Boreal landscape, trees, shrubs, near water

Taking a Closer Look at North America’s Boreal Forest

There are only a few places on Earth that are still mostly unharmed by the ever-expanding footprint of human development. The demand for resources and the increasing global population have put countless wilderness areas around the world in jeopardy. Some are even in danger of being lost forever.

North America’s Boreal Forest, however, offers a different story. With ~1.5 billion acres (over 6 million km2) of mostly intact forest, the Boreal presents a truly unique opportunity. By protecting large portions of this expansive northern biome now, we can shift the narrative and prove that maintaining the ecological integrity of large ecosystems is still possible.

Map of Canada, showing the boreal forest biome.


Globally, there are only five large forest regions that still contain vast swaths of undeveloped forest. North America’s Boreal Forest, which spans the northern part of the continent from Alaska to Newfoundland, is a member of what is sometimes called the 'Family of Five'—the last remaining major global forests that still feature considerable expanses of intact wilderness. It joins the Amazon, the Russian Boreal, the Congo Basin, and the tropical forests of Borneo and New Guinea. Representing 25% of the world's last remaining forests without any significant footprint of industrial development, the North American Boreal is the largest intact forest remaining on Earth.


Indigenous Peoples are responsible for the most ambitious plans to preserve and steward these Boreal lands. More than 600 First Nations are located in the Boreal Forest of North America, and they are leading the way in the development of permanent protections for the Boreal. Audubon is working to elevate and provide support for important initiatives such as Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas and Indigenous Guardians programs across Canada.


INTACTNESS: The North American Boreal is the largest intact forest left on Earth, with almost all of it remaining unharmed by modern industrial development. The science is clear. Protecting and preserving the world's few large, wild landscapes—like the Boreal Forest—is one of the best opportunities we have to fight both climate change and biodiversity loss.

BIRDS: North America's Boreal Forest acts as a “bird nursery” for an enormous number of migratory birds that rely on this haven during the breeding season. For example, it is estimated that 57% of the global population of Olive-sided Flycatchers breed within the Boreal Forest, and 91% of the Connecticut Warblers' North American population breeds here. 

Each fall, 3–5 billion birds representing 325 species emerge out of the Boreal, heading south to the United States, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, all the way down to locations throughout South America, birds like Lesser Yellowlegs. Lesser Yellowlegs nest throughout the wetlands of the Hudson Bay Lowlands. Some fly non-stop for several days after leaving the Boreal to reach their South American homes.

Lesser Yellowlegs standing in water

WILDLIFE: Despite being lost from much of their historic range, many of North America's most iconic large mammals find safety and refuge in the Boreal Forest. A variety of beloved animals, including wolves, moose, caribou, grizzly bears, wolverines, and polar bears still roam freely in the wild throughout the numerous expanses of the Boreal.

CLIMATE: The Boreal Forest plays an enormous role in slowing down the effects of climate change. The Boreal holds in storage almost twice as much carbon as tropical forests, helping to slow the increasing buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The Boreal Forest in Canada alone is thought to hold a minimum of 208 billion tons of carbon under permafrost and in its trees, plants, soils, and peatlands.

WATER: North America's Boreal Forest is home to a quarter of the world’s wetlands, with millions of lakes—including some of the largest and most pristine on Earth—and the longest free-flowing rivers remaining on the continent. In fact, the North American Boreal is the world's largest source of unfrozen fresh water.