- Western Tanager
- Boreal Chorus Frog
- Canada Goose
- Background Species (1)
Boreal forest conservation
Boreal forest conservation
Boreal Chorus Frog
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
6 Jun 2003
- Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park; Mill Creek ravine
- 55.45083 -114.82533
- HHB PORTADAT PDR 1000
- Sennheiser MKH 30
- Sennheiser MKH 40
Stereo=1; Decoded MS stereo; Sennheiser MKH40 Cardioid Mid Mic and MKH30 Bidirectional Side Mic
Show: Boreal Songbirds
Log of DAT #: 1
Engineer: Marcia Caldwell
Date: June 6, 2003 afternoon
0:06 - 0:56
MC: What are they're names, Jeff? Rick?
EA: Rick is the tall guy and Peter is the White haired guy?
MC: Do you know their last names?
EA: Yeah, Rick Schneider and Peter Lee.
MC: and what's the name of the place we are?
EA: We're in the Mill Creek Ravine,
MC: Ok, alright.
EA: Do you want us to carry anything?
MC: No, I'm fine I just have to talk on the tape for a second. SO I have the HHBPDR1000 Professional DAT Recorder, I have MKH30 and MKH40, Stereo MS Rig with my MKH40 on the left channel and the 30 on the right channel and that's all I have for now.
Ambi. Walking, leaves crunching.
Ambi. Bird sounds. More walking.
Ambi. Bird whistling
Ambi. People laughing in the background. Walking with some bird and cricket (?) sounds
Ambi. Walking, kicking rocks. Begin to talk and laugh.
Everyone chatting, coughing, deciding where to do the interview, joking around with Rick.
EA: Really, the story that I want to do involves telling the story that everyone tells of the Boreal and the pressures, but through the birds, but I want to talk to you about the pressures in the Boreal.
RS: What I thought perhaps was that there was a paper that came out recently¿
EA: I read it, the one that you did?
RS: In Conservation Ecology.
EA: Yeah, so we can talk about that.
RS: That helps me kind of frame it because the story is¿
RS: Yeah, it just keeps rolling and we can ramble
EA: Yeah, just think about it as being for some guy in CT with no knowledge of the birds or Boreal Forest so we don't have to be specific with numbers
RS: Yeah, no, no, I appreciate that. And like Marilyn said, we should try and keep it as broad as possible, you know, the context. [cuts out]
RS: ¿to let the thing come through that, you know, it's just this big disaster. Toilet can give Alberta a flush because no one bothers and the study wasn't like that so hopefully I'll be able to bring that in as well.
EA: That's my sense as well.
EA swats a mosquito and they laugh about getting bitten.
Rick Schneider Interview
EA: To start, why don't you tell me who you are.
RS: I'm Rick Schneider I recently have become the executive director for Canadian Parks and Wilderness, Edmonton Chapter.
EA: Tell me a little bit about that. What is Canadian Parks and Wilderness?
RW: CPW is a conservation organization, a national organization. We have chapters in most of the provinces and our mandate is the protection of wilderness throughout Canada. We recently started a national Boreal campaign that is taking up a lot of our time.
EA: Now you've been working in this area for quite some time. You've done a lot of research haven't you?
RS: Yeah, I guess I've been working on the Alberta's Boreal for close to a decade now
EA: What have you seen in over a decade? I mean, have you seen a lot in terms of change in over a decade?
RS: Well the research I've been doing is uh¿. not really (laughing).
EA: Mmmhmm, ok, well that's good.
RS: It's not field based stuff¿So I do a lot of computer modeling
EA: Yeah, you do a lot of the modeling.
EA: Well, tell me a little bit about that, tell me a little bit about the modeling.
RS: Maybe we should start with just a little bit of a context for this study that we did. First, the Boreal Forest in Canada is largely publicly owned. So that is an important thing because from that you'd expect that the management of the forest would be based on values and objectives that the public holds. And and we know that has a lot to do with preservation of wilderness and maintaining a balance, I think, is the way I think about it. A balance between economic objectives and ecological objectives like maintaining a habitat for wildlife and that kind of thing. Um, but what's happening in Alberta is that we seem to be stuck in the 1950s when industrial forestry first was initiated here so our system isn't really reflective of the current values that the public hold. And so the study that I undertook with others had two main objectives. One of them was to get a sense of what's actually happening today and moreover, what will the forest of the future look like if we keep doing stuff like we are today? And the other half was, the other reason for doing the study was to look at a different way of doing things. It was using a model that allows you to manage for the forest of the future. Using some alternative approaches.
EA: When you were looking at this were you specifically looking at forestry or oil and gas as well?
RS: Well, that was one of the big differences in our study. It was the full meal deal if you will. It was looking at the Boreal Forest as a whole as opposed to some specific species and what's happening to it. And what we found is that if you look as the forest as it will go through time, and these are computer model projections that we did, it wasn't very complicated in fact, the model was really nothing more than an accounting of what is happening today and then following that through time. So, for example, if we know that a certain amount of roads are being put in every year and then you just add that up over the next fifty years you'll have a sense of that the forest will look like. So we did that for all kinds of industrial uses on a very large piece of northern Alberta, I'm not sure what to compare it to in size, almost the size of Great Britain I think is the area. Anyway, very large landscape and there are very large activities going on there from oil and gas exploration and development and forestry, and a little bit of agriculture so these different industries are all having an impact on the same place at the same time. SO, the first part of the study what to look like what the forest would look like in the future, let's say between fifty or a hundred years from now. And what we found was that if we do not change the way we manage the forest, the forest is going to get smaller as we convert parts of it to well sights or roads, that kind of thing. It's going to be very much more fragmented. We have seismic lines for exploration that's the oil and gas industry does and that fragments the forest. The forest is also going to get younger because the forest industry is still very much focused on taking the old growth stands first and as they continue to do that over time eventually it's more or less going to be gone. And then it's going to be a simpler forest. The reason that's important is because the more complex a forest is, the more different kinds of species can use it. So as we do artificial planting and herbiciding of other kinds of plants that we don't like and till the soil with big machinery, that makes it much more like a plantation or a crop as opposed to a natural forest. And that's not good for the various wildlife species. And the final thing is it is going to have much much more access than it has today. So the concept of wilderness is very quickly being eroded in Alberta because of the constant building of new roads into what is still pristine forest in a lot of areas.
