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California's Next Generation of Birds Needs Protection -- in Canada

A lake in a boreal forest of the Northwest Territories in Canada. | Photo: Courtesy Ducks Unlimited Canada
A lake in a boreal forest of the Northwest Territories in Canada. | Photo: Courtesy Ducks Unlimited Canada

Nearly half of California's birds migrate north each spring to forests that are under threat from climate change and development. A new report on what has been called "North America's bird nursery" says at least half of Canada's boreal forest must be kept free of large-scale industrial development.

Fritz Reid, director, Boreal and Arctic Conservation, Ducks Unlimited, says this is an achievable goal, since most of the forest still is intact.

"It's one of the only places in the globe that you can actually get in before major development and do something that allows development and allows it to be done in a responsible, sustainable way," Reid says.

Boreal bird migration map (click to enlarge). | Map: via report
Boreal bird migration map (click to enlarge). | Map: via report

The report says it's important to conserve big blocks of habitat. As Reid explains, connected protected areas are necessary in order to maintain the diversity of species and support healthy populations. He says protecting the water supply also is a big concern.

Bird-related recreation is big business, too, the report notes. Science and policy director Jeff Wells, Boreal Songbird Initiative, says in 2013, bird-watching trips and equipment generated more than $40 billion in revenue, or about five times the year's total revenue for Major League baseball.

"On top of that, birds are important plant pollinators, pest controllers, distributors of seeds that maintain forest diversity and healthy forests, and they're some of our top environmental indicators," Wells says.

The report, entitled "Boreal Birds Need Half: Maintaining North America's Bird Nursery and Why it Matters," was released jointly by the Boreal Songbird Initiative and Ducks Unlimited. 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.