Alberta's minister of sustainable resource development says the government is doing what is necessary to protect the boreal forest.

Mel Knight was responding to criticism by a leading conservation expert at an international conservation congress on Monday that Alberta is falling behind other provinces when it comes to protection of the forest.

Steve Kallick of the U.S.-based Pew Environment Group told scientists at the annual conference of the Society for Conservation Biology in Edmonton that while Ontario and Quebec have been doing their part to preserve the northern forest, Alberta isn't doing enough.

Kallick said Alberta needs to think less about oilsands development and more about forest protection.

Unfair comparisons

But Knight argued those kinds of comparisons aren't fair because they don't take into account the development and leisure activities taking place in the boreal forest.

"I think when you try to make a comparison of boreal forest acreage you find a much different situation," Knight told CBC News.

"We're dealing here with a very active landscape in the province of Alberta. And some of the boreal forest initiatives and set-asides and so on that have been done in other areas of the country I applaud them.

"But none of them have done a complete integrated land use plan to move forward the way we have done in Alberta."

Institute keeps track of biodiversity

Knight added that Alberta is the first jurisdiction in Canada to have a biodiversity monitoring institute to keep track of how well biodiversity in the province is being maintained.

The non-profit society monitors the conditions of land, water and living resources across Alberta.

In terms of boreal forest protection, Alberta has promised to preserve 20 per cent of the forest in its oilsands region, even if it means restricting some mining leases.

Kallick came to his conclusions by looking at federal, provincial and industry conservation promises over the last three years. The promises relate to about three million square kilometres of boreal forest, he said.

Canada's entire boreal forest covers about 5.8 million square kilometres, stretching from the Yukon to Newfoundland.

With files from The Canadian Press