Coniferous Forest
Inch in a Pinch Caterpillar
Inch in a Pinch


"Hi! I'm Inch in a Pinch and this month we are going to explore a truly breath-taking habitat area - the Coniferous Forest. This habitat is also known by the names - Boreal and Taiga. We will use all three names interchangeably as we explore this habitat area. Coniferous forests cover approximately 15% of the Earth's land surface! It is the largest terrestrial (land) habitat on Earth. Our guide through this ever green wonderland will be Wise, Worried Owl. I don't get to see this friend much anymore. He's been busy trying to drum up support for his "Save CF" campaign. Let's give him a listen. Maybe there's something we can do to help him."

Wise, Worried Owl 
Outraged OwlTree




"Thanks, Inch! I want everyone to know that it's almost too late to save me and my home! I want people to do something before we're gone forever! I'm so glad you are interested in learning about the Coniferous forest habitat. That's the first step in saving it. Let's get started. Boy, do I have a lot to show you! Read through the next section carefully. Please make sure you understand all the stuff that's there. We'll move on to plants and animals when you're finished. Take your time, I'll wait."

Where are the Coniferous Forests located?

Location of Coniferous Forests
The Earth's large forests of conifers extend mostly over the Northern Hemisphere, across North America, Europe and Asia. Coniferous forests are located south of the Tundra, but north of the Temperate Deciduous forests and Temperate Grasslands.



Coniferous ForestConiferous forests often cover mountainsides. Trees are tall and narrow, so snow will slide off the branches without breaking them. The trees grow close together for protection from the wind. They also have thick bark, which resists damage from low-heat summer fires.





Coniferous Forest Landscape

Trees that produce their seeds in cones, such as pine or fir trees, dominate the Coniferous forest. Hardy deciduous trees like birch are also mixed in. These trees often have shallow roots that spread out widely to take advantage of the moisture in the upper levels of the ground, which only thaws occasionally. The roots are also shallow because of the poor soil and rocky conditions.

NeedlesTrees in the Coniferous forest primarily possess pine needles instead of broad leaves. Needles are an important adaptation to the extreme conditions present in the climate of the Boreal forest. Pine needles contain very little sap, so freezing is not much of a problem. Being dark in color they absorb what little light falls on their surfaces.


Spruce Needles

The waxy, pine needles, combined with low bacterial activity in the cold subarctic climate combine to produce a thick mat of undecayed litter on the forest floor. Since nutrients are not released, the soil remains poor and acid.

Taiga Lake Large Coniferous forests often have thousands of small lakes and swampy areas, which have poor drainage due to the depressions, left behind by glaciers.


Lake in the Tiaga

Coniferous forest in winter Evergreens in winterConiferous forests are cold and covered with snow for most of the year - usually from October to May.
There are two types of Coniferous forests:
1. Open, lichen woodland, which has trees,spaced far apart with lichen growing between them.
2. Closed forests, which have trees very close together and a shaded, moss-covered forest floor.
Most precipitation in the Coniferous forest arrives as rain in summer. The average yearly precipitation is 12 to 33 inches.
The Taiga in North America stretches across central Alaska, the bulk of Canada and the northern reach of the lower 48 states. White spruce, black spruce, balsam fir and tamarack dominate this forest. There are streams and rivers, and wet spots such as lakes, ponds and bogs.
In southern Canada the Taiga mingles with the temperate deciduous forest in some places. In northern Canada, the Taiga gradually tapers off, and the Arctic Tundra begins. The Siberian Taiga in Russia and Asia often has taller trees.
The Coniferous forest, located along the northern California coast, contains the largest life-form on Earth! The giant Sequoia trees are also the longest-lived life form on Earth. Some of these trees are 3,000 years old and counting!
Largest Giant Sequoia Tree



World's Largest Living Life-form Arrow

Some coniferous trees depend on fire as a catalyst for seed-release. The Lodgepole Pine tree is an example of this kind of tree. The seeds develop in the pinecones, but unlike other conifers whose pinecones ripen and open to release the seeds, the Lodgepole's cones never ripen. The heat from naturally occurring fires force the Lodgepole Pine tree's serotinous cones to burst open, thus releasing the tree's seeds.

TreeOutraged Owl



"Isn't this habitat absoluty beautiful? The Boreal habitat is home to some very important strands in the web of life on this planet. If you'll click on the buttons below, you can see some pictures of the plants and animals found in the Coniferous forest. Oh, there's some very interesting information you can read about each featured species. There are also links to find out more facts about the plants and animals. Take plenty of time to check these sites out. We'll continue our tour when you're finished. I'll be right here when you get back. Have fun!"

Plants LinkAnimals Link

TreeOutraged Owl




"Gosh, there are some reallyawesome plants and animals that live in this habitat area, aren't there?! There are a lot of things that are happening in the Coniferous forest that could lead to its destruction. By destruction, I mean "Kapuuut!" Gone forever! Next, you'll find a list of some of the things that are threatening the Tiaga and its inhabitats with extinction. Please take some time and read through the list. It's important to know what the problems are before we can come up with some solutions. If you have any questions, please email our Research Department!"

Research DepartmentResearch Department

Threats to the Coniferous Forests


Skilift Clearcut logging is the biggest threat to the Coniferous forest! Replanting after logging leads to single-species conifer monocultures - not conducive to species biodiversity. Clearcutting accelerates soil erosion, degrades wildlife habitat and leads to the loss of biodiversity. Land is being cleared for ski slopes, landfills, housing, new roads, etc.




