What is the Boreal Forest?

Click on the arrow to listen!

Most (about 75%) of Canada’s forests are considered “boreal”, – named after the Greek god of the North Wind, “Boreas”.

They are located in the “boreal zone“, a sub-arctic area, mostly north of the 50th parallel, between the treeless Arctic and temperate areas of the south.

The earth’s boreal zone is “circumpolar“. This means that is located, like a world-wide ring, all around Earth’s northern hemisphere.

Know in some countries as “taiga”, the earth’s boreal forests are found across all of Canada, Alaska, Sweden, Norway, Finland and in Siberia (Russia).

Canada's Boreal zone (from Natural Resources Canada)

Compared to the rest of the world, Canada is home to about 28% of the world’s boreal forest. In Canada, it occupies 270 million hectares! Put another way, the state of Wyoming, in the United States, has a total area of 25 million hectares, or, less than ten percent of the area of Canada’s boreal forest!

The entire area of Germany is 35.7 million hectares, making it about 13 percent as big as Canada’s boreal forest. Another way to visualize it is that you could put seven countries the size of Germany into Canada’s boreal, and have room left over.



Click on the arrow to listen!

How much atmospheric carbon does Canada’s boreal forest capture?

A very large amount, as it turns out.

Between 1990 to 2008, Canada’s “managed” boreal forest (54% of Canada’s total boreal forest) acted as a carbon sink for 28 billion kilograms of carbon per year.

It is a dynamic relationship, however, as carbon is also released back into the air through decomposition and forest fires, or removed through the harvesting of trees (Silviculture).

Northern Alberta boreal forest is a mixture of coniferous (evergreen) and deciduous (leafy) trees, together with grasses and wetlands.


The Tawatinaw River
The Tawatinaw River, in early Spring.
Tawatinaw River, at the southern boundary of Alberta's boreal forest.
Tawatinaw River, the gateway to Alberta’s boreal forest.


Source: Carbon in Canada’s boreal forest — A synthesis. 2013. Kurz, W.A.; Shaw, C.H.; Boisvenue, C.; Stinson, G.; Metsaranta, J.; Leckie, D.; Dyk, A.; Smyth, C.; Neilson, E.T. Environmental Reviews 21(4):260-292. http://cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/publications?id=35301

Further reading: