10/13/2011 12:00 EDT | Updated 12/13/2011 05:12 EST

Google Earth Brings Canada's Boreal to Life

Some pretty amazing things can happen when science meets technology, which meets activism. A recent intersection of the three led to a new tool that could be a game changer for environmental campaigns.

Recently, Google Earth Outreach launched in Canada. Using Google Earth's cutting-edge tools, anyone with a computer can visit the heart of the boreal forest. The Canadian Boreal Initiative and our global partner, the Pew Environment Group, worked with Google Earth to develop a three-minute narrated flyover of some of the most interesting and ecologically important parts of Canada's boreal forest.

Through this partnership, we can tell the story of the forest in a visual way that allows the boreal's beauty to, in many ways, speak for itself.

Here's what the Globe and Mail said about the project:

"It's one thing to say that the Canadian boreal forest is the largest intact forest ecosystem on earth, Ms. (Rebecca) Moore (head of Google Earth Outreach) said. Google Earth allows internet users to fly in and say, "Oh, here's where the caribou migrate, here's where billions of birds migrate, and nest, here's where the Aboriginal communities live."

While the boreal of Canada rivals the Amazon in terms of ecological importance, its beauty and scope has been less well known. The 1.2 billion acre boreal is the world's most intact forest, stores twice as much carbon per acre as tropical rainforests, contains the largest reserves of freshwater on Earth and is home to some of our most iconic mammals, including bears, wolves, caribou and moose.

The Google Earth tour brings a bird's eye view to this global treasure--it highlights the hundreds of aboriginal communities that depend on the boreal, encompasses the startling extent of its wetlands and provides an aerial view of the Peace-Athabasca Delta--a critical refuge for one of the world's last wild population of Whooping Cranes. Unfortunately, despite the many benefits the boreal brings to our global ecosystem, it's also under increasing industrial pressure, particularly in the largely undeveloped northern reaches.

The sweeping views of the pristine landscape provide important context for some of the most pressing issues facing the boreal. Where there is room left to protect the remaining intact landscape, there are also populations in northern communities in need of economic and jobs solutions.

Without question, Canada's boreal forest represents wealth and opportunity for development, but such activities must be thoughtfully planned and managed if we are to maintain the boreal's ecological values. There are few places left on the planet where large, interconnected waterways and vast wetlands remain alongside intact forest ecosystems supporting some of the world's most threatened species.

The tour makes vivid the Earth's striking green halo, circling the top of the globe. It's a great source of pride for Canadians. It's also an incredible responsibility to strike the right balance between conservation and development to maintain the forest's values for generations to come and to keep our "halo" intact.

There is more work, and more collaboration needed, to create a sustainable future for our boreal. With tools like Google Earth, we can capture the story of the boreal forest and (more importantly) we can appeal to the hearts and minds of Canadians who can see the value of our greatest natural resources.