The Boreal Forest

Earth’s “Emerald Halo”

Your canopy course on the Nizina River bluffs is a microcosm of North America’s boreal forest. You’ll see and learn about this mostly coniferous or evergreen forest of the northern latitudes on your canopy adventure. It’s an environment that experiences seasonal climate extremes, from -50 F (-45 C) in winter to 90 F (32 C) during the brief boreal summer. All resident life, from large mammals to insects and flora to fungi in the boreal forest have developed strategies and behavior to survive and flourish. And notably, the Wood Frog, the only amphibian in interior Alaska, freezes solid to survive the winter then thaws back to life in the spring.

North America’s Boreal ForestThe “emerald halo” or boreal forest is a circumpolar band of deep green that stretches through most of Alaska, Canada, Newfoundland, Scandinavia and Russia. Spanning 6.5 million miles sq (16.8 m km sq) it’s the largest intact forest in the world! About a third or 2.3 million miles sq stretches across interior Alaska from the tree line south of the Brooks Range to the Chugach Mountains extending through Canada to the Atlantic in North America. Massive in size, the boreal forest covers about three-quarters the area of the US.

Wild GeraniumAlso known as the taiga, the boreal forest is sparsely populated, teeming with wildlife, and largely appreciated for its natural wild beauty. Not only is it home to large populations of wildlife, but also home to the northern indigenous peoples. Both require a wild and pristine environment in which to survive. The large mammals include grizzly and black bear, moose, caribou, lynx, wolf, coyote, wolverine, fox and beaver. Migratory birds in the boreal embody the summer sounds and rhythm of the forest. Over 300 species and 30% of the North American bird population depend on the boreal. For many species, it is their only nesting area. Each spring billions make the epic journey to feed and breed as life flourishes in the northern latitudes during the brief northern summer. Over half the world’s trumpeter swans migrate north. In the fall, the migratory birds make their exodus to southern latitudes leaving the forest to the hardy, cold adapted resident avians.

The Boreal Forest Environment & Carbon Buffer

The boreal is a mosaic of interrelated habitats made up of forests, lakes, wetlands, rivers, and tundra at the northern edge. The forest is dominated by spruce, aspen, birch, poplar and tamaracks. Thirty percent of North America’s boreal is covered by wetlands consisting of bogs, fens, marshes, an estimated 1.5 million lakes, and some of the continent’s largest wild river systems. The boreal forest is an object lesson in how critical nature’s reliance is for a wild and relatively undisturbed environment. The interconnectedness of life in this land of extremes is always in delicate balance.

Hike in the boreal forest and you’ll notice it’s often soft and spongy. The floor is covered by a dense layer of organic matter made of peat and moss that can be up to 10 feet thick in some areas. This cover is created when fallen trees, leaves and other plant remains fall to the ground and are prevented from decomposing by the cold boreal temperatures. The ground cover is particularly effective in storing this carbon, and the forests of North America and Russia store far more carbon than any other terrestrial ecosystem on the planet, hundreds of billions of tons.

Because the cold temperatures of the boreal act as a global refrigerator, plant remains are kept from decomposing, thus preventing the release of carbon into the air. Ultimately, the sheer size of the boreal forest helps to regulate the earth’s temperature and buffer the effects of climate change through carbon storage and absorbing CO2 through photosynthesis.

Wild and Remote, But Increasing Pressure

Few roads and relatively few people have largely left the spectacular northern forest intact and undisturbed. It’s estimated only 8 to 10% is protected, with 80% the forest is still intact. The boreal forest is one of few ecosystems where one can venture and experience nature on its own terms. Though wild and remote, there’s increasing threats from development from logging, mining, oil and gas, and hydropower. Due to increasing technology over the decades, the boreal forest is no longer protected by distance and economics.

Our 1% Conservation Support

ABCA contributes 1% of sales to the Boreal Songbird Initiative. Their mission is outreach and education about the importance of the boreal forest region to North America’s birds, other wildlife and the global environment. We also support the Wrangell Mountains Center, a McCarthy based environmental education, research and arts institution.