Logging the Ghost Part II: Trees tell weather, climate change stories

WATCH: What evidence is there for climate change in Alberta and how could it affect future flooding in the Foothills? Sarah Offin takes a look in part two of Logging the Ghost.

CALGARY – The limber pine is one of Alberta’s oldest trees, and offers one of the oldest climate records in Alberta. The stories told by such trees are leading to calls for a new forestry management plan west of Calgary by residents of the Ghost Valley watershed.

“The trees tell us much more about the weather and climate than what we’ve experienced ourselves,” said University of Regina geography professor Dr. Dave Sauchyn.

READ MORE: Logging the Ghost Part 1 – Clear-cutting sparks flood worries

One log can tell a 600-year story of the Alberta Foothills, and also gives scientists clues about climate change.

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“There’s more rain,” said Sauchyn.

“There’s not more snow but…there’s more rain in Alberta, and that’s consistent with a warming climate.”

Heavy spring rains and an accelerated snow melt could mean more severe and frequent flooding.

“We expect water to arrive sometimes in more intense heavy raining, like the one that occurred two years ago,” he said.

Calgary Councillor Brian Pincott thinks that’s cause for alarm, and is disappointed in the response to the 2013 floods.

“As we talk about mitigation, two things that we need to talk about haven’t been part of the conversation,” said Pincott. “That is land use practices in our watershed, and the second is climate change.”

Forests such as those in the Ghost Valley watershed are known to absorb rainfall, hold the water, and release it slowly. Once trees are logged, the water enters rivers much faster.

“We’re concerned that with climate change with severe weather events in the future, there’s going to be some pretty dire consequences to what’s occurring here,” said Ghost Valley resident Gordon MacMahon.

That concern is echoed in Calgary’s business community.

“Insurance companies in Canada and globally have said, ‘Yes, we’re sort of the first payers of climate change. We’re seeing the damage,’” said Insurance Bureau of Canada’s Heather Mack.

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Extreme weather events are now pushing property damage claims over the billion-dollar mark each year across Canada.

“We need to have a plan across all levels of government to deal with how do we manage this new climate reality,” said Mack. “We can't pretend it isn't happening."

The province says it’s reviewing forestry practices and taking increased flood risks into consideration.

Research for the Ghost watershed’s current harvest plans was completed in 2004 – before the 2005 and 2013 floods.

With files from Erika Tucker

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