Northern Ontario Boreal, Canada

Northern Ontario Boreal Photo
The Northern Boreal Forest is the Canadian stronghold for several charismatic species that have disappeared from southern Canada, including the caribou.
©J. Ray

The boreal forests of northern Ontario cover an area roughly the size of France. In fact it is the largest intact, roadless boreal forest in North America and includes the Hudson Bay lowlands, one of the most expansive wetlands in the world. Significant populations of caribou, wolverine, wolves, and Canada lynx live here, and its waters are home to a myriad of fish, such as sturgeon, walleye, and lake trout.

This remote, rugged stretch of Ontario remains largely undeveloped. Roughly 10,000 people live there, spread over 34 Cree and Ojibwa fly-in communities. These communities seek to strike a balance between the pursuit of economic opportunities and the maintenance of their cultural and natural heritage in their traditional-use areas. The future of the region as a whole depends on protecting and connecting ecologically important lands while achieving sound management for development, including mining, logging, and energy projects.

Fast Facts

  • This area, which lies north of the 51st latitude, is often referred to as Ontario’s “Far North.”
  • The Canadian Boreal Forest stores about 186 billion tons of carbon in forest and peat ecosystems, roughly the equivalent of 27 years’ worth of the world’s carbon emissions.
  • This forest is the Canadian stronghold for several sensitive species that have disappeared from southern Canada, including wolverine, caribou, and lake sturgeon.


Large-scale industrial development is slowly creeping north, threatening this pristine region and its wildlife. Mining, logging, and hydroelectric projects—along with the building of all-weather roads to facilitate access to the region—could indelibly alter the landscape. In addition, climate change poses serious threats to these northern latitudes. A warming climate has already impacted freshwater lakes and rivers, with later freeze-ups and shorter periods of ice cover, jeopardizing cold-water fish such as lake trout and brook trout. In southern Canada, both wolverine and caribou have declined as logging, oil and gas extraction, and road development take their toll on the forests.

WCS Responds

WCS-Canada staff are participating in a number of government-led advisory panels, helping to develop endangered species legislation, and planning and managing species recovery projects. Our researchers are also sharing scientific knowledge with local communities as they become increasingly active partners in the region’s protection. WCS studies the status, distribution, and ecology of key wildlife and fish in the Northern Ontario Boreal, including caribou, wolverine, wolves, Canada lynx, lake sturgeon, walleye, and lake trout. WCS and its partners use the results of our work to inform land-use planning decisions and to help position conservation as a top priority. In 2008, Ontario’s Premier unveiled a plan to protect at least half of the boreal forest in the northern part of the province. WCS-Canada staff members are contributing to this extraordinary conservation opportunity by using cutting-edge science to identify important protected and community-conserved areas and advocate for sound practices that will keep these forests and wildlife healthy for generations to come.

From the Newsroom

Reindeer Are Fading into Holiday MythDecember 25, 2011

Executive director of WCS-Canada Justina Ray discusses how changes to the landscape and climate of the far north affect its iconic caribou herds, and what we can do to safeguard these beloved Yuletide symbols.

Rudolph’s Real-World TroublesDecember 15, 2011

WCS and Canada’s Earth Rangers join forces to protect woodland caribou. WCS conducts scientific research on caribou, which are threatened by development of their home in the far north.

The Eagles Have LandedFebruary 15, 2011

Two injured bald eagles find a new home at the WCS Bronx Zoo. These young birds from Wyoming add to the growing ranks of this once-endangered species now making a comeback in New York.

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