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Climate change under microscope.

The extraction industries are important economic contributors in the North. Their leaders need to know how the forests are changing, if their companies are to be in business in 50 years.

Everyone else needs to know it, too, because the forests have far more than industrial benefit.

Scientists from all over the world agree that global climate change is happening faster than ever; that the overall warming trend brings with it much weather turbulence (not all heat!); and that human activity is playing a key role in the change acceleration.

Scientists also point out that we don't know enough, and therefore we can neither make sound judgments about the implications of global climate change, nor can we mitigate its impacts effectively. They tell us that we must measure much better what is happening, how fast, and why. We must do it over time into the future, and compare the results to historic and even prehistoric data. That work is called monitoring.

As it happens, trees are a great source of information for this purpose. Some of our forest areas are relatively pristine and natural, while others are industrial-use silviculture. Both can yield valuable but different information. We can measure changes in growth patterns and species diversity over the 50 to 100 years our trees take to mature.

As climate change accelerates, different trees and shrubs grow better or more poorly, and different pests attack them. Freeze-up and break-up times change, and with them access to the wood to be harvested. These are just a few obvious issues that require adjustment. They may well be the least of what will happen.

To know more, to adjust creatively, to stay in business and diversify economic activity successfully, we need first to understand global climate change better, and second to explore the possible implications.

Efforts at both have started strongly in northwestern Ontario, In May, scientists from all over the world and Canada met at Quetico Centre near Atikokan, along with industrial and municipal leaders, First Nations representatives and others strongly interested in what is happening to our environment. The purpose of a "working conference" was to think through how to set up a global climate-change monitoring station in the heart of the North American continent.

The resulting consensus was that the Quetico-Superior region is an exceptionally suitable area for a global-change monitoring "node" - a research station that links with others around the world. Secondly, the group identified much of what is needed to set up a site and organization, and to provide for the appropriate linkages. Third, not only did they identify specific next action steps, but several scientists from Europe and the U.S. already want to do some of their research projects in the area. One regional project is a joint effort between Lakehead University, Bowater Inc., Quetico Centre and others to establish a "legacy forest" for studying change in managed and natural forest lands.

Linda Wiens is an educator and consultant, president and CEO of Quetico Centre in northwestern Ontario; and executive director of the new Prairie Crossing Institute in Chicago.
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Author:Wiens, Linda
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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