Canada’s vast boreal zone contains the world’s largest intact old-growth forest and has more fresh water than the Amazon. Its flora help to slow climate change and it is a breeding ground for 3 billion migratory songbirds. Only 12% of the region is now formally protected, well below the 50% scientists say is necessary to save its ecosystem. On May 9th Quebec unveiled the Plan Nord, a C$2.1 billion ($2.2 billion) proposal that seeks both to develop its northern region and to safeguard its environment. But whether those two objectives are actually compatible remains open for debate…
Yet provincial governments are also pushing to tap the region’s rich resources. Ontario has registered 30,000 mining claims in an area west of James Bay nicknamed the “Ring of Fire”, where chromite (used for stainless steel) was found in 2006. And Quebec’s Plan Nord will open an area twice as big as France to mining, energy development and forestry. Meanwhile Alberta has few limits on boreal oil exploration. In April its government released the details of a plan to protect 20% of the region’s land and faced a backlash from energy firms. The federal government has little power to make the provinces become greener.
Aboriginal groups, who hold treaty rights in the north, have also tussled with environmentalists, whom they blame for disrupting their fur trade and seal hunt. They hope that miners will provide much-needed jobs. Ontario’s Nishnawbe Aski Nation and the Quebec and Labrador arm of the Assembly of First Nations say they were not adequately consulted before their provinces’ conservation laws were drafted, and now oppose the legislation. Indigenous peoples may not be as anti-green as oil companies, but they are no tree-huggers either.
Canada’s environment: Boreal blues, Economist, May 14, 2011,at 46