Forest, Fisheries and Biodiversity Management in the Pacific Northwest

Large scale coupled human-environmental systems pose complex challenges in efforts to adapt to climate change. One area of emphasis for the CDMC has been investigating aspects of decision-making for climate adaptation in the Pacific Northwest of North America, specifically in forestry, fisheries and biodiversity protection.

These three contexts provide different problems and opportunities in climate change adaptation. In forestry, for example, much of British Columbia, Alaska and some of the western states have experienced massive pest infestations, such as the Mountain Pine beetle or the Spruce bark beetle, which lead to forest die-off over vast areas. In northern forestry, the problem of climate-linked environmental change due to increased and prolonged pest invasions is already apparent, and causing massive alternation in ecological systems, the landscape and the regional economy. Below we discuss two projects that address decisions for land use planning and management of pest-damaged stands.

Salmon fisheries are an icon in the Pacific Northwest; they are culturally, ecologically and environmentally significant for large regions. There are strong indications that some kinds of salmon are particularly vulnerable to small changes in temperature in parts of the complex life cycle. Below we discuss two projects, one concerned with expert judgments of the vulnerability of Sockeye salmon in the Fraser River system, and one concerned with the impacts of climate change on indigenous people who rely on Sockeye salmon for cultural and subsistence needs.

Biodiversity protection is a complex and contentious question at any time, but even more so with climate change. Below we discuss two projects related to decision-making regarding biodiversity protection given climate change.

Forest Management in the Pacific Northwest, Given Climate Change

Southwest Yukcon Researcher: Aynslie Ogden, University of British Columbia; British Columbia Researchers: Tamsin Mills, Dan Ohlson, Tim McDaniels, Robin Gregory, Bruce Blackwell

Southwest Yukon In the southwestern region of Canada’s Yukon Territory, forests are showing effects of climate change. In certain areas, over the past decade, severe spruce bark beetle infestations have killed a large number of white spruce trees, the most abundant species in these forests. An overview report by the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment calls this “the largest and most intense outbreak of spruce bark beetle to ever affect Canadian trees.” In 2004, two-thirds of the total forested area of 600,000 hectares in the southwest Yukon was affected.
This spreading infestation is linked to increasing average annual temperatures in the past few decades. In Alaska and Western Canada, winter temperatures have increased by as much as 3-4ºC over the past five decades. Warmer winters aren’t killing off beetles as colder temperatures normally would, while warmer summers have doubled their reproductive rate, resulting in more beetles. Drier climate has also made the spruce trees less resistant to beetle attack.
The beetles leave behind dead trees, which increase the risk of fire, and this risk is elevated with climate model predictions of drier and warmer summers ahead. In addition to increasing insect outbreaks and fire hazard, warmer climate will lead to many other changes in the southwest Yukon—slower tree growth and possible tree die-offs, changes in the plant and animal biodiversity found in the area as species migrate to more suitable climates, and changes in stream flows due to melting of glaciers and snow.
These environmental impacts lead to numerous socioeconomic impacts. For this project, we are focusing on a nearly three million hectare territory of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations (CAFN) people. The CAFN is a self-governing First Nation that depends heavily on the forest—they exercise subsistence rights to hunt and fish and are actively planning to develop the region’s timber resources. The effects of climate change on these forests could threaten the sustainability of the First Nations communities. Since forests provide timber and recreation, and support wildlife, climate change will influence the region’s tourism industry, as well as governments, landowners and consumers.
Uncertainties in climate change and its impacts add complexity to the already challenging work of forest managers, who are faced with making long-term decisions in the face of these uncertainties. We are working with the CAFN, Parks Canada, Environment Canada, the Yukon government and the Alsek Renewable Resource Council to help forest managers to adapt their decisions in response to climate change.

Anslie Ogden’s PhD thesis, partially supported by the CDMC, as well as Canadian sources, addressed these issues in a series of five published papers.

British Columbia In BC the Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) infestation is an ecological crisis of massive proportions. It has also caused serious issues for long term forest management, in terms of sustained yield, ecological vitality of landscapes and systems, and socio-economic wellbeing of communities. The research team piloted and implemented a new approach to robust decision-making, in order to help identify management alternatives that are expected to perform reasonably well over a wide range of climate uncertainties. Tamsin Mills completed her MSc project and produced a substantial report that will serve as the basis for two research papers by the project team.

