A great number of species are in danger of going extinct due to climate change. To what extent should we step in?

In the first flush of an Arctic spring, the boreal woodland comes alive, rising from a silvery silence. Like glass, ice breaks easily. In puddles and deltas, melting water gurgles and forms braids. Clumps of snowdrops hang from black spruce trees. After a long wait, saplings still resemble Dr. Seuss’s drawings of spring.

The trees’ gnarled crowns demonstrate how resilient the forest is. In 1728, when the first Danish explorer crossed the Bering Sea between Asia and North America, a black spruce seed riding the wind may have found purchase in the rocky till revealed by melting glaciers. A few decades later, the sapling would have been sprouting its first cones when ice forced Captain Cook to retreat from the Arctic Ocean. The tree may not have grown more than thirty feet when the United States bought Alaska from Russia a century later for $7.2 million in gold. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act established the vast system currently overseeing many of these forests in 1980, and the old spruce trees may have served as a shaky perch for some of the billions of birds that migrate north as the days grow longer.

In recent years, these flocks have become smaller. One in three of the birds that used to make the arrowing trip have vanished. Conversely, the boreal forest is currently precarious. The permafrost supporting its roots is thawing due to rising temperatures, which can submerge entire stands. The ecosystem that is home to over half of the birds in North America has been destroyed by development that has plowed through its muskeg, and many of its trees have been cut down. Nowadays, most of Alaska’s bird species are at least somewhat in danger of going extinct.