EA: To get to the resource development?
RS: Sure, every stand that the forest industry cuts has to have a road to it to get the lumber out and the same for the oil and gas industry. Every time they put a well in there is a road there to build it and then a pipeline to get it out.
EA: So, looking at the modeling that you did, if we keep pace, at this pace, if we continue at this pace, where do we get? We get lots of roads and single species very young forests?
RS: That's right. Old growth, essentially gone. You know, there's no provisions in current management for maintaining old growth. And fragmentation of that. You know, you're slicing and dicing the little bits that are left over time. SO, The second part of the study said, do we have to accept that business as usual will carry on? Are there not some alternatives? And so the study was put forward as a case study, if you will, to look at a different approach and the fundamental part of that approach was to plan for that future forest ahead of time. The way we're doing it now, it's sort of, I liken it to the all you can eat boreal buffet. Everyone saddles up into the trough and all the different industries all try to get as much of their resource as they possibly can, where in fact the Boreal is more like a pie. You can slice different ways depending on what you want out of it, more wildlife habitats, more forest cut blocks, but there is only so much that the forest can give and so if you use this computer model in this case to say give us a forest in the future that meets our different objectives and then you work backwards from that and say what kinds of activities are permissible at what rates to achieve that end. And so we did and that and we found that we can indeed achieve many of those things that we want and we can't do it in the same rates and the same types activities that we are doing today. And on the oil and gas sector we in fact hypothetically, in terms of the model, we put together a number of best practices for the oil and gas industry and we found we could drastically decrease the amount of fragmentation for example we've got seismic lines that are now anywhere from oh fifteen to twenty feet in width and really there is no reason that they have to be that wide, it's just seemingly momentum. They used to do it that way and so now they still do it that way. There is technology to allow very small cuts to be done, as low as four or five feet and they can be meandering through the forest, not the long linear corridors that there are today. And if you do that, and you do it over fifty years, it has a profound impact on what the forest looks like. And the same goes for roads. Right now what we are doing is different industries are working on the same piece of forest, for example oil company x and forestry company y, and they're not talking to each other and the government doesn't require them to talk to each other. So they, in fact, build roads right beside each other and it's wasteful in terms of money, right? Why would you want to do that? And it certainly has much more of an ecological impact. So, what they should be doing and could be doing is planning together, talking together, build one road, half the impact and they save money. And there have been a few pilot studies that show it really does work, it's feasible, and what we've done in the model is taken some of these ideas and then let them go through time and show that really we can have a much better forest, if you will, than we are doing today.
EA: Do you really believe that everyone really can have a bite of it and it'll still be ok?
MC: Hold on
RS: Good for you.
EA: What just went by us anyway.
RS: A man and a dog.
EA: It was a large husky and he started coming at us. He didn't look friendly.
RS: You got your bear spray ready?
MC: I've got food I can give him.
EA: Sure you heard it, we'll wait until that goes by.
You're doing good, it sounds good, the only thing I notice, your..that¿-she makes the sound of a coat rubbing- if you try not to move.
EA: I'll just hold your hands.
MC: If I was really mean, I'd say take off your coat.
RS: I'll try and contain myself.
EA: It's going to be a five alarm fire now, you just know it.
MC: I think it's going. Nope, almost going.
Chatting about hearing the sounds on the tape.
EA: In terms of the second part of your study, you really found that everyone can have a little bit of what they want out of the Boreal and the Boreal will still be ok?
RS: We didn't look at it exactly like that. We just took what we thought were a few practices that we have found people implementing, pilots, if you will, that do work because we wanted something that was feasible because the response of industry to change is typically oh it can't be done, it's too expensive, we don't know how. So we said, wait a minute; here are a few ideas that people have tried, locally in small areas. What if you were to do them all over the landscape? It has a huge impact. So I think a balance can be found. It's not us the scientist to do that, our role here is to lay out a template or an example if you will that the possibilities are there and the public and other stake holders need to kind of get together and do that same process themselves.
EA: Um, go ahead.
RS: They weighing of values is where it's at. So, you can't have it all and it's up to the people involved, the groups involved, to kind of make those decisions. It may mean in some cases, let's say, you wouldn't have any harvesting in caribou zones, but you may have harvesting somewhere else where it isn't has high a conservation value.
EA: A key part of this is what you were talking about earlier, which is a dialogue, because that's probably what results in the fragmentation as that you have all these individuals doing different things in the same place so if they're not communicating they're overlapping and so as you say, there's more roads¿.
RS: That's a key part of the model. It actually gives that platform or a common framework for people to have that discussion. The way it is now is, I'll be a little bit hard on the industry, but it tends to speak in well, full-page ads if you will, that things are really good and I'll use certain statistics, if you will to substantiate their claims, but the model is common for all. You all have to put your cards on the table, if you will, and speak the same language. And as you go in then everybody really understands what everyone else is talking about. The model doesn't allow any cheating, if you will. If you say your cuts are this size and this is the rate, the results in fifty years are going to be what the model says and nothing else.
EA: Is the fragmentation pretty extensive?
