Do you think that George Bush knows that he has Boreal birds on the grounds of the White House? Last week when my wife Allison and I were in Washington, D.C., we strolled past the President’s leafy backyard. The songs of migrating Yellow-rumped Warblers, headed north to the Boreal, drifted from George’s place. A few minutes later an Ovenbird’s exuberant “teacher-teacher-teacher” erupted from inside the high fences. I loved the idea that these little birds could care less about security guards and gates and electronic surveillanceâ€”they went where they pleased.
The Yellow-rumps were all over the city that day, just as they had been in spring’s past. On their way north to the Boreal, Yellow-rumped Warblers had sung from here to Philadelphia the year that George Washington became the first U.S. president over 200 years ago. They had sung here even as soldiers marched down the then muddy streets during the Civil War nearly 150 years ago. They had sung from these trees even as millions of buffalo were reduced to a sad few stragglers, as the darting flocks of Carolina Parakeets were exterminated, as the 90 million acres of southeastern pine forests were chewed down to a few million acres, and as the tallgrass prairie was obliterated by 99%.
The Yellow-rumped Warbler’s sweet spring song was heard from here the spring of 1914 when the last Passenger Pigeon on earth died in a Cincinnati zoo.
Isn’t it ironic that the estimated total original population of the Passenger Pigeon at 3-5 billion was even more than the 1-3 billion birds of 300 species that now breed in the Boreal Forest? The Yellow-rumped Warbler is one of the most richly abundant of those birdsâ€”an estimated 100+ million breed in the Boreal.
The Boreal and its billions of birds and other wildlife represent to us today what the Passenger Pigeon did to the peoples of 200 years ago. The Boreal is a place of abundance, intactness, wildernessâ€”one of perhaps four or five places of its kind left ON THE ENTIRE EARTH!
A recognition of these facts has required a rethinking of conservation science. Attributes like unfragmented forests, functioning ecosystems, intact ecological communities, and abundant wildlife populations have only recently been seen to be as important to consider in assessing conservation values as are things like diversity and rarity.
But now the recognition of the Boreal’s global conservation importance has come in a BIG wayâ€”maybe as big as the Boreal itself. Over 1500 scientists from more than 50 countries have signed a letter addressed to the federal, provincial, and aboriginal governments of Canada. The letter is a wake-up call to Canada’s leadership. In it the world’s scientific community asks the Canadian government to recognize that the Canadian Boreal Forest represents the last of its kind on earth. One might rightly call it an endangered speciesâ€”one of 4-5 of the globe’s last Great Forests.
These scientists, representing more than 450 academic, research, and conservation institutions, urge Canada to protect at least 50% of its Boreal Forest now, while there is still the chance.
The rest of the world has suffered the sad lessons of a history of lack of visionâ€”extinctions, destroyed ecosystems, dirty air and water, and now a warming climate.
Don’t let Canada make the same mistakes.
Save the Boreal.