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Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry

Issue 15 - Evidence - April 29, 2003


OTTAWA, Tuesday, April 29, 2003

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 5:30 p.m. to examine the impact of climate change on Canada's agriculture, forests and rural communities and the potential adaptation options focusing on primary production, practices, technologies, ecosystems and other related areas.

Senator Donald H. Oliver (Chairman) in the Chair.

[English]

The Chairman: Honourable senators, this meeting is called to order. I would also like to welcome everyone listening to our deliberations over the Internet.

[Translation]

Today, we continue our examination of the impact of climate change on Canada's agriculture, forests and rural communities. We are focusing particularly on the impact of adaptation options in the agricultural and forestry sectors.

[English]

Honourable senators, we have invited two very distinguished scientists for today's meeting.

[Translation]

We will be hearing Mr.Yves Bergeron first. Mr.Bergeron holds the Industry Chair UQAT/UQAM in Sustainable Forest Management at the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue. Among other things, his research focuses on the impact of climate change on the frequency of forest fires.

[English]

We will also hear from Dr. Siân Mooney, assistant professor in the Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics at the University of Wyoming. Dr. Mooney is presently examining the economics of carbon sequestration in agro-forestry projects, as well as their potential co-benefits.

Ms. Mooney was recently appointed as a member of the Wyoming Governor's Carbon Sequestration Advisory Committee and has also served with the Montana Governor's Carbon Sequestration Group. She has published several papers in the area of climate change and greenhouse gas mitigation.

[Translation]

I now invite Mr.Yves Bergeron to make his presentation. Mr.Bergeron, you have the floor.

Mr. Yves Bergeron (Industry Chair in Sustainable Forest Management, UQAT/UQAM, Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue: I would first like to address the issue of the frequency of forest fires, and then that of the consequences of climate change, as well as forest management and the optimization of biodiversity and the quantity of available timber.

I will be presenting various results, such as certain climate change simulations prepared in cooperation with Mr.Mike Flanagan, from the Canadian Forest Service in the Sault Ste. Marie region. We are interested in fire forest because it constitutes a major disturbance of the natural environments of the boreal forest, and can also have important adverse consequences in areas where trees are harvested, and in inhabited areas.

I will present a historical reconstruction of the frequency of forest fires in Canada in the past, in the present and in the future, according to forecasts. These frequency figures are based on existing studies— which are not very plentiful— for the 300 or 400previous years, before inhabited settlements or forestry disturbed the territory. This table shows the percentage of burned area per year in the various ecozones in Canada.

[English]

The table you have in front of you illustrates the percentage of burn area in different parts of Canada. The current burn rate is an average for the last 50 years. What we see is what we expected with the doubling and tripling of CO2. It is important to notice that the current burn rate is lower than the past burn-rate.

We had far more fire in the past than we have now and there are two reasons for that. One reason is climate change. In the East, there was a very big climate change in the middle of the 19th century, and we have less fire now than we had in the past.

If you look at this column for the current year, except for the Taiga Shield, which is in the Northwest Territories, the percentage of burn every year is lower now than it was in the past.

When we look at the future, we have a slight increase in the percentage of area burned, but there is no place where we have a situation predicted in the future that is comparable with what we had in the past, except again in the Northwest Territories. Yes, there is an increase, but this increase is less than what we had in the ``pre-colonial,'' forest.

One important aspect of that is the 1 per cent rate of burning. If you have 1 per cent of the land base that burns every year, it works out to about the same amount that we would want to cut. There is a 100-year rotation in the boreal forest. If you have a fire frequency that is 100 years, that is, 1 per cent per year, that means we also have a 100-year rotation.

When we have more than 1 per cent burn rate we have a problem with timber supply; anything over 1 per cent means that would that would be exploited for lumber is lost to fire. If we are over the 1 per cent, we start having a problem. As we move toward the 1 per cent, there is a decrease in the timber supply that can be used for forestry.

The Taiga Shield is a problem because there is more fire than 1 per cent. In that area we might have to resort to salvage logging techniques that log the trees after the fire.

In the boreal shield area there is also a problem because we are very close to the 1 per cent fire rate. However, in the other part of the boreal forest, we have room to do some kind of forest exploitation because there is less fire than the 1 per cent forest rotation.

