Forests: the Polar Regions

Arctic treeline

Boreal forest occurs only to the south of the treeline (dark green line). Arctic area, as defined by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), is limited by the orange line

Source: GRID Arendal 2002

The northern boreal forest system circles the globe through Russia, Scandinavia and North America, covering approximately 13.8 million km2 (UNECE and FAO 2000). It is one of the two largest terrestrial ecosystems on Earth, the other being the tundra - a vast treeless plain that lies north of the boreal forest and stretches to the Arctic Ocean. The boreal forests are an important resource for the Arctic countries and are discussed as an entity here, although they do extend well beyond the Arctic sub-region (see figure right).

In contrast to the overall decline in tropical forest cover, boreal forest cover has expanded by more than 560 000 ha since 1990 due to reforestation, afforestation and improved forestry management practices - although in the Russian Federation there are reports of massive clear cuts and unsustainable forest practices (FAO 2001a, Hansen, Hansson and Norris 1996). The main boreal trees are coniferous spruce, pine, fir and larch species. Some species are deciduous and include birch, alder, willow, maple and oak. A large portion of the boreal forest of Canada, Alaska and the Russian Federation remains relatively undisturbed by humans (FAO 2001a, FFS 1998) whereas the long period of forestry activities in Scandinavia has left almost no old growth forest (CAFF 2001).