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

Committee to oversee expansion of Teck coal mine in Sparwood

Socio-Community Economics Effects Advisory Committee formed; plus other District of Sparwood news

Accused in Fernie stabbing case remanded in custody

Livan Chris Barnett is scheduled to appear in Cranbrook Law Courts via video on December 17

Hosmer woman victim of a broken health system

Breast cancer patient left to fight disease alone after being denied referral to Calgary

Law professor owes career to Legion scholarship

Forty years after receiving an invaluable scholarship, Nancy Banks has paid it forward

Avalanche Canada issues special public warning

Very weak layer buried under recent snow a cause for concern

Some types of cauliflower, lettuce recalled over E. coli fears

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced recall because of possible contamination.

Airline passengers could get up to $2,400 for delays, damaged bags: Canadian agency

Canadian Transportation Agency is releasing draft regulations for public feedback

Top of mind: ‘Justice’ is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year

Merriam-Webster has chosen “justice” as its 2018 word of the year, driven by the churning news cycle and President Trump’s Twitter feed.

‘Spider-Verse’ swings to the top; ‘Mortal Engines’ tanks

“Spider-Verse” has been very well-received among critics, and audiences in exit surveys gave it a rare A+ CinemaScore.

Canadians spent almost $64,000 on goods and services in 2017

Households in B.C. each spent $71,001 with housing costs contributing to higher average

Speaker at rally says Alberta oil ‘puts tofu on the table in Toronto!’

RCMP estimated more than 1,500 people attended the rally in Grande Prairie

White House closer to partial shutdown with wall demand

Without a resolution, parts of the federal government will shut down at midnight on Friday, Dec. 21

Canucks score 3 power-play goals in 4-2 win over Oilers

Vancouver sniper Boeser has 6 goals in last 5 games

Microscopic parasite found in Prince Rupert water affecting thousands

More than 12,000 residents affected by the boil water advisory issued Dec. 14

Most Read