RS: It's um, yes. In parts where there is the combination of oil and gas and forestry, and that applies to a very broad area of western Canada, we call it the western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, is the are of oil and gas that goes of to northeastern BC, almost all of Alberta, a chunk of Saskatchewan, northwest territories, and Yukon. And there is more and more forestry. I think Alberta is sort of a microcosm, what it may look like in the future in these other areas; they just haven't got there yet. So I think its very important people look at if you will some of the problems we're having to get ahead of the curve and try to implement these changes before you get to the level of fragmentation that we have. Because in many areas where industry is mature, we've already passed the point where species are able to maintain normal population levels. Grizzly Bears for example in the Swan Hills have declines markedly. There's only a few left. And it wasn't that long ago, maybe fifty years ago, that we still had active populations of Grizzlies there.
EA: So the Boreal in Alberta is a good indicator of what could happen elsewhere?
RS: Yes, I think so. And I think it's a good reason to have a look at it. It says two things. If we kind of use the old 50s approach where sustainability kind of means sustaining a flow of timber to the mill, there's going to be some serious problems in terms of meeting the public's expectation in terms for ecological objectives like certain wildlife habitat. And it also, there are opportunities, it doesn't have to be that way. So we should think about using Alberta as a bit of experimental kind of place to see that here are some new ways of doing things and these other jurisdictions where we haven't had as much change yet can kind of implement these new practices and preservation of wildlife. The modeling study we did didn't look at that per say, it was focused more on practices, but protecting the areas that are still intact has to be part of the equation as well. That hopefully can be done before the changes take place.
EA: Why is it that Alberta has such a dramatic in terms of pressures? Why Alberta and not other provinces?
RS: I think it's just a unique combination here. You can just look back through history. About 1900 this was still pristine wilderness. All of northern Alberta was pristine wilderness, some fur trade activity and certainly first nation activity throughout. We had, there's a large area of agriculture and soil that suitable for agriculture in the northwest part of the providence, so as the southern parts of Canada was filled up with homestead, a lot of people around, 1910, 1920, started moving up to northern Alberta to use that agricultural land. With that came roads and then kind of a base was formed for more activity. They always knew oil was there, but they didn't have a good market for that at first and an inability to get it out and transport it. Then around 1950 or so when more oil was discovered in southern Canada, we had an influx of people who knew how to get oil out of the ground. And since we had the roads up north it didn't take very long to start developing the infrastructure throughout the north to get the oil out. And then with that, the industrial forestry came about. It's very much infrastructure based. It's no good to have, or it's no use, to have forest without a road to get it to the market so it was a combination of having Edmonton as a center near all the activity, having the agricultural land, and then the infrastructure to rapidly get that stuff to the market and in places like Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, you still have largely a roadless north, and again it's only a matter of time. Right now in Saskatchewan they are talking about building bridges over the Churchill River to get out intact, pristine forest for forestry. There's no reason that it has been left aside other than not having access to date.
EA: Now, I know you are a scientist and you work a lot with numbers and modeling and that that kind of thing, but just on a personal level, what are you the most concerned about in terms of this issue?
RS: Well, I guess what drives me most is the maintenance of biodiversity. I always had a fascination of wolves an bison and that drew me into the Boreal and then as opposed to working with single species which is where I started, I thought what we really need to do is keep the whole assemblage there, all the different species together. That took me then to the maintaining of habitat and management. Who likes to sit in meetings with forestry companies? I certainly don't, but I spend a whole lot of time doing it because I mean that's where the decisions are being made to affect all these different species.
EA: What is it about the Boreal, I mean most people in the lower forty eight states have no sense of what it even is. What is it about it that is special to you?
RS: I guess, to me, it's this concept of real, true wilderness. I mean we have great mountain parks here. I mean we love, we go camping there are the time, but it is developed. You go up towards Wood Buffalo Park, you get dropped off somewhere, I've been dropped off up in northwest territories and there's nobody for like hundreds of miles, just you and the wolves, and pure wilderness. I find that really special.
EA: And the notion of carving it up, probably¿
RS: Yeah, exactly. I feel somebody has to do something. And there are opportunities for doing something, you just have to speak up and get involved. That's how I ended up then ultimately with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society instead of staying in and academic setting which also has it's role. But I felt, I've got to get my feet wet and really plunge into this.
EA: How do you feel about Americans saying, oh look at you Canadians up there in Alberta. You're cutting all your tress down, you're messing it all up. (Laughs) Especially when, you know, when we're buying all your timber.
RS: Well, I don't know exactly what to say, I guess at this point in my life I am looking at whatever is good for the forest is good. And right now we've been having a real struggle to get changes through the system. Right now we've been having a real struggle to get changes through the system. We've had our political party who has been in power for 30 years and it's not really open for change so you know, I think that if some of the folks that listen to your radio show say, wait a minute we care about wilderness too and were to get involved and add a little bit of a voice to our few voices, there really aren't a lot of us here, at some point things are going to change, that tide will change. The analogy for me was at a wildlife meeting once, we tend to grumble a lot about these problems, and people were talking at a discussion point after the meeting about the various problems, and a young woman stood up, she was from Poland and she says, you know you guys here you're complaining about all these things and what do you think it was like for me before the changeover to democracy there. Who would have ever guessed that we were not still going to be behind the iron curtain for another fifty or a hundred years, but it happened and it's going to happen here too. And we look to places like British Colombia and even Ontario. They're changing quickly in terms of how they're managing the forest and we think it's only a matter or time until the rhetoric which is basically what I think is out there, government does. If you were to ask the minister he would say we have world leading practices in Alberta that's, I view that as mostly talk, when you look down at what is happening on the ground, what the law says and what's happening on the ground, they are different.
MC: Hold on.
EA: Sorry, cause of the plane?
MC: It's too much.
EA: It's ok¿Well, while the planes go over you can tell me this for my own purposes. Best practices? Less roads? What else?
RS: Ok, making the overall footprints smaller. SO well sites are a hectare each. They don't have to be that way they just do it because they always did them. Um, it depends on how much detail. Old growth has to be managed.
EA: So mixed growths?
RS: Well, seta sites, overall floating reserves is the way I look at it cause we have fire here so it's no good just to put a fence around it, but what you can do it put some old growth here or there so when that burns down or gets cut some new stuff has to be coming behind it, so that's an important thing. Access, you know, we gotta pull out those roads after they're not used. It goes on and on¿
EA: Yeah, I just wanted to make sure I was thinking the same thing you were in terms of the concept of best practices. Well, it's interesting to me that you are a person who has really looked at the numbers and faced the future, if we continue at this pace. And yet, you sound a little optimistic to me. Why is that?
RS: To be honest, I ask my self the same question sometimes. But, I think a combination. It's the right thing. This is what people want. We're at no shortage of poles in Alberta and Canada that say the Boreal is important, wilderness is important. WE want to have that balance. And I also think it's doable. I've seen enough examples, in small areas, just trials, that says we can do things differently and it works. It's just a matter of putting those little pilots into practice on a wide landscape. And protecting some of those special areas that are left. One has to keep on hoping that it's going to change.
EA: And this would be the place to do it because this is an indicator of what's to come if you don't.
RS: Exactly. If you can't do it here, where in the world are you going to establish or maintain biodiversity to a very high level? We are a democracy, we are educated and this is public land. That's an important thing. This isn't all private land; it becomes so much more difficult then. Here it's basically the people of the land, the owners, should be deciding together with first nations, that are on the land base, deciding that they want of the forest. Not industrial players. They are there at our behalf not on their own.
EA: Although, I would say, I think a lot of people in the Unites States don't realize that forestry is such a critical part of Canada's economy. They think, yeah, well, forestry, whatever¿
RS: Well, it depends where you are, in fact. In BC, that's true. In Alberta, that actually is questionable. It only is, in terms of revenue to the province, about one and a half percent is from forestry. It's oil and gas that drives us, and Saskatchewan, I think, is very similar to us as well.
EA: Ok, the same thing.
RS: No, it's different. Forestry, their business is to cut down trees and ship them away. It's a direct conflict. Whereas Oil and gas they want to get at what's under the ground. Trees are just something that are in the road. And that's where I think we're not going to stop them. It's actually 25% of our revenue in Alberta is derived from the oil and gas. We're not going to shut them down. We don't want to. Society, I don't think, would want to. However we can change the way they go about business so that when they do drill for oil, they don't have such an enormous footprint if you will. And that can be done and we know it can be done. It's just a matter of getting the message out.
EA: What's critical that I haven't covered?
RS: I think we've got most of it. I'm sure they're things I can't think of off the top of my head, but you know Fiona? She knows everything.
EA: And she can talk about a wide array of things. I don't want to ask you bout things that you won't feel comfortable answering.
RS: We've covered most of the high points. And if I thought about it later on the drive home, I'll kick myself. Integrated management we could probably spend some more time on¿Fiona has a really good breadth of view of things. Richard, he's the bird guy, Fiona is too, but make sure you get this kind of stuff from Fiona.
RS: Yeah, cause she's out there doing this kind of work as well.
EA: Tell me this though. Oil and gas is the major pressure in Alberta or is it forestry?
RS: I think it's a combination of both of them and I wouldn't pick on one of the other.
EA: And you would know, I mean you're the one doing the numbers.
RS: It seems to be¿they're a little bit different in their impact. Oil and gas are the slicers and the dicers so it's mainly a fragmentation issue. Forestry it's really the old growth and that's a really important part. I mean, there are a lot of species that depend on it. So they are both important and doing different things.
EA: Ok, you're off the hook. That wasn't too painful was it?
RS: Um¿..No. [Laughing.]
EA: That was an, 'I'm not so sure!' No, it wasn't painful you were fabulous, come on. And I'll read all about it in here as well.
RS: That's right, you can always come back.
RS: Ok, well, that was great. And I hope it all works out for you.
EA: Yeah, I think it will. Yeah, I didn't want to ask you about, you know, declines of species and that kind of stuff because I didn't think you were¿
RS: Yeah, I site Fiona
EA: Ok, great.
RS: Get it from the horse mouth if you will.
EA: But I needed you for, you did exactly what I needed.
RS: Ok, I'll swap with
EA: Swap 'em out. They're probably getting tired of talking to each other.
EA: Are you ok?
MC: Yeah, I'm fine.
EA: Ok, good.
Ambi. Talking about cutting tape.
EA: So, tell me for the record who you are.
Peter Lee Interview
PL: I am Peter Lee.
EA: And what do you do for a living?
PL: I am national coordinator of Global Forest Watch Canada and I'm also director of Canadian Nature Federation.
EA: That's huge.
PL: Which is Canada's group of birders and naturalists.
EA: Wow. Two very large jobs I would think.
PL: Yes, my paying job is GFWC so we're affiliated with World Resources Institute and we operate in twelve, fourteen countries around the world and we do satellite mapping, and other forest projects around the world.
EA: So you probably have a very good idea of the Boreal and what's going on. Canada wide?
PL: Canada wide and global wide. Where we're sitting right here is on the very southern edge of a vast northern forest of which most people in the world, even most Canadians, don't think about much, but it's the one ecosystem that ties Canada together as a country. It crosses all countries and all territories in our nation. And it's huge. Um, Canada's Boreal forest is about half the size of the United States of America and most of that forest is untouched. So, a forest the size of about the third of the Unites States of America is untouched. It's pristine, it's virgin forest. That's Canada's Boreal Forest.
EA: And intact?
