Global warming will change Highlands tourism industry: Schleifenbaum

By Jenn Watt

Climate change will not spare Haliburton County and the tourism industry would be wise to begin planning for what’s to come Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve owner Peter Schleifenbaum told a tourism stakeholders meeting on Thursday.

As the temperatures rise and weather becomes more severe the flora and fauna will be changing with implications for the state of our lakes and the health of our forests he said.

In a 2002 University of Toronto modelling exercise researchers estimated that by the year 2090 the Highlands would have similar weather to the state of Virginia – some 900 kilometres south.

If they’re correct Haliburton County will be much warmer most of the time with virtually no snow.

Schleifenbaum said Haliburton Forest already has examples of how climate change is occurring.

Over the last 140 years there have been four tornadoes through the Forest: 1960 1995 2006 and 2009.

“If you look at that from a statistical perspective that we didn’t have any tornadoes for 80 years and then the next 50 years we had four” he said.

Building with sturdier materials with floods and storms in mind will go a long way to reducing damage done by wild weather in coming years he said showing a photo of a bridge he had built to replace a culvert destroyed in a flood.

Property damage may be the least of the worries.

Warming will drastically change local lakes. Schleifenbaum used lake trout as an example.

A cold water fish lake trout aren’t expected to survive if temperatures rise too much.

Typically the mature lake trout stay in the middle strata of a lake where the water is cooler. The smaller younger lake trout which are preyed upon by the bigger ones live closer to the bottom.

At the very bottom of the lake is a dead zone where there is no oxygen and no fish can live.

Schleifenbaum explained that if lakes warm even by a couple of degrees the warmer top level of the lake called the thermocline will take up more space pushing the larger lake trout deeper.

“As the temperature goes up and the thermocline moves down the oxygen depletion at the bottom increases as well” he said.

The oxygen will deplete because of organic matter and algae blooms which sink to the bottom of the lake as they die.

When they decompose they use up oxygen widening the dead zone of the lake.

The small fish and large fish will be forced to mix causing the larger fish to feed on the smaller ones damaging the population.

As with any global warming story where there are losers there are also winners.

Schleifenbaum advised those in the audience who had businesses dependent on recreational fishing to shift from trout to bass fishing.

“Eventually lake trout are going to be wiped from our lakes” he said.

On land the message is much the same.

Schleifenbaum told the audience about the mountain pine beetle.

A native species of the British Columbia area the beetle had always lived in a cyclical pattern with the weather. Any time its population reached a high point the cold of the winter would kill off most of the insects forcing their population to start over again. Now that winters are milder the beetles have thrived and have crossed the Rocky Mountains – a barrier scientists once thought would contain them.

“Expectations by forestry scientists are that within the next 20 to 30 years the pine beetle is going to be here in Ontario” he said.

Beech and hemlock trees are also set to disappear from the landscape he said. Beech bark disease  continues to spread north through Ontario and the hemlock woolly adelgid has made it up to the St. Lawrence with both expected to continue north thanks to warmer weather.

If the Highlands becomes as warm as predicted Schleifenbaum suggests many tree species will move north and southern species will take over.

He advocated “assisted migration” of tree species that will do well in a warmer climate. Black cheery basswood and red oak were suggested species.

On the animal front moose chickadees bears and ravens will likely move their populations north while deer southern flying squirrels opossums and some reptiles will thrive in the Highlands.

For the tourism industry Schleifenbaum suggested moving away from moose and bear hunting in favour of deer reducing reliance on snow-based activities switching from trout fishing to bass and keeping in mind that without red maples we may not have the fall colours we are used to.

To slow the rate of change Schleifenbaum urged the audience to embrace alternative energy.

“Wherever we can replace oil with anything else wherever we need energy either for heating or for electricity we should embrace it” he said.

He explained his work with biochar which takes the residue from the sawmill and sequesters carbon into chips which can be used to enhance soil.

Members of the audience pointed out that aside from lowering carbon methane gas levels need to be drastically reduced. Methane gas is produced by livestock as well as landfills coal mines and other sources and traps heat more efficiently than carbon dioxide.

Barrie Martin a local tourism operator and co-ordinator of the talk said it might be time that the industry thinks of how to alter business to accommodate the new climate.