Thursday, December 27, 2018

All Things Must Pass

Just before Xmas a hurricane force wind storm hit the B.C. coastline leaving hundreds of thousands of people without electricity as fallen trees and branches took down power lines everywhere and marking it as the worst in B.C. Hydro history. While there were plenty of unsettling photos amongst all the chaos perhaps the most dramatic images were of the pier in White Rock where waves smashed it apart, destroyed the sailboats moored there, and necessitated the rescue of a trapped individual by helicopter.

Whether the cause of the storm was yet another manifestation of global warming, the high tides of a full moon in conjunction with the winter solstice, or the flapping of a butterfly's wings somewhere halfway around the world, it served to remind us yet again of the frailty of our existence and our powerlessness in the face of Nature.

2018 was also the worst year on record in B.C. for the number of forest fires with over 13,000 sq. km. destroyed which beat the record set the previous year. But before the summer fires started there was also a winter of record rain and snow fall and a spring of record flooding.

The extreme oscillations between dry and wet, heat and cold impacted every region of the Province and left an aftermath that threatens to be a never ending repeat performance. Heavy moisture in the winter turns into large snow packs that rapidly melt with warm weather, and the burned out forests have no vegetation or ground cover to soak up the water so flooding ensues which further damages the soil and leaves the forest even more dried out and prone to catch fire again.

Mountain pine beetle

As massive as these floods and fires are, the root cause is something much smaller and that's the bark beetle of which there are more than 6,000 species, including the mountain pine and spruce beetles, which have recently been devastating our forests. These creatures have always been around, and indeed they play an important role in the natural management of a healthy forest but, owing to some misguided fire fighting practices in the past and warmer weather they have now become a nuisance of epidemic proportions.

Pine beetle infested forest
The only way to get rid of these beetles is by extreme cold or fire. With our warmer winters we haven't been getting the minus 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit needed to kill them and putting out forest fires in areas where they are active only allows them to survive and attack more forest. The combination of these factors has led to their exponential growth and they have now spread into other parts of the country including the Yukon and N.W.T. which are well beyond their historical range.

Regenerating forest after a fire
It may take a few more years of nasty forest fires to wipe out the beetles but thankfully Nature has a way of quickly recovering, with the heat from the fires causing dormant pine cones to open up and release their seeds for germination, and various shrubs and grasses taking advantage of the open canopy to flourish which, in turn, provides a food source for all sorts of wildlife. 

As a result of climate change these hurricanes, floods, and fires seem to be happening everywhere around the world with greater frequency. Time will tell whether it's part of a natural cycle that will eventually sort itself out or a sign of serious change ahead and that all things must pass.