The chart in front of you shows the doubling and tripling of CO2. The vector shows this increase. We have the one- time CO2 here for the boreal plain, and the two times and three times CO2 at the end of the vector. We can see that both the Taiga Shield and the boreal shield are getting worse. The boreal plain is close to the 1 per cent. Only the area of the Rockies is forecast to have an important decrease in fire frequency.

We have two issues: the timber supply issue, and the biodiversity issue. This might be more complicated to explain. While trying to manage the forest we try to emulate or mimic the natural disturbance. These ecosystems have evolved with natural disturbance, so it is possible, if we emulate those natural disturbances with forest management, that we can keep biodiversity and other aspects of sustainable forestry. We call it the ``coarse filter approach.'' If you maintain the habitat, you will maintain the species.

We want to preserve all successional stages in the forest, and one part of the successional stage that we can preserve by using forest management or clear-cutting is the first successional stage. It is becoming more difficult to preserve the late successional stage with clear-cutting. There is a problem of preserving old growth forest using only clear-cutting.

I will go through the slides, but I do not want to take too much time. This slide shows what we are doing with clear- cutting in our boreal forests. We clear-cut the forests and normalize the forests over a 100-year rotation period, so we lose the structure of the forests that are over 100 years of age. A large part of the forests could be 100 years old.

Here is an example from northern Quebec where 60 per cent of the natural forest would in a natural fire regime be over 100 years, 20 per cent over 200 years, and a small proportion over 300 years.

If, in the past, we have had a short fire cycle and no fire or very low frequency of fire in the present, we have room where we can use clear-cutting to mimic fire, because we want to emulate the pre-colonial forest. We can use clear- cutting to mimic what fire used to do in the past.

If we are in the part of the graph where we have a lot of fire in the past and few fires now, then we are in a good situation. If we look again to the ecozone, if you are above this line, it is because the fire frequency was higher in the past than it is now. In most areas in Canada, we are in that situation. We have less fire today than we had in the past. With climate change, there will be a little bit more fire, but it still will not be the equivalent of what we had in the past. We have room to use forestry to emulate, in some way, the natural disturbances of the past.

I will just stop on this table, because I think most of the information is here, so I am open to any questions you have.

The Chairman: Thank you very much for that excellent overview. One of the things you mentioned in the course of your talk is that, after there is a forest fire, some people will go in and salvage some of what is left. How do they do it and is there ever anything left? If a tree is half-burned, how do they process the rest and is the interior damaged?

The second question indicates that your research reports that the increase in fire cycle length suggests that climate change may likely accentuate the changes in development of unevenly aged forests. What does this mean for the landscape of the boreal forests and what will it mean for the Canadian forest industry, which has relied on clear-cutting for production for its lumber mills?

Mr. Bergeron: I am not aware of the problem in the western part of Canada; however, I am quite aware of the situation in this area. The wood that burns is the bark; the wood itself is not burned. The wood is very good.

The problem is that an insect may go and put her egg in the wood and the larvae will damage the wood. You have to salvage the log very quickly after the fire. Often, you have to do that the same year the fire occurs. Most of the big fires are far north, where we do not have roads. They have to build the roads before they can salvage the logs.

On average, probably 15 per cent to 25 per cent of the area would have salvageable logs in Quebec, because of the problem of access. As time goes on, this will become more common because the roads will be there to provide easy access.

The forest industry can rely on salvage logging of a quarter of the timber. Still, it is a loss of 75 per cent of the timber.

The Chairman: Of the 25 per cent that remains, is it discounted because of the smell of the smoke and the burning or is the interior preserved?

Mr. Bergeron: There is very little of the tree that burns. In fact, most of the trees stay in good shape. It is just that loggers do not have sufficient access to all of the areas that burn.

Last summer in Quebec, more than 1,000square kilometres burned, and it is a huge job to salvage all those areas. We do not have the machinery or the time to salvage all the logs. In some ways, it is good.

If you think of biodiversity issues, the stands that have burned are used by a lot of birds, insects and animals, so it is important that we keep a certain percentage of the land base with natural fire, because it is part of the coarse filter approach.

There is one exception where we should be careful, which is where you have low productivity soil. To burn and clear-cut might be too much for the system in that case. The fire would take the organic matter in the soil and the logging would take the timber and too much of the carbon and the nutrients might leave the site.

There is currently a study at the university, by a professor Suzanne Brais who has done this kind of computation. For poor soil, we have to be careful; for high-nutrient soil it is fine.

