An international campaign to preserve Canada’s vast Boreal forests achieved one of its greatest successes this summer with the announcement that Ontario’s provincial government plans to protect more than 55 million acres-an area roughly the size of Utah-from mining and development.

This announcement by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty marks one of the largest conservation deals in history, says Steve Kallick, director of the International Boreal Conservation Campaign, a Hewlett Foundation grant recipient. The Foundation supports the Campaign through a $6.5 million grant to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

“This is truly a landmark achievement,” says Kallick, who calls it “one of the most significant conservation commitments on Earth.”

Tom Steinbach, the director of the Hewlett Foundation’s Environment Program, notes that the Ontario announcement follows several commitments during the past year to large-scale land protection in Canada’s Boreal Forest. Together, Steinbach says, the total area conserved to date is a staggering 165 million acres-the size of California and Oregon together.

In his July 14 announcement, Premier McGuinty said that the 55 million acres, roughly half of all the Boreal forest in the province, will be protected and designated strictly for tourism and traditional aboriginal use. On the remaining lands, the government will work with aboriginal First Nations communities and natural resource companies to develop a sustainable development plan that protects the most environmentally significant areas.

“It’s unspoiled and undisturbed, and if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s not going to stay that way forever unless we do something,” McGuinty said at the press conference announcing the plan. “We will only get one chance to get this right.”

Canada’s Boreal Forest is one of the world’s largest intact ecosystems. The Northern Boreal region contains more than 200 sensitive species of animals-including polar bears, wolverines, and caribou-as well as many species of migratory birds. Scientists have said that in order to preserve a healthy ecosystem in the Far North, a minimum of half the land must be protected.

The Far North Boreal Forest has remained virtually undisturbed by humans since the glaciers retreated. Although it is 43 percent of Ontario’s landmass, it is home to just 24,000 people living in thirty-six communities. Most of them are members of First Nations living in remote communities beyond Ontario’s roads and other infrastructure.

The region, home to the largest untouched forest in Canada and the third-largest wetland in the world, is a bulwark in the fight against global warming. As one of the last, great, undeveloped spaces on earth, it is a vital carbon sink, whose forests and peat lands store about 97 billion tons of carbon dioxide and absorb around 12.5 million tons of carbon dioxide a year.

In addition to Hewlett backing, the International Boreal Conservation Campaign, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, receives major support from the Lenfest Foundation. The Pew Charitable Trusts have worked to conserve old-growth forests and wilderness in North America for the past fifteen years.

The Campaign works closely with Canadian and international environmental organizations, corporations, and aboriginal First Nations to find common ground around the Canadian Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, a visionary plan to protect and sustain this globally important ecosystem over time.

According to the Campaign’s Web site, the United States plays a significant role in the destruction of Boreal forests. Eighty percent of Canada’s exports of forest products, much of which come from the Boreal, are consumed by the United States.