What will this cold snap mean for our bugs?
The Prairies Climate Change Project is a joint initiative between CBC Edmonton and CBC Saskatchewan that focuses on weather and our changing climate. Meteorologist Christy Climenhaga brings her expert voice to the conversation to help explain weather phenomena and climate change and how they impact everyday life.
The last few weeks have felt like an early welcome to spring. Thawing temperatures began to eat away at the snowpack in Alberta during the first few weeks of February.
But this winter has another trick up its sleeve. A deep freeze moving into the province this week will drive the mercury down to the minus 20s or even minus 30s.
“The cold air is very close now and we’re going to see temperatures well below normal to finish this month,” said Kyle Fougere, meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.
While many of us can reach back into the closet for our parkas, plants and animals are not quite as lucky. What will this late and abrupt cold snap mean for insects that are weathering the winter?
Winter cold and wild things
During the winter, some insects will burrow deep into the ground, waiting for warmer weather. Some remain awake.
“Our wolf spiders, springtails — a bunch of different things are actually active under the snow and we just can’t see them,” said Peter Heule, live animal supervisor at the Royal Alberta Museum.
Invertebrates survive by producing a kind of antifreeze or a cryoprotectant in their bodies.
“Antifreeze is going to mean that your body tissues will remain liquid even when we’re below zero. And then the cryoprotectants basically allow ice crystals to form in your body, but not in places where they’re going to cause damage,” he said.
Even with those adaptations, insects also need a layer of insulation, seeking refuge just under the snow or leaf litter of a yard.
A winter marked by wild swings
We know that bugs are impacted by cycles of thawing and sudden deep freezes. And there has been no shortage of either this winter, with temperatures that spent very little time around the “normal” mark.
A warm autumn hit a U-turn in December with a deep freeze pulling temperatures into the minus 30s.
“It was actually very cold in December for Alberta and especially those first three weeks,” said Fougere.
As the calendar switched over to 2023, the weather also flipped, with warmer southern air and cloudy conditions helping to insulate the province.
“From about the 25th, 26th of December, we had a full, one-month period where it was near normal or slightly above normal for Alberta,” said Fougere.
“This milder trend has continued for the first couple of weeks of February.”
That luck had to run out eventually. This week, cold Arctic air will push into Western Canada.
“For the next couple of weeks, we’re not sure exactly where the coldest air is going to be,” Fougere said, “but it’s likely that we’re going to see Arctic air spread over the Prairies and indications are that it could be longer lived.”
And this particular cold snap is expected to have some staying power with frigid conditions looking to last out the month and forecasts calling for a cooler-than-normal spring.
“It’s pretty common this time of year to have these pretty large swings in the weather,” said Fougere.
The promise of spring
When winter includes wild swings in temperature, we can see higher mortality rates in the insect populations. The full impact of this winter’s fluctuations won’t be known until spring.
“Sometimes overwintering or hibernating is a risky business,” said Heule. “If you don’t choose the right site, you might not make it all the way through.”
Heule said that insects like pupating caterpillars that turn into moths and butterflies may come out early in long warm stretches and perish as they are unable to find host plants, but others can adapt.
“Wolf spiders might come out of the leaf litter and scurry around. And then as those temperatures start to drop, they might be able to find their way back to some other sheltered site or the original place they were hiding out,” he said.
“But you certainly wonder how many of these things are going to be able to find their way back to shelter or maybe get stuck in those cold temperatures.”
And as for the bugs you want to see in your yard to help your native plants thrive, Heule said there are ways to protect those insects from winter variability, such as melting snow.
“I put all of the leaf litter and all the fallen leaves into my garden beds to sort of act as a more reliable blanket than the snow and I find a lot of [insects are] using that insulation.”
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.
Canadian Navy offers ‘no strings attached’ program amid recruitment woes
The Royal Canadian Navy is offering a one-year trial period for Canadians to join with “no strings attached” as it faces a major recruitment challenge and unprecedented personnel shortage.
Under the new program launched Friday, Canadian citizens and permanent residents can join the navy on a year-long contract – either full-time or part-time – and then leave if they wish to after that.
Those who decide to stay on will be transferred to a naval trade.
Applications are open to people aged 16 to 57 years.
New recruits will undergo an eight-week basic military training and naval environmental training, in either Halifax, N.S., or Esquimalt, B.C., according to a media release by the Royal Canadian Navy.
“Life in the Navy can be demanding and challenging at times – it is not for everyone and that’s why the new Naval Experience Program gives participants the chance to experience life in the Navy, for one year, no strings attached,” said navy commander Vice-Adm. Angus Topshee, in a statement.
