The boreal forestland that stretches from Alaska through much of Canada collectively makes up the largest forest in the Americas – yet there are several important threats to the forest’s continued existence. For many years, logging has been a major source of deforestation in Canada; and although some recent agreements with the Canadian government and major logging companies could potentially slow destructive logging, this is still a major problem. Perhaps even more important however is exploration for oil and gas – particularly Canada’s “tar sands” oil. The forests of Alberta, Canada sit on top of huge reserves of difficult-to-recover tar sands oil, which oil companies left alone for many years due to the expenses associated with extraction oil from tar sands. Higher oil prices, however, have made tar sands extraction profitable, with the result that enormous areas of forest are being devastated by hugely destructive extraction practices. The destruction of the boreal forest is a major contributor to global warming; not only do we lose trees that could serve as carbon sinks, but clearing the forest raises the temperature of the ground, allowing methane that was previously trapped in frozen earth to be released into the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas that molecule-for-molecule traps much more heat than even carbon dioxide.
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