EA: And that's a real concept that people¿that it's not all fragmented yet.
PL: It is not. There are certainly problems with fragmentation, clear cutting and other industrial developments in the southern part of Canada's Boreal Forest, but there's still this vast undeveloped northern frontier forest that is pristine. No roads, no clear-cut, no mines, no industry, no towns, no dams, no hydro-development.
EA: Why do we need such a place?
PL: There's lots of reasons. Both practical, cultural, and spiritual why we need such places. [Coughs.]
MC: We'll move that out of the way. Is that ok?
PL: Yeah sure. That's my crutch, it's where all my facts and figures are. Take it away!
EA: That's why she grabbed it.
EA: I mean, why is it so important?
PL: It is important first of all, simply for human survival. Canada's Boreal Forest is a repository of a vast wealth of biodiversity on a per hector basis not as rich as the tropics, but when you combine it's vast areas, it's number of species, it's population densities of key species, like warbler and ducks and caribou and moose and bear and wolves, that diversity with the small diversity, insects and soil fungus and mushrooms, Canada's Boreal Forest is actually a vast storehouse, a vast wealth, of biological diversity in species. We need it also for regulating climate and for moderating climate change. Canada's B. Forest probably houses around 10% of the world's stored carbon and carbon is one of the main drivers of green house gasses, contributors to greenhouse gasses. Canada's Boreal Forest [CBF] stores that carbon so it moderates climate change by storing that carbon, capturing it from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil, the trees, the peat and the lake sediments. So the world needs CBF and we a species need to insure that it is conserved, properly managed, and in many cases conserved.
MC: Do you have a lot of concern about this kind of thing? It just makes it really hard to cut.
EA: Yeah, we'll wait.
PL: What, the airplane?
MC: Yeah, it really picks up a lot.
EA: That one. Yeah, it's coming this way.
MC: Yeah, there was one earlier that was very¿There it is.
EA: They're going to drop something on us!
MC: There was one earlier that was pretty loud too.
EA: Actually I'm surprised there've been a lot of bird noises while we've been sitting here.
MC: Tons of them!
PL: Oh that's nice. That's great.
Considering where we are¿
MC: It's really been beautiful.
PL: That's great. Actually, it's been a lot of squirrels you've been hearing.
EA: Yeah, I KNOW that! Good heavens! But there's nothing wrong with a squirrel noise either.
PL: No, they're great.
EA: No, but a lot of people do think they're birds. Our listeners will probably think they're some exotic bird as well.
PL: Just, let me make a couple more comments about the vastness of this particular forest, CBF. What Canada has in an area of a particular ecosystem type, of which we are sitting at the southern edge, about twelve times the size of CA. It's huge and the size of that forest that has NOT been touched by any footprint of human development is about eight size of CA, which is eight times the size of CA. It's huge. It's about equal in size to the remaining intact forest in Russia and it accedes the Amazon Forest in Brazil in size. So, it's vastness is mind boggling. And it's something, as humans, as an individual, that it's hard to get one's head around. I grew up in CBF on the Southern edge, in northern Ontario, north of Lake Superior, and I remember as a teenage growing up and the thought in my head that there was nothing between me and the North Pole. No human development, no roads, no industry. That's a hue distance. And that thought, I think, is part, of why this forest is so important to us as a species. It's both a spiritual and cultural reason as well as simply pragmatics of the need to insure that our climate is regulated a need to insure our species are conserved for our own selfish well-being, but it's also a source of inspiration, it's a source of incredible solitude, it's a source of some of the largest landscapes in the world that remain in Canada and very few people know about it. It's this great untapped adventure.
EA: That was my next question. I mean, most Americans, they've have heard of the tropical rainforst, but they don't even kow what the word Boreal means. They have no sense of this forest.
PL: Well, actually, the meaning of Boreal is quite romantic. It comes from the Latin word Boreaus which means Greek God of the North Wind and it's a wonderful descriptor because the Boreal is characterized certainly my cold climates and that relates to long winters, many months of snow. It relates to permafrost, which is permanently frozen soils underneath the ground surface. It relates to the fact that;' there's very few tree species in CBF. There's probably only eight major tree species so in the tropics in hector of land area in the tropics you may get two hundred species of trees. In Canada's Boreal you might get three or four or five species of trees. So in that sense, the diversity is very minimal. But that north wind is the creator of the climate and in combination with the topography and soils you get this mosaic of habitat types, so if you were flying over the Boreal forest you would picture this puzzle of multicolored pieces. One piece of that puzzle would be a closed canopy forest of conifer trees like spruces. Another piece of that puzzle would be a different color; it would be a treeless bog. Another piece of that puzzle would be one of the enormous river valley's that carry North America's water to the Arctic and to Hudson's bay. Another piece of that puzzle would be some of the largest lakes in the world that contain enormous quantities of the world's fresh water. Another piece of that puzzle would be shrub areas and bogs and fins, so it'sa this mosaic of subtle and sometimes rapid changes in colors, in topography, and in vegetation over the landscape. If you're walking through it you can walk through some of the most beautiful forests you'll see anywhere. Forests with fifty meter tall white spruce trees, some of the largest white spruce in the world. In the understory, soft carpets of moss with no other vegetation, feather mosses. You can walk through bogs and upland sandy soiled forest very open Jack Pines and a real diversity.
EA: How real are the threats?
PL: The threats are real. They're moving in general from south to north and they are moving rapidly. Canada's increased its logging in the last twenty five years by about 50% so what we were logging 25 years ago in 1975 has increased by 50% in the year 2000. Most of what's being logged, almost 85%, is clear cut logged. The vast majority of what's being logged, about 90%, is being logged in virgin forest that has never been logged before. About 4/5 of everything that's logged in Canada and all the forest products goes to the United States so it's not a Canadian problem whatever conservation or environmental problems are being caused by the rate and intensity of industrial developments. It's a North American problem. It's an American problem as well. And it's a world problem. 80% of our exports go to the United States. Some would say that Americans are exporting their environmental problems to another country, to their northern neighbor. And so, it's a solution that requires at least a hemispheric effort.
