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Protect Natural Treasures

From Canada's Spirit Bear Coast to California's Baja gray whale nursery to Alaska's Tongass rainforest, we work to secure long-term protection for exceptional wild places.

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We push the government to end all new leasing of fossil fuels on public lands and waters.

Policy Solution

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Tell Interior Secretary Zinke to defend our national monuments

Experts & Resources

NRDC in Action
Our Favorite National Parks
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, NRDC’s very own wilderness fanatics share their most treasured park memories.

mcfst3/Flickr

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison’s Enduring Impact on Me

“Two decades have passed since I first drove into the western Colorado canyon lands, but I still remember the journey there as clearly as the stars that lit the boundless night sky. Making my way across the darkened landscape, I could sense the vastness of this special place in the pitch-black emptiness before me. Between the shadows stretched out across the broad plateau, I could faintly discern the outlines of granite walls falling off far beneath me, the handiwork of the Gunnison River slicing through Precambrian rock nearly two billion years old. By first light the next morning, I stood awestruck gazing at canyon walls, some nearly twice as tall as the Empire State Building, cut through in places with pink and white rock as if streaked by some cosmic brush. All was silent except for the wind, roaring through high passes where golden eagles and red-tailed hawks soared in the sunlight in search of prey.” —Rhea Suh, president

Don Breneman/Alamy Stock Photo

Surviving an Epic Storm at Voyageurs National Park

“Voyageurs campsites are reachable only by boat, and in the summer of 1993, my family headed out in a tiny johnboat. While we were looking for the perfect campsite, a massive storm developed. Giant waves tossed our boat around and crashed over the sides. My mom started crying, while my sister Christina sat silently in shock. My sister Caroline plugged her ears, closed her eyes, and started singing at the top of her lungs. I desperately tried to bail out the boat with a plastic cup while my dad tried to guide us to safety. At last, we found a pile of rocks in the middle of the lake where we could pull up. Our epic adventure is one we will remember forever.” —Rebecca Riley, senior attorney, Land & Wildlife program

Fighting Fire at Lassen Volcanic National Park

“I was working on a helicopter crew as a U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighter when a fire started high in Lassen Volcanic. Our pilot dropped us off in a meadow, miles from any road. We worked ferociously for the next 10 days, cutting a firebreak through the forest. The fire was only hours away, backing down the hill toward us. The skin on my face grew tight from the heat. But our line held—the fire stopped there. As our pilot picked us up, I thought about the fact that cars can’t take us to all of our country’s prettiest places, but a helicopter can.” Giulia Good Stefani, attorney, Marine Mammal and Southern California Ecosystems Project

Courtesy Joel Reynolds

Letting Go at Muir Rock in Kings Canyon

“I grew up hiking in Kings Canyon and have continued to do so with my own kids throughout their childhood. There is no more significant natural point of reference in their lives than Muir Rock, the site of a 15-foot jump into one of the most beautiful swimming holes anywhere. After avoiding the edge for years, my kids learned to love that jump—first while holding my hand and then, throwing caution to the wind, on their own, over and over again. 'The Rock' has become an essential destination for our family and just one more reason to love our national parks.” —Joel Reynolds, Western director and senior attorney

 

Finding God at Yosemite National Park

“For three summers in college, I worked in the stables at Yosemite, taking tourists up the park’s waterfalls and trails. After college, I returned and stayed for years. My love for Yosemite grew into an adoration of the outdoors. My work evolved until I was working full-time to protect the environment and take action on climate change. As many people do, I feel closest to God inside the national parks, as such natural beauty and tranquility begets spirituality. Today Yosemite remains my church. It’s where we celebrate weddings, lay friends to rest, and reconnect with what many of us consider our home.” —Mary Solecki, E2’s Western states advocate

Courtesy Tim Lau

Reuniting and Reflecting at Kenai Fjords National Park

“This past June, my mom, my dad, my brother, and I journeyed together to Kenai Fjords National Park. We hiked out to one of the park’s major highlights, Exit Glacier. Wooden signposts lined the trail, indicating where the glacier’s edge used to be. The signs were sobering: Exit Glacier has receded more than 1.25 miles over the last 200 years and shrunk by 187 feet in 2014 alone. After an hour or two, we reached the foot of the glacier—a soaring tower of blue and white ice. For one long moment, my family was completely synchronized: watching the glacier in collective wonder.” —Tim Lau, social media editor

