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

Alberni teens wanted in double homicide, suspicious death spotted in Manitoba

Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky were thought to have been seen in the Gillam area

VIDEO: Missing Alberni teens now suspects in three northern B.C. killings

Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky are wanted in the deaths of Lucas Fowler, Chynna Deese, unknown man

Port Alberni looks to sell or lease out heritage train station

(By MIKE YOUDS and ELENA RARDON) City staff in Port Alberni will… Continue reading

Port Alberni’s Arrowview Hotel will be demolished

City council chooses lowest of three demolition bids

VIDEO: Man found dead near Alberni teens’ truck could be linked to a double homicide

RCMP said they are looking for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18

Provincial health body refuses to release full findings of cancer triage system audit

Information and Privacy Commissioner asked to review redactions

Southern resident killer whale died of blunt trauma, likely from ship

J34 was found more than two years ago near Sechelt, but the necropsy findings have now been released

Tourism Nanaimo invites celebrities to sample ‘real’ Nanaimo bars

Tourism organization creates video, invites actors Seth Rogen and Dan Levy to visit

B.C. rail crossing death highlights risks for people in wheelchairs: watchdog

Transportation Safety Board points to ‘persistent risks faced by persons using assistive devices’

Vancouver Island man wanted after walking away from halfway house in Victoria

Warrant issued for Jesse Goodale, convicted of aggravated assault

Memorial bench painted by Vancouver woman to stay in park for now

Park board to look at options for artistic enhancements on commemorative benches

VIDEO: Young couple found dead in northern B.C. had been shot, police say

Chynna Noelle Deese of the U.S. and Lucas Robertson Fowler of Australia were found along Highway 97

Wrestling legend finds his wedding dance groove in B.C.

Professional wrestler Chris Jericho posted on social media that he was in Penticton recently

Most Read