Global warming will hit
forestry hard - ecologist |
By Dennis Bueckert / The Canadian Press
Ottawa - The forest industry will take a major hit from
forest fires caused by global warming in coming decades, says
University of Alberta ecologist David Schindler.
Such fires could top fossil fuels as a source of greenhouse
gas emissions unless climate change is curbed, said Schindler,
one of Canada's most eminent scientists.
"My guess is that with climate warming, forestry will take
a big hit," he said in an interview Wednesday. "Right now the
rates of forest cutting generally don't consider burning rates
Schindler says burning rates in the Western boreal forest
have doubled since 1970s. The term boreal refers to forests
dominated by spruce and pine, which cover vast expanses of the
The major reason for the increased burning is a rise in
average temperatures of 1.5 C, he said. Computer models
predict average temperatures in the region will increase
another 2 C in the next 20 years.
"If we go up another two degrees we could see at least
another doubling in the incidence of forest fire," he said.
Schindler said fire suppression in Canada was effective
from the 1940s to the 1970s, but there were many bad fire
years in the '80s and '90s, and some of the big fires are
"You could have the whole U.S. air force dropping water and
you wouldn't be able to contain them."
Not only do forest fires destroy valuable economic and
ecological resources, they also release heat-trapping carbon
dioxide, considered the most important greenhouse gas.
"We could potentially get ourselves into a jam where our
rates of carbon dioxide loss from forestry could exceed what
we're putting out as fossil fuels. While we can control our
fossil fuels we can't control our forest fires.
"That is what we call a positive feedback, it would
aggravate the effects of climate warming that we're already
seeing from fossil fuels. I think the prudent thing to do is
try to avoid that scenario as much as possible."
He said the entire boreal forest is threatened, and Alberta
Premier Ralph Klein is presenting a one-sided picture when he
warns of economic damage from compliance with the Kyoto
treaty, without mentioning the effects of climate change.
The emissions cuts called for in the treaty are not
adequate to stop climate change but they are a start, he said.
"If we act now, stop fiddling around, so we get levelling
off ... we may be able to retain a good part of the boreal."