Climate change is warming Canada's great expanse of boreal forest, bringing greater risk of fire and disease – CBC.ca
CBC Alberta and Saskatchewan have teamed up for a new pilot series on weather and climate change on the Prairies. Meteorologist Christy Climenhaga will bring her expert voice to the conversation to help explain weather phenomena and climate change and how it impacts everyday life.
It’s the world’s largest forest of least disturbance. A stretch of trees sweeping around the globe, accounting for a third of the Earth’s forested area.
We’re talking about the boreal forest. The planet’s coldest forest – a massive store for carbon accumulated over thousands of years and a thriving ecosystem for plants and animals.
In Canada, over 300 million hectares of boreal forest stretches from Yukon all the way through the northern half of the provinces, east towards Newfoundland. The boreal forest is home to half the nation’s species of birds, and 3.7 million people.
As our climate changes, this great expanse of cold forest is getting warmer. Average temperatures across the Prairies are 1.9C warmer since the mid-20th century, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada.
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Winters are getting shorter and milder overall. Summers are getting hotter with not enough moisture to compensate for the heat. Though some of these changes may seem small, they have big impacts on our local ecosystems, including the boreal forest.
So what will happen to this beacon of Canadian wilderness as our climate continues to change? Will it survive?
Scientists say we are already seeing a shift.
Boreal is constantly changing
Change is nothing new for the boreal forest. It is under constant pressure from natural disturbances – things like fire and insects – that can help the forest renew itself and become more resilient.
But what happens when these disturbances happen more often, when they start to become the new normal?
That’s the lens we are looking through as we continue to see our climate changing at a rapid rate.
“If we think about drought, fire, insects and disease, this large tract is contending with all of these threats all the time. But under climate change at least some of these threats are going to become more severe,” says Janice Cooke, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta.
Water stress and trees
When the mercury climbs, evaporation happens more readily and plants lose water at a high rate through transpiration. When it is not replaced, we start to get into moisture deficits. And the longer those deficits last, the more stress they put on our plants.
“When trees are faced with a lack of water, it’s pretty serious. They close their pores on their leaves and they try to hold out,” says Cooke.
By trying to conserve water, they are not gaining sugars or resources they need to grow.
Cooke says as growth is stunted, the trees also lose a bit of their capacity to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which starts to turn into a vicious cycle.
“We know those elevated temperatures create more drought. It’s a dangerous feedback loop.”
The boreal and the Prairies
Although you may picture a skyline of endless grassland, the boreal forest covers over half of our Prairie provinces.
In Alberta and Saskatchewan, the northern half of both provinces is rooted in the boreal, and in Manitoba it stretches even further south, covering three quarters of the province.
But the health of that forest is already changing in the Prairies.
Ted Hogg, an emeritus research scientist in the climate change program of the Canadian Forest Service, studies deteriorating forest health.
“The big impacts we’re seeing are in northern Alberta, where we’ve had frequent severe droughts going back to 2002,” he says.
Hogg says the 2002 drought meant major tree loss in the aspen parkland and southern boreal between Edmonton and Saskatoon. But recent droughts are extending that stress northward.
“What we’ve seen more recently is some other parts in places near Peace River, northwestern Alberta, and even up into the Northwest Territories, seen similar things happening … so the mortality of aspens have gone further than we ever expected.”
According to Diana Stralberg, a research scientist at the Northern Forestry Centre with Natural Resources Canada, these stressors could lead to a shift in the forest to more of a prairie grassland system.
“When you have a fire followed by drought, where the seeds or seedlings don’t survive and then they get hit again by a fire, you can have a risk that can result in a lack of forest regeneration.”
Stralberg says as we see die-off in Alberta’s parkland and southern boreal regions, we may see the forest shift northward.
A march northward
That shift of an ecosystem is no small feat, but it is something that more scientists are seeing.
Logan Berner, an assistant research professor at Northern Arizona University, has been studying the state of the global boreal region.
“There is emerging evidence that as the climate continues to warm, the boreal might shift northward,” he says.
This shift would mean an expansion of boreal trees and shrubs into Arctic and alpine tundra, and potentially a contraction of the forest along the southern margins, according to Berner.
In his research, Berner studies tree browning and greening – basically, where growth is increasing, and where it is decreasing.
Berner looked at a number of sites within the boreal forest between 1985 and 2019 to see how growth trends changed. He says that they saw increased greening at the northern edge of the forest.
“We think that this is primarily due to higher temperatures, making it possible for trees and shrubs to grow larger and expand their footprint and extend along the forest.”
Berner says that in contrast to the northern greening, there were significant declines in vegetation gradients across parts of the southern boreal forest in North America and Eurasia.
“These are kind of early indications that a … shift could be occurring.”
But even as trees begin to populate further north, according to Stralberg, it may not make up for the habitat lost in the south.
