Boreal forests called 'northern lungs of the world'

Winnipeg conference told Russia and Canada have boreal forests that are the world's biggest carbon sinks

Boreal forests in Russia and Canada are among the world's biggest producers of oxygen and should be protected from industrialization, a Winnipeg conference was told Sunday.

Don Sullivan, head of the North American Boreal Forest Network, said his goal as host of the three-day conference was to stress the importance of keeping boreal forests healthy.

"We're trying to send a clear message to the public that the northern lungs of the world is important to maintain, and keeping it a viable, sustainable, healthy ecosystem is not only important to us as Canadians, but it's important to the world."

The boreal forests are viewed as massive "carbon sinks" ecosystems that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by absorbing and storing it.

Sullivan said Canadians should set an example by being better managers of the forests in order to slow their disappearance.

"We really have a leadership role to play here in terms of how we are going to deal with not only climate change, but how we deal and manage and look at an alternative vision to how we maintain a healthy forest ecosystem," he said.

Ottawa is expected to announce climate-change initiatives in the Sept. 30 throne speech.