Red Fox Glen Gaffney

A Globally Significant Ecosystem


Bald eagle

Canada's boreal forest is a globally important ecosystem that contains vast expanses of woodlands that are rich in wildlife and that shelter rivers and lakes with clear, clean waters. Thirty percent of it is covered by wetlands, consisting of bogs, fens, marshes, an estimated 1.5 million lakes, and some of the country's largest river systems. Black spruce and jack pine dominate the boreal forest. Other species, including tamarack, balsam fir, white birch and poplar, are also found. The boreal forest is a haven for billions of migratory bird species and for the continent's largest populations of winter-adapted mammals: wolves, caribou, wolverines, lynx, and moose.

In Ontario, the boreal forest makes up a large part of the province. North of the French River, almost two-thirds of Ontario's landmass of 1.1 million square kilometres is boreal forest. Ontario is the "heart" of the boreal forest region in Canada -- an essential east-west connector across the continent. Together, Ontario and Manitoba's northern boreal forests make up the largest intact boreal region left in Canada. Ontarians are extremely fortunate to have such a large expanse of so-called "frontier" forests - places where the impact of industrial development remains relatively light. Few such places remain - parts of the Amazon rainforest, Russia's taiga forest, and Canada's boreal forest.

The boreal forest is characterized by its dependence on disturbance. Frequent wildfires and outbreaks of defoliating insects renew huge swathes of the landscape. The result is a remarkably varied patchwork of habitats. Dense carpets of new growth mix with older stands of black spruce and fir laced with mazes of grey-green lichen-covered clearings. There are pockets of aspen and birch, jack pine ridges, expansive open mats of bright green and yellow muskeg, wavy-lined sting bogs, beaver ponds, meadows, marshes and creeks, rivers and lakes of every size and description.

The boreal forest is the single most important breeding ground for birds in Canada. It is estimated that 300 species and 2 billion individual birds breed in the boreal region before migrating south. Because Ontario contains the heart of the nation's boreal forest, this area can be described as Ontario's Songbird Nursery.

Canada's boreal forest is home to:

  • 1.6 billion land birds, including songbirds
  • 7 million shorebirds
  • 14 million waterfowl

There are two types of boreal forest in Ontario. The southern boreal forest is already developed with extensive road networks, cities and towns, and industrial infrastructure, including lumber millsmines and hydro-electric dams. North of an invisible line at around 51 degrees latitude, the roads end, the logging stops and the rivers flow free. This is the northern boreal forest and it has been either officially or practically off-limits to must industrial development – until now.

Development is quickly shifting north, and could bring with it extinction for species at risk and massive destruction of songbird habitat. There are already 4,400 mineral claims staked in the north and plans for roads, hydro trans-mission lines, logging, and open pit mines.

It's not too late! We have a chance to ensure that the wilds of the northern boreal forests remain healthy and productive for the billions of birds that depend on them.

Find out more about Ontario Nature's work to conserve the boreal forest.

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