The Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF) is releasing a comprehensive new land use study that simulates the benefits and liabilities of the next 50 years of development in the western boreal forest region in order to inform dialogue on the options for wildlife conservation in this rapidly developing region.

The western boreal forest is an economic powerhouse, rich in energy and forest resources and one of the most controversial oil producing regions in the world. It is also a vast wilderness area and home to wildlife including caribou, moose, sport fish such as Arctic grayling and walleye, and over 200 songbird species. Climate change actions and resource development plans for this area need to include goals for wildlife conservation in order to ensure a future for species that live in the Western Boreal.

“No one else has attempted to look at the cumulative impacts of resource development on such a large mass of land before,” says Dr. David Browne, CWF Director of Conservation Science. “CWF believes this model can help generate solutions that are good for wildlife, the environment and the economy. Working with regional stakeholders and all Canadians, the ultimate goal is for governments to develop a comprehensive land-use plan for wildlife conservation and resource extraction in the region.”

Covering close to 700,000 square kilometres that include portions of the Boreal and Taiga Plains of Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and Northwest Territories, the computer simulation examines resource extraction including conventional oil and gas, shale gas, oil sands, forestry, and agriculture. It simulates all the commodities produced and their approximate value in jobs and Gross Domestic Product. It also keeps track of the state of the forest over time and simulates what this will mean for moose, caribou, fisher, songbirds, and recreational fish. In addition, it simulates environmental outcomes for phosphorus and nitrogen release to rivers and lakes, greenhouse gas emissions, sulphur emissions, water use, and change in the amount of carbon stored in the forest.

The study now available on the CWF website, puts knowledge in the hands of decision makers and the general public to allow them to explore the trade-offs between wildlife conservation, environmental quality, resource development and economic benefit.

The Western Boreal forest plays an important role in absorbing and storing greenhouse gases which help mitigate the impacts of climate change. As world leaders gather for COP 21, CWF will be representing the interests of Canadian wildlife in climate change conversations and planning.

“We need to explore options for how best to achieve the many goals for wildlife and habitat conservation in this very rapidly changing landscape,” says Browne. “Without coordinated efforts and a large landscape perspective, species such as boreal caribou will gradually be lost from this area.”

Further information about the new study as well as the full report can be found online at\boreal.

Cumulative effects land use modelling was conducted by ALCES Group for the Canadian Wildlife Federation.