Saving Falcons at Dinosaur National Monument

“Peregrines had been nearly wiped out by DDT poisoning; the toxic pesticide weakened their eggshells, so the shells broke during incubation. Specialized rangers at Dinosaur helped save the falcons by rappelling down the mountain to reach their high-altitude aeries, rescuing the eggs, and placing them in incubators. Once the eggs hatched, they returned the teenage birds to their nests—and my job as a park ranger was to observe the birds to make sure their parents taught them to fly and survive. Peregrine falcons are now off the threatened species list.”Kate Poole, senior attorney, Water and Wildlife Project; director, Water program

Dimitrios Timpilis/123RF

A Fragile Florida Refuge

“It took only one visit to southern Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve for me to appreciate its beauty—and fragility. The preserve encompasses more than 700,000 acres of freshwater swamp and offers refuge to rare plants and animals, including the ghost orchid and the critically endangered Florida panther. It was so tranquil that I almost forgot why I was there: to document the areas that the National Park Service recently approved for extensive oil and gas exploration. It further motivated me to do whatever I can to prevent dirty energy development in one of the last remaining refuges for panthers and south Floridians alike.” Alison Kelly, staff attorney, Land & Wildlife program

A Snake Surprise at Shenandoah National Park

“Shenandoah is just a couple of hours from Washington, D.C., but it offers more wildlife than you might expect. I was once hiking there with my now-husband and I spotted a harmless rat snake coiled up in the middle of the trail. I respectfully, but casually, stepped over the snake—only to hear a rattle. Turns out our friend was an eastern timber rattlesnake! My husband was impressed with my bravery, though he probably should have been concerned about my snake-identifying skills.”Melissa Waage, director, policy campaigns

Peter Wey/Stocksy

A Proposal in Grand Canyon National Park

“I once told my sweetheart that if he ever asked me to marry him, the proposal should make a really good story, like with polar bears and penguins. About a year later, we went on a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon, through epic rapids. Then we ventured to the headwaters of Thunder River. We hiked a hot, dusty trail all morning and finally reached the top. In the cool mist from the river, he pulled a stuffed polar bear and penguin out of his backpack. ‘Here’s your polar bear and penguin. Now will you marry me?’ The answer was yes.”—Jennifer Sass, senior scientist, Health program

Observing Change at Alaska’s Parks

“Alaska’s national parks are filled with majesty that I treasured when I lived there. I saw a grizzly pop up from the bush in Denali. I watched sea lions, sea otters, and humpback whales feed in Kenai Fjord. But the beauty of Alaska is changing. I went to Katmai hoping to see salmon leap into the mouths of bears, but the bears had left earlier than in years past. The ice caves I planned to explore in Wrangell-Elias had collapsed from heat. Alaska’s national parks capture the state’s raw beauty, but we all must do our part to ensure that beauty remains.” —Kimi Narita, director of strategic engagement, City Energy Project, Urban Solutions program

Kevin Russ/Stocksy

New Perspective at White Sands National Monument

“The first glimpse of dunes validates the park’s slogan: White Sands is truly like no place else on earth. Less than 100 miles from the Mexican border, the largest sea of gypsum dunes in the world covers 275 square miles of American desert. The U.S. military tested the first atomic bomb nearby. It’s a fitting juxtaposition: As I stand in the dunes, overcome by nature’s power, I can sense the eerie remnants of mankind’s. The sun sets, and the wind effortlessly erases our footprints in the sand. I’m struck by the permanence of our planet, despite our fleeting time on it.” —Jeff Popkin, program assistant

Breaking New Ground at Bob Marshall Wilderness

“The path was razor thin. To my right and left, only air, the ground 300 feet straight down. My feet were in the air. It was my horse’s feet that touched the trail. I had come to the Bob Marshall Wilderness for a six-day pack trip with my daughter. Johanna and I did things we’d never done before: She went six days without a shower, I learned to fly fish, we both learned to trust our horses. We came to know that spot on the map better. And we came to know each other better, too.”Sharon Buccino, director, Land & Wildlife program

