Tuesday February 07, 2023

Subarctic boreal forest, vital for the planet, is at risk

November 15, 2022

FORT MCMURRAY, Canada: It burns, it drifts, it falls victim to insects. And it´s shrinking. The boreal forest, which is second only to the Amazon in terms of its vital role in ensuring the future of the planet, encircles the Arctic -- and it is in just as much danger from climate change as the South American rainforest.

The deep, verdant green ring -- which stretches across Canada, Scandinavia, Russia and Alaska -- has been weakened by increasing forest fires, the melting of permafrost, intensifying insect infestations and warming temperatures.

Experts are categorical in their warnings: the forest is encroaching on the tundra, and the prairies are slowly taking the place of the trees. In his cabin in Quebec, not far from the banks of the St Lawrence River amid the trembling aspen and black spruces, Jean-Luc Kanape, a member of the Innu Indigenous group, says he likes to feel the “energy of the wind, the cold.”

“When I´m in the heart of the forest, I feel like I´m part of it. The trees are like my roots,” says the brawny 47-year-old, his hair askew and his skin bronzed from the sun. Kanape has dedicated his life to the protection of the caribou, a species whose habitat is under threat because of the effects of deforestation and global warming. And he is worried.

“We often say we need to save the planet, but that´s not true,” he says, suggesting humanity´s own existence is what is at stake. The forest -- named for Boreas, the Greek god of the north wind -- covers 10 percent of the world´s land surface and has a decisive impact on the globe´s northern oceans and overall climate.

Its 1.2 billion hectares (nearly three billion acres), which account for nearly a third of all forested land in the world, help slow global warming by absorbing a significant amount of carbon emissions.

The boreal forest holds twice as much carbon as all tropical forests combined, and also helps purify a massive amount of freshwater. There have always been natural changes to its makeup, but scientists are now concerned that those changes are happening more often, and are even becoming the norm. Dead tree trunks stretch towards the sky -- ghostly white shadows staining the green canopy in this corner of Alberta province.