Canada's Boreal Houses World's Largest Water Source

A first of its kind report by the Pew Environment Group reveals that Canada's boreal, the world's largest intact forest and on-land carbon storehouse, contains more unfrozen freshwater than any other ecosystem. As United Nations' International Year of Forests and World Water Day coincide, world leaders are grappling with water scarcity and pollution – and scientists are calling boreal protection a top global priority.

A Forest of Blue: Canada's Boreal Forest, the World's Waterkeeper compiles decades of research and finds that the boreal

  • contains 25 percent of the planet's wetlands, millions of pristine lakes, and thousands of free-flowing rivers, totaling more than 197 million acres of surface freshwater;
  • provides an estimated $700 billion value annually as a buffer against climate change and food and water shortages;
  • offers the last refuges for many of the world's sea-run migratory fish, including half of the remaining populations of North American Atlantic salmon;
  • maintains freshwater flows critical to forming Arctic sea ice, which cools the atmosphere and supports marine life, from sea algae to polar bears; and,
  • stores more than 400 trillion pounds of carbon in lakes and river delta sediment, peatlands and wetlands—more than any other terrestrial source in the world.

The world needs to move quickly to preserve precious water resources," said University of Alberta Ecologist David Schindler, recipient of the first Stockholm Water Prize (1991) and a member of the International Boreal Conservation Science Panel, which reviewed the report. "Enacting sound conservation policy to protect Canada's free-flowing waters and wetlands in the boreal is not just a local issue; it is one of global importance."

Canada's boreal forest is increasingly impacted by large-scale industrial activities. Global demand for resources from the boreal is on the rise, with more than half of total exports of forest products, oil, natural gas and hydropower going to the United States.

"At a time when clean water supplies are disappearing, the vast reserves in Canada's boreal are increasingly important to protect," said Steve Kallick, director of the Pew Environment Group's International Boreal Conservation Campaign. "Canadian provinces and First Nations have already made major strides defending the integrity of the vast lakes, rivers and wetlands in the forest, but they need to do more to guarantee that Canada's water stays pure and abundant, watershed by watershed."

The Pew Environment Group has worked with First Nations, federal, provincial and territorial governments as well as other conservation groups to protect the boreal, resulting in 185 million acres set aside from development to date, including key wetland and river areas. That total represents more than 12 percent of the 1.2 billion-acre forest.

The report concludes that governments should protect entire river, lake and wetland ecosystems by preserving intact 50 percent of Canada's boreal forest requiring sustainable practices for industrial activities taking place in the remaining areas.

"In conservation, so much of the discussion is centered on scarcity and loss," said Dr. Stuart Pimm, Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology at Duke University and IBCSP member. "It is imperative that the world recognize and protect the fresh water that is left. Canada has an extraordinary opportunity that does not exist anywhere else in the world to keep its aquatic ecosystems intact and to create a positive ripple effect on the land, animals, birds and people who depend on these resources."

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