Andy Gippetti/Flickr

Solo Time at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

“On a recent trip to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, my family and I were mesmerized by the steam and lava in Halema’uma’u crater and witnessed liquid rock emerging from distant hillsides. There was one rainy morning that kept most visitors away, but we decided to hike the Kilauea Iki Trail despite the risk of slippery footing. As we traversed the rainforest and emerged onto the open crater floor, still cooling down from its most recent eruption, we realized that we had the slate-gray splendor and eerie stillness of this large and bizarre landscape all to ourselves! Our minds were blown.”Lena Brook, food policy advocate, Food & Agriculture program

Exploring the Remote at Isle Royale National Park

“Last year, my wife, four-year-old daughter, and I spent a week on Isle Royale, an island in Lake Superior that may be the most remote National Park in the system. Located three hours by boat from Copper Harbor, Michigan, it is the only park that closes for part of the year due to its extreme winters. Moose, a wolf pack, and many other residents are part of the experience that Isle Royale offers all who make the effort to get there. We hiked, paddled, caught brook trout, and found what this jewel has to offer.” —Rob Moore, senior policy analyst, Water program

nathanphoto/iStock

Nature’s Splendor at Redwood National Park

“Entering into the old growth of Redwood National Park and the neighboring California state parks is like traveling in time—I’m always struck by how the enormous size of the trees suggests the insignificance of us puny humans. Elks bugle; rhododendron and trillium burst forth in the spring; cool coastal mists add an ethereal quality to a scene that, to me, is unsurpassed. Nothing can match the thrill of being awakened by elk emerging from the redwood forest onto the beach in morning. As national parks go, this is a pocket-size one. But it leaves an enormous impression on my heart.”Carl Zichella, director, Western Transmission

Family Future at Glacier National Park

“This past Father’s Day, my wife, our son, our dog, and I camped for a night at Two Medicine Lake in Glacier. I was floored by Glacier’s raw, wild, rugged beauty. And to share the experience with my wife and two-year-old felt so good. We cooked over a fire, slept in a tent, and watched the sun rise over Glacier. Not long after our visit, we learned the wonderful news that our family will be expanding by one early next year. I am glad to know Glacier will be there for Otto and his brother or sister many decades from now.” Matt Skoglund, director, Northern Rockies office

Eric Foltz/iStock

Honoring the Past at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

“My parents thought it fitting to marry in Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse, a one-room log cabin that still stands in the park today. They’d hiked the Smokies frequently while dating and during their engagement. And when I was a student at the University of Tennessee, we went there to study botany and geology, or I went with my friends to hike, swim in the cold streams, and watch meteor showers from the mountain balds. The mountains have always been more than a recreation spot for us in East Tennessee. They are a link to our past and our culture.”Lara Bryant, soil health fellow, Water program

The Call of the Wild at Yosemite National Park

“On a recent a hiking trip to Yosemite with a friend, we headed to Hetch Hetchy. During our seven-hour hour trip from the valley floor to Smith Peak and back, we saw not a single other hiker on the trail. What we did see were a lot of bears. We also encountered a fire-scarred, difficult-to-follow trail, and we made it to the peak only after a lot of guesswork and backtracking. On the descent, as I looked for our faint boot prints and surveyed the trees for bears, I was struck that even in our heavily trafficked parks, there is still wildness.”—Anna Chapin, grant writer

evenfh/iStock

Discovering a Love of the Outdoors at Zion National Park

“I was never an outdoorsy person, but almost a year ago I visited Zion with my two best friends. Mind. Blown. Nothing has ever made me feel the way I felt in Zion. It made me feel small in the best way. I found myself staying quiet rather than talking, moved to tears by the majesty all around me, overwhelmed by the spectacular history. Zion feels alive, and it made me feel alive, too. I’m a hiker now. I’m outdoorsy. I’m more myself now than I was before experiencing that park. I’ll never look back.” —Emily Barkdoll, program assistant

Stop Trump and Pruitt’s escalated anti-environment assault

Explainer

From undersea coral canyons to deep northern woods, these seven places deserve to be part of the president’s legacy.

