Authors stress importance of informed, scientific opinions in the policy process.

At a time when scientists in some sectors are increasingly constrained in what they are allowed to say about their climate related research findings, it is more important than ever to highlight the informed opinions of New Brunswick’s scientists on how ecosystems may change with rising temperatures and precipitation. Policy making in natural resources management often involves making trade-offs between short-term economic gain and long-term environmental impacts. Biologists and ecologists have important, detailed knowledge about cause and effect and potential consequences to the natural world due to human activities.

Tom Beckley, professor of forestry and environmental management at UNB; Shawn Dalton, senior consultant and owner of Thrive Consulting; and Arielle DeMerchant, master environmental management candidate, recently released a report entitled ‘Potential Effects of Climate Change on New Brunswick Freshwater and Terrestrial Ecosystems’ to New Brunswick’s Department of Environment.

Funded by the province’s Environmental Trust Fund, the report provides an overview of research-informed opinions from New Brunswick’s leading experts in aquatic and terrestrial ecology.

Dr. Beckley says the report allows the voices of forestry and biology experts to be heard by government, something he says is of utmost importance to addressing issues surrounding climate change.

“A lot of what policy-makers do is risk-assessment,” said Dr. Beckley.  “They are weighing long-term costs and risks against short-term gains. Scientists usually prefer to limit their public comments to the narrow confines of their specific data and studies. This means scientists rarely like to talk about the future.  But the public trusts scientists and when surveyed nearly always put scientists at the top of the list of people who should be guiding decision-making on resource management issues and their environmental effects.”

The authors of this report encouraged roughly 40 scientists to go ‘outside their comfort zone,’ and provide some informed speculation about the potential impacts that could arise with altered temperature and moisture regimes associated with global warming. “Research-driven speculation by the province’s leading scientific experts is one of the best tools we have to predict the effects of and combat climate change.” Dr. Beckley said. “Some scientists feel their credibility is at stake by speculating, but I argue that if we don’t make our work and opinions public, then our governments and industries are left to make environmental decisions without some of the most informed opinions and the best knowledge available.”

The experts agree that by mid-century New Brunswick’s mean annual precipitation and temperatures will be higher and there will be more extreme weather events.  One common conclusion was that by 2050, New Brunswick’s rivers and forests will be different, but not radically different than today.

“Many noted that because of the natural diversity of the Acadian Forest, change will occur slowly and our ecosystem may be more resilient than some others,” said Ms. Demerchant. “However, many said that we’ll see a decline in the balsam fir and white spruce and we could see higher numbers of red oak. We could see a decline in the number of Canada lynx, but an increase in white-tailed deer.  Many believe Atlantic salmon and brook trout numbers will continue to drop and we could see a different variation of bird species compared to what we have today.”

Virtually all the scientists interviewed say the specific drivers of ecological change are extremely difficult to predict, and many agree that the appropriate response to this is to try to maintain diversity in our ecosystems. Most also agree that targeted efforts to help particular species or ecotypes are less important than dealing with the problem at the source: reducing emissions.

For more information about the report, or to request a media interview, contact Natasha Ashfield.