Forest products companies have secured timber rights to the majority of the commercially harvestable timber in the southern boreal forest, most of which is scheduled to be cut over the course of the next four decades. In other areas of the region, petroleum production, oil sands mining, and hydroelectric development also have the potential to significantly impact boreal wetlands and other wildlife habitats.
Through the Western Boreal Forest Initiative, DU and its partners are working with natural resource managers to ensure that these activities are conducted in a sustainable manner that will not adversely affect wetland systems and waterfowl populations.
While the impacts of natural resources development are readily apparent, a more insidious threat possibly facing waterfowl and other boreal wildlife is climate change. Temperatures in parts of north-central Canada are predicted to increase by as much as 4 degrees Celsius-among the highest temperature increases on the continent.
This is expected to lead to greater annual variations in climate, including more frequent droughts and flooding. Vegetation zones and wildlife species may shift northward, and as much as 60,000 square miles of the bush may become suitable for small grain farming. The ongoing expansion of agriculture in the southern half of the western boreal forest has already resulted in extensive losses of forest cover and wetlands.
The warming trend may also cause subtle, yet significant changes in wetland ecology in the region, disrupting food webs that support breeding waterfowl and other waterbirds.
Research supported by DU's Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research is presently studying whether or not ecological changes in the western boreal forest are responsible for the sharp decline of lesser scaup numbers in the region, where the majority of these ducks breed.