Drought, floods and other extreme weather incidents that have been on the rise are all powerful reminders that climate change is not going away. Non-profit organizations, governments, and individuals around the globe are trying to figure out how we can adapt to these changes while mitigating future harm.
Our forests may be an invaluable tool in addressing climate change impacts, according to Dan Kraus, Weston conservation scientist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). He adds that while many people appreciate forests, not everyone is aware of their substantial contribution to climate resiliency.
“As a scientist, I’m interested in how people fit into the ecosystem and how nature supports our well-being,” he explains. “With the contribution of forests to cleaning air and water and preventing flooding, for example, it’s clear that they are essential components to our landscape in addition to their biodiversity values.”
Carbon sequestration – the process of pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it into long-term storage – has been identified as an effective way for slowing the increase of carbon dioxide trapping heat in the atmosphere. Trees, like other green plants, use photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into the carbohydrates they use for their growth. As a result, they store large amounts of carbon in their trunks, stems and roots and in forest soils.
Although forests emit some carbon dioxide as part of their natural processes, such as decay and respiration, they typically store more carbon than they release, explains Kraus. “This is something forests are very good at – coal originates from carbon that was captured by forests millions of years ago.”
The actual rate of carbon sequestration varies depending on the forest type, but Kraus adds that old-growth forests are generally better at storing carbon than younger forests. The more forests we have, the more carbon is being pulled from the atmosphere.
“People have long recognized the importance of trees and the link between the forest, soil and water,” says Kraus. He explains that in southern Ontario, large areas of forest were planted to prevent erosion after the natural vegetation had been cleared.
“We really are lucky in Canada – there is more forest per person than in any other country. In the north, we have some of the largest intact forest wilderness left in the world, but many of our forests in southern Canada have been degraded by habitat loss, fragmentation and invasive species,” says Kraus. “There is more urgency to stepping up our conservation efforts now that we are facing climate change.
“I always thought that we were saving forests, but it may actually be that the forests are saving us.”
A version of this post originally appeared in the Globe and Mail and on the Nature Conservancy of Canada‘s blog Land Lines and were produced with the support of Randall Anthony Communications Inc.
Post photo: Salmonier River, Newfoundland Labrador (Photo by Mike Dembeck)