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
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).