Fighting to protect bird habitat in North America’s boreal forest

Eilís QuinnEye on the Arctic

Billions of birds are returning from the South to North American’s boreal forests where they’ll be nesting this spring.

But many researchers are worried about threats to these birds’ habitats.

Everything from roads and railways to commercial forestry and energy projects is having an impact on the environment in the southern boreal forest.

And as mining projects increasingly establish in the North, this environmental foot print is growing.

Now, a report titled "Boreal Birds Need Half: Maintaining North America's Bird Nursery and Why it Matters," by Ducks Unlimited and the Boreal Songbird Initiative, is calling for at least 50 percent of the boreal forest to be protected from industrial development.

“Modern conservation science is now telling us that if we really want to maintain a whole suite of conversation values including an abundance of diversity of wildlife, in this case birds, but also caribou, bears or other species and ecosystem services like clean water, clean air, carbon sequestration,  you need to protect at least 50 percent of large landscapes free from large-scale industrial development,”  says Jeff Wells, the science and policy director at the Boreal Songbird Initiative. ”So that’s one of our key recommendations.”

Declining bird populations

The Canada warbler and the Olive-sided Flycatcher are two bird species that are on Canada’s  threatened list. Their populations have declined by at least 70 percent over the last 30 to 40 years. While many reasons play into the declining bird populations, in many cases, human activity is playing an ever increasing role.

“Probably the industrial footprint in the southern boreal and the effects of climate change in the more northern reaches of the boreal are the two biggest factors right now that are affecting birds,” Wells says.

Other recommendations in the report include using sustainable practices in areas already open to industrial development and having local Inuit and First Nations communities give informed consent to activity going on in their lands.

“We really think there’s a strong movement forward towards understanding and embracing these goals,” Wells said. “I think it’s just a matter of time and education as more  leaders and more of the public understand what is necessary to maintain a resource that all of us have come to expect will always be there. ”

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.