The salary will be equivalent to entry-level positions within the private sector, with paid rations and quarters, the RCN said.
The Canadian Armed Forces are in the midst of a recruiting crisis, with officials admitting that the number of applicants coming forward each month is about half what the military needs to meet its targets.
In an interview with The Canadian Press last year, Topshee said about 17 per cent of navy positions – equivalent to about 1,400 sailors – were vacant, as of September 2022.
“We need more people. We need them as quickly as we can get them,” he said at the time.
Amid the staffing crunch, the navy has started deploying less-experienced sailors on operations and eliminating certain positions as it struggles.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Forces in recent years have also been shaken by what experts have called a sexual misconduct “crisis.”
Defence Minister Anita Anand pledged to reform the military’s culture in “an ambitious roadmap” that was unveiled in December.
A review was formally launched in response to exclusive reporting by Global News into allegations of sexual misconduct at the highest ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces.
— with files from The Canadian Press
Police recover 2 more bodies from St. Lawrence River near Ontario-Quebec border
Eight people are dead after they tried on Thursday to cross the St. Lawrence River into the United States near Akwesasne — a community which straddles Quebec, Ontario and New York state — according to officials. One other person is still missing.
Police recovered two more bodies from the river Friday, after discovering six bodies and an overturned boat during a missing person search Thursday afternoon.
The bodies are those of six adults and two children: one under the age of three who had a Canadian passport, the other an infant who was also a Canadian citizen, according to Shawn Dulude, the police chief for the nearby Kanien’kehá:ka community of Akwesasne. Dulude spoke to reporters at a Friday news conference.
They were found in a marsh on the riverbank.
They are believed to have been an Indian family and a Romanian family who were attempting to cross into the U.S., according to police.
Casey Oakes, 30, an Akwesasne resident, remains missing, police said. Oakes was last seen on Wednesday around 9:30 p.m. ET boarding a small, light blue vessel, leaving Cornwall Island. He was dressed in black, wearing a black face mask and a black tuque.
WATCH | Dulude speaks about the victims:
He was later reported missing, leading to the search efforts that found the bodies. Oakes is a person of interest in the case, said Dulude.
Police located Oakes’s vessel near the bodies, Lee-Ann O’Brien, the deputy chief of police for the Akwesasne Mohawk police service, said on Friday morning. Akwesasne is about 120 kilometres west of Montreal.
The IDs of the victims have not yet been released, pending notification of their next of kin.
A storm brought high winds and sleet into the area on Wednesday night. “It was not a good time to be out on the water,” O’Brien said.
“It could have been anything that caused this tragedy,” he said. “It could have been a faulty boat, it could have been human error and that the investigation will determine.”
Kevin Sturge Lazore, captain of the Akwesasne Fire Department’s Station 3, sent 15 volunteer firefighters to search the river on Thursday after Oakes’s family reported him missing. Another dozen or so volunteers from other stations in the community joined the effort.
The firefighters recovered the boat, its hull dented on the bottom as if it had hit ice or a rock, Lazore said.
He and O’Brien said the boat was small, and wouldn’t have been able to safely carry seven or eight people.
“What that boat could handle and the amount of people in it, it doesn’t make a pretty picture,” Lazore said, standing by the fire department dock on the water.
Friday morning, the water was calm and mirror-like. “It can change in the blink of an eye,” Lazore said, noting waves were more than a metre high Wednesday night.
“The river is always the major concern…. Our elders tell us, always be careful, especially in the spring, with the runoff, the current is stronger and the water is freezing.”
Other attempted crossings
The volunteer firefighters were only searching for one person when they discovered the first six bodies.
“It’s hitting them now,” Lazore said, adding they had begun a debrief Thursday evening to process what they had seen, but were interrupted by a call for a structure fire.
Thursday wasn’t the first time Lazore’s team has been called on to search for missing people who have tried to cross the border.
He said they rescue people attempting to enter the U.S. or Canada over the river and its tributaries about three or four times a year.
“It gets hard. It wears the guys down.”
Almost exactly a year ago, they rescued a group of six Indian nationals who had just made it into the United States on the river when the boat they were in hit a shallow bank and got stuck.
They were able to stand up in the boat and were rescued by the volunteers and Akwesasne Police Department — which received $6.5 million from the Quebec government last year to help it deal with the increased flow of human smuggling in the area.
“They were lucky. It could have been a lot worse,” Lazore said.
The fire station is next to a recreation centre where community members gathered Friday afternoon. They sit across a road from the Tsi’Snaihne River.
A police helicopter circled above.
