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Resource Development and Forest Loss Accelerate Global Warming

 
 

Resource extraction within the boreal forest – such as logging, tar sands development, and mining – accelerates global warming. The rapid deforestation of Canada’s boreal forest and other industrial activities, such as tar sands oil production, imperils the massive tonnage of carbon stored in the vegetation and soils. The release of this carbon into the atmosphere as a product of human development could have dire consequences.1 Global warming can have many effects on birds, including altering habitat and migration cycles.

Logging is one of the leading culprits of global warming. Deforestation accounts for the release of billions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere each year, around one fifth of all carbon released from human activities.2  

Logging in the Boreal ForestThe process of harvesting forest and processing it into wood or paper products releases large amounts of oxidized carbon into the air. Approximately 20-25% of global, human-caused, carbon emissions in the last century have been a direct result of deforestation and logging.3 After an area has been logged, the leftover decomposing material and the exposed forest floor dry out and release CO2 into the air. Carbon stored in soil and peat oxidizes when uncovered or turned over from the impacts associated with logging. Also, some stored carbon is released into the atmosphere immediately upon the harvesting of a tree, and most of the remaining carbon is eventually released throughout the process of turning the tree into a forest product, such as paper.4

Rapid and extensive logging in the boreal forest exacerbates global warming. At least 100 million acres of Canada’s boreal forest (an area similar in size to California) is slated for commercial logging in the coming decades. All the logging in Canada currently releases hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere per year, more than half of which come specifically from the boreal.5  Logging in Canada is estimated to be around four times the emissions of Canada’s passenger cars.6

Oil and gas development and mining in the boreal contribute to an already dangerous pace of warming. Because the North American boreal is almost entirely forested, all developments, such as mining, hydroelectric, and tar sands oil production, necessitate logging in the boreal. This additional clearing accelerates global warming.7

Alberta Tar SandsTar sands development releases harmful quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Tar sands development in Alberta is a major contributor to the growth in greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.8 Substantial areas of surface are impacted by seismic lines required for exploration, access roads, pipelines, well sites, and power corridors. The clearing associated with oil production and exploration also releases carbon into the atmosphere.9 Learn more about the Alberta tar sands >

Tar sands oil and its production process are both damaging to the atmosphere. The clearing of carbon-dense boreal forest to access tar sands oil coupled with the energy required to upgrade and refine the mixture of bitumen, sand and clay amounts to concerningly high emissions to produce consumer-ready fuel.10

Human disturbance in the boreal is triggering a vicious cycle of warming. For example, as global temperatures rise, peatlands and forest stands are projected to undergo drying which releases carbon and which also makes them more vulnerable to wildfires, wherein additional carbon would be released into the atmosphere.11,12 Healthy forests that retain their natural complexity and diversity (e.g., in age and habitat structure) generally have greater stability and resilience to withstand disturbances associated with climate change.13


1 Schindler, D.W. A dim future for boreal waters and landscapes. Bioscience, 48 (3): 157-165. (1998)
2 IPCC Report from working group 1:Policymakers Summary of the Scientific Assessment of Climate Change. (1990)
3 Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry. Special Report by the IPCC. (2000)
4 Ibid.
5 Kyoto guidelines state that 1m3 of timber contains about 1 tonne of CO2. Under Kyoto rules, all carbon must be counted as released when the tree is cut. In reality, the carbon oxidizes over several years as the products are processed, decay or are burned. Component information source: Natural Resources Canada, The State of Canada’s Forests, p.18. (2002-3)
6 Ibid
7 Schindler, D.W. A dim future for boreal waters and landscapes. Bioscience, 48 (3): 157-165. (1998)
8 Woynillowicz, D.et al. Oil Sands Fever, the implications of Canada’s Oil Sands Rush. Pembina Institute Report. (2005).
9 Ibid
10 Ibid
11 Tarnocai, C. The effect of climate change on carbon in Canadian peatlands. Global and Planetary Change, 53:222-232. (2006)
12 Randerson, JT et al. The Impact of Boreal Forest Fire on Climate Warming. Science, 2006. Vol. 314: 1130-1132.
13 Wayburn, L.A., F.J. Franklin, J.C. Gordon, C.S. Blinkey, D.J. Mlandenoff, and N.L. Christian, Jr. Forest Carbon in the United States: Opportunities & Options for Private Lands. The Pacific Forest Trust, Inc. Santa Rosa, CA. (2000)

   

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Banner photo credit: CPAWS, by Juri Peepre