EA: How about oil and gas? How does that factor into it as well?
PL: Alberta, as one example of what has been happening with the oil and gas industry in Canada in term of CBF, has very rapidly, just in the last generation, exponentially increased its exploration and development of subsurface pools of oil and gas. And Canada has vast resources of energy. For example, the Alberta Tar Sands, just north of here, north of Edmonton, are the second largest repositories of petroleum in the world, after Saudi Arabia. And it's concentrated in an area of about 3,000 square kilometers so you can imagine the surface mining impacts over a 3,000 square mile area that will occur as Americans demand and require this source of energy for national security reasons and to maintain the high levels of consumption of energy resources that are occurring in America and Canada and in other first world countries. So the pace at which these resources are being explored for and developed are like a juggernaut. Again, if you are back in this airplane flying over the Boreal Forest, you would see the edge of this development. It would be startlingly visual. You would see the bulldozers, you'd see the roads being built, you'd see the gravel trucks, you'd see the smoke coming up, and you would see it moving across the landscape northward.
EA: There's a march?
PL: There's a march.
EA: And how worried are you about this march?
PL: I'm worried about it because our ecological footprint that North Americans are imposing on our natural landscapes is very large. It's the highest in the world. In other words, the amount of acres or hectors, per person that's required to maintain our standard of living is orders of magnitude above just about anybody else in the world. And, if we maintain that level of need, that level of consumption, the pace and scale of development and environmental problems and destruction of this northern pristine forest are going to be astronomical. And, the pace of it's going to be exponential of the next generation or two.
EA: And, as you say, and I say, most people aren't even aware of it. Most Americans don't even know where the wood comes from that builds their house. And yet we're talking about the destruction of an amazing, intact ecosystem up here.
PL: We are. And, the hope to me is that Americans in many parts of America have solved their environmental problems or are working towards solving their environmental problems because the citizenry is engaged, educated, and informed and the democratic system in America allows for the population to take action and to express their view and take action on environmental issues. To me, it is simply a matter of education of our American colleagues on what's going on in CBF and I'm convinced that they will engage themselves in this effort and this problem.
EA: How does Alberta fit into the whole Boreal?
PL: Alberta has experienced probably the most rapid rate of fragmentation and industrial development in the last ten to fifteen years of any other province of jurisdiction in Canada. And, it's a result of a combination of industrial sectors. It's a result of the combination of interests of the logging and pulping industry in combination with the interests of the energy industry and expansion of agriculture. So, it just so happens that Alberta is very well endowed with a variety of resources all in one jurisdiction and so all the impacts, well, not all the impacts, but in comparison to other provinces in Canada and in comparison to the rest of the Boreal in Canada, Albert has experienced an enormous pace and scale of development and will continue to do so for the next ten to twenty, thirty years.
EA: So, it's the canary?
PL: I would say that it is the canary, for sure. If we can't solve our problems here in one of the most affluent jurisdictions in North America, let alone Canada, if we can't solve our environmental problems here, where is our hope elsewhere in Canada which aren't as affluent?
EA: I apologize for asking you such simple questions, but how does Canada's Boreal stack up with Russia and Scandinavia and¿?
PL: Russia has about three times as much Boreal Forest as Canada, but because of a longer land use history and a different kind of land use history than Canada, Canada's land use history is actually very recent, just the last hundred years. Even though Russia has about three times the Boreal Forest, as does Canada, we have about the same amount of pristine, intact Boreal Forest as Russia does.
EA: So, things are bad, but there's still time?
PL: This is a grand opportunity. This is a grand, global opportunity for conservation that is probably unsurpassed in the world because the fact Canada has this vast, untapped forest, because Canada is a politically stable country, because Canada is relatively affluent¿We can solve our problems with the assistance of our American neighbors.
EA: What am I missing?
EA: What would you want to say that I haven't asked you? Besides, get these bugs out of my hair!!
PL: I think the summary I would give is the combination of this grand global opportunity for conservation, plus this worry of how fast it's being destroyed. If we can slow that pace or stop that pace of destruction, if we can learn how to manage our consumptive needs, such we don't have to rape this incredible ecosystem. We have this opportunity for conservation that, again, is probably unsurpassed in this world.
EA: Are you optimistic?
PL: Yeah, I am. I have children so I have to be optimistic. But I also, you know, I'm over fifty, I've had a long professional life in Canada in areas of protected wilderness, in species, in wildlife management, and it's just been in the last five years that I've realized how vast this northern area is because my career has been based on this southern edge where all the developments have occurred. So, my optimism, has actually increased, not decreased, over time.
EA: Just being more in touch with the sheer scale of it all?
PL: Through our work with looking through satellites, looking through the lens of satellites and seeing the picture of what this forest is and how big it is. And it's still there.
EA: Ok, you're off the hook.
PL: Ok, thank you.
EA: That wasn't too bad was it?
EA: This was hard, though! Talking and not doing this.
PL: I hope you brought bug dope, though, for later.
EA: I think Marilyn did.
MC: I have some too.
PL: Cause they're going to get wicked up there, I think. They've just come out in the last few days, honest.
EA: Now, could you do me a favor? Could you give me a lesson on how to speak in complete sentences? Do you realize how fabulous you are at doing that?
MC: You are, totally amazing,
EA: I've interviewed a lot of people in my life time and¿
MC: Very articulate.
PL: So you're going to use me maybe?! [laughing]
MC: One or two sentences in there might work.
