Ontario Sets Plan to Protect Northern Boreal Forest

The government of the Canadian province of Ontario said on Monday it will conserve a huge swath of the province's northern boreal forest to protect polar bears and other wildlife and to help fight climate change.

The plan to protect permanently at least 225,000 square kilometers of the forest, an area nearly the size of the United Kingdom, won praise from environmental groups, which said it should serve as an example for other governments.

"We are overjoyed with the announcement," said ForestEthics senior campaigner Gillian McEachern. "This is the largest conservation commitment in Canadian history."

Ontario's northern boreal region takes up 43 percent of Ontario's landmass and soaks up about 12.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. The protection of a big swath of it is a key part of the provincial government's plan to fight climate change.

Boreal forests are northern forests that are affected by long winters. They are made up mainly of evergreen conifers. The conservation plan aims to protect polar bears, caribou, wolverines and other wildlife that live in the Ontario region from climate change and to ensure that forestry and mining development doesn't destroy the forest's pristine ecosystems.

"(Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty) is providing some direction and some objectives to the process," said Monte Hummel, president emeritus, World Wildlife Fund Canada. "It's an invitation for everybody to come to the table and in my view that's how things should be solved."

Ontario's Liberal government said that scientists and native communities will work together to map and protect a network of conservation lands. As well, the government will work with northern communities and resource industries to create a sustainable development plan.

"Although the northern boreal region has remained virtually undisturbed since the retreat of the glaciers, change is inevitably coming to these lands," McGuinty said in a statement.

"We need to prepare for development and plan for it. It's our responsibility as global citizens to get this right, and to act now.

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