Boreal forest is among the last of the earth's forest regions to be widely exploited for industrial economies. Timber and mineral extraction are fairly recent land uses but they have increased greatly in extent since the mid 20th century. Other ecological threats (besides non-sustainable forestry) that the Boreal region faces are: (1) air pollution from smelters and power plants; (2) radioactivity from atomic power and weapons testing; (3) water pollution and disruption of habitats if commercialization of a northern shipping route from Tokyo to Rotterdam becomes a reality; (4) adverse impact of new mineral and oil/gas extraction; and (5) new threats to endangered species.
Boreal forest can be found across Scandinavia, Russia, Canada, Alaska and parts of the Korean Peninsula, China, Mongolia and Japan. Generally existing between 45 degrees north and 70 degrees north. These northern, predominantly coniferous forests spread across over 10 percent of the earth's land surface, 1.5 billion hectares, with almost a fifth of the forest covered by deep layers of decomposing peat moss. Ecosystems and soils of the boreal region store a significant amount of the earth's carbon in the form of dead but undecomposed or partially decomposed organic matter.
The boreal forest is near the end of the equator-to-pole species diversity gradient; within nearly all major taxonomic groups of plants or animals, fewer species are found in the boreal forest than in at lower latitudes. The forest is characterized by a limited number of species of pine, spruce, larch, fir, birch, and poplar, with conifers characteristically dominant from a larger landscape perspective. There is a mosaic of successional and subclimax plant communities sensitive to varying environmental conditions.