Protecting Nature’s Safety Net

Resilient Forests and Oceans

Roberta Clowater

JUNE 19, 2018 — Climate change is forcing on us a degree of uncertainty and unpredictability that is not easy to accept. When managing natural resources, or conserving forests, rivers or oceans, past performance is no longer a predictor of future performance. We will be spending a lot more money and effort trying to replace the ecosystem services we now take for granted – like the cooling effects of green spaces and water bodies, the natural flood and erosion control provided by forests and wetlands, and the natural water filtration done by natural areas. New Brunswick’s remaining intact natural areas are becoming much smaller and further apart due to large scale industrial activity and smaller piecemeal development. We lack an adequate system of protected areas, and this weakens the ecological safety net that we need to be resilient to climate change impacts.

 Solutions for New Brunswick Crown lands and waters:

Functional ecosystems with the full range of native species will be more likely to respond and shift with climate change than stressed ecosystems where species populations have significantly declined. The first step to resilience is to conserve large tracts of intact, relatively undisturbed natural areas in permanent protected areas. This will allow us to ensure a diversity of habitats that are large enough to conserve ecological integrity. Protected areas that are connected to other suitably conserved habitats will provide the kind of ecological safety net that will allow forests, rivers and oceans to respond resiliently to climate change.

New Brunswick would need to set a new target and timeline for protected areas establishment, which other provinces have already done. CPAWS New Brunswick recommends we try to at least meet the national average of 10% of the province in permanently designated protected areas (up from our current 4.7% protected).

The second step will be to manage our Crown forests to conserve diversity and resilience. We will need to set new rules for conserving older forests, multiple canopy and understory layers, and the natural patterns of native species abundance and distribution. This would be more likely to result in forests that are resilient in the face of new or increased pests and diseases, droughts, floods and fires. The current approach to forest management is not considering this element of climate change preparation, so we risk a long transition period where forests may partially die off or have very little productivity. Government would need to make changes to the Crown forest management strategy to integrate these objectives.

The third step will be to plan and manage all Crown land and oceans uses with consideration for the combined impacts of climate change, forest harvesting, biomass removal, mining, wind energy development, aquaculture, and agriculture. If we don’t, we risk weakening natural areas at the very time when we need to strengthen their resilience.

Solutions for Provincial Parks and Protected Areas:

We need to develop management plans for all provincial parks and protected areas to maintain ecological integrity and decrease future development. The few parks and protected areas we have are providing some of the only locations in the province where natural processes are relatively undisturbed. They provide the core areas necessary for the long-term conservation of biodiversity across the province. There have been instances where development may have affected the ecological integrity of the parks, possibly reducing their resilience to climate change.

How You can Help with these Solutions:

The solutions that will help us adapt to climate change will require us to break free from old models of resource management and use. We cannot simply tinker around the edges of existing land and resource management systems and hope to keep up with the changes around us. For our governments to take leadership and make decisions that will allow us to live within nature’s limits, they need to have the vocal support of a critical mass of citizens.

Information about the author Roberta Clowater, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – NB Chapter, rclowater@cpaws.org , http://www.cpaws.org/

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