Boreal Forest 101: Five Facts

Boreal forest oil sands

Canada’s boreal forest Is the world's largest intact forest ecosystem. It stretches 5,000 kilometres from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean, covering almost one third of the country. In fact, it’s even bigger than the Amazon rain forest! Many Canadians live and work in the boreal forest, including 70 percent of indigenous people for whom the forest has a special cultural and economic significance. 

1.    Canada’s boreal forest is much more than trees. While it does contain diverse tree species such as birch, fir, larch, pine, poplar and spruce, interspersed among them are thousands of lakes rivers and wetlands. This unique landscape teems with wildlife, providing food, habitat, nesting and spawning sites for a wide range of mammals, birds, amphibians, fish and insects. Half of all bird species in Canada call the wetlands home – 150 species in total! That’s why all COSIA members have active and ongoing wildlife monitoring programs to preserve this natural ecosystem and ensure healthy, sustainable wildlife populations.

2.    Canada’s boreal forest contains 25 percent of the world's wetlands. Wetlands around the world play a critical role in capturing and storing huge quantities of greenhouse gases that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. Canadian wetlands (inside and outside of the boreal forest) store 147-billion tonnes of carbon – more than 900 times the annual carbon dioxide emissions from all industrial activity in Canada, according to the Saskatchewan Research Council. It’s one reason why COSIA members work hard to preserve and protect wetlands and the surrounding boreal forest.

3.    Not only do Canadian wetlands hold some of the largest natural banks of carbon on Earth, they also purify water by filtering out contaminants and reduce the impacts of drought or flood by storing and absorbing water. Understanding the science behind natural cycles like these is one reason why COSIA has dozens of different projects underway to investigate innovative ways to conserve and protect the boreal forest in the oil sands region.

4.    The boreal forest is old, but it’s not a pristine ancient wilderness. Like other forests, it is continually renewed through natural disturbances, such as forest fires, insect infestation and trees uprooted by wind. These disturbances remove old trees and allow new ones to grow. COSIA members are required by law to return all disturbed sites to a self sustaining boreal forest. They work to integrate reclaimed oil sands sites into the surrounding landscape. Over the years, they have become world leaders in developing innovative reclamation techniques.

5.    Contrary to a widespread myth, oil sands mining has impacted just a tiny fraction of the boreal forest, much less than one per cent. Since 1967, only 0.03 percent of Canada’s boreal forest has been disturbed by oil sands operations, according to Natural Resources Canada. Plans to restore a mine site to a natural habitat begin in the facility planning stages, even before the mine is built! These plans are approved, and implementation regularly monitored by the Alberta government.

Interested in reading more stories like these? Check out:
•    What is biodiversity and why does it matter?  
•    Why do we want to conserve peatlands? 
•    Toads with backpacks: what’s going on? 

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Innovators, take up our land challenge! COSIA is calling on innovators to submit new research or potential technologies that would enable in situ (in place) oil sands operators to conduct below-ground exploration with zero or very limited impact to the surface. Find out more

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