Climate change could bring about return of giant redwoods to B.C.

October 21, 2015

By: The Province

Climate change in B.C. means species such as the California redwood, not seen here in thousands of years, may return in a big way.

Redwoods, which have been planted along Cambie and West 16th Avenue in Vancouver, are living proof that trees can thrive in new locations, said veteran silviculturist Dirk Brinkman.

“They are the fastest-growing tree in Vancouver,” said Brinkman, whose companies have planted a billion seedlings since 1970.

“If you want a giant tree, I’m quite confident those redwoods will be here 500 years from now,” he said.

Brinkman believes climate change — warm winters, drought and heat — has fundamentally altered growing conditions here.

Pine forests, which cover much of the Interior, have been ravaged by pine beetles and don’t appear to have a very bright future as long as winters stay warm.

The reason is that the tree-gobbling pests, whose larvae are destroyed by cold temperatures, can be expected to eat up future growth.

“I’ve returned to areas I planted 15 years ago and they are all dead due to the pine beetle,” Brinkman said.

“B.C.’s forests have never faced renewal challenges of this magnitude. It’s a new era,” he said.

Redwoods, or Sequoias as they are also known, are not the only new species on the horizon.

The larch is a deciduous tree from southeastern B.C. which loses its leaves in autumn and has been planted in progeny trials through central B.C. all the way up to the Yukon.

“It’s a beautiful tree. The grain of its wood is comparable to fir and it has a pitch which enables it to last longer than cedar,” he said.

Best of all, it is immune to the mountain pine beetle, which has wiped out 18 million hectares since 1995 — 20 per cent of the standing pine trees in the province.

“We’re seeing larch do incredibly well, growing at 10 times the biomass of the pine,” he said.

Unfortunately, transplanting species hundreds of kilometres is far from a sure thing, even for the larch.

Micro-organisms in the soil play a little-understood role and tiny spores are also present in the air.

“It’s a complex problem. What happens in the soil is totally mysterious. There’s a host of symbiotic organisms which don’t move easily,” Brinkman said.

“This is the experimental stage of reforestation as we shift into areas where these species haven’t dominated. We’re moving them 1,500 kilometres.”

He believes climate change is “scary” because the consequences can be widespread, as in California where an unprecedented drought has caused crop failures and may eventually affect the population as well.

“Members of the public aren’t clear about the consequences of climate change. There is a future for the forest industry in B.C., but it’s a very challenging future,” Brinkman said.

“We can plant new species, but we don’t know what’s going to happen 10, 20 or 50 years from now — or who’s going to pay for it.”

By: The Province

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