The special 2012 issue of National Geographic, “50 of the World’s Last Great Places,” captivates readers with astonishing images of 50 places of natural beauty on Earth. Among regions in the temperate zone, the Boreal Forest is highlighted as the Earth’s largest terrestrial biome teeming with coniferous evergreens and large mammals such as moose, caribou, elk and bears. Such untouched natural spaces continually inspire individuals to find meaning in the simplicity of the natural world. While city walks and friendly gatherings motivate connections with our human counterparts, nature inspires a connection with the Earth and provides fresh air and mental clarity, thus soothing the spirit.

Aside from its aesthetic appeal and the fact that it provides a home for billions of wild animals, the Boreal also plays a major role in global climate stabilization by acting as a carbon sink. With rising worldwide greenhouse gas emissions disturbing climate patterns, large intact forests such as the Boreal have an important function as carbon storehouses that capture and store carbon for hundreds of years. Some major risks of high atmospheric carbon concentrations and global warming include increased frequency and strength of extreme weather events such as cyclones and hurricanes, desertification and ocean acidification. Large forests are critical in mitigating carbon spikes and preventing disturbances to global circulation patterns.

The Canadian Boreal forest is under threat from industrial activities such as logging, mining, oil and gas development which require the destruction of vast forested landscapes. The majestic Boreal, while spanning an immense portion of the northern terrestrial hemisphere, is also relatively low in productivity due to nutrient-poor soils that limit growth to a short summer season. Because of its slow reproductive cycle, industrial activities in the region have a longer lasting impact if not managed in a sustainable manner. Iconic Canadian species such as the woodland caribou are at risk of extirpation within less than a century. 1  

Today, with less than 10% 2 of Earth’s original forests remaining as intact landscapes, we are faced with the pressing responsibility to protect and preserve what is left. The National Geographic list is a timely reminder to refocus public, government and industry attention on special places like the Boreal forest that are unique, irreplaceable and enormously crucial for the maintenance of stable global climate systems. We are prompted to take action and develop sustainable means of resource development that do not threaten critical landscapes. If we hope to conserve regions such as the Boreal, we must educate ourselves in issues concerning deforestation, biodiversity loss, legislative protection and ecological restoration. This is a global movement that requires the efforts of all nations, industries and consumers in order to sustain forests that can be enjoyed for longer than just a few generations.

1. Schaefer, J. A. (2003), Long-Term Range Recession and the Persistence of Caribou in the Taiga, Retrieved March 13, 2013, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1523-1739.2003.02288.x/abstract.

2. Greenpeace (2006). Roadmap to Recovery: The World’s Last Intact Forest Landscapes. Retrieved March 13, 2013, from

http://www.intactforests.org/publications/publications.htm.