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Report: Birds are Big Business, so Guard Their Nursery

PHOTO: The green-winged teal is a duck commonly spotted in Washington, but not lately. In the spring, more than half of them head north to the boreal forest to breed. Photo credit: Jeff Nadler
PHOTO: The green-winged teal is a duck commonly spotted in Washington, but not lately. In the spring, more than half of them head north to the boreal forest to breed. Photo credit: Jeff Nadler
May 5, 2014

SEATTLE – Whether you enjoy bird-watching in the spring or bird-hunting in the fall, a new report says birds are multi-billion-dollar economic drivers – and that protecting them also requires protecting Canada's boreal forest.

The Seattle-based Boreal Songbird Initiative says in order to play its role as the bird nursery of North America, at least half of the massive Canadian forest must be kept free of large-scale industrial development.

Jeff Wells, the group's science and policy director, says it's an achievable goal.

"Fortunately in the boreal forest, we have one place where that's much easier to do, because it's still 70 percent intact," he says. "Most of the world is no where near even 50 percent intact, in the ecosystems that you're looking at."

The report says bird hunting is an almost 47 billion annual business in the U.S. alone, and bird-watchers spend more than $40 billion a year on travel and equipment.

Wells says Americans can have a lot of impact on what happens in the boreal forest with their buying choices, as U.S. consumers are the chief recipients of Canadian exports.

For most Americans, it's out of sight, out of mind, but the boreal forest spans millions of miles around the northern hemisphere.

It makes up about 60 percent of the land in Canada and is home to a longtime timber trade, rich mineral deposits and even diamonds.

So, Wells says, it's a constant struggle for Canadians to balance these extractive industries with conservation.

"With mining there's a lot of infrastructure," he explains. "You've got to build railroads and roads to move the products around. And of course, there's oil and gas in the western boreal forest. So, lots of different kinds of industry, spread pretty much across the whole boreal forest."

The report was issued jointly with Ducks Unlimited in the U.S. and Canada.

It says bird populations already are coping with the effects of climate change, which has reduced their habitat for nesting and breeding, and altered their migration patterns, throughout North America.


Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA