Boreal Forests

The largest intact forest in North America.

Boreal Forest, Quebec, Canada Photo: Onfokus/iStock

The boreal forest—North America’s bird nursery—is one of the largest intact forests left on Earth. Stretching from Alaska to Labrador, it provides nesting grounds and migratory stopovers for nearly half of the common bird species found in North America. Every fall, up to 5 billion birds pour out of the forest and fly south to backyards, parks and wildlands throughout the Western Hemisphere. Caribou, bears, wolves, lynxes and wolverines and countless other species thrive in the boreal in numbers rarely seen elsewhere.

The boreal forest captures and stores enormous amounts of carbon,  especially within its soils, peatlands and permafrost. Canada’s Boreal Forest alone holds about 12 percent of the world’s land-based carbon reserves. That’s the equivalent of more than 34 years of global greenhouse gas emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes.  The forest is also home to a quarter of the world’s wetlands, helping to keep our planet cool and our waters pure. The boreal forest contains millions of lakes including some of the largest and most pristine on Earth and the longest free-flowing rivers remaining in North America.

But the race to develop the boreal forest is on, and without science-based conservation strategies large stretches could be under threat.  Fortunately, great strides in large-scale conservation have been made in recent years. In fact, some of the world’s largest modern land conservation designations have occurred in Canada’s boreal forest region over the last 10-15 years, sustaining habitat for tens of millions of migratory birds. The biggest, most ambitious proposals for conserving boreal lands are coming from Indigenous Nations. In the Northwest Territories, the Łutsël K’e Dene First Nation worked with the Canadian government to create Thaidene Nëné, one of the biggest protected areas in the country. The Sahtu Dene are planning to conserve an area 12 times the size of Yellowstone National Park across lands that store enormous amounts of carbon—the equivalent of almost 35 years of Canada’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Several other Indigenous Nations have proposed creating Indigenous protected areas that will preserve bird nesting grounds, caribou habitat, and wild salmon runs across the boreal. Taken together, Indigenous-led proposals could protect over 100 million acres of boreal forest.

Audubon’s Boreal Conservation program is a key part of Audubon’s total flyway conservation vision that strives to ensure that bird conservation efforts are being implemented at the places and scales necessary to take care of our birds throughout their full life cycles.

The Boreal Conservation program currently has three major areas of focus:

Voices for Boreal Conservation – increasing awareness of and support for boreal conservation

Boreal Conservation Science – developing science that highlights the conservation values and priorities for the boreal forest region

Support for Indigenous-led Conservation – working in collaboration with Indigenous governments and communities to advance their conservation and land stewardship goals across the boreal forest

Boreal Forest News

Boreal Forests Leadership

Jeff Wells

Jeff Wells

Vice President, Boreal Conservation

Finding Boreal Birds with Jeff Wells

Birds of the Boreal Forest