PL: Thanks, that's a nice compliment.
EA: Well, it's true.
MC: I need to sit here for about five minutes and have nobody talk or at least¿
EA: Do you want me to stand here and do this and get all the bugs while you do that?
MC: It'd be hard to explain that stereo image to the people back in Washington.
EA: Alright, we'll walk back up towards the car.
MC: Ok, I'll be there in a little while.
EA: Thanks for remembering.
Ambi. Walking. Stream. Some small mike sounds.
Strong bird sounds over the flowing stream.
Ambi. Strong stream sounds, with a few birds that start quiet but get louder.
Ambi. Loud stream, soft birds.
Ambi. Airplane goes by.
Ambi. Loud chirping, but still some airplane noises
Ambi. Birds and stream, some airplane sounds
Ambi. Stream with strong birds.
Ambi. Stream. Still loud and flowing pretty strong.
Ambi. Loud birds/squirrel chirping, calling,
Ambi. Stream. Soft birds.
MC: Ok, this is me walking away from where we just had that first interview.
Ambi. Walking, crunching sounds, kicking gravel. Some scattered bird sounds.
Walking speeds up. Louder sounds
MC: Where are we? Do you know where we are?
EA: We're at¿Why don't you tell us exactly where we are right now.
Tyler: Slave Lake Provincial Park (?)¿[mumbles, difficult to hear]
EA: Whereabouts in the park are we?
Tyler: This is the staff residential quarters, right over here. And the future home of the bird center. [talking in the background]
MC: I'm Marcia, by the way. [still others in the background]
Tyler: You're who?
MC: Marcia. I'm the engineer.
Tyler: I'm Tyler.
Nice to meet you.
You're going to be the person who's frustrated the whole weekend because there's cars driving past every thirty seconds.
MC: Hopefully not.
EA: Nooo, we're going to be fine.
MC: So, um, I just have to talk on my tape here¿.So, it's the same set up as before. It's MS MKH30 40 and we are out here to get some birds.
Ambi. Mike sounds. Bird sounds.
Ambi. Laughing. Talking.
Ambi. Walking, mike sounds, some bird sounds mixed in.
Ambi. Talking about where they are from, mike sounds.
Richard Thomas Interview
EA: [cuts into middle of sentence]¿in Ohio and I was here how would I know I was in the Boreal Forest?
RT: Laughs. That's a good question. Well, you'd look at the reservation, not listen to the birds. I mean, a lot of these species you can find right across the Boreal and the ones we're hearing singing at the moment are a pretty widespread species. Um, but by using a combination of the songbirds, the ducks, the whole range of birds you could work out quite well where you were, particularly in respect to eastern Boreal and western Boreal and in Alberta you get a mixture of western neo-tropical migrants which are the birds that winter in the tropics and the western ones mostly winter in southern Mexico and Central America and we also get a larger proportion of eastern neo-tropicals and they winter in central America as well and a lot of them winter in South America and some of them actually winter, like Cape May Warbler, winter in the West Indies, the Caribbean basin. So, we've got this mixture of birds and sorting it out, it's not like there are particular indicator species for one little indicator of the Boreal, but assemblages of birds tell you roughly where you are. And of course they all use different habitat types so when you get in a certain habitat you can usually predict what species you're going to get.
EA: Well, that's sort of what the Boreal is, isn't it? I mean there's birds from all over, here, right? Birds I might see in my backyard in PA or birds someone might see in Montana or¿
RT: Yeah, it's interesting, if you're in various part of the states in spring, the gulf coast of TX, you'll see birds arriving that are heading for the Boreal, like Berneal Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, depends if you're out there looking for them. Some of them will flit through your backyard. Some very common Boreal species will be coming through people's back yards in the Eastern states. Yellow Warblers are very common in the Boreal up here. Very successful species. And you'd see a lot of those in winter as well, in the southern states because the bulk of its population winters in the southern states and northern Mexico. So, another thing you'll find in the states if you're a backyard birder, is during the winter we get what we call Eruptive Species which are mostly finches, such as Pine-Gross Beaks, White-Wing Cross Bills, and they're eruptive because they'll leave the Boreal Forest if there's a shortage of food or the winter is particularly sever and quite often they'll penetrate quite far into the States. So, it's pretty exciting for birders in the southern states when some of these Boreal Species actually come into their home area and you find that happening with owls such as Northern Hawk Owl, Boreal Owl, and Great Grey Owl as Well. There may be eruptions of them as well, and snowy owls. Particularly if their food source, the small mammal source, fails in the Boreal. You got birds coming down, resident birds coming down in winter. You also see both migration periods. Familiar birds to backyard birders, but just keep going, the song birds that are heading to the Boreal to breed.
EA: What is it about the Boreal they like?
RT: [Laughs loudly] Well, when you're standing in the Boreal, and slapping your arms and your face and you've got no'see'ums and mosquitoes and blackflies and horse flies¿.
EA: The reason a person wouldn't like it here
RT: When you're doing that and they're driving you to distraction, you've just got to say, ugh, the bird food's driving me insane today because that's why they're here. When the Boreal Forest re-colonized, if you like, the glaciated parts of Canada, and started moving North, and in various parts of the Boreal, that was between five, and say, seven thousand years ago. A lot of these Warblers, for example, had evolved in Central and South America and they moved North, so the theory goes, to take advantage of the huge populations of insects that themselves take advantage of the great flush of vegetation and the short Boreal summer. And these birds have to get their business done pretty quickly. Some shore birds, for example, that are near tropical migrants, winter in the tropics. They may be in the arctic for just six weeks and we talk about our Warblers and other songbirds, but they're only up here, say, three months here in the Boreal. It's a very short season and the winters up here can be up to seven months long and very harsh. So, the proportion of birds here that are resident species is something in the order of 13% of the total Boreal Avery fauna. Simply, because the winters are so harsh¿.The ones that do hang out here have to be tough.
