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Great Northern Forest
Step into the world of writers and photographers as they tell you about the best, worst, and quirkiest places and adventures they encountered in the field.

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Boreal Forest

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The Great Northern Forest Boreal

By Fen MontaignePhotographs by Peter Essick

The reality of this immense boreal land grows ever harsher as a resource-hungry world gnaws at its edges.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

I came to know the world’s largest boreal forest through years of work in Russia, journeying from the taiga’s heavily logged southern fringe on the Chinese border to beyond the Arctic Circle. There, following aboriginal reindeer herders, I traveled through the zone where the forest fades away, with gnarled larch trees pushing the limits of existence. Though only 20 to 30 feet (six to nine meters) tall, some are more than 500 years old.

I had also been to the tropical forests of South America, where there is more of everything—more trees, more animals, more insects, more tumult. But I prefer the understated charms of the boreal, with its limitless expanse of lakes and ponds and its gentle gradations of green: the pale hues of the reindeer lichen, the black-green of the spruce, the lighter, almost chartreuse tints of aspen and birch. More than anything, perhaps, I am partial to the light of the north woods—slanting rays that in the warmer months cast long evening shadows and suffuse the landscape with a crystalline glow.

On just such an evening in early June I found myself in Alberta’s boreal forest with Richard Thomas, a bird expert and author of a government report on the fragmentation of the province’s north woods. We were in Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park, easing our way down a path in a dusky grove of birch, balsam fir, and white spruce, several nearly three feet in diameter and towering 90 feet (30 meters) overhead. In places the forest floor was an orderly tableau of ferns, moss, and piles of shredded pinecones left by squirrels. In other places it was an impassable tangle of blown-down trees, their collapse clearing a hole in the canopy, allowing light to nourish new growth. On a rotting “nurse log,” saplings had begun to grow. The air was perfumed with the scent of balsam fir.

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

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Debate rages on about the effects of oil drilling and global warming on boreal forests.   How seriously should we take perceived threats?  Are we overreacting or acting too slowly?  Join the discussion.

More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
Not all wood waste generated in paper production is truly “waste.” The bark and sawdust left over from log processing are frequently used to generate electricity. In many mills the wood waste is burned, as are the waste chemicals (known as “black liquor”) from the pulping process.  The electricity that is generated powers a mill’s own operations. Mills that make more power than they need export power to the general market.

—Elizabeth Connell and Lynne Warren

Did You Know?

Related Links
Forest Stewardship Council
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international organization that promotes environmentally sound forest development. This site also offers links to other FSC offices around the world. All About Russian Forests
This Web page provides information on Russian forests from both industrial and environmental perspectives.

Center for Russian Nature Conservation
Learn more about various Russian conservation initiatives at this comprehensive site. Includes links to the Altayskiy and Kostomukshskiy Nature Reserves.

Canadian Forests
Compiled by an independent, private organization, this website offers a comprehensive list of links to all aspects of Canadian forestry including federal and provincial government sites, industry and environmental sites, and education and research pages. There is even a section listing job opportunities in Canadian forestry.

Canadian Institute of Forestry
Dedicated to promoting the Canadian forestry industry, the Canadian Institute of Forestry provides useful information for forestry professionals.

Taiga Rescue Network and the Boreal Forest Network and
These partner organizations work to address issues facing the boreal forest today. Taiga Rescue Network focuses on the Russian and European forests, and the Boreal Forest Network concentrates on North American woods.


Gawthrop, Daniel. Vanishing Halo: Saving the Boreal Forest. Greystone Books, 1999.

Lanken, Dane. "Boreal Forest," Canadian Geographic (May/June 1996), 26-33.

Marles, Robin J., and others. Aboriginal Plant Use in Canada’s Northwest Boreal Forest. UBCPress, 2000.

Shugart, Herman H., and others. A Systems Analysis of the Global Boreal Forest. Cambridge University Press, 1992.


National Geographic Resources
Shor, Franc, and Jean Shor. “North With Finland’s Lapps: Big in Heart and Hospitality Are the Little People of Lapland—and a Taxi Will Take You to an Arm of the Arctic Ocean,” National Geographic (August 1954), 249-280.

Villiers, Alan. “Where the Sailing Ship Survives,” National Geographic (January 1935), 101-128.

Olson, Alma Luise. “The Farthest-North Republic: Olympic Games and Arctic Flying Bring Sequestered Finland into New Focus of World Attention,” National Geographic (October 1938), 499-533.

Glassey, Frank P. S. “Helsingfors—A Contrast in Light and Shade,” National Geographic (May 1925), 597-612.

Korff, Alletta, Baroness. “Notes on Finland,” National Geographic (June 1910), 493-494.


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