We must take steps to adapt to a hotter climate reality

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By JOHN BORST

When I moved to Salt Spring Island 14 years ago, I fell in love with our forests. I still love their variety, size, depth and age.

On the hottest days I would walk in the Douglas fir groves and enjoy the cool peacefulness they brought to my life. I loved knowing that their shade kept our homes cool and comfortable.

Over the past years I have sensed a substantial change. Our summers feel hotter and longer and there is less summer rain. Our cedars are dying and scientists predict they will disappear from all but the wettest parts of our islands. The changes we are experiencing due to a warming climate have shaken me.

The future projections made by climate scientists are not good. The projected change for rainfall in the Capital Regional District is the most dramatic: an 18 per cent decrease in summer rain by 2050 and a 26 per cent decrease by 2080, while fall, winter and spring rains will increase by an average of 22 per cent by 2050 and 35 per cent by 2080, and storms are expected to become more intense.

Average temperatures here are expected to increase by an average of 2.7 degrees by 2050 and 4.4 degrees by 2080. For comparison, the events we are now experiencing are a result of only one degree increase over the past 200 to 300 years. (Source: Climate Projections for the Capital Region: April 2017.)

A significant and frightening result of hotter and drier summers is the probability of a major fire. The news is full of large fires burning throughout the world: Spain, Portugal, Greece, Australia, California, Ontario, Quebec and B.C. have significant fires. Nanaimo has in the past few weeks seen a stubborn fire on its outskirts and our Salt Spring emergency services extinguished a two-hectare blaze in a steep and heavily forested area in the south end earlier this month.

In addition, regrowth after a major fire may result in an entirely different forest. Burned forests are re-growing as shrub lands in many areas of the world. Our beautiful cedars and Douglas fir may never return.

So I have reluctantly concluded that we must accept a new reality. We can no longer ignore the increasing probability of a major fire on our Island. It is with this acceptance that the Environment Working Group of the Community Alliance and I have proposed an integrated fire management model of fire safety for our homes. It combines FireSmart practices with rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling and water conservation. The more we save during the winter the more water we will have available for our gardens — and for firefighting if needed.

The Environment Working Group shared its proposal at the July Community Alliance meeting and will share it with the entire community in a short series of articles during the next few weeks. This first article is about our island climate history. Next we will present FireSmart ideas for Salt Spring homes followed by rainwater catchment and grey water ideas. If we implement these ideas, they would increase the likelihood that our homes will survive and also reduce the chances that a house fire will spread to the forest.

While these ideas are challenging in both visual impact and expense, the more fully they are implemented, the more likely it is that our homes and our forests will survive in the event of a major fire. There is ample evidence from other places hit by catastrophic events like fire and flood that it is cheaper to take preventive steps than to repair the damage resulting from a major destructive event.

The CRD and the Trust need to assist property owners to protect their homes, as well as their forests and their fields, and to adapt to the new hotter reality we all face.

Assisting John Borst with this piece are fellow Community Alliance Environment Working Group members Anne Parkinson, Jean Wilkinson, Chris Dixon, Pierre Mineau, Tom Mitchell and Maggie Squires.

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