It's a wrap!

After five years, the Bring Back the Boreal pilot project has come to an end. Working with our partners, we tried different approaches to better understand the boreal forest with the goal of improving its health. A thriving boreal forest is not just about healthy trees, it’s important habitat for species who depend on it for survival like moose, hare, birds, squirrels, lynx and American marten. A huge thanks to the many volunteers, community members and partners involved – whether you planted trees, assisted in the moose harvest operation, shared your views, or helped us engage more Canadians than we could have ourselves. Thank you!

Bring Back the Boreal: A Story About Cape Breton Highlands National Park


Animated title sequence: Bring Back the Boreal: A Story About Cape Breton Highlands National Park

[Narrator] Cape Breton Highlands National Park is known for its spectacular highlands and ocean scenery. Steep cliffs and deep river canyons carve into a forested plateau bordering the Atlantic Ocean. The national park’s beautifully rugged landscape is home to three distinct land regions: Acadian forests of ancient hardwoods and lush softwoods grace the valleys and coastal fringes, boggy wetlands and arid barrens sit way up on the highland plateau, and between the two lies the vast boreal forest, which covers a third of the park. A healthy boreal forest is made up of softwood trees like balsam fir and spruce,

and hardwoods like white birch and mountain ash,

and is home to many animals. Like the red squirrel, Bicknell’s thrush, snowshoe hare, spruce grouse, marten, lynx, moose,

and more. Today, a thick mat of grass is replacing the once thriving forest. The national park’s boreal forest and the lives of the plants and animals who call it home, are threatened. Ecosystems are always changing. The boreal forest is naturally disturbed by large insect outbreaks

and fire. But a healthy boreal forest rejuvenates itself. When older trees die, they make space for younger trees to take their place. There is also balance among animals. When food for herbivores is abundant, predators keep populations from growing unchecked. Each part of the ecosystem is critical to keeping the balance in a healthy boreal forest. To understand what is happening today in Cape Breton Highlands National Park's boreal forest, we need to take a look into the past.

Since time immemorial, the Mi'kmaq have lived in harmony with the boreal forest. Following the arrival of European settlers, moose and wolves disappeared from Cape Breton Island. 40 years later, moose from Elk Island National Park in Alberta were brought across the country and introduced to the park. A new population slowly took hold. In the 1970s, a spruce budworm epidemic killed most of the trees in our boreal forest. Naturally, it began to regenerate and saplings started to grow.

With an abundance of saplings to eat and no natural predator, the moose population exploded.

Today, the saplings are eaten before they have the chance to mature into trees and grass is taking over. If this is left to continue, we could lose our boreal forest to grassland. Whenever we can, we let nature find its own balance. But our boreal forest will not regenerate without help. And that's what Cape Breton Highlands National Park is doing.

We can help the boreal forest find balance again.

Youth, Mi'kmaq, local communities, researchers and park staff are all working side-by-side to help the forest recover. You can get involved, too. Come visit Cape Breton Highlands National Park and see it for yourself. Then, plant a tree to help the restoration process and experience the magic of the boreal forest.

For more information, visit…

[Bring Back the Boreal logo]

[Unama'ki Institute of Natural Resources logo]

Parks Canada logo.

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by Parks Canada, 2016.

Canada wordmark.

What we now know...

Pilot projects are all about learning. So what did Parks Canada discover over these five years about the boreal forest? Here are a few key findings:

  • Young trees were able to grow when protected from moose browsing.
  • Breaking up grass cover during tree planting increases seedling survival and growth.
  • 84% of balsam fir (planted inside the Skyline exclosure) and 94% of white spruce (planted outside the exclosure) survived their first year after being planted. Moose prefer balsam fir over white spruce; that’s why the balsam fir was protected.
  • A significant decrease in moose browsing on North Mountain and French Mountain.

This is just a brief overview of our findings. A final report will be available on the project website later this year.

So what's next?

Parks Canada will take several months to analyze the data gathered over the last five years to help determine the next steps. No matter the step we take, we will involve the community, our partners and key stakeholders in developing future programs or projects. In the meantime, we encourage you to visit for updates.

2019 moose population survey

Every two to four years, Parks Canada conducts a moose population survey within Cape Breton Highlands National Park. In March 2019, Parks Canada collaborated with the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forestry and Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq to conduct a moose population survey across the highlands of Cape Breton, including Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Results of the 2019 survey show a significant decrease in the moose population. In fact, the moose population density is 0.5 per km2, which is a healthy population for our park.

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