For the birds

by Victoria Foote

According to a report Global Forest Watch Canada released last year, an estimated 200,000 hectares of Ontario’s public forests are logged every year – an area more than three times the size of the City of Toronto. Trees store a tremendous amount of carbon, and scientists estimate that some 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide are released as a result of these logging activities.

Premier Dalton McGuinty promised to protect Ontario’s boreal forest, the province’s largest forested area, saying that his government would create a planning framework that accommodated the ecological values and benefits of this region prior to approving new development. But this has not happened. The large-scale, science-based land-use planning approach that Ontario Nature has long been advocating for is absent in northern Ontario’s boreal region, across which thousands of mining claims have been staked.

Among its myriad ecological functions, the boreal forest is the single most important breeding ground for birds in North America. Some 300 bird species and a whopping two billion individual birds breed in this vast northern forest before migrating south for the winter. Logging in Ontario alone can destroy an estimated 45,000 migratory birds’ nests in a single year.

If you are a member of Ontario Nature or if you subscribe to the magazine, you will have received a petition with this issue of ON Nature asking the federal and provincial governments to protect more of the boreal forest and to initiate a conservation-based land-use planning approach before allowing any more industrial development. If you don’t subscribe to the magazine, you can visit the Save Our Boreal Birds website at to see (and sign) the electronic version of the petition.

The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario recently highlighted the discrepancies between the provincial government’s environmental protection policies, and practices that support urban sprawl in southern Ontario and intrusive developments in northern Ontario. We urge the Province to make the ecological integrity of the fragile boreal ecosystem a tangible priority.

Ontario Nature and its partner organizations will be submitting the boreal bird petition to government officials in conjunction with International Migratory Bird Day, which takes place on May 10, 2008. Please join us.


andrea_smithA biologist and frequent contributor to ON Nature, Andrea Smith has studied tortoises in the Mojave Desert and migratory warblers in Mexico. For her articles on alvars and wetlands, however, Smith reacquainted herself with Ontario’s varied landscapes. “Ontario is filled with hidden natural gems, like the Mer Bleue Bog and the Carden Plain alvar,” says Smith, a former regional coordinator for Ontario Nature, who recently joined York University’s Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability. “I was interested in highlighting a couple of special places that many people may not know about.” But Smith’s research was also a grim reminder of the speed at which precious natural spaces are disappearing in southern Ontario. “Ultimately, if we hope to protect the ecological integrity of these ecosystems, we’ll need to adopt a nature-first approach to landuse planning.”

kevan_bergEcologist, writer and photographer Kevan Berg has been studying the weird and wonderful colours, patterns and shapes of lichen for several years. Berg developed a keen interest in trees at a young age. “I keyed in on lichens as a study topic and now I not only work with trees, but on trees.” Berg’s research focuses on epiphytic lichens – lichens that grow primarily on trees – which entails frequent trips to Ontario’s boreal forest, a haven for rich lichen communities. “You couldn’t ask for a better study location: in amidst the pine and spruce of the boggy boreal there is so much variation!” Berg is now completing his MSc degree in forest ecology at the University of Guelph.

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