Braid: Dr. Suzuki, here’s some boreal forest to chew on

The James Camerons and David Suzukis and Neil Youngs have done their work very well.

Many outsiders now see this whole province as universally tainted and polluted — a charge that is absolutely false, even in the oilsands area.

But now there’s an image-changer for David Suzuki to stick in his pipe. He could smoke it when he accepts that bizarre honorary doctorate from the University of Alberta.

After a great deal of work, the province has put together what NDP Environment Minister Shannon Phillips proudly and correctly calls “the largest contiguous area of protected boreal forest on the planet.”

It covers 67,000 square kilometres. That’s a forest larger than 80 countries in the world.

Bigger than Denmark, the Netherlands or Belgium. As large as Ireland and half the size of England. Twice as big as Vancouver Island and 12 times the area of Prince Edward Island.

And this protected area is right next to the oilsands.

It was created by the province with co-operation from First Nations, Ottawa, local authorities and companies like Syncrude.

New provincial parks will share protected status with Wood Buffalo National Park. There will be no logging, mining, or oil and gas development.

The far-seeing Tallcree First Nation relinquished its logging license in the Birch Mountain area. For that, they received $2.3 million in compensation. Syncrude contributed the money to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which then paid the band.

The province cancelled the lease and created Birch River Wildland Provincial Park, a protected area of 3,300 square kilometres that joins Wood Buffalo on the north.

Syncrude doubtless gets a tax credit, and also some carbon offset allowance. Isn’t that the way climate change policy is supposed to work?

This massive protected area starts just north and west of several oilsands projects.

The province also created or expanded four more wetland provincial parks: Kazan, Richardson, Dillon River and Birch Mountains. They add 13,600 square kilometres to the larger area that includes Wood Buffalo.

And so, here’s some advice for the next anti-oilsand advocate who is determined to snap the ugliest possible aerial shots of industrial activity: Keep going. Fly north. Pretty much all you’ll see is vast unspoiled forest, a massive carbon sink for the whole planet, stretching up into the Northwest Territories.

World’s Largest Boreal Protect Forest, courtesy Government of Alberta.

In Alberta, the area of developed oilsands operations covers 983 square kilometres — 1.47 per cent the size of the protected forest and 0.15 per cent of the province itself.

Obviously, the NDP government has not magically created any new trees or wetlands. But, it has ensured that this truly vast area is integrated and protected due to its natural work as a carbon sink and home to wildlife.

The environmental gain is obvious. However, this is also a great symbol to wave at those who say Alberta is uncaring.

The announcement was quickly noticed by news organizations from the BBC to MSN and by publications like Canadian Geographic