Nature Noted

Notes on a changing Nature

Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Boreal Alternative

While Congress fights over opening ANWR to oil drilling, a coalition of environmentalists, Indian groups and big business are presenting an alternative vision of how to responsibly develop the Canadian Arctic.
A press release out yesterday lays out the latest step in the Canadian Boreal Initiative, an effort to protect 1.4 billion (yes, Billion) acres of the north country.
A leading Canadian investment firm and the world's largest nonprofit conservation organization are endorsing a national
vision that balances protection of ecological and cultural values with responsible economic development across Canada's 1.4 billion acre Boreal forest region, the Canadian Boreal Initiative announced today.
Known as the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, the vision calls for protection of at least 50 percent of Canada's Boreal region and world-class sustainable development practices on the remaining landscape. Today's new signatories - the Ethical Funds Company, Canada's original and largest manager of socially responsible mutual funds and The Nature Conservancy - join the 11 other leading conservation organizations, First Nations, and forestry and energy companies that launched the Framework. Since its launch two years ago, the Framework has been increasingly attracting the attention of Canadian decision-makers, as well as the North American marketplace.

The Ethical Funds is working on lending policies that support the goals of biodiversity protection. The Nature Conservancy is going to be lending its expertise" in science and land use planning, as well as its significant relationships with key industry partners."
So what exactly is the vision? An editorial originally published in USA Today lays it out.
"A sharply focused organization known as the Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI) has emerged as a top-level player in shaping the future of the Mackenzie basin and the course of development across Canada's boreal region - at 1.4 billion acres stretching across the northern brow of the continent, one of the largest contiguous forestlands in the world. Working closely with all the various interests, led by respected conservationists and scientists and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts (a major U.S. public charity that promotes environmental conservation), the CBI has fostered a plan as wide as the boreal landscape itself.
Titled the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, this charter calls for preserving at least 50% of the entire boreal in perpetuity and ensuring ecologically sound, sustainable development of the rest. Instead of preservationists and developers waging an endless series of pitched battles where there are only victories and defeats, the traditional opponents are cooperating as environmental stewards, in conjunction with local and national government agencies. The Mackenzie basin, teetering on the edge of massive change, is a key testing ground that the CBI hopes will supply a workable vision for development across Canada.
The framework's signers agree that Canada's boreal is far more than a convenient, big-box store of raw materials. In fact, the boreal's primary value might well be environmental. It's one of the largest carbon sinks in the world, in essence a massive air filter that pulls billions of tons of climate-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locks it into the peaty soil. And, to make the point more concrete that Canadians and Americans share that same air and have a highly vested interest in that fact, consider that more than 325 American bird species, as many as 3 billion birds in all, migrate to the boreal to feed and raise their young each spring. Up to 17% of the birds at backyard feeders in the lower 48 states and 38% of waterfowl are equally Canadian. Without the boreal, they wouldn't exist.

The Boreal Initiative is interesting because it may offer a template for the use of other wild areas around the world, including the U.S. It will be worth watching to see how this development plan develops.


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