In British Columbia, a host of climate-related weather events have shown to affect land management practices and wetland stability. However, it is not too late to mitigate these effects.
The government of British Columbia has published a Strategic Climate Risk Assessment outlining the impact climate change will have on natural resources.
One main impact of climate change on land, as described by the report, will be a reduction in water and soil quality. Moderate to severe flooding is expected to occur due to increased precipitation and increased snowmelt. The resulting erosion and transportation of debris from flooding will impact water and soil quality, affecting a number of unique, fragile ecosystems in ways that could take years to recover. Contaminants from agricultural, industrial, or waste sites are among the pollutants that will wash over into sensitive ecosystems. Shifting rainfall patterns can also increase the risk of landslides, which erode debris into rivers and streams. Glacier mass loss will affect wetlands that depend on a steady
streamflow from glacier-fed systems. Finally, saltwater intrusion affects soil and plant fertility, as well as streams and rivers surrounding lands where saltwater intrusion has taken place. It will impact agricultural productivity as well as biodiversity in salt-sensitive ecosystems.
Another issue concerns water temperature. Water shortages due to drought and heat stress will increase temperatures to levels not conducive to riparian ecosystems and fish health. Shallow waters, the result of water shortages, are especially vulnerable to temperature increases, impacting the reproductive abilities of aquatic species and the availability of freshwater habitat for cold-water species. Salmon, a keystone species in the Lower Mainland, are among those that are particularly temperature-sensitive to the effects of climate change.
One main course of action that is already underway to mitigate the impact climate change has on soil and water quality is proper riverbank management, which falls under the broader effort of wetland management. Using nature-based solutions to ensure the integrity of riverbanks, for example, environmental non-profits and governmental groups alike are planting native species that establish a diverse, complex root system to hold a riverbank together. Rivershed BC is one such non-profit that LEPS is working with as they spearhead initiatives to create a “robust” ecosystem along the Salmon River through a variety of efforts aimed at preventing erosion and improving water quality.
Habitat restoration, or the rebuilding of streams and habitats degraded by human activities, is one specific way to ensure land and water ecosystems are stable amidst the threat of a changing climate. Habitat restoration includes streamside planting, instream projects, and livestock exclusion, all of which are activities LEPS participates in. Reinforcing riparian native plant communities by planting native species in streamside areas reduces the risk of water contamination, provides shade to overheated water, and stabilizes banks. Instream projects focus on removing barriers to fish access, creating stream “complexing” features, and constructing livestock crossings. Livestock exclusion covers initiatives that create a barrier between livestock and sensitive riparian areas, including fencing, caging and building bridges.
By Britney Birkenstock
Healthy Watersheds Initiative: https://healthywatersheds.ca/
BC Government climate preparedness and adaptation: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/climate-change/adaptation
Climate Projections for Metro Vancouver: http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/air-quality/AirQualityPublications/ClimateProjectionsForMetroVancouver.pdf
Ways wetlands are crucial to climate change adaptation: https://gca.org/5-ways-wetlands-are-crucial-to-climate-change-adaptation/#:~:text=Wetlands%20capture%20CO%E2%82%82%20from%20the,as%20all%20the%20world’s%20forests.