Victory

Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah will protect some of America’s most striking landscape—and its earliest history.

Explainer

Now deemed national monuments, these natural beauties will be protected for generations.

Policy Primer

If we don’t address these increasingly severe threats, America’s most treasured lands might soon be unrecognizable.

Policy Primer

This month’s National Park Service centennial presents an opportunity to create a parks system that is reflective of—and accessible to—all Americans.

Celebrate by enjoying these images that didn't make the gift-shop postcard racks.

onEarth Story

See these beloved national landscapes through a new lens.

Scoping Comments on the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on Federal Coal Leasing
Comments

Comments on the Notice of Intent to Prepare a Programmatic EIS on Federal Coal Leasing, submitted to the Bureau of Land Management by NRDC, Powder River Basin Resource Council, Western Organization of Resource Councils, and Northern Plains Resource Council.

Explainer
President Obama’s National Monument To-Dos Before He Leaves Office
From undersea coral canyons to deep northern woods, these seven places deserve to be part of the president’s legacy.

President Obama has so far designated 24 national monuments—more than any other president in history. (The closest anyone has come to that number was Bill Clinton, with 19 monuments. Thanks, Bill!) Within Obama’s first three months in office, way back in 2009, he established the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument—a New Mexican site that includes a major deposit of fossilized footprints from the Paleozoic era. Most recently, in June, he honored the LGBTQ rights movement by creating the Stonewall National Monument in New York City. In total, and with the help of the 1906 Antiquities Act, the president has set aside some 265 million acres for the American people to enjoy for generations to come.

Needless to say, our commander in chief has done a great deal to protect the country’s diverse cultural and natural history, but plenty of threatened national treasures still need some serious help from his presidential pen. Obama has about five months before he assumes his new role of “couch commander.” While it would be great if he went for 24 more (!), we hope he can at least squeeze these seven into his legacy. For now, let’s call it 24 and counting . . .

Tim Peterson

Bears Ears, Utah

Named for a pair of buttes that look like—you guessed it—bears’ ears, this red-rock region spans 1.9 million acres of southeastern Utah. Bears Ears contains more than 100,000 American Indian archaeological sites, including petroglyphs, pictographs, and burial grounds. Unfortunately, extractive industries, looting, and vandalism all threaten this ancestral home of more than a dozen tribes. That’s why the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is calling on the government to save “the most significant unprotected cultural landscape in the United States.” Twenty-six tribes have also voiced support for the national monument proposal, along with the National Congress of American Indians. Losing this striking landscape of canyons, mesas, and arches and the ancient culture they contain would be losing a huge chunk our country’s history.

NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC/UConn-NURTEC/UMaine 2014

Atlantic Marine Monument

The waters off the New England coast are teeming with life. Inhabiting the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts, about 150 miles southeast of Cape Cod, are sperm whales, dolphins, sea turtles, seabirds, and cold-water corals. Some of these corals are centuries old and as big as trees. Beyond the canyons sit four underwater mountains, or seamounts, that rise up to 7,000 feet above the ocean floor—taller than any mountains east of the Rockies. These biodiversity hot spots are vulnerable to commercial fishing, oil and gas development, and climate change, and together these threats make them perfect candidates for the East Coast’s very first marine national monument.

Wendy Harrell/BLM Nevada


Gold Butte, Nevada

The Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument and Lake Mead National Recreation Area form a horseshoe of protected areas in Arizona and Nevada. Nestled between them is Gold Butte, an expanse of 350,000 acres that’s every bit as worthy of protection. Named for a historic mining town (now a ghost town), Gold Butte contains 19th-century artifacts along with much older cultural resources, such as rock art and agave roasting pits from 3,000 years ago. The butte-ful landscape is critical habitat for desert tortoises and other rare wildlife like desert bighorn sheep and banded Gila monsters. Unfortunately, a lack of protections has led to rampant vandalism and overuse, which is threatening to degrade Nevada’s only piece of the Grand Canyon. Advocates are seeking permanent protection for the region to strike a better balance between public use and preservation.

