Burned trees are shown in Fort McMurray, Alta., in a May 13, 2016, file photo. A new study shows half of Alberta’s boreal forest could disappear by 2100 due to wildfires and climate change.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Half Alberta’s boreal forest could disappear due to fires and climate change

A new study shows half of Alberta’s boreal forest could disappear by 2100 due to wildfires and climate change.

A study shows half of Alberta’s boreal forest could disappear in just over 80 years due to wildfires and climate change.

The research, published Monday in the journal Ecosphere, gives a glimpse at how vegetation could change based on the current rate of carbon emissions and climate change.

“We found that wildfire could initiate the conversion of approximately 50 per cent of the current boreal forest into grassland or deciduous open forest,” said Diana Stralberg, who did the research as part of her PhD in the biological sciences department at the University of Alberta.

“If you look at even more extreme assumptions about future wildfire, you would get something closer to 75 per cent conversion.”

The study simulated wildfire using a model from Natural Resources Canada and data from the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute to determine what vegetation might grow back under future climates.

Marc-Andre Parisien, a fire research scientist at Natural Resources Canada, said the potential for change is strong.

“Trees are very stubborn,” he said. “Trees tend to want to persist and stay where they are, even though the climate in which they are living is not really suitable any more.

“To really change that vegetation type from a certain kind of forest to something else, you have to kill the trees — whether it’s a chainsaw or a fire or an insect or a flood.”

Parisien, a co-author on the study, said the research looked at changes based on the potential for more wildfire in the coming years.

“We’re integrating a little bit more realism by allowing the vegetation to change after a major disturbance — in this case wildfire,” he said.

Related: 14,000 evacuated due to B.C. wildfires

He noted that it’s already easy to find a lot of dead trees in and around Edmonton.

“The series of droughts of the 2000s have slammed so many aspen and also so many coniferous trees as well — notably white spruce, the nice trees that we have in our river valley here in Edmonton,” said Parisien.

That points to the city already being in a climate that’s more associated with prairies than forests, he said.

“That’s why trees are dying,” he said. “They just cannot get the moisture they need to persist.”

The research, he said, tells the same story on a much broader scale.

“This climate that has supported forests for millenia is basically going beyond that cusp, beyond that point where it can really support trees on the uplands any more.”

The changes could have major implications for the forestry sector in Alberta, said Parisien.

“If you no longer can have these productive forests on the uplands, there’s going to be a hit to this economy.”

Both he and Stralberg said the changes could also have detrimental effects on wildlife, such as songbirds, and other plants.

“It’s implying pretty major changes on the landscape,” said Stralberg. “I know Albertans are really outdoor, nature-loving people and it really means a different landscape in the future.”

RELATED: B.C. sends wildfire crews to Alberta, Ontario

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

B.C. storm totals $37M in insured damages

The December storm wreaked havoc on B.C.’s south coast

Miniature horses visit Glacier View residents

Glacier View Lodge residents had a couple of special visitors on Wednesday… Continue reading

Annual women’s march in Courtenay Saturday

The Women’s March was a worldwide protest on Jan. 21, 2017, to… Continue reading

Portables arrive for students on Hornby Island

Five portable classrooms have officially arrived on Hornby Island this week in… Continue reading

Cumberland multi-use development given the go-ahead despite parking concerns

Rideout Construction will pay $91,200 in lieu of 24 parking stalls

First Nation supporters march to Horgan’s MLA office

Dozens marched across the Greater Victoria community of Langford to support the Wet’suwet’en people

Long-term care facility coming to Courtenay

Golden Life Management Corp. successful proponent

Teen with diabetes told ‘no food’ on B.C. Transit bus

B. C. Transit apologizes, saying it will look into food and drink policy

Condo rental bans on way out with B.C. empty home tax

Many exemptions to tax, but annual declarations required

Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson ‘feeling good’ after knee injury

Pettersson said he wasn’t feeling any pain during Wednesday’s skate

Kentucky canoe outfit borrows photo of Trudeau family to market business

They are in a red canoe, all clad in life jackets, and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and Ella-Grace are waving

UPDATE: Liberal bows out of byelection after singling out Jagmeet Singh’s race

Karen Wang says she made comments online that referenced Singh’s cultural background

Ratfish generates social media buzz on Vancouver Island

Boneless, glowing creature a common bycatch, but it usually stays in deep waters – fish expert

Thieves steal thousands from 140 Coast Capital Savings members

Online fraud tactics included phising and ‘brute force’ in November and December

Most Read