Acting on climate change at the local level

How will increasing temperatures and unpredictable precipitation affect local businesses?

edit 16Forestry, fisheries and other local resources are facing a battle against a changing climate. Inconsistent precipitation and an increase in temperature could force industries into becoming more sustainable. Several TRU science professors agree that climate change will cause numerous challenges for local businesses and that it’s important to start looking at sustainability right now.

“I think climate change is going to change everything,” said Brian Heise, an associate professor at TRU who specializes in fisheries management.

Heise explained that the rising temperatures in lakes mean that fewer local fish will be available.

“It can have an effect on our local tourism industry. Many people come up from [Vancouver and the surrounding area] for our lakes, and a lot of recreational tourism comes from the number of days people are able to fish,” Heise said.

Heise also pointed out that salmon are a major attraction, and an important keystone species in the southern interior.

Without lakes that have healthy populations of fish, less fishing will be available. Local businesses could lose revenue and support if fishers have to go to other areas for the sport.

Another big issue Heise mentioned was the implication of drought. The future of water management in the southern interior may include modifying the flow of water for our smaller lakes to make sure they stay filled with water. This could be done by building small dams, or by helping to build up extra snowmelt, Heise explained.

“We can water-manage, we can work locally. It’s much easier to focus on local climate change than global change. It’s all interconnected,” Heise stated.

John Karakatsoulis, a TRU professor and program administrator who specializes in forest ecology, has observed similar climate change effects in his area of expertise.

“The government certainly is telling forest companies to prepare for less wood available,” Karakatsoulis said.

Karakatsoulis thinks the problem is that a lot of forestry operations are operating in smaller communities where they are the major employer. If there is less wood to be harvested, they may have to shut down.

edit 1“I think the industry is still relatively strong, but I would like to see more diversification, and to see the mills work harder to find different uses for their wood products,” he said.

Karakatsoulis said that options for product diversification are available, such as strand board, which is used to create fibres and panelling. Mills also make dimensional lumber, sheet boards, pulp and paper. However, it’s a matter of choosing to make the right products with the wood available.

“If they don’t find ways to diversify their wood products, three shifts become two shifts, then become one shift. They will need less people, and people will be unemployed. These are the social and economic ramifications from climate change,” Karakatsoulis said.

Right now forest ecologists are looking at the “waste-wood” that is left out in the forest, such as burn piles, in order to use it for sustainable or renewable products.

However, Karakatsoulis mentioned that there needs to be a good balance between the economic possibilities and the forests we are leaving behind afterwards.

“If we start over-utilizing what’s out there, we aren’t going to be leaving much behind for habitat. It all has economic implications down the road in terms of how viable our communities are in the southern interior,” Karakatsoulis said.

Karakatsoulis also pointed out that there’s not always a big incentive for forest companies when they utilize Crown land to do anything more than the minimum of reforestation.

“They only invest what they have to, and rightfully so. In most cases they will invest in reforestation to get the plantation up to what is called “free to grow” and then once it reaches that stage they can sign off on it. Then it’s the government’s responsibility to see it all the way to growth completion,” Karakatsoulis said.

edit 23“Right now, any industry relying on natural resources has to look at what might be happening in the future… We tend to make the assumption that the climate 10 to 20 years from now will be very similar to today, but the evidence is showing that it’s going to be different, and we don’t know what those differences are going to be, but we are basing it on the best models that show that the average temperatures are going to get a little higher, and we can anticipate warmer, dryer summers, and warmer, wetter winters,” Karakatsoulis said.

Tom Pypker, a TRU professor with a speciality in ecosystem processes and ecophysiology, said that the natural resources we currently rely on for business might be very different in the future.

“We might be able to plant species to grow better under future climate change conditions, and this could provide good opportunities for local agriculture. There may even be a competitive advantage to grow a wider variety of food here, which we used to a long time ago and no longer do.”

Pypker agreed that a changing climate will impact forests either way.

“It will probably have the biggest effect on the regeneration of our forests. The good years for regenerating certain species could become less frequent. It starts by reducing growth and altering harvest rotation lengths of our forested areas… so we have to look at the types of plants we are planting for the future changes.”

Pypker, Heise and Karakatsoulis all agree on the importance of our future water availability and management.

“A lot of it will circle around how much water we have and how much the temperature will increase. Established forests may be able to persist on the landscape [despite rising temperatures], but if something happens will they be able to be re-established again?” Pypker asked.

Karl Larsen, a professor at TRU who specializes in wildlife management, said that if temperature or precipitation levels change, there are going to be major changes within any environment.

“If we are stressing our existing ecosystems we are going to make them more vulnerable to invasive species and susceptible to damage,” Larsen said.

Larsen believes there are still a lot of questions that need to be asked.

“If ecosystems start to change at an accelerated rate, is that going to change ecosystems in ways that make them less resilient to invasive species? All species go through fluctuations, so are those fluctuations going to become more erratic in response to different climate?”

“Hopefully students go forth with a bigger and broader awareness of things, so they can think about the longer term, realize that there are a lot of things that are connected and worry about ecosystems as a web instead of a linear function,” Larsen pointed out.

Heise, Karakatsoulis, Pypker and Larsen all believe that there is a lot that consumers can do to help.

When asked what students could do to combat climate change, Heise said, “Force industry to be sustainable. Whenever you go to a restaurant [or] grocery store, pay attention to the labels on food. There are a number of different certification programs, Oceanwise for example. You can even get an app for your phone that tells you recommendations about different species and how they were caught.”

“Students need to start thinking about where they put their money and about where their products come from. I think we often misunderstand who actually creates the carbon footprint. It’s not just big industries, it’s all of us who are consumers and who might be willing to buy a product even if it’s not sustainable,” Pypker said.