BLM Oregon

Owyhee Canyonlands, Oregon

To appreciate just how remote the Owyhee Canyonlands are, you need only to look up. In the night sky over the 2.5 million acres of southeastern Oregon’s high desert, you can see how brightly stars shine when there is no light pollution to dull them. Of course, there’s plenty to see by daylight, too. The rugged country features steep red-rock canyons, sagebrush steppe, and free-flowing rivers, and recreational opportunities abound. In addition to containing more than 500 archaeological sites, this untouched wilderness is a stronghold for more than 200 species, including the imperiled greater sage grouse, the redband trout, and the largest herd of California bighorn sheep on the continent. National monument status would safeguard Owyhee from the mining and development threats popping up around its edges and keep those starry skies crisp and clear.

Richard Seeley/iStock

Maine Woods, Maine

The naturalist and poet Henry David Thoreau once described the “striking . . . continuousness” of the North Maine Woods. “Here prevail no forest laws but those of nature,” he wrote in The Maine Woods, published in 1864. A century and a half later, this—the largest undeveloped forest east of the Rockies—has hardly changed. Moose, black bears, and brook trout share the land’s northern hardwoods, evergreens, and wild rivers with migratory songbirds and threatened Canada lynx. For more than five years, advocates have been fighting to make a 150,000-acre national park and national recreation area in these woods along the East Branch of the Penobscot River. 

W. Tyson Joye/NPS

Greater Grand Canyon Heritage, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is a home and sacred place to 11 American Indian tribes, as well as one of the country’s most beloved natural wonders. Sadly, it’s also one of the most endangered. For the Grand Canyon to retain its awe-inspiring landscape, the 1.7 million acres surrounding it need protection, too. Uranium mining and tourist development threaten to undo centuries of preservation and positive human relationships with the land. In 2012, then interior secretary Ken Salazar put a 20-year moratorium on new mining leases in the area, but designating the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage as a national monument would make that ban permanent. This treasure in the desert, some six million years in the making, is definitely worth maintaining for future Americans.

Bob Wick/BLM California

California Coastal, California

Unlike the other places on this list, the California Coastal National Monument is already a national monument, but it’s a work in progress. Originally established in 2000 by President Clinton, it stretches the entire length of the Golden State’s 1,110-mile coastline and encompasses more than 20,000 small islands, rocks, reefs, and pinnacles. President Obama expanded the monument in March 2014, tacking on the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, a 1,665-acre parcel on the Mendocino coast. Since then, California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer have proposed adding another 6,200 acres, which would include five sites on land and one at sea. Their expansion would boost tourism and protect diverse ecological habitats—like the freshwater wetlands and coastal prairies of Cotoni-Coast Dairies and Piedras Blancas Outstanding Natural Area’s dune fields and estuaries. Win-win!

Stop Trump and Pruitt’s escalated anti-environment assault

Clara Chaisson
Victory

Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah will protect some of America’s most striking landscape—and its earliest history.

Explainer

Now deemed national monuments, these natural beauties will be protected for generations.

Explainer

You may have never heard of them, but there are hundreds around the world. Find out what makes this specific type of reserve so special.

Personal Action

These iconic American vacation spots will soon become unrecognizable—or worse, vanish. Pack your bags, quick!

Victory

Find out how NRDC helped the Golden State protect its oceanfront and all the plants and animals that call it home.

NRDC in Action

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, NRDC’s very own wilderness fanatics share their most treasured park memories.

Policy Primer

If we don’t address these increasingly severe threats, America’s most treasured lands might soon be unrecognizable.

Victory

After years of work by NRDC and its partners, about 5,000 square miles of ocean—with massive canyons, majestic underwater mountains, and more than 1,000 species—have received permanent protection.

Voices

As America’s national monuments come under attack by President Trump, Los Angeleno Robert Garcia shares the story of his personal connection to San Gabriel.

Protection Wanted—and the Bears Ears Monument Delivers
Sharon Buccino
Utah’s Bears Ears Tim Peterson/Grand Canyon Trust

Southeastern Utah is one of the most remarkable places in the United States. Its vast red-rock landscape seems to go on forever. I was lucky to recently spend three days under the Bears Ears, named for twin buttes that poke up from the landscape and look like, well, the ears of a bear. I pitched my backpacking tent among dozens of others — and a couple of teepees, too — in a meadow surrounded by a beautiful ponderosa pine forest, right in the shadow of Bears Ears.

