Forum looks at climate change – the ‘new normal’

The RDKB sponsored the Entitled Flood, Fire and Famine: Forum on Building Resilience to Global Climate.

Those attending the climate change forum were given the opportunity to provide their thoughts on a number of mitigation opportunities.

“We have options, but past is not one of them,” was a quote on one of the slides presented last at last week’s forum on the effects of climate change in the Boundary. There were some three-dozen in attendance at the forum, Entitled Flood, Fire and Famine: Forum on Building Resilience to Global Climate.

The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary sponsored the event and the RDKB board of directors had changed their meeting schedule and venue so they could attend. Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson was also in attendance.

The keynote speaker was Greg Utzig, a conservation ecologist and land use planning consultant based in Nelson. He has 35 years experience in environmental impact assessment, watershed analysis and a wide range of activities related to forest management and biodiversity protection. He has a connection to the Boundary too in that he worked for some time in Kettle Valley and Grand Forks forestry offices.

Utzig said weather records show we are experiencing less cold weather, while seeing more hot weather and more record hot weather. Looking at European climate records that date back over 500 years confirms this trend.

“Their data show the five coldest years all occurred before 1900, and the five warmest years have all occurred since 2000.”

Examples of climatic extremes are heat waves, drought, high intensity rainstorms and flooding, windstorms and tornadoes, lightning storms, hail storms, ice storms, and early spring heat/late frost combinations.

Utzig speculated that one of the mechanisms driving the climate change is modifications to the jet stream resulting in weather systems stalling in place. The result is, instead of having two or three days of hot dry weather, there are 10 days of hot dry weather. Or, as happened earlier this year in the Alberta flooding, longer periods of intense rain.

“These extreme events are probably the things we are most concerned about. There are ongoing things that are more gradual but the increase in extreme events we need to start planning for.” Utzig brought slides aggregating the projections of several attempts to model future climate trends.

“All models agree on the pattern of change though they may vary in the amount of change. We know summers are going to get dryer and much hotter than they are,” Utzig said, calling this the important take-home message of his speech.

“Most models predict an increase in precipitation in spring, winter, and fall—but they all suggest a decrease in summer precipitation.”

Looking at other biogeoclimatic zones to try to see what is growing in a climate that is projected for the Boundary in the future suggests the area will see an increase in grassland and a change in forest-types, loss of forest cover, changing habitats and consequent species loss.

He also predicted an increase in fire frequency and intensity, insects, pathogens and other forest decline syndromes.

The Boundary can anticipate less snow, with an increase of rain falling in winter instead of snow. River flows will consequently increase in winter months, but there will be reduced risk of flooding with lower spring peak flows. Summer and fall water levels in the rivers will be significantly reduced.

There will be increasing irrigation demands, at the same time there will be decreased water availability.

He suggested silviculture treatments could increase resilience and decrease interface fire risk, while at the same time providing wood waste that could be used to lessen demand for fossil fuels as a heating source.

He cited the Fuels for Schools program now under way in some U.S. states that encourages conversion of oil and gas furnaces to wood burning heating systems.

Utzig got a round of applause when he spoke out against the funding cutbacks being faced by the scientific community.

“Research is way more important now than it ever was before because there are going to be a lot of surprises out there. The federal government seems to be bent on doing away with scientists and science. This is the time we need them more than we have ever needed them before. We need to plan for change – rethink everything we are doing now,” he insisted.

Actions Utzig identified that might ease the trend toward climate change are to stop burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas), elimination of other GHG emissions, and energy conservation.

The next speaker was Graham Watt, coordinator of the Kettle River Management Plan, who referred to climate change as the “new normal”.

He urged adoption of a culture of water conservation and suggested implementing laws and policies that restrict development in riparian areas while promoting healthy vegetation in buffer areas near rivers, streams and lakes.

“A really big topic is how can we increase resilience of shorelines and floodplains,” said Watt.

RDKB Area D Director Roly Russell was the next speaker. Russell holds a PhD from Oregon State University. He is currently a farmer, researcher and involved in many local agriculture related initiatives.

He asked forum participants to consider the role of climate change on growing food. He sees opportunities for changes in practices such as crop diversification, buffer areas, woodlands and water use; and he advocates planning and policy work toward an area agricultural plan, food system planning and consideration of climate change in OCP reviews.

He also suggested discourse—education, facilitation of informed discussion that abhors rhetoric and those who would befog and confuse the issue.

Christina Lake native Ryan Durand is a registered professional biologist who currently works on vegetation inventory, mapping and classification projects throughout Western Canada and the arctic.

“Since we are putting effort into trying to preserve what is there, restore what is there—if we understand what we have to begin with I think we would be a lot further ahead,” said Durand.

The final speaker of the evening was Sandy Mark, community coordinator for Christina Lake, who took a look at climate change through an economic lens.

She called for reform at the grassroots through structures such as the corporate social responsibility movement, socially responsible investment movement, co-operative movement, community economic development movement, and the social enterprise movement.

Mark is helping guide Christina Lake as it develops the first Community Venture Capital Corporation in B.C.

Following the four speakers, attendees broke into discussion groups based on specific topics such as linking co-ops together, local solar power, food policy and planning, ecosystem inventory, irrigation, community planning, protection of the riparian, etc.

Watt invites those interested in the subject of resilience to climate change to get in touch with him at plan@kettleriver.ca.