Climate change is making an impact. The Government of Canada reports that Canada’s overall temperature is rising more quickly than the global average. Across the country, Canadians are seeing widespread melting of Arctic Sea ice, changes in precipitation patterns, and changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. You may have noticed hotter summer nights or massive snowstorms, for example. In Western Canada, climate changes are causing summers to be drier and warmer, and winters to be milder and wetter.
Last summer, five women scientists from Trinity Western University, led by lead research assistant Vanessa Jones (BSc Biology, 2019), helped to track signs of climate change in Burnaby, BC, Canada. They did an intensive study of Burnaby’s Central Park, a popular and expansive 86.4-hectare“magnificent coastal rainforest” located in the middle of a busy city and just minutes from a mega shopping centre. Central Park is home to a mature forest featuring coniferous trees such as Douglas fir, western red cedar and western hemlock.
With the projected changes in climate, plant communities within Central Park are under threat. In fact, Trinity Western’s research team has detected concerning signs of climate change. They discovered symptoms of tree decline in 6% of cedars and 19% of hemlocks, with an additional 31% of the hemlock population already dead. They report that this is likely primarily due to inadequate springtime rainfall and high summer temperatures in recent years. Other factors that negatively affect tree health are soil compaction, animal damage, invasive plants, and gall disease.
Based on their research, here are the top five recommendations on how to protect a forest, plus ways that kids can help.
1. Plant more drought-resistant trees.
Deciduous trees seem more resilient in the face of projected climate changes. As well, researchers recommend planting young Douglas firs, a coniferous species that is relatively drought tolerant.
• When to plant: Trees can be planted in the spring, as soon as the ground is no longer frozen. Trees can also be planted in the autumn, between the time of leaf-fall and when the ground freezes.
• Before planting: Before planting any trees, Tree Canada recommends checking for buried cables and wires beneath the soil. You can do this by contacting your local municipality.
• Kids can help! When planting trees, kids can dig a hole in the soil 2 to 3 times wider than the container or root ball. They can help slide the tree’s root ball out of the container, place the tree into the hole, and gently pack soil around the root ball.
2. Monitor the health of trees.
Monitoring tree health can provide clues to help scientists track the effects of climate change.
• How to spot tree decline
Crown dieback: this is where tall trees start drying up and dying from the top (the “crown”) down.
Invasive plants: English ivy is an example of an invasive plant. You might spot English ivy growing up the trunk of a coniferous tree, for example.
Galls, cankers, and fungal infections: galls and cankers can sometimes be seen growing on tree trunks. Galls can be found on dead trees. Cankers are sometimes the result of wounds to the tree bark. Different types of fungus—including some brightly-coloured and interestingly shaped ones—can be spotted as well. These infections can weaken trees and make them more vulnerable to decline.
• Kids can help! Take a walk together in a forest. Kids can take photos that show signs of tree decline, or they can bring a notebook and draw or record their findings.
3. Protect exposed tree roots.
To protect exposed roots from damage by humans and machinery, maintain a “buffer zone” of three metres around trees. These areas should not be mowed or disturbed.
• Kids can help! Encourage kids not to scratch or damage exposed tree roots. Roots are the channels of nourishment for trees.
4. Stay off unofficial trails.
To maintain soil quality and to reduce soil compaction, people can stay off unsanctioned park or forest trails.
• Kids can help! Encourage kids to stay on designated trails when hiking or biking in parks and forests. Minimizing soil compaction helps trees to stay healthy.
5. Track climatic changes and their impacts.
Ask young learners if they have noticed dramatic climate events. According to a Metro Vancouver climate change report, Canadians living in Western Canada may notice these signs of climate change:
• hotter, drier summers
• more “tropical nights”—overnight temperatures warmer than 20°C
• warmer, wetter winters with less snow and more frequent intense rain events, during extreme events such as storms
The above tips and ideas are based on climate change research done by Trinity Western University researchers Vanessa Jones, Delia Anderson, Virginia Oeggerli, Jessica Brouwer and Natalie Cook. Their work was guided by professors Dr. David Clements, Dr. Geraldine Jordan, Dr. Paul Brown and David Jordan.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Winnie Lui is glad to be part of Trinity Western University’s diverse community of researchers, educators and leaders. Trinity Western University is known for its outstanding Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program, accessible online and on campus. twu.ca
This article is featured in Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Winter 2021 issue.