More than half of Canada's landmass is comprised of boreal forest—a vast and tree-filled region that extends across the country. To help conserve the forest, the province of Alberta has designated four new protected parks in its northeastern region, reports David Thurton of the CBC. When added to other contiguous conserved lands in Alberta, the new parks make up the largest stretch of protected boreal forests on the planet.
Logging and other industrial activities, like oil sands development, will not be permitted in the new parks, which have been named Kazan, Richardson, Dillon River and Birch River. As part of its conservation efforts, Alberta will also expand the existing Birch Mountains Wildland Provincial Park.
With the exception of Dillon River, all of these lands border the Wood Buffalo National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site that hosts the largest wild bison population in North America. And taken together, the protected areas span more than 67,700 square kilometers (about 26,140 square miles)—“an area twice the size of Belgium,” as Hamdi Issawi of the StarMetro Edmonton points out.
The new parks were announced in 2012, but only formally established this week, according to Emma Graney of the Edmonton Journal. The plan was finally put into action thanks to a unique collaboration between conservationists, Indigenous communities, government groups and one of the largest producers of crude oil from Canada’s oil sands.
The Tallcree First Nation played an important role in the negotiations. The group’s tribal government agreed to relinquish a timber quota in the area, which was purchased by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) for $2.8 million. The majority of the funding, according to an NCC press release, was provided by the oil company Syncrude Canada, which hopes the creation of new protected land will offset some of the disturbances caused by its industrial activity.
As Issawi reports, the Tallcree subsequently gave the $2.8 million to the Alberta government for the creation of the Birch River park.
“I believe there should be a balance between developing economic opportunities and protecting our land, so that it is not depleted of all the resources that it gives, allowing us to live our traditional lives of hunting, fishing, trapping and harvesting medicine,” Chief Rupert Meneen of the Tallcree tribal government said at a press conference this week, according to Issawi.
The Alberta government is planning to establish an Indigenous Guardian Program, which will appoint First Nations and Métis people to maintain the new parks and offer education to visitors.
Canada’s boreal forest is vital to the health of the planet. These lush lands provide us with clean air and water. They also offer a home to migratory birds and other species—including threatened animals like the peregrine falcon, wood bison and woodland caribou. What’s more, Canada’s boreal forest area is an important carbon sink, meaning that it absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases. And by keeping carbon out of the atmosphere, the forest can prevent climate change from getting worse.
“The impact of this conservation project reaches well beyond the region, the province of Alberta or even Canada,” John Lounds, President and CEO of the NCC, explains in the organization’s statement. “This is conservation on a global scale. Nature can only benefit when people work together.”