A team of international scientists has found that the world’s last remaining “pristine” forest is under increasing threat.
The boreal forest stretches across large portions of Canada, Russia and other northern countries.
Researchers from Memorial University of Newfoundland, University of Adelaide in Australia and the National University of Singapore are now calling for the urgent preservation of existing boreal forests in order to secure biodiversity and prevent the loss of this major global carbon sink.
The boreal forest comprises about one-third of the world’s forested area and one-third of the world’s stored carbon, covering a large proportion of Russia, Canada, Alaska and Scandinavia.
To date it has remained largely intact because of the typically sparse human populations in boreal regions. That is now changing, said a trio of researchers and co-authors of a new study which has just been published online.
The scientists include Dr. Ian Warkentin, associate professor from the environmental science unit at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Memorial’s campus on the west coast of Newfoundland and Labrador; Dr. Corey Bradshaw, an associate professor from University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute; and Dr. Navjot Sodhi, a professor from the National University of Singapore.
“Historically, fire and insects have driven the natural dynamics of boreal ecosystems,” said Dr. Warkentin. “But with rising demand for resources, human disturbances caused by logging, mining and urban development have increased in these forests during recent years, with extensive forest loss for some regions and others facing heavy fragmentation and exploitation.”
“Much world attention has focused on the loss and degradation of tropical forests over the past three decades, but now the boreal forest is poised to become the next Amazon,” added Dr. Bradshaw.
The findings have been published online in Trends in Ecologyand Evolution in a paper titled Urgent Preservation of Boreal Carbon Stocks and Biodiversity. The findings include:
• Fire is the main driver of change and increased human activity is leading to more fires. There is also evidence that climate change is increasing the frequency and possibly the extent of fires in the boreal zone.
• Few countries are reporting an overall change in the coverage by boreal forest but the degree of fragmentation is increasing with only about 40 per cent of the total forested area remaining “intact.”
• Russian boreal forest is the most degraded and least “intact” and has suffered the greatest decline in the last few decades.
• Countries with boreal forest are protecting less than 10 per cent of their forests from timber exploitation, except for Sweden where the figure is about 20 per cent.
The researchers urge governments, other scientists and policy makers to take action to implement the changes needed to manage the boreal forest effectively. They’re calling for both better management overall and greater protection of the unspoiled regions.