The boreal forest is too big to ignore

8/31/2017 | 0

boreal forest

Northern Hawk Owl near Ottawa, Ontario. Photo by newfoundlander61

Kenn Kaufman’s column “ID Tips” appears in every issue of BirdWatching. In our August 2017 issue, he described five boreal species: Northern Hawk Owl, Boreal Chickadee, Pine Grosbeak, Blackpoll Warbler, and Spruce Grouse. He also wrote this reflection on the forest’s value to birds and the threats it faces.

North America’s boreal forest is vast, and vastly important from the standpoint of bird conservation. More than 300 bird species rely on the region for at least part of the year, and dozens of species breed almost entirely within the zone. Included among the boreal breeding avifauna are birds that winter throughout North, Central, and South America, as well as the Caribbean, so protecting the birdlife of the region is a goal with widespread consequences.

Over such a broad area, threats to the habitat are varied, but their cumulative effect is large. Logging has been a significant threat in the past, but recently there have been encouraging moves toward more sustainable forestry practices. However, oil and gas development has been increasing, as have mining activities. Even when local developments cover only small areas, they break up the habitat, leaving fragments that have less value for wildlife than continuous tracts. Finally, the effects of climate change are much more noticeable in polar regions than in the temperate zones, and they’re already having significant impacts on northern stretches of the boreal forest.

Although several organizations are addressing conservation issues in this region, one of the most effective — and one with particular relevance for birdwatchers — is the Boreal Songbird Initiative. Its website contains a wealth of detailed information, as well as ways to get involved with the issues.

Kenn Kaufman’s “ID Tips,” featuring the photographs of Brian E. Small, appears in every issue of BirdWatching. The article above is an excerpt of a column that ran in our August 2017 issue. Kaufman is an expert birder and naturalist, a talented artist and photographer, a world traveler, and the author of many books about birds and other wildlife.

Read other articles by and about Kenn Kaufman