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Canada’s boreal forest: coming soon to a classroom near you!

Earlier this week, CPAWS and our colleagues in the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA) joined the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS) at the Canadian Museum of Nature to launch a new educational initiative called On the Move, which teaches kids about the importance of the boreal forest in Canada. As part of the initiative, the RCGS has created a giant, traveling floor map that captures information about the forest, caribou habitat, forest-dependent communities, lumber mills – pretty much the CBFA in a nutshell (albeit a very large, flat nutshell).

The map itself is a beauty. As a self-professed cartophile and lover of all things forest-related, I was beside myself with excitement when I first saw it. It measures a full 8 metres by 11 metres – big enough to fit 24 full-grown caribou – and really puts into perspective how vast the boreal forest is (nearly 60% of Canada’s total land mass) and just how important it is from both an environmental and an economic perspective.

In order to fully appreciate the map and the On the Move initiative, it helps to understand what the CBFA is. In the simplest terms possible, it’s an agreement between environmental groups and forest companies to work together on forest and conservation planning in over 73 million hectares of boreal forest. A significant benefit in taking this kind of collaborative approach is that together with industry, we’re helping to build a more competitive forestry sector while at the same time ensuring better protection for the boreal forest and more sustainable forestry management practices.

On our part, the environmental groups in the Agreement have committed to no longer boycotting signatory forest companies, and in exchange, these companies have suspended logging operations in almost 29 million hectares of the forest while we work with them on conservation planning for those areas (if you squint really hard, these are the bright pink areas on the map above). This planning includes working on caribou recovery action plans for some areas, and developing ecosystem-based forest management guidelines. For more information on the CBFA and CPAWS’ role in it, click here.

Seeing the kids interact with the map and answering questions about the boreal forest got me feeling pretty jazzed about this new initiative. Maps are incredibly powerful tools, whether for education or conservation purposes, and this one was clearly engaging kids in learning about something that’s important to all of us. Better yet, it was doing a really great job of keeping it interesting.

Check out this great short video, Making the Mega Map

And if it wasn’t enough to see kids interacting with the map in the morning, later on in the day there was a reception for quite a different crowd – Aboriginal leaders, industry representatives, bureaucrats, conservationists – all dressed to the nines, and for the most part unruffled when they had to slip out of their shoes to go out onto the map to explore. Though I spotted a couple of mismatched socks here and there, I think what struck me the most was that the “adult crowd” in their suits and ties were just as engaged and excited about the map as the kids were.

I can hardly blame them. It’s a great map and it’s a great new initiative that will help increase geographic literacy and, above all, will help bridge the disconnect between youth and our wild spaces.

To find out more, check out the CBFA website and if you’re an educator, be sure to check out Canadian Geographic’s website with information on when the map will be in your area and how you can book it.


On the Move in the news:

Geographers put kids and Canadian boreal forest on the map – Metro, October 2, 2013
Canada’s boreal forest is now a travelling floor map – Ottawa Citizen, October 2, 2013


Photos: top - Jessie Corey, bottom - Matt Zambonin