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April 7, 2020  -  All Things Boreal

The boreal region and forest are anything but boring

According to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), our counties boreal region is unique and vital in many ways.  That’s worth exploring considering some of the southern reaches of this vast zone are part of Clearwater County. 

The name Boreal comes from the Greek name given to the mythical Boreas, the so-called god of the North Wind. That’s our first hint at the untamed nature of this land mass stretching from Newfoundland to the Yukon. Though rugged, it’s the chosen home of a few and the destination of others interested in what it has to offer.

The boreal is massive. The boreal zone rings an upper portion of the entire northern hemisphere just south of the Arctic Circle. The Canadian portion amounts to 28 percent or about 1.5 billion acres. 75 percent of all the forested land in Canada is found in this zone

The boreal is misunderstood. It’s not 100 percent treed. Yes, there are many trees, including birch, poplar, larch, lodgepole and jack pine and white and black spruce plus a host of shrubby species.  

There are tracts of treeless land where you find wetlands, lakes, rivers and streams and higher elevation areas mostly void of trees. There is an estimated 200 million acres of surface fresh water in Canada’s boreal. 

The boreal is multi-national. Its non-human population includes a wide variety of wild inhabitants. Some are permanent citizens and others transient.

About half the approximate 300 bird species found in Canada reside there. Some migratory birds rely on the boreal for their journey to and from the Arctic while others make it there summer home.  

Approximately 80 percent of waterfowl, more than 60 percent of finch types and more than 50 percent of warbler species breed in the boreal. Populations during breeding season range up to three million and up to five million after young hatch.

There are 85 species of mammals that thrive in the boreal. Large animals like moose, bison, elk and deer, along with another majestic resident, the woodland caribou call this place home.  Caribou, unlike their Arctic cousins, prefer and in fact need the forest protection of the boreal against predators. 

Then there are the smaller species, like otter, muskrat, beaver, hares, squirrels. In between these are foxes, martin, lynx and wolverines.

The boreal is multi-purpose. Most of its permanent inhabitants live in remote communities making up only 13 percent of Canada’s population. For Aboriginal residents, the land is tied to many traditional lifestyle purposes. For other permanent citizens, it provides a way of life in blue- or white-collar ways.

It’s also a region of economic change as natural values, sometimes described as environmental and social amenities, are sought after. Discussions are ongoing as to what intact land does for water filtration, water storage, air quality, for other industries such as eco-tourism and for rural quality of life. 

There are many reasons why people choose to work or play in the boreal. There is a long history of natural resource harvesting and extraction – especially forestry, oil and gas and mining. On the recreational side there are various outdoor pursuits including eco-tourism.

Many industries are evolving to include world-leading advances in reclamation and reforesting.  

The boreal is multi-functional.  The boreal zone has an incredible capacity to capture carbon.  Comparisons to rainforest show the boreal stores twice the carbon of its tropical equivalent.  

In tropical rainforest more than 50 percent of its carbon is in the trees themselves. In the boreal, 95 percent is below the ground in the peat soils which dominate.  An amazing contrast.

Five of the largest river systems on the planet are in Canada’s boreal along with an estimated 25 percent of our wetlands.  It is a freshwater reservoir unlike anything else in the world.  

The boreal has been called the "lungs of the earth”, taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.  Maybe that trip to the forest to take a deep breath is more than a psychological lift. 

It’s incumbent upon us to take care of this amazing place.  For more info, check out "Hinterland Who’s Who” for an audio visual journey to the boreal: 


Due to COVID-19 Clearwater County has extended its cancellation of all non-essential public events until May 1.

County offices remain closed to the public (open by appointment only), until further notice, and the public is encouraged to use alternative communication tools such as phone, email, website or social media.  

Coming Events and Programs

  • Conifer Seedling Program. These one-year old white spruce and lodgepole pine seedlings are available for purchase/ planting in Clearwater County. Seedlings arrive mid-July ready to plant. Application forms available and accepted by email to Danielle. Order deadline is May 22, 2020. 
  • Hemp fiber mats. Since weeds rob tree seedlings of moisture, nutrients and sunlight, new plantings may benefit from this form of vegetation management.  Available in 12- or 18-inch squares for $0.40 and $0.50 cents respectively.  Place an order with your 2020 seedling order or separately.

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