Western Boreal Forest

Western Boreal Forest delivery area is second only to the Prairie Pothole Region in its importance to breeding waterfowl. The PHJV’s Western Boreal Forest (WBF) aims to conserve or influence an additional 75 million acres of core waterfowl habitat by 2025, which will help secure waterfowl population objectives for the WBF.

741 Million Acres

Delivery area

262.5 Million

Acres of wetlands

11.5 Million

Breeding Ducks
(10 Yr Average)


of delivery area is classified as waterfowl habitat


Wetland or forest associated species
(60% in recent decline)

The PHJV strives to meet this goal through two main objectives: direct habitat retention and by engaging the public and building support for conservation.

Waterfowl Habitat Objectives

Five-year (2021—2025) total and waterfowl habitat objectives (‘000s acres) within the WBF for protection and sustainable land use (SLU). Note that not all protection and SLU goals overlap with Priority Areas due to land use tenure.

ALBERTA 4,000 1,000 8,400 1,100
BRITISH COLUMBIA 500 200 6,100 1,800
MANITOBA 15,300 15,250 17,700 15,500
NORTHWEST TERRITORIES 1,500 1,000 8,500 2,000
NUNAVUT 0 0 0 0
SASKATCHEWAN 3,000 500 3,000 1,000
YUKON 3,800 650 3,200 0
TOTAL 28,100 18,600 46,900 21,400
Western Boreal Forest waterfowl priority areas.
Western Boreal Forest waterfowl priority areas.
Locations of the top 20% priority areas for conservation for (a) wetland-associated species (light blue), (b) forest-associated species (green) and (c) their overlap (dark blue) across the Western Boreal Forest, Canada.

The PHJV’s WBF activities are primarily retention based, so the ultimate goal is no net loss of habitat function, which involves countering both degradation and loss.

Because over 90% of the WBF is either Crown- or indigenous owned and industry-worked, these goals will be achieved by influencing various direct, government-led securement programs or regulatory options and industry-led planning and practices (e.g., government or corporate policies).

This advances the PHJV’s commitment to all bird conservation by demonstrating the opportunities for co-benefits with waterfowl-focused conservation programs, and highlighting the need for targeted conservation planning and action. We identified areas of high conservation value within the WBF for seven wetland-associated species and 92 forest-associated species.

Flowchart of approach to conservation delivery in the Western Boreal Forest.
Flowchart of approach to conservation delivery in the Western Boreal Forest.

Whooping Crane (Grus americana) is one of North America’s rarest bird species and the subject of intense public interest.

Once numbering in the thousands, Whooping Cranes occupied a broad region in the central grasslands and northern forests of North America (Austin et al., 2019). By the 1940s, habitat loss and persecution had reduced the species to a single population consisting of 14 individuals. This population, referred to as the Aransas Wood Buffalo Population (AWBP), summers in the WBF in and around Wood Buffalo National Park and winters on the Gulf Coast of Texas in and around the Aransas National Wildlife refuge.

Today, Whooping Crane are listed as Endangered in both Canada and the United States, and it is protected by this and other legislation in both countries. The AWBP has approximately 500 individuals and continues to grow. This recovery is the result of legal protection and the collaborative research and conservation efforts of government agencies and conservation organizations in both countries. One such collaboration is a satellite tracking program to quantify habitat use and movement patterns of cranes, and identify threats to recovery and opportunities for conservation.

To date, 97% of the recorded migrations included one or more landings in the WBF, typically lasting one to two days (range 1-17), and 60% of these landings and 80% of the migration corridor in the WBF occurred in unprotected areas, much of which is used for resource extraction and includes areas with the highest levels of anthropogenic disturbance in the WBF (Pasher et al., 2013). Almost 30% of the breeding range lies to the east and north of Wood Buffalo National Park in areas that also are unprotected.

When migrating through the WBF, Whooping Cranes select most strongly for landing sites containing emergent and meadow marshes and graminoid and shrubby fens, and select against uplands. These habitat preferences provide clear opportunities for deriving conservation co-benefits for cranes from activities targeted at waterfowl. Of 22 priority areas for waterfowl conservation contained within the migratory corridor, 16 have above median values of predicted relative use by Whooping Cranes; one area contains ~93% of the breeding range.

Whooping Cranes would benefit most from activities focused on conserving the quality and quantity of preferred wetlands in the migratory corridor and breeding range. By protecting these habitats and mitigating risk within them, PHJV can play an important role in supporting the ongoing recovery of this high-profile species.

Predicted relative use of waterfowl priority areas by Whooping Crane within their migratory corridor in the WBF.