The first night, a full moon illuminated my steps back to my tent after dinner and conversation with the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni and Ute tribes who—like the rest of us—had gathered in the meadow to support the area’s protection. The next day, I would follow them on the 90-minute drive to the town of Bluff, where Interior Secretary Sally Jewell had come to hear comments from the public on the proposed Bears Ears National Monument.

More than 1,400 people poured into Bluff (population: 300) for the July 15 hearing — a testament to Utah residents’ eagerness to protect the region. Time was too short to hear everyone. So speakers chosen by lottery spoke, one after another, of what the surrounding landscape meant to them. Navajo President Russell Begaye called the Bears Ears area a “place of healing and spirituality” and said that “Navajos relate to the Bears Ears area as other people relate to their relatives.” A San Juan County resident spoke of how she valued the freedom to use the land as she chose, just as her family had done for generations.

Everyone who spoke shared a passion for the land and a desire to protect it. The question for Secretary Jewell is how to do that.

One option — the Public Lands Initiative, a bill introduced by Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah) — has been presented as a compromise in the intense debates over how to use Utah’s wilderness. The reality, however, is that energy development and motorized use would win and wilderness would lose out under Bishop’s plan. The bill fails to protect 62 percent of the land citizens have proposed for wilderness. And the bill’s “National Conservation Areas” would allow numerous uses, like grazing and road-building, that few would call conservation. Finally, when it comes to Bears Ears itself, the bill protects only a small piece of the landscape, exposing the area’s natural and cultural resources to further destruction.

The better option—designation as a National Monument by President Obama under the Antiquities Act — offers immediate and lasting protection for 1.9 million acres of naturally rich and culturally important tribal lands. The monument proposal, developed by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, protects existing uses but prevents future destruction. It offers a powerful new model for managing our public lands: tapping into the wisdom and experience of Native Americans to preserve the land for future generations as they have struggled to preserve it in the past. Access to the land for a variety of uses won’t end with monument designation; neither will public comment. Most importantly, Native Americans will have a say in the preservation and management of the land.

Secretary Jewel has said she sleeps better when her decisions protect places for tomorrow—not just today. A national monument designation will do that for Bears Ears. Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative will not.

Report: Major Ecosystem Losses in Canada's Boreal Since 2000
Joshua Axelrod

This blog was drafted by Elizabeth Shope and Danielle Droitsch.

Contrary to a recent report from Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN), which goes to great lengths to say all is well in Canada’s boreal forest, a report released by Global Forest Watch (GFW) Canada this month presents a very different picture. While NRCAN’s report focuses on the lack of “deforestation,” that term has a very specific definition that fails to capture many of the most significant threats facing forests around the world today, including forests in Canada. The GFW Canada report released this month provides some critical analysis and perspective on the issue. In the report, GFW Canada reports an alarming erosion of Canada’s large intact forests (known as an intact forest landscapes) across Canada’s boreal region, with cumulative losses of intact forests in Canada between 2000 and 2013 totaling the area of Great Britain.

Intact forest landscapes (or IFLs) are unbroken ecosystems large enough to support complex, intact and native ecosystems while also holding vast stores of carbon in place. Globally, these large forested landscapes, found mostly in Canada, Russia, and Brazil, decreased by 1 million km2 over the last 13 years (or nearly 250,000 million acres) due to clearing, logging, fragmentation, and anthropogenic forest fires. And while these areas have not been “deforested” in terms of conversion to another use, their role as critical ecosystems that provide habitat for hundreds of species—including threatened and endangered species—has been degraded by human activity. Environment Canada likes to say, “100% of forests harvested on Canada’s public lands must be successfully regenerated,” but with replanting and seeding rates at 40% or below in Ontario and Quebec—two provinces driving IFL loss nationally—such statements have little meaning when reality on the ground says otherwise.

An intact forest landscape in Quebec's Broadback River Valley. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace.