Trees being cleared for a ski resort

In Canada, one acre of forest is cut every 12.9 seconds!

Since the mid-1800s, about 320 billion tons of carbon have been pumped into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of the world's forests, increasing the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by about 25 percent. It is estimated that a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere will increase the Earth's temperature by about 5 degrees Farenheit (3 degrees Celcius) by the end of the next century - perhaps twice this amount in the north!

Acid RainOver the years, the rain in many areas of the world has become more acid. These pollutants come from coal burning, power plants and other factories. The trees die and stand like gray skeletons against the sky due to acid rain.


Effects of acid rain

Bullet High-intensity hunting and trapping has reduced many populations of fur-bearing animals.
Mining operations are a threat to the Coniferous forests because of the chemicals used in mining and the silt released by mining.
Road construction destroys the forest and also acts as a barrier to wildlife. Roads isolate populations of species from feeding grounds, natural migration routes and limits breeding between larger groups thus limiting the gene pool and creating non-viable subgroups within the species.
As the Earth's population continues to increase and people continue to move out of the city and into the suburbs, more and more Boreal forests will be lost to urbanization.

Oil Drilling in AlaskaThe possibility of extensive oil exploration, drilling, and piping looms like a dark cloud on the Coniferous forests' horizon.



Alaska Pipeline

Bullet Air pollution from cars, wood burning, factories and other sources is a big problem for the Taiga.

TreeOutraged Owl



"Geez, is that a list of scary things or what?! People, the Coniferous forests of the world need your help! My heart hurts when I think about how many trees are lost every day to clearcut logging! There are things you can do to stop the destruction of my home. Don't just read the list below; start doing the stuff mentioned here. Do it today!! Please!!" 

Things You Can Do To Help

1. Clearcutting should be banned in all Coniferous forests and replaced with eco-forestry methods, including selective logging, which preserve biodiversity. Logging practices throughout The Boreal forests must be overhauled to ensure that wildlife habitats, species and genetic diversity is maintained. Vote into office those candidates who will support this legislature!
2. Significantly decreasing our use of fossil fuels and conserving our forests "carbon sinks" are essential if rapid global warming is to be slowed. Fossil fuels are used in home heating systems. Try doing the following to cut down on your consumption: 
  • Set your thermostat at 68 degrees during the colder months in your area and leave it there!
  • If you feel cold, put on a sweater or change into warmer clothes. Do not turn up the thermostat!
  • Make sure your furnace filters are changed regularly!
  • Clean your furnace before starting it up for the winter months!
3. Activists from a variety of groups are trying to convince Alaska to cancel plans to start a large-scale road building project. By not building the roads, we will save the habitat and make it difficult for hunters to hunt where the animal populations were previously untouched. Send letters, email, and faxes to your government representatives voicing your opposition to road building in the Tongas forest in Alaska. 
4. Help lessen the demand for paper products and you lessen the need for logging the Coniferous forests. Try doing the following:
  • Reuse brown paper bags. Use them to line waste baskets and trash cans!
  • Recycle newspapers! Every Sunday, more than 500,000 trees are used to produce 88% of newspapers that are never recycled! Better yet, discontinue home delivery and read the news online!
  • Send e-cards instead of paper cards to everyone you know who has Internet access!
5. Exhaust from cars is a major source of acid rain. Drive your car less! Join a car pool or ride the bus!
6. With global warming, summers are getting hotter and dryer. The dry conditions are highly conducive to forest fires. Those forest fires that start as a result of a naturally occurring event (lightning, spontaneous combustion, etc.) can be beneficial. Manmade fires are not. Be careful when camping. Drown all campfires, stir them and drown again. Never throw cigarettes out of car windows! 
7. Reduce your use of wood products. Begin doing the following and be sure to start today!
  • Instead of buying new furniture, recover or refinish what you have, or buy used furniture and recover or refinish it.
  • Never buy wood cut from old growth forests! Look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) label. It signifies that the wood came from trees grown in well-managed, independently certified forests!
8. Make it your business to know about any proposed drilling, mining, or logging operations for Coniferous forest areas - read newspapers, search the web, watch television programs, attend town meetings. If everyone, worldwide, takes responsibility for their own area, these destructive operations can be held in check!  
9. Instead of moving to the suburbs to build a new home, look for an already built home in town and consider remodeling it. This will save wildlife habitat and the wildlife that lives there.

TreeOutraged Owl



"These are really good ideas! They are not the easiest things to do. The people of this world always seem to want to take the easy way out. I'm afraid there is no easy way out for the Coniferous forests of the world or for their inhabitants. I'm also worried that you will wait too long before doing the things that will help. We have to make some pretty tough choices and we have to make them soon or we're going to lose this incredible wildlife habitat. Please help! Every little bit you do helps save our planet!!" 

Inch in a Pinch Caterpillar


"I have a huge family and, of course, some of them live in this habitat area. I talk with them often and they, too, are very concerned about their home. Can you please help save their home? If we lose the Coniferous forests not only those who live there will feel the consequences, everyone, worldwide, will know the consequences, also! If we work together on this, it won't seem like such a tough job. What do you say? Let's get started and help my friend, Wise, Worried Owl, with his "Save the CF" campaign. Please take a moment and check out the coloring picture WW Owl has provided. See you next month!"

To learn more about Coniferous Forests, visit the following:
Boreal Forest Network
Moist Temperate Coniferous Forest Biome
Northern Coniferous Forest Biome
For more Educational Resources For Teachers

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