07/22/2013 01:48 EDT | Updated 09/20/2013 05:12 EDT

Save half of Boreal Forest from development, scientists say

A group of international scientists is calling for 50 per cent of Canada's boreal forest to be protected from any type of development andy they've outline their plan in a report released today at the the International Congress of Conservation Biology in Baltimore, Maryland.

The International Boreal Conservation Science Panel (IBCSP) said half the 5.8-million-square-kilometre forest needs total preservation because it is the only way to effectively ensure the ecosystem services — like storing carbon and cleaning surface freshwater — are protected.

"With mounting pressures on boreal regions of Canada, it is clear that maintaining the region's globally important conservation values will require very large protected areas," argues Dr. Jeff Wells, report co-author and member of the IBCSP.

The IBSCP is an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts, an American public policy think tank and charity, and is part of Pew's International Boreal Conservation Campaign (IBCC). Canada's Boreal Forest stretches from the Yukon border with Alaska in an arc across northern Canada to Newfoundland. It supports billions of songbirds and millions of ducks and caribou. It also holds the largest surface freshwater reserves in the world.

According to the IBSCP, Canada's Boreal Forest "encompasses the largest blocks of intact forest and wetlands remaining on the planet."

The IBSCP's call for conservation comes in the face of mounting industrial pressure on the Boreal Forest. Most of that pressure comes in the form of logging, but other sources of concern to the scientists are the oilsands in Alberta and mineral mining in other provinces .

The report makes clear that none of this conservation can be done without extensive consultation and involvement of First Nations.

"Ensuring that the identification and management of these areas is led by aboriginal communities must be a priority," says Wells.

The report's recommendations mirror many of the aspects of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. That is an accord reached between the 21 forest companies and nine environmental groups including the IBCC.