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OTTAWA - Canada's vast forests should be protected much more than they are now to preserve wildlife and water and to fight global warming, a group of 1500 scientists from around the world said yesterday.

The scientists say Canada's Boreal Forest, stretching from the Alaskan border and running north of the plains all the way to Newfoundland on the Atlantic, is one of the largest intact forest-and-wetland ecosystems remaining on earth.

The mainly coniferous forest is the single largest terrestrial carbon storehouse in the world, which helps stem the greenhouse effect.

It supports three billion migratory songbirds, the world's largest caribou herds and large populations of bears, wolves, lynx and fish.

"We are losing so many of the world's great forests, despite the best efforts of conservationists," said University of Alberta ecologist David Schindler.

"Canada's Boreal Forest offers what may be our last, best chance to do things right, but only if our leaders act decisively and act now."

The scientists called for half of Canada's Boreal Forest to be protected, up from 10 per cent now, and for development in the rest to be carefully managed, particularly in the face of pressure from logging, mining and oil and gas operations.

Stanford University Professor Terry Root said a stable forest system was particularly important for the survival of all kinds of species in the face of global warming.

"One of the ways that we can help species to survive is to be in a place where there are very few other stresses - things like habitat fragmentation and invasive species."