Forests and Climate Change

Forests have long played a role in the economy and life of New Brunswick. As a result of climate change, however, we may see some big changes here.

What forests do for us

Forests provide many important services to the province of New Brunswick.  They help to moderate temperature in and around our communities.  They help protect our water sources, our rivers, streams and wetlands.  Plant roots go deep into the soils and slow down soil erosion.  Forests slowly absorb snowmelt and rainwater, which can help lessen flooding.  They absorb carbon and pollutants from the air, and provide us with cleaner air.  In a time of changing climate, with increased temperature and precipitation fluctuations, forests will provide our communities and our natural resources a buffer against the more severe effects.  Without diverse forest systems throughout the province, we will end up spending large amounts of money and resources to replace these services they provide us naturally.

What may happen to our forests as a result of climate change?

  • An overall increase in temperature and altered precipitation will cause some species to have a harder time growing.  The natural ranges for most species are expected to move northward or to higher elevations.  Some species currently in their ideal growing zone here in New Brunswick will find themselves in marginal habitat, resulting in poorer growth, and new species of trees and plants may move in and be more competitive.
  • Tree growth and regeneration will be affected by extended periods of drought, especially inland.  Some trees with shallow root systems, like spruce and hemlock, will be particularly affected.  Growth may also be affected by the combination of climate impacts and loss of nutrients in the ground resulting from logging and biomass harvesting.
  • There will be an increased likelihood of invasive insects and diseases not normally seen this far north (for example, Hemlock Woolly Adelgid).  As a result, we can expect to see more infestations, especially in plantations.  This could lead to more calls for using pesticides in our forests, which can create its own set of problems.
  • The increased severity in seasonal storms may result in increased damage to our forests, especially in areas where the natural forest structure has been weakened by development or inadequate forestry practices.

What are possible solutions for the forests?

  • Forests will respond to climate change most resiliently if they are healthy and diverse, with many native plant species, and various canopy and understory layers.  Many pests, such as spruce budworm and ash borer beetle, focus on a single species of tree.  In a less diverse forest or plantation, left unchecked, pests find lots of their preferred food and can rapidly degrade large tracts of forest.  In a mixed wood forest, pest growth will be slower and the resulting damage lessened.
  • The natural predator for many insect pests are generally songbirds, like warblers.  To encourage songbirds to live in our forests, we need to ensure that there is suitable habitat for them.  This means having a variety of trees and plants of varying ages in which birds can find food and nesting habitat.  As we cannot predict what new species of songbird we may expect in the future, our forests need to keep a variety of native tree species.
  • Invasive ground plant species can be discouraged by retaining and encouraging undergrowth in our forests.  New species will find it more difficult to gain a foothold in areas already rich in healthy ground cover.
  • Forests with trees of mixed ages and structures are more capable of withstanding the ravages of severe storms.  While some trees may be damaged or fall down as a result of wind, younger, stronger trees mixed in with them will survive and also provide some protection for the older trees.

What needs to happen in New Brunswick?

  • Forests managed through policy and regulation to conserve diversity and resilience - conserving older forests, multiple canopy and understory layers, and the widest possible variety of native species - will continue to help provide the ecological services we need.
  • Genetic diversity of native tree species needs to be conserved or restored, to ensure that trees have the potential to naturally adapt to new climatic conditions.
  • Conserving large tracts of intact and roadless forests in permanent protected areas will allow us to ensure that we have a diversity of forested habitats that are large enough to conserve the ecological integrity of forests ecosystems.  Protected areas that are buffered from external developments and connected to other suitably conserved habitats will provide the kind of ecological safety net that will allow forests to respond well to climate change.
  • Deforestation, through built development, road-building or other land conversion, should be minimized.
  • Forest management needs to consider and plan for the combined impacts of climate change, forest harvesting and biomass removal on forest growth, diversity, and the climate buffering services that forests provide to us.