Sockeye salmon fisheries: Expert Assessments and Impacts on First Nations

Expert assessment of Sockeye salmon vulnerability to climate change

Researchers: Tim McDaniels, Sarah Wilmot, Mike Healey, Scott Hinch

Fraser River sockeye salmon are the basis for a major commercial fishery shared by Canada and the United States, and an important cultural foundation for many aboriginal groups; they are also of huge ecological significance throughout the Fraser Basin. The potential for altered aquatic habitat and temperature regimes due to climate change is an important concern for Fraser River sockeye salmon.  In this paper  we characterize the vulnerability of Fraser River sockeye salmon to future climate change by using an approach that is novel on three counts. First, previous efforts to assess the vulnerability of salmon to climate change have  typically focused on only part of the life cycle, whereas we consider climate vulnerability at all stages in the life cycle of sockeye salmon. Second, we use the available scientific literature to provide a basis for structuring and eliciting judgments from fisheries science and management experts who do research on and manage these systems. Third, we also consider prospects for mitigation mitigatingof the effects of climate change in on sockeye salmon. Tests showed that participants' judgments differentiated in statistically significant ways among the questions that varied in terms of , life stages, spawning regions and climate scenarios in statistically significant ways. The consensus of scientists and managers was that Fraser River sockeye are most vulnerable to climate change during the egg and returning adult and egg stages of the life cycle. A high temperature scenario was seen as imposing the greatest risk on sockeye stocks, particularly those which that migrate to the upper reaches of the Fraser River system, and spawn earlier in the summer. The inability to alter water temperature, and the highly constrained nature of sockeye management, with competing gear types and sequential fisheries over a long distance, all suggest that the potential to mitigate  these adverse effects is be limited. Fortunately, Fraser River sockeye already demonstrate a great deal of adaptive capacity in utilizing heterogeneous habitats in different river basins. Hence, this adaptability points to the potential value of policies that seek to make stocks more resilient to uncertain futures.

Responding To Climate Change: Sockeye Salmon, Fishing, and The St’át’imec People

Researchers: Colleen Jacob

This paper provides a culturally-informed understanding of the impacts of climate change on a highly important subsistence activity that has been pursued by First Nations of central British Columbia for thousands of years. In 2005, a survey was conducted by the first author of St’át’imec people fishing in the traditional manner, at historic sites on the Fraser River. The results show that the impacts of climate change are already apparent to those doing traditional fishing, in terms of changed timing and abundance of salmon runs. These changes are highly problematic for the St’át’imec, in that the current preservation method (drying) is tied to seasonal weather patterns. The whole cultural setting, and the relevance of salmon for subsistence would be highly altered by climate change that leads to changes in abundance and timing of Sockeye salmon. The contribution of this paper is that it speaks in the words of those directly affected by changes in salmon due to climate change.

Biodiversity Management in Parks and Protected Areas

Researchers: Tim McDaniels, Lil Ronalds, Shannon Hagerman, and Hadi Dowlatabadi, University of British Columbia

Managing ecosystems to harvest natural resources threatens biodiversity through habitat loss and damages to air and water quality. This gives rise to constant tradeoffs between resource development and biodiversity conservation.
The goal of sustainable resource management strategies has therefore been to protect biodiversity while developing natural resources for agriculture, forestry, mining and other economical uses.
But current conservation strategies aren’t designed to cope with the effects that climate change will have on biodiversity. In northwestern North America, changes in climate are expected to impact biodiversity through varying water availability and quality, disease, frequent storms, habitat loss related to changes in spatial distribution of forest cover, and fire in forested areas. Decision-makers for park and protected area management can no longer base their policies on the assumption that plant and animal numbers and distributions will remain the same as these changes occur.
We want to examine how the possible effects of climate change may be considered in conservation efforts in the near term to provide greater biodiversity resilience to climate change over the long-term. We have chosen two park or protected area locations—both along the U.S.-Canada border—that are undergoing sustainable resource management decisions, offering the opportunity to look at the complex decision-making process. These three areas are rich in ecological resources, and, owing to their proximity to the rapidly warming Arctic region, are threatened by climate change.

A research paper was completed by the team and is under review for publication.

Adapting conservation policy to the impacts of climate change: an integrated examination of ecological and social dimensions of change

Researcher: Shannon Hagerman

Recognition of the impacts of climate change has prompted re-assessment of existing conservation policy frameworks (here thought of as collections of means and objectives that reflect values, beliefs and expectations of control). The concern is that changing temperature and precipitation regimes will alter an extensive range of biological processes and patterns. These system dynamics are at odds with long-established conservation policies that are predicated on assumptions of stable biodiversity targets (e.g. species or ecosystems), and that seek to protect these targets by means of static protected areas. Efforts to address this challenge have so far originated from the fields of ecology and biogeography and include the core adaptive strategies of expanding protected areas and implementing migration corridors. The purpose of this research was to reach beyond these disciplines to integrate across a set of ecological and social insights to develop a more holistic understanding of challenge of adapting conservation policy to the impacts of climate change. Two overarching questions guided this research: 1) do the impacts of climate change necessitate a different set of means, objectives and expectations than are indicated by current conservation adaptation proposals (i.e. proposals that include new protected areas and migration corridors as the primary adaptive strategy); and 2) if there is evidence that this is so, what are the barriers to implementing a policy framework with new means, objectives and expectations?

Using a combination of case study, expert elicitation, and ethnographic methods, the results of this thesis provide empirical evidence that the impacts of climate change are seen by many experts to implicate the need for changes in conservation policy that include consideration of interventions such facilitating species distributions through disturbance, assisted migration, revised objectives, and triage-like priority setting. Yet simultaneously there is evidence of a public precautionary ambivalence towards these alternative elements of a potentially new policy framework, combined with durable more preservationist (less engineering) conservation values. It is contended that these value-based commitments have in part, shaped the adaptive response so far. Combined, these results highlight that policy adaptation within “science-based” conservation is a tangle of social dynamics, including durable preservationist-type values and related resistance to anticipated difficult trade-offs implicit in a more transformative decision framework.


Climate Decision Making Center 2009