“You can lose forest a lot faster than it can grow and provide habitat for wildlife. So if you lose an older forest here in the south, you don’t really have the opportunity to make that up really very soon.”
Stralberg says that means a lot of species that are depending on older mature forests, especially coniferous forests, could struggle.
“As we have more open woodlands and more grassland conditions, then you could see different species coming in. But the fact is that these things are happening so quickly that it’s really easy to have loss, especially when you compound with all the other human activities.”
Stress from pests
Bugs make up another piece of the boreal climate puzzle as we continue to see warming.
As trees struggle with the lack of water it could mean openings for insects, says Jennifer Klutsch, a research scientist with Natural Resources Canada and a forest entomologist.
“Drought stress can lead to those trees not being very well defended against not just native insects and pathogens, but also range expansions such as mountain pine beetle” she says. “That can lead to greater outbreaks, frequency and severity.”
It also comes down to timing, Klutsch says. Insects, with their shorter life cycles, can respond more quickly to changes in temperature and moisture than trees can.
“They can build up populations and trees are not really able to adapt to this new disturbance regime that’s coming their way.”
And with warmer winters, bug populations could grow.
“If we don’t get the cold winters that we kind of expect in the boreal, then that can lead to bark beetle populations maintaining because of that lack of winter mortality events.”
Is it too late?
Well, here is the glimmer of hope.
While we are clearly seeing changes in our boreal region, changes can still be made.
“I think that to some degree there is some inevitability that we are on this trajectory of warming that we have to respond to and adapt to,” says Stralberg. “I think to a certain extent we can reduce the damage.”
She says there is potential in looking at the landscape, finding the areas that are more resilient, and trying to protect or conserve them.
“Areas that have larger peatland complexes and more interfaces between the upland forests and the peatlands, I think there you have more potential to really keep that water on the landscape,” she says.
According to Stralberg, small-scale changes in topography at specific locations where you can have a little bit of shading and protection from direct sun, and the ability for water to be maintained, has potential as well.
Cooke agrees that there is still time to act to protect this vital ecosystem.
“Is it ever too late to do something better? I would say no. We can always try to do better and hope that that’s going to have an effect, but we can never wind back the clock.”
Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a CBC News initiative entitled “Our Changing Planet” to show and explain the effects of climate change. Keep up with the latest news on our Climate and Environment page.
Twenty-six organizations call for MSI for migrant workers in Nova Scotia
Halifax, NS (March 21, 2022) – Today, as the spring session of the Nova Scotia legislature opens, twenty-six organizations have published an open letter calling for healthcare access for Kerian Burnett and all migrant workers in Nova Scotia. Today is also the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The signatories to the letter include the Antigonish Coalition to End Poverty, Central Kings Community Health Board, CUPE NS, King’s Students’ Union, National Farmers Union – Nova Scotia, No one is illegal – Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia Health Coalition and Western Kings Community Health Board.
In some provinces, migrant workers have access to public healthcare on arrival. In Nova Scotia, migrant workers must have a one-year work permit to be eligible for public healthcare coverage (MSI). This means that Caribbean and Mexican workers who come to Nova Scotia under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) are not eligible, because their contracts are a maximum of 8 months of each calendar year.
“Nova Scotia’s MSI eligibility criteria shuts out this racialized workforce. This is a blatant example of systemic discrimination, which can and must be immediately redressed,” said Stacey Gomez, Manager of the Migrant Workers Program with No one is illegal – Nova Scotia.
Migrant workers in the SAWP only have access to private health insurance, which is tied to their employment.
“Private health insurance from employers and restrictions on eligibility for MSI prevents migrant workers from accessing the care they need leaving them vulnerable and falling through the cracks of our public healthcare system. The NSHC signs onto this letter and supports the call for all migrant workers, especially seasonal agricultural workers, to be eligible for MSI immediately upon arrival in Nova Scotia. Access to free, universal, public healthcare is the right of every human being, regardless of immigration status. We must do better,” said Alexandra Rose, Coordinator of the Nova Scotia Health Coalition.
Ms. Burnett, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer after arriving in Nova Scotia as a migrant worker, now has a Temporary Resident Permit until January 10, 2024. However, she still does not have medical coverage in Nova Scotia. She was advised by her doctor to remain in Canada to undergo life-saving treatments and for follow-up care. Ms. Burnett is currently hospitalized.
– 30 –
No one is illegal – Nova Scotia
Telephone: (902) 329-9595
Canada's inflation rate cools more than expected – Financial Post
OTTAWA — The annual pace of inflation cooled in February as it posted its largest deceleration since April 2020.
Statistics Canada said Tuesday its consumer price index in February was up 5.2 per cent compared with a year earlier.
Analysts polled by Reuters had expected the annual rate to fall to 5.4 per cent.
The reading compared with an annual inflation rate of 5.9 per cent in January and was the lowest annual inflation rate since January 2022 when it was 5.1 per cent.
