Top birding and nature organizations in Canada and the United States are pressing government for increased protection of boreal forests, including portions of northern Alberta.

The coalition, which includes the Audubon Society and Ducks Unlimited, is launching a campaign Monday that seeks to have at least half of North America’s boreal forest set aside from development to protect billions of birds that rely on the habitat for breeding purposes.

The Boreal Birds Need Half initiative is endorsed by Audubon, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Nature Canada and Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology.

“When you see broad support from the scientific community, bird organizations and everyday citizens, it makes for a compelling case for increased protection,” said Kevin Smith of Edmonton, the national manager of boreal programs for Ducks Unlimited Canada. “We are looking at a whole different scale of balance of protection and sustainable development.

“At first glance it might seem like those things are at odds, but we work with a lot of partners in industry that want to achieve their goals while assuring that areas like this are preserved for future generations. I think it is a very important initiative.”

The boreal forest, sometimes described as North America’s bird nursery, provides nesting habitat in spring and summer for an estimated three billion birds and nearly half of all species in Canada and the U.S. Many species are in decline, however, including threatened species like the Canada warbler, rusty blackbird and whooping crane, all of which breed in Alberta.

The province’s boreal forest, which includes wetlands that support more than three million waterfowl and the last natural nesting area for whooping cranes, is only about 35 per cent free from industrial disturbance.

“Protecting at least 50 per cent of the boreal forest is in line with what modern conservation science contends is needed, and we hope that governments will adopt policies that reflect the science,” Jeff Wells, senior scientist for the U.S.-based Boreal Songbird Initiative, said from his office in Gardiner, Maine.

“These nesting grounds are the only place on Earth where the birds can make more of themselves,” he said. “If you remove that ability, it makes it that much more difficult for their species to survive.

“So these boreal forests, which are largely in Canada, are critically important for the world.”