New report designates Canada as frontrunner in deforestation

Boreal forest in the Yukon

Canada is home to about one-third of the world’s boreal forest—the lush, pristine ecosystems running from the Yukon and Northern British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador. These old-growth forests maintain biodiversity, help purify air, and regulate the climate.

But according to new research from Global Forest Watch, Canada is also leading the world in deforestation, beating out other top offenders, Russia and Brazil.

More than 104 million-hectares, or about eight percent, of the world’s remaining virgin forests were degraded from 2003 to 2011.

“Canada is the number one in the world for the total area of the loss of intact forest landscapes since 2000,” said Peter Lee of Global Forest Watch Canada in an interview.

Global Forest Watch, a project formed by World Resources Institute, the University of Maryland, Greenpeace, and other organizations, used satellite technology to determine the location and extent of the world’s remaining Intact Forest Landscapes (IFL), which are undisturbed forest areas that show no signs of human activity. Canada, Russia and Brazil contain 65 percent of the world’s remaining IFL’s, also known as “virgin forests.”

In Russia, the main degradation drivers are human-caused fires and logging, and in Brazil, its road construction and agriculture.

In Canada, the tar sands, wild fires, logging, and industrial development are the main culprits behind deforestation. And although fires are a natural source of regeneration, climate change has increased the pace and intensity of forest fires in Canada.

In the oil sands between Fort McMurray and Lake Claire, the forest is nearly completely destructed, while wild fires and resource exploitation, like logging, have devastated regions in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Quebec.

Fragmentation, or the splitting up of IFLs, is the biggest form of degradation, which is caused by logging, mining, and development activities. “Fragmentation is problematic because smaller, more isolated forest patches will lose species faster than those that are larger or less isolated,” the report stated. For example, the caribou of Canada rely on the large bands of untouched forest to preserve viable populations.

In order to preserve the remaining IFLs, Global Forest Watch says government leaders must protect the land from industrial development. They also recommended that companies should avoid IFLs when sourcing commodities such as timber, palm oil, beef, and soy.

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