Variables in precipitation due to climate change — not rising temperatures — will have the greatest impact on B.C.'s forests over the next 30 or 40 years, foresters heard at a gathering at TRU on Tuesday.
The annual winter workshop of the Southern Interior Silviculture Committee was described as a chance to review themes of the last decade, and climate change was a case in point.
Walt Klenner, wildlife habitat ecologist with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, was part of a panel grappling with the uncertain impacts of climatic change already well established. The debate on how to respond has been around for 40 years, he said.
"It's a very long-term issue and we've been delaying, denying and sending committees when we should be doing something because we know what to do," Klenner told about 200 foresters from the public and private sectors.
When planting, they have to predict environmental variability for the 50 years those trees will need to mature. Yet there is a possibility that Cranbrook, a community surrounded by forests, could resemble semi-arid Kamloops within that period with profound implications for tree growth.
Klenner showed a photo of an upland area between Falkland and Vernon that burned in 1967 and 2003. The forest has not regrown and the area instead exhibits what he terms "savannafication" — drier grassland, sparsely forested.
Silviculturalists have the tools to manage for change, but they're not using them, he said. More dialogue and research are required, yet funding for research has been drastically reduced.
"People have to start holding people who do not evoke this change responsible," Klenner said.
That prompted one delegate to point to the elephant in the room. A lack of policy is the biggest impediment to action, she said. Monitoring climate-induced changes has to be separated from the four-year government budget cycle.
Bryce Bancroft of Symmetree Consulting outlined climate change projections, showing the trend lines of changes already seen. Winter temperatures, for example, are projected to increase two or three degrees Celsius by 2050 with less snowpack. Instead of two- or three-day rain events in summer, there will be eight-day rain events. Warm events will be more frequent. July and August dry periods will be more intense.
"Summer in this part of the world is going to be the driver and that's what's going to impact on how the forest is going to grow," Bancroft said. "One of the things that's going to happen is that fire is likely to be have a lot more influence on the southern Interior. Even today we're seeing this."
The big question is how to build the capacity to adapt to those sorts of changes, he said.
"The future is here," said Kathy Hopkins, a technical adviser on climate change with the Ministry of Environment.
Last year, the province released its forest stewardship action plan for climate change adaptation. Despite uncertainties in projections, they know there will be risks as well as opportunities, she said.
She urged silviculturalists to adopt strategies resilient enough to survive across a range of climate change variables.
Adaptation and mitigation are both essential, said Dave Daoust, who helped develop an adaptive strategy for a forest district in B.C.'s Skeena region.
"I think the biggest problem is that the climate change file isn't landing on anyone's desk," he said, noting the lack of a mandate and resources to adequately monitor changes. "So, basically, we have the problem that no one's taking the lead."