Return to the Wild - Evolving perspectives on Canadian wildlife
Evergreens along countless shorelines constitute the common scenery in the boreal forest.

From tree to sea

With the solid underpinning of the Canadian Shield, the large ecozone known as the boreal forest is usually the picture that springs to mind when people the world over think of Canada. Passing through more provinces than any other ecozone, the boreal forest is almost completely surrounded by four of the five other ecozones present in Canada. The only one it doesn’t share a border with is the desert ecozone. From the country’s interior to its eastern shores, a lot of traffic, both human and other species, moves through it on a daily basis.

What makes up the boreal forest ecozone

In this virtual exhibit, the region represented by the boreal forest ecozone includes a touch of northeastern British Columbia, most of Alberta north of Edmonton, the top two-thirds of Saskatchewan, Manitoba’s ”waistline,” central and southern Ontario (excluding the Montreal-Windsor corridor), the bottom third of Quebec and Labrador, the entire Island of Newfoundland and most of Nova Scotia. Small portions of the midwestern and northeastern United States have boreal forest ecozone, but none is found in Mexico.

The geography consists of rolling hills, some exposed rugged Canadian Shield and countless rivers and lakes, including Lake Superior, which falls completely within this ecozone. Lakes Michigan and Huron have their northern regions in the boreal forest, but Lakes Erie and Ontario are outside the ecozone. Lake Winnipeg is part of this ecozone, but James Bay is not. The presence of so much water creates many wetlands and bogs here as well.

The climate here varies from west to east and is further affected along the Atlantic coast by the ocean. However, cold winters with below-freezing temperatures are common, as are warm, humid summers. The four seasons are clearly delineated. While precipitation may be sparse in the West, the East, especially Newfoundland, can receive a substantial amount.

Why conservation matters for the organisms that call the boreal forest home

There is a smaller range in latitude within this ecozone compared with some of the other large ecozones, but a variety of vegetation can be found north to south and east to west. Coniferous trees populate the northern regions of the zone, while vast numbers of sugar maple and yellow birch grow in the south. Water lilies and cattails flourish in the expansive wetlands and bogs. Other plants include sedges, bog rosemary and Labrador tea.

The boreal forest’s vast extent and abundant tree cover and wetlands support an impressive variety of animals. Sandhill cranes, blue herons, Atlantic puffins and red-tailed hawks barely scratch the surface of the avian inhabitants that spend part or all of the year here. Swimming the streams, lakes and rivers are lake trout, walleye, yellow perch and largemouth bass.

Many of the resident mammals are also part of our virtual exhibit, such as the harp seal, orca, grey wolf, coyote and grizzly bear, as are the Blanding’s turtle, monarch butterfly, Atlantic cod and bald eagle.

This was one of the first ecozones settled by the Europeans hundreds of years ago. Since then, activities such as clearing natural habitat for farmland and stripping away layers of earth for mining have taken their toll. Large-scale industry has contributed to the creation of the acid rain that is killing our lakes, and Atlantic cod stocks are seriously depleted, in part due to overfishing.

However, conservation efforts involving both government intervention, as with the Atlantic cod stock, and people power, such as the eastern bluebird, are making differences to the animals and illustrating the importance — and limits — of the habitat we share with so many other organisms.