Next to the fire station, a group of men lit a sacred fire early that morning and kept it going throughout the day. Lazore said the fire was to honour the families and Oakes.
Smuggling on the rise
O’Brien, the deputy police chief, said the community has seen an uptick in human smuggling into the U.S. There have been 48 incidents so far this year, she said.
But the recent deaths had nothing to do with the closure of the Roxham Road illegal border crossing, she added.
“That closure was people seeking refuge, leaving the U.S. to Canada. These people were believed to be gaining entry into the U.S. It’s completely the opposite.”
Most of those who try to enter the U.S. through the area are Indian and Romanian families, she said, but she said she “had no idea” why that was the case.
Ryan Brissette, a public affairs officer with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, says the agency had seen a “massive uptick in encounters and apprehensions” at the border.
The agency saw more than eight times as many people try to cross from Canada into the U.S. in 2022 compared to previous years, he said. Many of them — more than 64,000 — came through Quebec or Ontario into New York.
“Comparing this area in the past, this is a significant number,” Brissette said.
“There’s a lot of different reasons as to why this is happening, why folks are coming all of a sudden through the northern border. I think a lot of them think it’s easier, an easy opportunity and they just don’t know the danger that it poses, especially in the winter months.”
Canada’s carbon pricing is going up again. What it means for your wallet
Canadians in some provinces and territories will soon be paying a little bit more at the gas station as a federal carbon price is set to go up starting Saturday.
The fuel charge is rising by 30 per cent from $50 per tonne of emissions to $65 on April 1. This will translate to an increase of roughly three cents per litre for gas, reaching a total of 14 cents per litre.
The scheduled increase will apply in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Yukon and Nunavut.
Meanwhile, the carbon price jump will go into effect in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island on July 1.
Canada began pricing carbon pollution in 2019.
The move is part of Ottawa’s commitment to tackle climate change with a goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
While Canadians will see an increase at the pumps, the carbon price increase is not expected to have a huge impact on their gas expenses, said Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood, a senior researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
“It’s an incremental increase, but it’s not actually going to be a huge change year-over-year that people will notice ,” he told Global News.
For individuals, it could mean a $1 jump per tank depending on how big the vehicle is, Mertins-Kirkwood estimated. For businesses too, it’s “not a major expense,” he said.
Mertins-Kirkwood said things like oil market fluctuations and gas taxes have a much bigger impact on energy costs.
“Those swings are way bigger than the carbon price.”
What else is changing?
The carbon price increase comes amid some temporary relief for Canadians with lower gas prices reported in February after record-high costs last year. Gas prices in Canada surpassed $2 per litre for the first time ever last year.
On a monthly basis, Canadian drivers paid one per cent less for gas in February, Statistics Canada said in its latest report released on March 21. Overall, gas prices dropped by 4.7 per cent in February – which was the first yearly decline since Jan 2021, StatCan reported.
The agency said the year-over-year decline is partially attributed to the significant jump in prices seen in February 2022 amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Canadian national average for gas prices stood at 150.8 cents per litre on Friday morning, according to GasBuddy. The CAA’s estimate for Friday was 149 cents per litre.
The carbon tax will not only raise gas prices, but could make its way into Canadian pocketbooks in other ways too.
For instance, aviation gasoline in the four provinces is also going up by roughly 3.5 cents a litre to a total of almost 16 cents per litre, which could potentially mean higher airfares down the line.
However, the rates for aviation gasoline and aviation turbo fuel will remain unchanged in the territories due to the “high reliance” on air transportation, the federal government says.
Light fuel oil, which is used in household equipment, is increasing to 17 cents per litre – an increment of nearly four cents.
Carbon pricing can have also ripple effects on food prices, other grocery items and shipped goods experts say, as Canada’s truck-based transportation industry will be spending more money to fill up the tank.
“It’s possible it could have an impact on things like shipping, but it’s a relatively minor impact,” said Mertins-Kirkwood.
Will rebates make a difference?
Ottawa has claimed that eight out of 10 Canadian families will get more money back than they pay under the federal carbon pricing plan because of the Climate Action Incentive.
Canadians can claim CAI payments by filing annual federal taxes.
Mertins-Kirkwood said most households, except those earning a high income, are “better off” from the carbon pricing due to the government rebate which recycles revenue back to families.
However, the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO), an independent watchdog, said in a report last year that a bulk of Canadian households over the long term will see a “net loss” from the federal carbon pricing by 2030-31.
The PBO said that Albertans in the top income quintile would pay the largest net cost from the carbon tax, while the lowest-income quintile households in Saskatchewan stand to see the largest net gain via the rebate.
— With files from Global News’ Craig Lord
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