In just three minutes, participants at today’s Google Earth Outreach Canada launch will get a nonstop, coast-to-coast, interactive experience with the earth’s “green halo,” the boreal forest. The Pew Environment Group tour lets anyone with a computer hover over the vast northern forests and waterways to learn about an ecosystem that stores twice as much carbon per acre as tropical rainforests, holds more freshwater than any other continental-scale ecosystem and teems with wildlife.

“This virtual tour allows us to make Canada’s boreal, which performs a number of globally vital and astonishing ecological functions, accessible to the world,” said Steve Kallick, director of Pew Environment Group’s International Boreal Conservation Campaign. “It provides an up-close look at the billions of songbirds that transit North America each year, and the river systems and wetlands that feed Arctic ice and stabilize the global climate.”

“From the aboriginal communities who call the region home; to anyone, anywhere who cares about global warming, protecting the boreal should be a priority,” said Larry Innes, executive director of Canadian Boreal Initiative, Pew Environment Group’s Canadian partner. “This tool will give us one more way to engage the public and Canada’s policymakers.”

The tour showcases the nature of the blue forest and its surprising ability to store massive amounts of carbon, primarily in its soil and wetlands, using new tools Google Earth has provided.

Take the tour (KML)! Google Earth is required, click here to download.

Tour participants will see bears, wolves and caribou that still roam this vast landscape, learn about the First Nation communities that depend on the boreal, and view the Peace-Athabasca Delta, recognized as one of the most important wetlands in the world. Viewers will also see the last refuges for many of the world's sea-run migratory fish, including half of the remaining populations of North American Atlantic salmon.

Unfortunately, Canada’s boreal forest is increasingly affected by large-scale industrial activities. The rapidly expanding footprint of development already includes 180 million acres (728,000 km²) affected by forestry, road building, mining, oil and gas extraction and hydropower.

The Pew Environment Group has worked with First Nations, conservation groups, federal, provincial and territorial governments to protect the boreal, resulting in 185 million acres set aside from development to date, including key wetland and river areas. That total represents more than 12 percent of Canada’s 1.2 billion-acre (nearly 4.9 million km²) boreal forest.
(Article originally published in Pew Environment Group)

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