Canadian Forest Service Publications

Integrating accessibility and intactness into large-area conservation planning in the Canadian boreal forest. 2013. Powers, R.P.; Coops, N.C.; Nelson, T.N.; Wulder, M.A.; Drever, C.R. Biological Conservation. 167:371-379.

Year: 2013

Issued by: Pacific Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 35187

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2013.08.032

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The creation of large protected areas from naturally functioning ecosystems that are largely without anthropogenic activity is viewed as an important option for maintaining the persistence of biodiversity and for allowing natural ecological and evolutionary processes to continue. Using the Canadian boreal forest as a case study, we demonstrate how biological elements, intact forest landscapes (e.g., dominantly forested areas largely unaffected by recent anthropogenic disturbance); cost (e.g., area and accessibility), and size considerations can be incorporated within spatial conservation planning tools to propose and, following transparent criteria, prioritize potential conservation opportunities within the boreal. We explore the trade-offs between reserve size and different area-based representative targets for three scenarios, two of which preferentially prioritize areas without competing land use. Consistent with other findings, the level of compactness (i.e., reserve size) greatly influences the reserve efficiency. Priority areas restricted to only intact forest landscapes were less flexible and efficient, particularly as target and compactness level increased. Nevertheless, priority areas using accessibility (distance from road and human settlement) as a cost surrogate were able to satisfy a range of conservation targets and compactness levels while remaining remote from human influence. These findings indicate the abundant intact areas within the Canadian boreal provide suitable areas for conservation investment and that this coarse-scale approach is useful for aiding conservation planning.

Plain Language Summary

Large protected areas, free of human activity, are important for maintaining biodiversity and ecological processes. Human expansion, resource extraction and climate change are an increasing threat to biodiversity in the world’s forests. Conservation agencies consider 10-12% protection of large intact areas a minimum standard; however some forest types, such as the Canadian and Russian boreal forests, are under-protected (approximately 8.5%). Yet boreal forests are good candidates for conservation status. Temperature changes in the boreal are expected to be relatively minor (compared to other regions). Scientists predict that climate-driven changes in boreal biodiversity will be less than those triggered by other drivers of change in other ecological communities. This means that land protected in the boreal will likely retain conservation target contributions for longer periods. As a result, some agencies support expanding conservation of the boreal forest to over 50%. There are however other factors that must be considered when planning a protected area network - cost, biological representation, and size and quality of the protected area. In this paper, the authors provide a case study of conservation planning for the Canadian boreal forest. They demonstrate how current conservation planning methods can be incorporated within spatial planning tools to propose and prioritize conservation opportunities within the boreal. They compared factors such as reserve size, how intact the landscape is, cost, and accessibility. They found that the Canadian boreal with its plentiful intact areas has good potential for conservation investment.