According to the report, Canada’s Intact Forest Landscapes Updated to 2013, nearly 5% of Canada’s intact forest landscapes (IFLs) that still existed in 2000 had been lost due to human disturbance by 2013. The majority of the lost IFLs have been eaten away on the southern edge of the boreal (see the red areas in figure 1 below) and the degradation of these natural ecosystems threaten global biodiversity. While large forested areas remain in Canada, commercially viable timber grows predominantly along the boreal’s southern edge. With such significant forest degradation along this edge taking place over only 13 years, the findings in this report raise major concerns about the sustainability of long-term forest management policies on Canada’s public lands.

Figure 1: Red areas on the map show areas of previously intact forest that have been lost between 2000 and 2013.

Key findings from the report:

  • The Canadian provinces of Quebec, Alberta, and Ontario accounted for 60 percent of the IFL loss,
  • Reduction in IFL extent largely occurred within forest tenures associated with logging activities (60%), while 6% of the total IFL loss was observed in petroleum or natural gas tenures. 
  • The impacts of the IFL loss on the ranges of woodland caribou and other species at risk was dramatic. Roughly, 92% of the IFL degradation occurred in areas known to have endangered or threatened species, while 14% of it coincides with the presence of at least six species at risk. (See p. 15)

Why do Intact Forest Landscapes matter?

IFLs are defined as areas of natural landscape that are minimally influenced by human activity that, with an area of at least 500 km2 (or 123,553 acres), and are large enough that viable populations of all native biodiversity, including wide-ranging species, can be maintained. These vast areas contain a disproportionately high amount of forest carbon and biological diversity, and are crucial to supporting local and global benefits ranging from climate change mitigation to freshwater storage.

But IFLs matter at the human level as well. Across the boreal region of Canada, First Nation communities who have lived and thrived within the boreal forest for centuries are seeing many aspects of their way of life destroyed. Species they once hunted are disappearing while traditional practices and cultural activities are being lost as once untouched forests are cut. In Quebec, NRDC has been working with the Cree community of Waswanipi to address the threat posed by IFL loss on their lands. Over several decades, they have seen a huge percentage of their territory logged, with some estimates placing 90% of their traditional lands as lost to logging and other resource development activities. As this has happened, they have seen the herds of woodland caribou that they depended on for centuries nearly extirpated, with things getting so bad that they have voluntarily ceased hunting caribou on their traplines.

Surveying the aftermath of a clearcut in northern Quebec.

What about the future protection of Intact Forest Landscapes?

The report from GFW Canada suggests that long-term boreal forest management strategies need reevaluation.  Continuing policies that allow the continual northern creep of forest degradation raises questions about what will happen to the IFLs that remain in Canada’s boreal, not to mention a forestry industry that appears unable to adapt to changing forest conditions. Moving forward, understanding the locations of IFL loss and remaining IFLs should guide conservation planning as a priority, with harvest plans adapted to avoid destruction of IFLs in as many cases as possible.

This need is further highlighted by GFW Canada’s report, which found that only 17 percent of the remaining large intact landscapes in Canada are located within interim or permanent protected areas. This leaves the vast majority of unbroken, wild expanses potentially available to logging, oil and gas development, hydroelectric development, or mining. According to the report, over 500,000 km2 of these unprotected forests are located within forest tenures and thus available for cutting at almost any time.

While federal and provincial action is increasingly necessary if Canada is to avoid severe degradation of its remaining forests, others are moving to try and fill the gaps left in Canada’s forest policies. In an effort to help spur the preservation of remaining IFLs in Canada’s commercially accessible forests, the Forest Stewardship Council—the world’s only independent certifier of sustainable logging—has begun work to encourage preservation of IFLs among logging companies operating in Canada. This effort, and growing attention on the critical roll the world’s forests will play in helping to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, is a necessary step to preserving the IFL ecosystems upon which the global community and the health of our planet depends.

Notes:

In addition to the maps provided in the report, you can also explore an interactive map showing the IFL loss or download the data sets.

Not all organizations count IFLs and IFL loss the same: it can differ in terms of the study area, size and width requirements for an IFL, how infrastructure disturbance is buffered, and how disturbance from fires are treated. The discrepancies in how Global Forest Watch Canada and the Global IFL Mapping Team treat these issues are discussed on pp. 19-22 of the report

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