Canada’s boreal zone
The boreal zone is the broad, circumpolar vegetation zone of the northern latitudes and one of the world’s largest and most important biogeoclimatic areas.
Because forests dominate the boreal landscape, the zone is often referred to as the boreal forest in North America or the taiga in Russia. Mainly covered with cold-hardy pine, spruce, larch, poplar, fir and birch forests, the boreal zone also contains lakes, rivers and wetlands. It features naturally treeless areas as well, including alpine areas on mountains, heathlands in areas near the coasts and grasslands in drier areas.
In Canada the boreal zone stretches across the country’s north, from Yukon and northern British Columbia in the west to Newfoundland and Labrador in the east. About 30% of the world’s boreal zone lies within Canada.
The boreal zone and its forests: A snapshot
The boreal zone, and the forests within it, have long been central to Canada’s natural environment, history, culture and economy.
With its extensive forests, Canada’s boreal zone provides habitat for diverse wildlife. This includes half of Canada’s 300 bird species and a wide range of mammals, insects, fungi and micro-organisms.
The boreal zone supplies many ecosystem goods and services. It acts as a reservoir for maintaining biological and genetic diversity. It stores carbon, purifies air and water, and helps regulate regional and global climates. It also provides food and renewable raw materials for human use.
More than 2.5 million people live in Canada’s boreal zone. Many of the rural and remote communities there rely heavily on the forests for jobs and economic stability. Canada’s Aboriginal peoples still look to the forests for their livelihood and their cultural and spiritual sustenance. Boreal forests, lakes and rivers also offer unique and abundant recreational opportunities.
Although the forest industry is the mainstay of many boreal communities, only 0.2% of Canada’s boreal forests are harvested each year. This percentage is small, but it is economically important for Canada, making up roughly half of the country’s annual timber harvest.
Non-timber forest products from the boreal, including herbs, conifer boughs and berries, are an increasingly important contributor to local and national economies. These products make up one of Canada’s fastest-growing forest export areas.
The boreal zone is further crucial to Canada’s economy because of its mineral and energy resources, the hydroelectric potential of its rivers and the many options it offers for recreation and tourism.
Facts about Canada’s boreal zone and forests
- Canada contains about 30% of the world’s boreal zone.
- More than 2.5 million people—1 in 13 Canadians—live in Canada’s boreal zone.
- The forests and other wooded lands in the boreal zone make up almost one-third of Canada’s land mass.
- Close to three-quarters of Canada’s forest and other woodlands are in the boreal zone.
- Each year, 5 million to 6 million hectares of Canada’s boreal forests are disturbed by fire, insects and disease. That’s five times the area affected by commercial harvesting.
Managing Canada’s boreal forests
Canada has a vital interest in managing its forests sustainably. Many conservation measures are used in Canada’s boreal forests, including integrated land-use planning, environmentally sound forest management, and species and habitat recovery. These measures are supported by provincial and federal laws, regulations and guidelines.
Companies that harvest on public land (93% of Canada’s forests are publically owned) are legally required to ensure that harvested areas are regenerated, so that new trees become established and biodiversity and other ecosystem goods and services are maintained.
Parks and other protected areas are another key part of conservation in the boreal zone. Protected areas conserve representative landscapes across the country and help safeguard their biodiversity. They also provide important information for scientific research. Millions of Canadians turn to parks and other protected areas for recreation, from hiking and camping to paddling and wildlife viewing.