Thursday, October 19, 2006

Perspective on the Lodgepole Pine

Dave NeadsGuest article by Dave Neads, director of the Cariboo Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition and of the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society. He is a member of the Cariboo Chilcotin Regional Resource Committee, represents the West Chilcotin Tourism Association regionally and writes a bi-monthly column on conservation issues for the Williams Lake Tribune.


The Lodgepole pine is an amazing tree. You can find it at sea level and on the backside of the coast mountains huddled against boulders at 6500 feet. One species, one adaptation, capable of living in this huge range of habitats.

That is what survival is all about, having the genetic options available to adapt to a huge range of conditions. We are all familiar with the coastal rain forests and the way they are promoted as havens for biodiversity. We're always reading about how many species there are per hectare, how many tonnes of biomass per cubic meter are produced.

The same is true of the tropical rainforest. The Amazon Basin is touted as a global hotspot, an area of such significance that it must be protected; must be treated differently because of its wealth of diversity.

While all of this is factual, it is only valid in times of relatively constant climate parameters.

The one thing these rainforests cannot tolerate, the one thing that kills them permanently, is a large scale shift in either water or temperature regimes. Because of this, these rainforests, whether tropical or temperate, actually occupy very restricted niches in the global ecosystem and are intolerant of any real shifts in the climate that supports them.

We are approaching times of instability, times of large shifts in climate, of large shifts in habitat structure and availability. The gene pool needed to cope with this milieu needs to be robust, adaptable and capable of living under a wide range of conditions.

The interior dry pine forests are a excellent example of the gene pool needed in the coming turbulence of climate disruption. These trees already have the ability to grow in wet warm places on the windward side of the mountains while at the same time thriving in the dry valley bottoms in the Fraser Canyon and on the highest tree line patches on the western edge of the Chilcotin Cariboo.

Such resilience is what needs to be respected, what needs to be set aside. The Mountain Pine Beetle is selecting out a huge percentage of the pine in the region of its interior habitat. When this process is done, the trees that are left will have the resilience to the beetle combined with the already acquired traits of survivability over a broad range of forest habitat.

This is the kind of gene pool that will survive; one that is strong, hardy, able to withstand the coming shocks. Now more than ever, as climate change marches across the globe, it is necessary to leave large areas of temperate interior dry forest intact. It is these areas that will provide the genetic reservoirs for the next generation of forest communities that will inhabit the region.

These trees that we take for granted may not be hundreds of feet tall, they may not be good pin-up material, but our interior dry forests are far tougher, more adaptable and vigorous than their warm climate cousins who will not survive a major shift in their habitat. We must make sure that we set aside areas where the the pine forests of the Chilcotin Cariboo can recover from this beetle and survive in enough numbers to blaze the evolutionary path in the coming decades.

- Dave Neads

No comments: