nature
416-444-8419, ext. 224

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Caribou can't survive without a place to live. Tell industry and government that you expect them to take action to secure a brighter future for this species at risk.

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