A section of forest twice as big as Belgium will soon be protected from logging and oil and gas exploration in the Canadian province of Alberta, making it the largest protected conifer forest in the world, according to the BBC.
The 6.7 million hectares of forest are home to at least 68 animal species in need of conservation, including the wood bison, peregrine falcon, and caribou populations. Billions of songbirds migrate to the forest during summer months, the BBC reports.
"It's not just forest, it's really the matrix of forest and wetlands and waters — and we can protect those at a scale that is an opportunity lost in the rest of the world," Dan Kraus, a conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, told the BBC.
Within this expanse, 1.3 million hectares of forest will be converted into public parks, according to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The protected area was established through a partnership with the Government of Alberta, the Tallcree First Nation, and the Canadian government, along with an industry group and environmental organization, according to the NRDC.
The Tallcree First Nation played an especially important role, because it surrendered its timber license in order to preserve the trees.
The Indigenous community will also be involved in maintaining the forest.
“We are encouraged by the proposal of an Indigenous Guardian Program into the stewardship of the parks,” Anthony Swift, the NRDC’s Canada director said in a press release.
“Alberta’s announcement represents a significant advance for the province’s conservation efforts and we look forward to continued leadership as it takes further action to protect its caribou herds and their habitat,” he added.
The project was partly funded by Syncrude Canada, one of the country's largest oil sands producers, an industry that has caused enormous environmental harm throughout Canada.
In addition to sustaining the ecosystems of countless animals, the conifer forest also helps to mitigate climate change by absorbing some of the carbon emitted in the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned.
All around the world, forests are essential to the well-being of the planet. They provide food, shelter, and resources. They clean the air, water, and soil. And they mitigate climate change.
Yet, for all their benefits, forests are being depleted at an unsustainable rate.
More than 7 million hectares of forest are lost every year, which is roughly 48 football fields worth of trees each minute.
By protecting such an enormous expanse of forest, Canada is taking a bold stand against this decline.
Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations’ Global Goals, which call on countries to protect forests. You can take action on this issue here.