Ancient forests of North America

Page - November 29, 2006
The ancient forests of North America are extremely diverse. They include the boreal forest belt stretching between Newfoundland and Alaska, the coastal temperate rainforest of Alaska and Western Canada, and the myriad of residual pockets of temperate forest surviving in more remote regions.

The Boreal forest is an awe-inspiring and diverse wilderness of lakes, forests, rivers and marshes. It is the largest intact forest ecosystem in North America.

The trees here are among the tallest and oldest in the world and the forests provide a refuge for large mammals such as the grizzly bear, puma and grey wolf, which once ranged widely across the continent. In Canada it is estimated that ancient forests provide habitat for about two-thirds of the country's 140,000 species of plants, animals and micro-organisms. Many of these species are yet to be studied by science.

The ancient forests of North America also provide livelihoods for thousands of indigenous people, such as the Eyak and Chugach people of Southcentral Alaska, and the Hupa and Yurok of Northern California.

Of Canada's one million indigenous people (First Nation, Inuit and Métis), almost 80 percent live in reserves and communities in boreal or temperate forests, where historically the forest provided their food and shelter, and shaped their way of life.

Victory for Great Bear Rainforest

After a 10 year, worldwide campaign a victory was achieved for the protection of the Great Bear Rainforest in Canada. We would like to acknowledge and thank all the people who lent their time and voice to save this beautiful forest. For information about the Great Bear Rainforest visit the Greenpeace Canada website.

Under threat

Two thirds of the regions forests and woodlands are in large tracts of potentially intact ancient forests, that areas 20,000 hectares or larger. The majority of these are located in the northern most regions of the continent in Canada and Alaska. They consist of a mix of forests and tundra. Forests of the lower 48 states in the US are relatively fragmented with only 20 percent of forest cover remaining in large, potentially intact blocks. Most of them are located in the Rocky Mountains and the coastal range of the Pacific Northwest.

The US has already lost more than 94 percent of its ancient forest, and up to 85 percent of its remaining forest is under immediate threat from timber companies clear-cutting land.

The US government has refused to make a formal commitment to the Convention on Biological Diversity, in effect, refusing to commit to saving its remaining biological and cultural diversity, which includes ancient forests.

Between 1990 and 2000 North America lost at least 12.3 million hectares of natural or ancient forest, and although on paper there has been some increase in the area of land designated for conservation from 6.9 to 11.1 percent, little of this is within the remaining intact ancient forests.

Canada and the US are G8 countries, which committed at the 1998 G8 meeting in Birmingham to eliminate the trade in illegal timber. This commitment was reaffirmed at both the 1999 and 2000 G8 Summits.

However, the US, in particular, continues to import indiscriminately from ancient forest regions, including the Amazon, where illegal logging is rampant.

Kleenex clear-cutting ancient forests

Kleenex, one of the most well known brands of tissue products in the world, is destroying the ancient forests of North America. Its manufacturer, Kimberly-Clark, the largest tissue product company in the world, continues to destroy ancient forests to manufacture products that are used once and then thrown away or flushed down the toilet.

  • You can help save these ancient forests from becoming dirty tissues - go to and take action for our forests!

copyright 2002 Greenpeace/Global Forest Watch

Potentially intact ancient forest, >50,000 heactares

Other forests

Sources: Current forest cover, University of Maryland Transportation grid, Canada: DMTI, US: US Geological Service, Alaska: Chartr of the World

Potentially intact ancient forest, Global Forest Watch