EA: Highway's pretty bad isn't it?
MC: What's that?
EA: Highway's pretty bad isn't it?
MC: Let me do one thing.
Ambi. Mike sounds. Talking.
Ambi. Loud walking sounds. Crunching leaves.
RT: Boreal birding is pretty tough birding because they have a lot of vegetation in which to hide and they often sing from the canopy so you get Warbler neck while you're straining yourself trying to see them. So, you're virtually forced to learn the bird songs as best you can [good loud bird sound here to go along with what he is saying] when you're doing surveys of Boreal Birds you may often identify 80-90% of the birds you can, simply by sounds, but they can fool you and they fool me all the time, so it's tricky.
Ambi. Bird sounds.
EA: You can't hear any distinct bird right now can you? You just hear birds, right? Or do you know what you are hearing?
RT: I know most of what I'm hearing.
EA: Really? Like what?
RT: Um, that one back there was a Yellow Warbler. Way back there.
Ambi. Bird sounds.
RT: That was a Red-Eyed Vireo. The slow, doo toot, doo doot, da doo da doot¿
MC: Where is that, direction-wise?
Ok, hold on¿When it does it, say it.
Ambi. Bird sounds.
RT: That faint one in the distance. There is a Yellow Warbler up there, which is the higher, faster one, but there's also a Red-Eyed Vireo up there.
MC: I'm not hearing it.
Ambi. Bird sounds, some rustling.
RT: The "sweet, sweet, I'm so sweet" is usually the Yellow Warbler, but I need to see these. I'm making my excuses here, but I'm not used to the dialect.
EA: "Sweet, sweet, I'm so sweet"? [laughing]
RT: It's the bird not me! [laughing]
RT: Well there's a great one.
EA: That's my call!
RT: There's the white crowned sparrow. Doot, doo, doot doot doo. "Poor Peter pissed his pants."
EA: Yeah, that's going on the radio!
RT: It's been on the radio. Ok, Poor Peter peed his pants¿
EA: I didn't realize, do they put that in bird books? The actual lyrics to the songs?
RT: Some of them. People's interpretations, and of course, people's interpretations differs so it's very difficult.
EA: Ok, tell me what you were doing when you were going like this: woosh, woosh, woosh¿
RT: Well ok, that's getting a little controversial. You're making a sort of agitation call. It's called pishing. And, you do your pishing in public, but anyway, by doing your little psh,psh or squeaking [he squeaks] then quite often you'll attract birds who are curious. They think a bird is responding to a predator or something, but unfortunately with so many birders in some of the more popular areas now, it's being over used to the detriment of the birds. I mean, if you're a male bird on territory and all these birders keep coming past and they keep on "psh psh psh psh" so you're up checking out this potential predator, it disrupts your behavior. So, it is a problem, and an even worse problem is people playing tapes of the birds back to them so they can pull them out of the forest, or whatever. And, you know, a lot of people would disagree with me, but I am totally against playing tapes. It's an artificial way of pumping up your bird list. And it's for people who have no patience and people who aren't prepared to put in the time to either learn the songs or develop field¿And it's quite ironic because in some of the more popular birding areas now, say southeast AZ, the Trokala (?) mountains, there have been instances of people playing tapes back and forth to each other.
Ambi. Laughing, walking, talking about birds very quietly.
RT: [cuts in] ¿There are programs out now to protect Barred Owls, and we sort of half support them because they need mature forest, but by doing that they are now moving west across the Rockies and pushing out Canada's tiny population of Spotted Owls in southwest BC, so it's quite the dilemma. Barred Owls are in no danger of going extinct. They're extremely common in places like Florida. They're everywhere. Can you hear that?
RT: You'll hear a song over there that sounds like a robin. [good bird sounds behind him] And Roger Tory Peterson, there he is, brilliantly described it as a robin with a sore throat, and that's a western tanager.
MC: Ok, let me hear it.
RT: I'll just go thumbs up when it's there.
MC: Make a sound after.
MC: Yeah, so that I hear the sound and know.
Ambi. Bird sounds. Some cars
EA: The one that went chirp, chirp?
MC: Mainly hearing the freeway.
RT: Yeah, I was afraid of that. It's so hard. There was a guy, written an article recently about natural sound scapes and how they're endangered as well.
EA: They are. Tremendously.
Tyler: How familiar is everybody with birds? Does everyone know what we're talking about when we say western tanager?
MC: Yeah, not always, though. Glad you have that book.
EA: Yeah, happy for the help. Yeah, if you hear songs and you could point out for hr what they are¿
Talking about sound system and how to find better sounds for Marcia.
Tyler: Let's go down into the forest. If we go down there they'll be right above your head.
Ambi. Walking. Crunching leaves. Frog sounds, along with some birds and maybe some bugs, in the background. Some mike sounds and some talking.
Ambi. Frogs with cawing of a bird over it. Walking with some faint talking.
Ambi. Good frog sounds with little else in the background. Clear bird sounds as well.
Ambi. Mike sounds and more walking.
RT: We're listening to Boreal Chorus Frogs. They're related to Tree Frogs, but this is a very distinct sound of Boreal wetlands. Sounds like you're running your nails over the teeth of a plastic comb.
RT: Ambi. Frogs and some birds.
EA: They're small, right?
RT: Yeah, they're tiny. Less than an inch long. Very appropriately, we've got a few Canadian Geese coming over. Wild ones, not park ones.
EA: Really, not the ones that hang out in the golf course?
Ambi. Frogs and geese.
MC: Ok, hold on.
EA: What's wrong?
MC: I need to change batteries, and while I'm at it¿