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Progress and Peril in the Boreal Forest

Millions of acres have recently received protection in this region, but grave threats remain for wetlands and waterfowl.
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by Frederic A. Reid, Ph.D.

While the contribution the prairies and parklands make to continental waterfowl populations is widely recognized, the importance of North America's boreal forest to ducks and geese remains a well-kept secret among waterfowlers. This is likely because relatively few people have traveled to this remote northern region other than a handful of adventurous sportsmen, pilot-biologists, and wildlife researchers. But those who have seen the boreal forest, especially from the air, know firsthand that it contains great wetland landscapes and abundant waterfowl.

In the past, many waterfowl biologists believed that few waterfowl were raised in the boreal forest and large numbers of birds occurred in the region only when the prairies were dry. But biologists now know the boreal forest and prairies are both vitally important "duck factories." The two regions complement one another in providing breeding, spring staging, molting, and fall migration habitat for the overwhelming majority of this continent's waterfowl.

North America's boreal region is the largest unspoiled forest and wetland ecosystem remaining on Earth. At 1.5 billion acres, the boreal forest stretches from western Alaska to the Atlantic Ocean, accounting for 25 percent of the world's remaining intact forest. The boreal forest is also ecologically diverse. While the cordillera and shield regions have low density waterfowl use, the boreal and taiga plains have a rich water and wetland component that is extremely important to waterfowl.

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