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In this lesson, we’ll be learning about the cool, wooded forests in the North, the taiga. We’ll look at the environmental issues facing this ecosystem, threats from human activity, and potential solutions.

What Is the Taiga?

Picture walking through the forests of central Canada on a sunny, summer day.

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As you begin your hike, evergreen trees tower over you. These tall pines have adapted leaves to survive in the cooler temperatures of the North. Although the ground is usually covered in snow in winter, the summer is more temperate and you’re able to do your hike with a light jacket and boots.

Herds of caribou with their thick fur graze on grass, while foxes and lynx keep an eye out for potential meals.

Taiga forest in Alaska
taiga

This lovely, albeit cold, ecosystem is called the taiga. The taiga encompasses the cold, coniferous forests that span between the Arctic and the temperate forests. The taiga forms a belt around the northern part of the world, spanning through Canada, Russia, China, Mongolia, Siberia, Alaska, and northern Europe.

Threats

Currently, the taiga is experiencing threats from human activity that are creating many environmental issues.

Let’s look at some of the most common threats facing the taiga biome.

Deforestation

One of the main environmental issues in the taiga is deforestation, or cutting down trees. Unfortunately, many of the products we use every day are a product of logging, or harvesting trees for human use, in the taiga. Much of the wood that fills our home, such as the beams holding it together and our hardwood floors, come from the taiga. Paper products, such as newsprint, also originate from trees in the taiga.Logging and the more dangerous practice of clear cutting, which is the stripping of large areas of all trees, are threatening the health of the taiga ecosystem. Trees not only provide homes for animals, but they also are responsible for soil integrity.

Without trees, soil runoff increases and the land becomes less productive.

Clear cutting of the taiga in Finland
clear cutting

Some areas of the taiga are protected from clear cutting, but illegal logging still remains a problem, particularly in Russia’s Far East. In 2010, nearly half the oak harvested was done so illegally from the taiga.

Russia exports its timber to China, which is a producer of many goods imported by the United States. Consumers should be conscious of where timber and wood-derived products come from to help prevent illegal logging.

Climate Change

Another environmental issue facing our entire world – not just the taiga – is climate change. Climate change is caused by global warming, an increase in global temperature. With the frigid temperatures in the taiga, we might think global warming would make life easier for the animals there; but animals and plants in the taiga are adapted to thrive in a cool climate. Taiga animals are unable to survive in warmer climates, causing endangerment and even the possibility of extinction for many native species.Increasing temperatures are also causing glaciers and snow to melt in the taiga.

The melted snow runs off of mountains, flooding the taiga. Due to permanently frozen soil and harsh bedrock near the surface, the taiga floor does not drain well. The increased water from glacial melting causes the forest floor to flood, creating a bog-like environment called a muskeg. Trees do not thrive well with this level of water and begin to die out, favoring plants that like the increased moisture.

Muskeg in the Canadian taiga
Urbanization

Today, our exponentially growing population is increasing the demands of our ecosystems. Sprawling suburbs mean more land is taken from natural habitats for human use, in a process called urbanization. Often, urbanization involves clear cutting, stripping the forest of trees to make room for roads, houses, and other human development.

Although areas that are cleared for human use aren’t always large, the effect can be just as devastating. Habitat fragmentation occurs when humans interrupt natural ecosystems with human development. The result is smaller ranges for animals, interrupting migration patterns, mating rituals, and the ability to find food.

Solutions

So, what can we do to protect the taiga? There are two main solutions to the threats of the taiga: confronting the illegal logging industry and efforts to prevent global warming.

Consumer Awareness

Reducing our use of forest timber by reducing wood and paper consumption is the best way to help prevent deforestation of the taiga. Wood and paper should be recycled or reused when possible to eliminate the need for more timber.

However, there are some sustainable timber companies that grow trees specifically for logging use. Since much of the taiga is being logged for human use, it’s important to be conscious consumers. If wood is coming from China or Russia, consumers should inquire as to how it was acquired.

Alternative Energy

Since global warming is caused by excess carbon dioxide, such as that produced from fossil fuels, switching to renewable energy is one way to protect the taiga. Alternative energy is any type of energy that is not produced from fossil fuels, such as wind or solar power.

These types of energy produce little to no carbon dioxide, and thus decrease the effects of global warming.

Lesson Summary

The taiga is a coniferous ecosystem between the Arctic and temperate forests of the north characterized by cold temperatures, evergreen trees, and animals adapted to the cold. The main threat to the taiga is deforestation through logging and clear cutting. These methods are used to provide timber for wood and paper products. Forests are also cleared for urbanization, which can lead to habitat fragmentation.

Using sustainable timber, reducing our use of timber, recycling, and switching to alternative energy can all counteract these environmental issues facing the taiga.

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