In 2014, Parks Canada started a four-year project with the Unama'ki Institute of Natural Resources and other partners to begin to restore the boreal forest in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

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…

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

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