Alberta just created the world’s largest area of protected boreal forest

Alberta's boreal forest seen from above [Photo by diplomatonline.com]

In a historic agreement between governments, First Nations, and environmental groups, Alberta has just created the world’s largest tract of protected boreal forest.

Four new provincial parks are being established over an area of 67,735 square kilometres—that’s 10% of Alberta’s total area, or about the size of the entire country of Ireland. Their creation means that the land will be protecting from logging and oil sands development.

The parks—Kazan, Richardson, Dillon River, Birch River, and Birch Mountains—were first announced in 2012, but it has taken until now to make them a reality. The parks had to be assessed for economic impact, and the provincial and federal governments worked together alongside the Tallcree First Nation (who relinquished their Birch River area timber licence and quota in order to allow the Birch River park to proceed). The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) also helped facilitate the deal, and Syncrude donated money to help the parks move forward.

“It is very rare that you can announce a protected area network that is globally significant in such incredible size,” Bob Demulder, the NCC’s regional vice-president for Alberta, told the CBC. “These things don’t happen very often.”

Salt River in Alberta
The Salt River, which originates in Wood Buffalo Park. [Photo by Mike Beauregard]

The announcement of this protected area comes a year after the release of a report that said Alberta’s wild spaces are disappearing at a rate faster than the Amazon Rainforest.

“Our government is committed to protecting our land, water, and forests for future generations,” Shannon Phillips, Alberta’s Minister of Environment, said in a statement. “This historic achievement shows what can be accomplished when governments, First Nations, industry, and environmental organizations work together.”

Protecting this land will preserve many wildlife habitats, including caribou, wood bison, and peregrine falcons, all of which are listed under the Species at Risk Act.

“I don’t believe [the creation of the parks] is a panacea, but it is certainly the right move,” said Demulder.

The Pembina Institute, often vocal opponents of the government’s environmental policies, commended the plan.

“We’re certainly willing to give credit were credit is due,” executive director Simon Dyer told the CBC. “Any day where you are announcing [a large] increase for protected areas is a good day.”

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