Taiga Shield Ecozone+ Evidence for Key Findings Summary
Conclusion: Human Well-being and Biodiversity
Much of the Taiga Shield ecozone+ is intact wilderness, a vast expanse of boreal forest thinning to tundra on its northern margin. Split in two by Hudson Bay, it crosses several political boundaries and encompasses part or all of the traditional territories of the Inuit, and a number of First Nations. The biological resources of the Taiga Shield were once the sole support of its human inhabitants.
Today, they are still important to residents, particularly to Aboriginal peoples. The Taiga Shield’s biodiversity supports the region’s non-cash economy, providing physical essentials such as food, clothing, and fuel. It also serves as a cultural foundation for peoples that have lived in the area for millennia. The growing number of parks and protected areas in the ecozone+ offers some opportunities for future development of the cash economy through tourism and associated services.
The Taiga Shield is also important to people outside the ecozone+. It is the southern edge of the range of the great migratory caribou herds that still sustain many peoples and communities further north. It is also the northern edge of moose habitat, supporting a species important to both people and ecosystems further south. In addition, the Taiga Shield sustains a wide range of migratory birds through part of their yearly cycle, offering a relatively undisturbed respite to species that might be under pressure elsewhere in their range.
The greatest threats to the biodiversity of the Taiga Shield ecozone+ come from human activity, both locally and on a global scale. The physical resources of the Taiga Shield--mainly hydroelectric capacity and mineral resources--have attracted development, with more planned for the near future. Hydro development in the eastern Taiga Shield has flooded large tracts of land and substantially altered the hydrological regimes of several major river systems, with consequences for both terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity. Mineral resource development--particularly in the western Taiga Shield--is still largely in the exploration phase, but a major discovery could lead to a rapid increase in linear disturbance for transportation and communication corridors, resulting in increasing fragmentation of the Taiga Shield’s great stretch of boreal forest.
The other major threat to biodiversity in the Taiga Shield is global climate change. Already, the ecozone+ is showing the effects of warming, and it is vulnerable to stronger impacts as the trend increases. The cumulative impact of climate change and local human activities can be particularly powerful. For example, in the eastern part of the ecozone+, extensive areas of permafrost have decayed, along with the growth of thermokarst ponds.
Maintaining the biodiversity of the Taiga Shield and the undisturbed character of its wilderness is valuable to people within and beyond the boundaries of the ecozone+. It is part of the complex natural mechanism of the boreal forest, one of Earth’s major ecosystems and a significant--if not wholly understood--component of global physical and biological systems.
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