We highlight below some of the areas with substantial opportunity for boreal forest conservation.
The Boreal Birds Need Half campaign seeks to educate governments, industry, and the public on the need to set aside at least half of North America's boreal forest from development for the billions of birds and other wildlife that rely on it. In addition to protecting at least half, the campaign urges sustainable development in the remaining areas, and emphasizes that protected areas and industrial activities should proceed only with the free, prior, and informed consent of affected Aboriginal communities.
Boreal Birds Need Half is a joint effort between the Boreal Songbird Initiative and Ducks Unlimited Inc. and is based on the recommendations contained in the report, "Boreal Birds Need Half: Maintaining North America's Bird Nursery and Why it Matters." The report demonstrates why preserving at least half of this forest ecosystem is needed to give boreal birds their best opportunity for survival in today's rapidly changing world.
It is safe to say that 2008 was a big year for the Canadian Boreal Forest. Not one, but two separate provinces followed the recommendations of the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework and announced bold plans to place half of their northern boreal forests off limits to development. However, these ambitious plans will understandably take years to develop responsibly. From the need to integrate First Nations into planning phases to changes in party leadership, both provinces will be tested in coming years. With firm commitments to these goals and careful planning with First Nations, industry, and other affected parties, these plans could result in some of the largest conservation areas anywhere in the world.
Ontario's boreal forest is the breeding ground for more than 250 species of birds, including threatened species like the Yellow Rail and Olive-sided Flycatcher. Quebec's boreal forest is the breeding ground for approximately 180 species of birds, including threatened waterfowl like Harlequin Duck and Barrow's Goldeneye, as well as threatened songbirds like the Canada Warbler.
In 2012, after five years of work, the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation—a collection of five First Nations as well as the Governments of Manitoba and Ontario—submitted their official bid to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bid is currently being revised based on advice received from advisory bodies to the Word Heritage program. If accepted, Pimachiowin Aki would not only protect a vast region of pristine boreal forest and preserve longstanding Anishinaabe land use traditions, it would become Canada’s first UNESCO Site accepted under both natural and cultural heritage classifications.
A wide variety of songbirds thrive in the expansive, intact forests of Pimachiowin Aki, including some of Canada's most threatened. There are at least eight bird species represented here that are considered Species at Risk by COSEWIC: Piping Plover, Short-eared Owl, Common Nighthawk, Whip-poor-will, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Barn Swallow, Canada Warbler, and the Rusty Blackbird. In total, as many as 216 bird species rely on the region, reinforcing its reputation as a stronghold for migratory birds.
Boreal birds don't recognize international borders; fortunately the United States and Canada cooperate to protect this transboundary resource. The U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) implements a 1916 treaty between the U.S. and Canada, as well as similar treaties the U.S. later signed with Japan, Mexico, and Russia, to protect migratory birds. The MBTA makes it illegal for anyone to hunt, kill, possess, buy, or sell any migratory bird, its nests or eggs, unless they have a permit. The law was a response to the commercial trade in birds and bird feathers that had devastated native bird populations by the early 20th century. Currently more than 1,000 species are protected under the MBTA. The Canadian counterpart to the MBTA is the Migratory Birds Convention Act (MBCA), which protects most species of birds in Canada. After nearly a century, the MBTA and MBCA have been and remain essential tools in the effort to protect and restore native migratory bird populations, including our boreal birds.