Statistics Canada noted that the decline was due to a steep monthly increase in prices in February 2022 when the global economy was significantly affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Despite the overall cooling, grocery prices remained elevated and outpaced overall inflation.
Prices for food purchased from stores in February were up 10.6 per cent compared with a year ago, the seventh consecutive month of double-digit increases.
Which food items went up in price in Canada – CTV News
Inflation for goods in Canada is cooling but prices for food remain high, Statistics Canada’s latest report shows.
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for February was at 5.2 per cent year-over-year, a decrease from January’s 5.9 per cent year-over-year increase.
“This was the largest deceleration in the headline CPI since April 2020,” the StatCan report reads.
Energy reflected the cooling as prices fell 0.6 per cent year-over-year. Gasoline prices are leading the drop, StatCan says, with a 4.7 per cent difference year-over-year — “the first yearly decline since January 2021.”
“Inflation is cooling more than what was typically expected,” David George-Cosh, BNN Bloomberg reporter, told CTV News Channel on Tuesday. “But when you drill down into some of the details, it’s unlikely to really convince Canadians that the worst is really behind us.”
Despite the overall signs inflation is decreasing, Canadians are not seeing this reflected at grocery stores, where food prices rose 10.6 per cent year-over-year in February. This is a slight decrease from January, which saw a 11.4 per cent year-over-year increase.
FOOD PRICES REMAIN HIGH
February marks the seventh consecutive month of double-digit food inflation, StatCan says.
This pressure is largely due to supply constraints from extreme weather in some regions and higher costs of animal feed, energy and packaging materials.
Pasta products continue to increase in price, with a 23.1 per cent year-over-year difference in February. This is an upward trend from January, which had a year-over-year increase of 21.1 per cent.
Fruit juice had the largest increase in price from January to February 2023, data from StatCan shows. In January, the product had a year-over-year difference of 5.2 per cent; this rose to 15.7 per cent year-over-year in February.
According to StatCan, the quick rise in the cost of fruit juice is led by the increased price of orange juice specifically.
“The supply of oranges has been impacted by citrus greening disease and climate-related events, such as Hurricane Ian,” the CPI report reads.
William Huggins, lecturer of corporate finance and business economics, explained supply chains are under pressure from many areas.
“We’ve had, for instance, problems with avian flu…There are problems with African swine fever in China, we’ve had trouble getting enough employees to come back post pandemic with their steel supply chains,” Huggins told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday. “We’ve seen this not just in Canada, but also in the United States as well. So rather than people thinking it’s very much a homegrown problem, it’s much more of a North American logistic problem.”
Oranges on their own have not increased quite as dramatically between January and February of this year. According to the data, in January oranges had a year-over-year increase of 14.1 per cent, which rose to 15.1 per cent year-over-year in February.
Similarly, apples rose in price year-over-year to 16.6 per cent in February, a 4.5 per cent increase from January.
Some areas did see prices slowing, StatCan said.
Meat products decreased to 6.2 per cent year-over-year, though this is a smaller decrease than in January.
But Canadians aren’t seeing decreases in all types of meat.
Fresh or frozen poultry remained high, as StatCan pegged the year-over-year increase at 10.7 per cent in February, a slight increase from January.
Fish, seafood and other marine products increased by 1 per cent from January’s year-over-year marker to 7.4 per cent year-over-year in February.
Fresh or frozen beef saw a reduction in February, with a year-over-year increase of 2.4 per cent compared to January’s 3.7 per cent difference.
Buyers of some types of produce are seeing a cooling effect as well, including the costs of lettuce and tomatoes.
Lettuce in January rose to 32.8 per cent year-over-year, but dropped the next month to 20.2 per cent compared to February 2022.
Tomatoes in January had a 21.9 per cent year-over-year increase, which dropped to 7.1 per cent year-over-year in February.
STUDY SHOWS MISTAKES ON RECEIPTS
Many Canadians are now acutely aware of how much food items cost, so they can ensure they are not paying more, but a new study shows two-thirds (67 per cent) of people have seen a mistake on their grocery receipts in the last year.
Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab polled 5,525 respondents.
According to the survey, 78.5 per cent of those who noted a mistake reported the most common error was that the price at the cash register was not the same price displayed on the shelf. About one-third of respondents said the daily discount was not applied and a total of 31.4 per cent claimed the cashier scanned an item too many times.
A majority of people said they check receipts for mistakes as they exit the store, before getting home. However, the survey notes not all Canadians have the habit of checking for mistakes; only half said they always check, while 3.3 per cent never do.
“As for frequency of mistakes, 79.2 per cent of respondents claim that they find at least no mistakes on their receipts, at least 10 per cent of the time,” the press release reads. “A total of 15.2 per cent will find at least one mistake on their receipt, 25 per cent of the time.”
Food inflation tracker
Note: data for some specific grocery items are available only nationally, and are not available by province. Can’t see the interactive above? Click here.
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