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Petitioners Call on Premiers to Protect Boreal Forest

Tuesday, May 12th 2009 4:11:08pm

Petitioners Call on Premiers to Protect Boreal Forest

60,000 Join in Call to Increase Protection for Breeding Grounds for Billions of Birds


Toronto, May 12, 2009: With spring bird migration in full swing, Ontario Nature and other environmental groups across Canada will deliver 60,000 petitions today calling for increased protection of Canada's 1.3-billion-acre Boreal Forest. Referred to as the "Bird Nursery of the North," the Canadian boreal is the breeding and nesting grounds for billions of migratory birds.
Serious declines of many bird populations have prompted calls for large-scale protection of this critically important habitat.  

Simultaneous media events are planned in Toronto, Ottawa, and Quebec City, with participation in six other provinces and territories (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Alberta, and British Columbia).  

The petitions - to be delivered to Premier Dalton McGuinty, other provincial Premiers, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper - urge Canadian governments to adopt the principles of the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework. Developed with some of the world's leading scientists, the Framework calls for protecting at least 50% of the Boreal Forest and supporting sustainable development practices in the remaining areas.  Signatures were collected via the Save Our Boreal Birds website (www.saveourborealbirds.org), a collaborative effort by more than 20 conservation groups from across Canada, the United States, Central and South America.  

"The Boreal Forest is widely regarded as the songbird nursery for the Americas," says Caroline Schultz, Executive Director of Ontario Nature.  "Millions of birds migrate there to nest and breed in Ontario alone.  We cannot afford to lose any more of this precious habitat than we already have."

In Ontario, logging, mining and other industrial activities have already carved through the southern Boreal Forest, fragmenting the landscape and destroying wildlife habitat.  Logging alone can destroy an estimated 45,000 migratory bird nests in a single year in Ontario.  The intact northern Boreal is situated north of the line where commercial forestry currently takes place, roughly along the 51st parallel.  Last summer, Premier McGuinty made a landmark commitment to protect at least 50% of this region - an announcement lauded in Canada and internationally  

There is an urgent need for the Ontario legislature to pass legislation that fulfills the Premier's promise.  At present, less than 10% of Ontario's Boreal Forest is protected, and only 5% of the northern Boreal in protected.  Many boreal-dependent birds have been in steady decline for decades.  Provincially, olive-sided flycatcher numbers have decreased by almost four-fifths over the past 4 decades - with 46% of the decline in the last decade alone.  The rusty blackbird has been decreasing by an average of 12% a year over the past three decades.

"The dramatic decline in migratory songbirds warns us that our forests are under siege," says Dr. Bridget Stutchbury, Canada Research Chair in Ecology and Conservation Biolody at York University.  "We urgently need to safeguard what remains for songbirds and ourselves."

"We have grown increasingly alarmed by the drop in boreal bird populations," adds Ms. Schultz.  "To reverse this disturbing trend and conserve biodiversity, we are anxious to see strong legislation and funding for protection and sustainable land use planning, with Ontario and First Nations working in partnership to ensure that Premier McGuinty's promise is realized."

Scientists have also called for protection of Canada's Boreal Forest in recognition of its importance as the world's largest carbon storehouse.  Carbon equivalent to 27 years' worth of the world's fossil fuel emissions is stored in the lakes, soils, peat lands, and trees of the Boreal Forest, but can be released due to industrial disturbance of these lands.  

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For further information and interviews please contact:

Victoria Foote, Director of Communications, Ontario Nature
416-444-8419 ext. 238; 647-290-9384 (cell)
victoriaf@ontarionature.org


Additional Facts and Resources:

All press materials, including boreal bird migration maps, boreal bird decline fact sheet, photos, B-roll, and audio of boreal bird songs, available at:  http://www.borealbirds.org/borealbirdspetition.shtml or contact David Childs, Boreal Songbird Initiative, at 206-956-9040 ext.7


Ontario Nature
is the Province's leading conservation organization.  Ontario Nature protects wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement.


Backgrounder and Quick Facts

Ontario's Boreal Forest

Some 240 bird species, making up an estimated 250 million shorebirds, waterbirds, waterfowl and landbirds, breed in Ontario's boreal region. Several Ontario species breed almost exclusively in the boreal forest, including more than 90% of the breeding populations of Connecticut, Tennessee and palm warblers. Ninety-five percent of the Bonaparte's gull population nests in spruce along the margins of boreal ponds and lakes. Eighty-three percent of all great gray owls nest in the boreal forest, mostly in broken-off dead trees. The boreal chickadee and boreal owl have 71 and 88 percent of their breeding populations, respectively, in the forest for which they are named.

For 89 Ontario species, half or more of their North American population breeds in the boreal forest, making the species highly dependent on boreal ecosystems and habitats.

Sustaining boreal birds is about much more than simply assuring that we will have colourful visitors to our backyard feeders.  Birds provide us with a variety of invaluable but free services, including insect control.  A further decline in bird populations could lead to larger outbreaks of spruce budworm, mountain pine beetle and other pests.  They are also key environmental indicators.  Declining populations usually indicate problems affecting ecosystems as whole with potential wide-reaching impact.

Birds in Ontario's Boreal Forest

Rusty Blackbird

The rusty blackbird is a medium-sized songbird with bright yellow eyes.  The males are black in spring and become more rust-brown in fall.  Invertebrates are their primary food source, but sometimes the species preys on other birds.  North American Breeding Bird Survey trends show that rusty blackbird populations have been decreasing by an average of 12% a year over the past three decades and it is designated as a species of Special Concern federally.  

Canada warbler

The Canada warbler is one of the many migratory birds that depend on an intact boreal forest as a breeding ground.  Unfortunately, after four decades of steep decline, this energetic little bird has now been classified as an at-risk species.   The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) designated this warbler as threatened, stating that there is no indication that its population trend will be reversed.

Olive-sided flycatcher

The olive-sided flycatcher is like many boreal dependent birds, as their populations are at risk.  The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) designated the species as threatened nationally due to a 79% population decline since 1968.  In Ontario these declines have been 9.5% per year from 1960 to 2006 with a national average of 4% over the same time.

Key Facts

• North America's Boreal Forest represents 25% of the world's remaining intact forest.
• More than 300 species breed in Canada's Boreal Forest.  Of these, 40 landbirds and several duck species are facing declines.  Habitat loss is one likely cause.
• In Ontario, some birds have not yet been designated as species at risk but are experiencing significant declines.  • Populations of the black-backed woodpecker have dropped by 11% over the past four decades.  During the same time period, the palm warbler has declined by nearly 4%.
• Protecting 50% of Ontario's Boreal would encompass habitat for between 76 and 230 million breeding birds.
• 729,000 hectares is the estimated area of boreal forest logged in Ontario between 2004 and 2007.
• 62,000 kilometres of logging roads run through Ontario's southern boreal forest.