The degradation of the boreal forest in Canada Essay

Introduction

 Forests play an important role as keeping in check the world’s global climate. They conserve and store carbon, provide life to most of the inter-depending living organisms and also ensure that the surrounding climatic conditions are stable. But of late, the worlds largest forests i.e. the Congo forest, Amazon, Canada, Boreal and the Paradise forest all are in danger of degradation due to logging and other human activities. But the worrying scenario is that, less attention is given to the major role Boreal Forests play in mitigating the global warming.

Canada’s Boreal Forest stretches from the Yukon Territory on the western part of the country to the eastern province of the Newfoundland. It covers an area of approximately 545million hectares and occupies 53% of Canada’s landmass. The Boreal Forest consists of a wide and diverse spectrum of landscape, rivers and swamps. Various kinds of trees also grow there including pine and spruce. It is also home to various kinds of wildlife e.g. wolf and beer. Different kinds of birds’ species make up to almost 3 billion birds in the forest. Canada’s Boreal Forest also acts as a home to various aboriginal communities. Almost 600 communities of people live and depend on the Canada’s Boreal Forest (Davidson, 1).

The Boreal Forest has since been regarded as the most vital ecosystem for most of the living organisms and also a regulator to the climate. This is because apart from supporting life, the Boreal Forest have been known to store and conserve a very large amount of carbon that are emitted from the fossil fuel and greenhouse gasses. The Boreal ecosystem is made up of wetlands, trees and peat lands which aid in the absorption and storage of carbon. But of late, Boreal Forest is facing degradation majorly from logging, industrial expansion and global warming. Most scientists have now realized that, in order to reduce carbon emission from fossil fuels and also to avoid global warming, large expanse of Boreal Forests needs to be conserved. The forest will in turn help to preserve and prevent carbon from being emitted into the atmosphere and thus reduce the risk of global warming and the extinction of the Boreal Forest.

Scientists at the University of Toronto researched on the inter-relationships between the Boreal Forest and global warming. Their findings indicated that, the undisturbed areas of Boreal Forest not only help to reduce the rate of global warming but it also enables the Boreal Forests to resist any effect of global warming. These undisturbed areas of Boreal Forest were capable of supporting life since plants, trees and animals co-existed together and could adapt to changes in the climatic conditions. On the other hand, some areas of Canada’s Boreal Forest have been exposed to logging and industrial expansion. These areas are at the risk of experiencing instability which in turn may lead to global warming. Research has indicated that when Boreal Forest is exposed to logging and industrial expansion, a large expanse of it is destroyed. This in turn leads to the emission of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere which may trigger global warming and disasters such as forest fires and insect outbreaks may be on the rise. In most cases, once the disaster occur, more greenhouse gasses are even released into the atmosphere increasing more chances of global warming degrading the Boreal Forest (Ferguson, Nelson and Sherman, 11).

Recent research findings have infact indicated that global warming have already impacted on the Canada’s Boreal Forest. Warm and dry conditions have been detected on some parts of the Boreal Forest. These conditions have led to the emergence of drought, forests fires and insect outbreaks. But the scary problem is that; these negative impacts of global warming are themselves increasing the rate of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere which in turn increases the rate of global warming degrading the Boreal Forest. The following factors indicate that the Boreal Forest is already experiencing global warming.

There is an increase in dry spell periods leading to Drought

When the temperature conditions increases in the Boreal Forest as a result of global warming, water tend to become a limited resource. This leads to ecological imbalance since lack of water results to a slow rate of growth and a drop in the rate at which carbon is absorbed. In the Northwestern part of Alberta for example, drought has led to a slow rate of growth in Aspen trees. As the rate of warm and dry conditions is expected to rise, it is expected that water will become a very scarce resource especially in the West-Central Canada.

Forest Fires are increasing

Forest fires have been known to be a normal occurrence in the Boreal Forest. But as the climatic conditions become drier and warmer, the fires are starting to occur more frequently. These fires cover a wider area and take longer than before (Braun, 213). Such fires have also led to an increased rate of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. In Canada’s Boreal Forest, fires used to re-occur at least once after 50 years in regions experiencing dry spells and after 500 years in those regions that do not experience dry conditions. But of late forest fires have become more frequent.

Increased Insect Outbreaks

An increased insect outbreak is another severe impact of global warming in the Boreal. In the past, Boreal insects died in the cold months of winter when the temperatures dropped to very low levels. But the warm conditions as a result of global warming do not allow temperatures to reach their usual lows during winter and therefore most of the insects are capable of surviving the winter periods as opposed to the past. This phenomenon has increased the population of insects in the Boreal which in turn have led to severe destruction of plants and trees. Example of these insects is the Mountain pine Beetles which have caused severe destruction especially in the western provinces of Alberta (Howlett and Hessing, 71).

