Climate Change Adaptation Planning

Climate Change Adaptation Plan for Northwest Skeena Communities

Future Forest Ecosystems Scientific Council (FFESC)

ESSA recently completed a 17 month project – Climate change adaptation planning for northwest Skeena communities – which included engagement with three communities of the Skeena valley, the skills of scientists and sociologists from three universities, leadership from forest industry and support and participation from provincial and federal governments. Our goal was to find ways to encourage climate change adaptation within the communities of the Skeena region. These communities are bordered on the east by landscapes which continue to experience the profound ecological and economic impact of the mountain pine beetle epidemic. On the west they are bordered by the waters of Dixon Entrance and Hecate Strait. Despite the ocean’s moderating influence on climate, the Skeena First Nations and all municipalities are rightly concerned about reducing the risks of similar shocks from climate change; a threat that could compound the region’s existing social and environmental challenges.

To understand the perceptions and needs of the communities of Prince Rupert, Lax Kw’alaams and Terrace, UBC sociologists and graduate students carried out in-depth interviews with community leaders, exploring and quantifying their perception of climate and climate change, how each community values the natural environment, and how these values and perceptions have changed over the past two decades. Coupled with the community studies, vegetation modelers from ESSA worked with their counterparts Dr. Jed Kaplan and post-doctoral researcher Dr. Joe Melton, both affiliated with the ARVE modeling group at L’École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, to develop and apply the climate sensitive LPJ-GUESS vegetation model to a comprehensive 32,000 km2 landscape within the Skeena watershed. The sociological and ecological studies were complemented by additional concurrent landscape planning research done by the World Wildlife Fund and Cortex Consultants, and by a program to sample and monitor fisheries sensitive watersheds, sponsored by the BC Ministry of Environment.

The LPJ-GUESS model is a hybrid plant physiology model coupled with a canopy gap-dynamics model; and after calibration, was able to model historic tree succession patterns over the entire region, extending west from the maritime rainforest coast through the high elevation Coast Mountain range and into the Cariboo plateau east of Terrace. Once the model was calibrated to historical climate data and historical harvesting, results from 3 future climate scenario simulations (instances of the A1B, B1 and A2 scenarios created by the IPCC) were incorporated to create scenarios of vegetation change under future climates. The role of fire and harvesting were also investigated in the future climate scenarios.

Results of the ecological simulations and community engagement were summarized in presentations and workshops held in each of the three communities. The ecological presentations were geared to a non-technical audience and included explanations of climate change, climate modeling and future climate scenarios. The simulation results were explained in terms of possible changes in seasonal runoff patterns over the next 60 years, as well as possible changes in how the landscape is suited to various tree species over the same period and how carbon storage will be affected under a variety of climate and harvesting regimes.

The project was funded principally by the Future Forest Ecosystems Scientific Council (FFESC), with additional support from MITACS and with the leadership of Coast Tsimshian Resources.

Additional resources to explore:

Climate Change Brochure prepared for Skeena communities, December 2010

Climate Change Presentation made to Skeena communities, December 2011

Animations from the LPJ-Guess models show how tree species suitability can change under 3 possible future climates. The links below summarize the results for four of the twenty species (grass and 19 tree species) included in the simulations. Screen captures of these simulations can also be found in the Climate Change Presentation.

Under projected future climate changes:

Subalpine fir is reduced in valley bottoms and moves upslope

Mountain hemlock is reduced at middle and upper elevations

Grasses are reduced at higher elevations, replaced by trees; and also slightly reduced at lower elevations

Western redcedar shows a slightly expanded range over time and continues to be prevalent on the coast.