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Making conservation cool

Biodiversity is getting some powerful -- and glitzy -- allies

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Tursujuq National Park is one of Canada's Top 10 conservation hot spots.

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Tursujuq National Park is one of Canada's Top 10 conservation hot spots.

Have you noticed the stodgy scientific term 'biodiversity' has taken on a dash of glitz lately?

In mid-May, there was a swanky dinner in New York City that focused, partly, on 35 global hot spots where the planet's biodiversity is tipping into an ecological abyss.

The standard-bearers for the message were American royalty of sorts: Veteran Hollywood star Harrison Ford and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Both took the stage May 15 at Conservation International's 16th annual New York Dinner.

Just weeks before, Britain's Prince Charles issued a more blunt warning when he compared the Earth to a patient on life-support.

As one of the biggest and most influential American conservation NGOs, Conservation International attracts attention, praise and controversy in equal parts for its work to draw in government and corporate partners on conservation imperatives. Prince Charles' passion for nature needs no introduction. He was talking to plants years before scientists found out they really do communicate.

Environmental issues are gaining a new political lease on life in Canada, courtesy of the backlash over the proposed Keystone and Northern Gateway pipeline projects.

In late May, two of Canada's most respected conservation groups teamed up to release a report on biodiversity.

Ten Cool Canadian Biodiversity Hotspots is a 20-page online report that is beautifully illustrated and comes with a map that marks off the 10 locations, plus individual breakout maps. Two are in Manitoba.

One is Pimachoiwin Aki, the southern boreal forest that is the subject of a UNESCO World Heritage bid. The second location is the Hudson and James Bay lowlands, a coastal area that spans Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec and is known for its polar bears.

The report has four authors: Jeff Wells and David Childs from the Boreal Songbird Initiative, and Frederic Reid and Marcel Darveau from Ducks Unlimited.

The report is intended to draw attention to the boreal forest and its significance to the world beyond the magnificence of its moose, caribou and polar bears.

Canada's boreal region, "is the world's densest terrestrial carbon storehouse. It stores the equivalent of 300-years worth of Canada's annual greenhouse gas emissions," says the report.

The boreal is also the largest source of pristine surface freshwater on Earth.

Ducks Unlimited and the Boreal Songbird Initiative released the report May 22 to coincide with the UN's International Day for Biodiversity.

"We decided to release the report (then) because we continue to feel that northern regions, particularly the boreal forest region of Canada, does not get the high recognition it should for its globally unique biodiversity and ecological features," Wells said.

Most of the globally recognized hot spots are in tropical areas, and while they are important to the planet's health, so too is the boreal, he pointed out.

"Groups like (Conservation International) have been pushing their tropical-species-diversity approach for decades now so, yes, in many ways we are on the cutting edge of getting this broader understanding of diversity into the public arena," Wells said.

Not a single Canadian location features in C.I.'s list of 35 hot spots, but that's not because Canada isn't rich in biodiversity. It's because the country isn't mined out or logged out.

"The concept was back in 1988 that... hot spots have the highest number of endemic plant species and they are at the greatest risk of extinction," C.I. president Russ Mittermeier said from the group's headquarters in Arlington, Va.

Canada has a big advantage over the tropics, added Mittermeier, a man once described as the Indiana Jones of conservation. (No wonder Harrison Ford is on the board.)

"Canada is still in quite good shape... there are not as many species on the verge of going extinct," Mittermeier said.

That's a distinction Canadian scientists want to preserve as climate change thaws the north and opens it to development.

To read Ten Cool Canadian Hotspots, follow this link:

http://www.borealbirds.org/reports/coolcanadianbiodiversity.html

 

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2013 B5

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