Boreal forests are mysterious and wild, and have fuelled storytelling across the ages with evocative tales of forest corners, thick mosses, marsh-men, and gnomes.
It’s honestly hard to wrap your head around these frozen forests when our local context is sandy-toe coastal. But beyond imagination and Santa’s domain, these forests are also one of the most important biomes on the planet.
While the Amazon is often said to be the ‘lungs of the planet’, the Boreal forests also have a gigantic green function regulating climate change and supporting biodiversity. Russia’s Boreal forests have the weight of the world on their branches storing nearly half of the northern hemisphere’s terrestrial carbon under the permafrost that's now in danger of melting.
That’s a trunk load of responsibility.
Where for arbour thou?
Russia's boreal zone is the largest forested region on the planet, and almost double the size of the Amazon.
Known in Russian as the Taiga – or ‘land of the little sticks’– the word Boreal is actually derived from the Greek god of the north wind, Boreas.
Regardless of name, these drop-dead-gorgeous landscapes make up 30% of the earth’s woodlands and wraps entirely around the planet across eight countries – Canada, China, Finland, Japan, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the USA. They lie in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone, between latitudes 50° and 60° N, where winters are long, rainfall is high and the average temp sits around -20° C. Brrrrrrr.
Canada has a huge concentration of Boreal, nearly 60% of its landmass, covering 5.7 million km2 from Newfoundland in the east to the Yukon in the west. But the biggest Boreal region is in Russia, and, at 12 million km2 it’s the largest forested region on the planet. For scale, that’s almost DOUBLE the size of the Amazon (6.7 million km2).
Biodiversity is big in the Boreal and a roll call of tress goes something like this: Pine? Present. Spruce? Present. Larch? Present. Fir? Present. Poplar? Present. Birch? Birch? Birch? (nod to the Ferris Bueller fans).
There are plenty of creatures to Caribou-t too with over 300 species of birds, 130 types of fish and 85 types of mammals like Boreal Woodland Caribou, moose, wolverine and grizzly bears all calling the Boreal home. And if you’re into big things, the king of the forest is without doubt the Wood Bison which weighs up to 1,000kg.
A deep-rooted relationship
In many remote regions of the boreal forest, traditional knowledge remains the best source of information for regional geographic features, species status and health, and landscape alterations, including from climate change.
There are more than 600 Indigenous Nations in Canada (including First Nations, Inuit and Métis) and 70% of these communities have territories in the Boreal. Tradition, survival and wellbeing have been inextricably linked to the forest for millennia and it is these very commnuities that are leading the charge to conserve the forests along with their traditional ways of life.
The spiritual, physical, social and cultural relationship with the Boreal runs deep.
Life is holistic: humans, tall reaching trees, quiet rivers and wildlife are one and the same.
Connection to land, water and animals forms the foundation of Indigenous societies, use of resources, and rules of trade and territories. The ecosystem is culture; a thread links past to present, and the fortitude of the relationship to the land is inseparably knotted to the future.
For example, each year the spring geese migration is both a celebration and a time to pass on cultural values like patience, respect, honour and thankfulness. The Cree of James and Hudson Bay close schools, and gather families to camp and hunt geese for food; to share, learn and reconnect to the land.
In many environments, around the globe, Indigenous peoples are the most effective stewards of forests. For the future of biodiversity and climate change, empowering Indigenous-led management of protected areas is a huge part of the solution.
The ultimate ice breaker
If the methane stored in the permafrost of western Siberia was freed, its warming effect would be equivalent to 73 years of current man-made CO2 emissions.
You’ve heard the Amazon is the lungs of the planet, right? True, but you may not know that the Boreal Forest is also a critical part of preserving and protecting the health of our planet.
As one of the world’s largest carbon sponges, Boreal Forests store ma-hoo-sive amounts of carbon, plugged in peatlands and wetlands. The stats? Five times the carbon of the world’s temperate forests and nearly double the carbon compared with their tropical cousins.
In the context of climate change, these forests are in a precarious position. The latitude where they lie has experienced some of the most dramatic temp increases in the world, rising 1.5°C already and on track to increase a catastrophic 11°C (yes, eleven) by century’s end. Capturing nearly half of the Northern Hemisphere’s terrestrial carbon, Russia’s Boreal Forests are an extensive climate change regulator and up to 60% of this carbon sits in peat, frozen within the permafrost.
Melting would be catastrophic – if the methane stored in the permafrost of western Siberia was freed, its warming effect would be equivalent to 73 years of current man-made CO2 emissions. Gulp.
But as always, human greed is the real enemy of the Boreal.
Because on top of the climate challenges, these precious forests are also being cleared for farms, flooded for reservoirs, and logged for pipelines, roads and mines. The result? Pollution, diversion of water flow and more fires than ever before.
Put it this way – the Siberian forest fires of 2003 put as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as the entire EU reduction resolution in the Kyoto protocol.
May the forest be with you
At the end of the day it doesn’t matter where these forest are located, or what they’re called. The Boreal is bigger, and more important, than nation states and geopolitics.
It’s crystal clear that we have to protect them at all costs if we have any hope of averting catastrophic climate change. So next time you’re in space getting your overview fix, spare a thought for the mission critical green band of Boreal forest wrapping around the top of the planet.
And if you’re looking for something closer to home, consider a Magic Fit® Tee in limited edition Boreal Forest green. Calming and optimistic with a fresh-start vibe, it’s the striking colour of towering trees and natural cycles as old as the hills.
Steadfast. Magical. Irreplaceable.