Slow and Stunted growth of Trees

Boreal Forest Trees do not usually thrive well under warm and rising temperatures. In the beginning, researches that were done indicated that trees could mature fast under warm temperatures. But of late further studies that have been carried out on the Boreal Forest Trees especially the Spruce species demonstrated that, the trees growth responded positively to the increase in temperatures up to a certain threshold point. When that particular point was exceeded, the growth of the tree was impacted negatively leading to a slow and sometimes stunted growth. Further research has also indicated that these threshold points have already been exceeded by the warm conditions as a result of global warming.

Wildlife habits are changing

When there is an increase in temperature as a result of global warming in the Boreal, various animals will respond to these changes by migrating to regions that will support their survival under different and changing climatic conditions. Some will move in search of food and water and others will move due the destructions made to their original habitat by human activities. As at present, most of the wildlife is shifting to the Northern part of Canada.

            Apart from global warming, logging has been identified as another cause leading to the degradation of Canada’s Boreal Forest. It has also been regarded as the worse propagator of global warming and its impacts cannot allow forest to resist any kind of global warming. This is mainly due to the reasons below.

Logging releases a large amount of carbon into the atmosphere

Large amounts of carbon are stored by Boreal Trees and plants. These massive amounts of carbon are stored both in the soil and above the ground. Therefore, when the trees are cut down due to logging, the aboveground carbon is released into the atmosphere. The stumps and the tree-remains beneath the soil after the tree has been logged off are also the source of carbon that is released into the soil after the tree debris decomposes.

Continuous emission of carbon is experienced in logged areas

Apart from the emission of carbon that is released during the logging process, the decaying debris of trees and the left over also continue to release carbon into the atmosphere. This is because the speed at which the debris is decomposing is much faster than the time the vegetation takes to re-emerge. Large amount of carbon is therefore released into the atmosphere for as long as 10 years or more.

Logging increases the rate of permafrost melt

Logging increases the rate of permafrost loss as compared to forested areas which provide cover to permafrost and slow down its melting speed. In logged areas, permafrost soil is exposed to warm conditions which speed up the melting and in the process; the resultant effect is the release of greenhouse gasses.

Logging gets rid of wildlife habitat

Logging results to the destruction of most of the wildlife’s habitat. Logging also alters the natural way of life in which most of the wild life has got used to. Apart from that; logging fragments the land making it impossible for the wildlife to adapt to the changing conditions.

Solutions

Very urgent solutions are required in order to protect the Canada’s Boreal forest from adverse and disastrous effects of global warming. These are:

            The undisturbed parts of Canada’s Boreal Forest should be protected. This is because these parts are still resistant to the impacts of global warming and thus slowing it down. In these regions, large amount of carbons are stored and the permafrost melting process is slowed down by intact Boreal Forest.

            Greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere should be reduced. In order to avoid the emission of carbon stored inside Boreal Forest, global warming should be curbed. This is done by reducing and avoiding the use of fossil fuels which are usually leading to the release of greenhouse gasses (Usher, 1).

            Banning deforestation and logging is as good as ensuring that the Boreal Forest remains intact. Protecting the Boreal Forest will help curb the effects of global warming.

Conclusion

Canada has the opportunity of curbing and slowing down the adverse effects of global warming by ensuring that Boreal Forest is not degraded anymore. Incase this is not done; severe and adverse catastrophes as a result of global warming could be experienced. Incase the Boreal Forest is protected and kept intact, it will keep storing carbon and its ecosystem will remain checked in balance. But incase it is opened up for human activities; there will be more and frequent outbreak of insects, intense fires and droughts.

Work cited:

Braun, Bruce. The Intemperate Rainforest: Nature, Culture and Power on Canada’s West Coast. Minneapolis. University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

Davidson, Debra. “All Dressed up with Nowhere to Go: The Discourse of Ecological Modernization in Alberta, Canada.” The Canadian Review of sociology and Anthropology 41, (2004).

Ferguson, Christy, Nelson, Elizabeth and Sherman, Geoff. Turning Up the Heat. Global Warming and the Degradation of Canada’s Boreal Forest (2008).

Howlett, Michael and Hessing Melody. Canadian Natural Resource and Environmental Policy: Political Economy and Public Policy. Vancouver, B.C. University of British Columbia Press, 1997.

Usher, Peter J. “Environment, Race and Nation Reconsidered: Reflections and Aboriginal land claims in Canada.” The Canadian Geographer 47, (2003).