Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Case Study: Boreal—Earth’s Northern Woods

Forests that cover the northern regions of Canada, Russia, China, Scandinavia, and southern Alaska make up the boreal forests, or taiga. (Smaller areas of Japan, Korea, and Mongolia also contain boreal forest.) They include a band of growth between 45° and 57° north latitudes and form an almost continuous ring at the top of the globe. Boreal forests hold little tree diversity compared with tropical rain forests: They contain only a limited variety of coniferous trees that retain needles year-round and have a short growing season of about 130 days. Boreal forests nevertheless support extensive food webs of plants, mammals, birds, insects, and fish. They also act as a northern watershed by containing numerous lakes, rivers, wetlands, bogs, and marshes.

The boreal forests serve the Earth in the following additional ways: (1) as a carbon reservoir for storing carbon not released into the atmosphere; (2) in filtering millions of gallons of water each day; and (3) by providing resources for resident people that use the forest for hunting, trapping, and fishing. The boreal forests also contain vast potential commercial potential because of their timber, oil, gas, minerals, and hydroelectric power resources, so they have become a central point of interest of both industry and environmentalists.

Large oil and natural gas reserves under the forests of Alaska, Canada, and Russia represent the number-one threat to the future of boreal forests. Fossil fuel reserves in other parts of the world will someday run dry, and countries such as the United States desire a reliable supply of domestic fuel, which the boreal region holds. In addition to the United States, Canada, China, Russia, and Norway have all eyed their own boreal forests for oil exploration.

Global warming also threatens boreal forests because as temperatures rise the health of the cold-tolerant trees may decline, and disease and parasites gain opportunity to infect them. At the same time, warmer temperatures have already made temperate deciduous forests to the south drift north toward the boreal habitat. The warmer temperatures therefore threaten boreal growth from the south, and melting glaciers and polar ice may cause flooding from the north.

Environmental organizations have tried to protect boreal forests from the destruction that has occurred in poorly managed tropical forests. In the United States and Canada, the following organizations act as watchdogs over boreal forests by monitoring the mining, oil drilling, and logging industries and by participating in global warming talks: the Northern Alaska Environmental Center; the Sierra Club; the Nature Conservancy; the Alaska Department of Fish and Game; and the Natural Resources Defense Council; and Nature Canada.

Forests in Siberia and eastern Russia suffer added threats because of the way they have been managed, and have endured several consecutive seasons marked by wildfires, insect outbreaks, and overgrowth that keeps seedlings from maturing. Enterprises that once operated farms under socialism now own much of Russia’s forestland. These owners may view forests as a community resource to be depleted for building personal wealth without much regard for sustainable methods. For example, the Federal Forest Service of Russia for many years controlled more than 90 percent of Russia’s forests and has shown interest in conservation, but this agency also ran about 20 percent of the country’s logging. The agency furthermore has released no information on forest area land or logging activities, so environmentalist groups such as Greenpeace Russia and the Taiga Rescue Network found it difficult to design conservation action plans.

Environmentalists suspect that forest management in Russia has not been optimal. Fedor Pecar, chief of the Irkutsk airbase in Russia told Greenpeace in 2007, “This year there are more of them [fires] than in all of the previous years. One may think that now everything is being burnt off: fields and old straw. Almost half of the fires were caused by this. The villagers burn off private meadows and they are doing it recklessly and carelessly. Thus not only forest, but also buildings and houses catch fire. . . .” In 2000 Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree abolishing the Federal Forest Service, the only federal agency with interests in protecting the boreal forests. Fortunately, Russia’s boreal forests are very remote, and logging them would be an expense that for the present has kept them safe from large-scale destruction.

The world’s boreal forests will not be safe forever if the timber and fossil fuel industries need new places to explore. Boreal forests the world over will require careful monitoring and strong legal protections for their survival.

Source of Information : Green Technology Conservation Protecting Our Plant Resources

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