Your second question is one of the biggest issues in sustainable forest management. This question of a long cycle for forest management is a question of whether is it natural or not. What is the benchmark? Is the benchmark the long fire cycle and low fire frequency that we have now, or is it the last 300 years, or is it the last 1,000 years since the de- glaciation?

If we look at the Abitibi example we see that the study includes the period up to de-glaciation. The average age of the forest is about 150 years for all of the period. There were periods when it was shorter and periods when it was longer; however, we still have jack pine, which is a species that is well adapted to fire, and white cedar, which is a species not well adapted to fire. The intervals were always switching and all the species were able to stay in the landscape.

Yes, it is a problem, but there is still a place for clear-cutting. However, if we want to keep the old growth forests, we have two strategies. The first is to increase the rotation up to 200 or 300 years and lose some of the possibility, because some of the trees will start to die and we will lose those species.

The second way we have proposed is to partially cut part of the land base in such a way that we can mimic the old growth forest using partial cutting. Even selective cutting in the boreal forest would be something worth trying. We have a technique in this part of the world where we go into the forest and take 50 per cent or 60 per cent of the volume, generally from the big trees, but we leave the structure behind. When we go back to the stands a couple of years later, it looks more like an old growth forest which is obviously is not the case following clear-cutting.

The Chairman: Does that work?

Mr. Bergeron: It seems to work. There is a longer-term experiment in the Quebec north shore, where they have done this kind of experiment. It seems that they have had good results. There is also experiment in the Lake Abitibi model forests in Ontario; Dr. Arthur Groot from the Canadian Forest Service has done that.

One of the big problems is the wind; if you partially cut the forest and the wind takes the rest of trees you left behind, that can become a problem. However, we can probably find ways to go around those problems and I think the future of the boreal forest is to try to stop clear-cutting, and try to do something different to keep the diversity.

The Chairman: Are you are an advocate of, or do you believe in, some kind of controlled burning? Earlier in your elaboration and exposition, you said that prior to these changes in climate, we had more burning. Now, we are not having as much burning in our forests. As climate change continues we will begin to have more fires but not as many as before.

Are you suggesting that in some places we should have a controlled burn to mimic what nature would do?

Mr. Bergeron: In some places we should keep the structure of the stand but we should also keep the process, which was linked to fire. I am not an advocate of controlled burn for the sake of controlled burn. If we could find site preparation that mimics the process of natural fire, it would be better to clear-cut, site prepare and reseed or replant the site. That is what they do in Sweden and Finland. They were very good at controlled burning in the past but they lost the expertise and they came to realize that ploughing has the same effect on the process.

We currently have an experiment with one of the forest companies in which we do a controlled burn and different site preparation. We will replant trees afterward to see if we are able to mimic the same growth such that the conditions produced by the site preparation are similar to the ones that are produced by the controlled burn.

In Quebec, controlled burning is very unpopular. In Ontario, it was more popular but they did have some large accidents. Site preparation is my first choice.

Senator Wiebe: I am interested in your comparison to more forest fires prior to the 19th century and fewer since the 19th century. Are you talking about area that has been burned, or are you talking about the frequency of fires? I ask that question because one of the main causes of fire is a lightning strike. Prior to the mid-19th century, were there more lightning strikes occurring in Canada vis-à-vis what is happening today?

Mr. Bergeron: There is a problem with definition. I am talking about the area of burn and not about the occurrence of fire. For some people in the scientific community, fire frequency is the area of burn per year. You are referring to the number of fires per year, which we call ``fire occurrence.'' I agree that perhaps with climate change there will be more lightning activity and therefore more small fires. However, some witnesses may have told you that very few fires produce most of the area of burn. I am talking about the area burned and not the occurrence of the fire.

Senator Wiebe: I do not wish to allow climate change off the hook on this issue but is part of the reason that we do not have as large an area burning today as we had in the mid-19th century because we have better forest management and better forest fire-fighting equipment and practices in place?

Mr. Bergeron: Yes and no. More sophisticated forest management techniques have contributed but they cannot explain the change that we have observed. The big change occurred in the mid-19th century well before we had fire- fighting capacity.

I prepared an interesting study of a small island in Lake Duparquet. I reconstructed a fire history for a number of the 150 islands that are in that lake. The first change in fire frequency occurred in 1850 and continued into the 20th century and on to today. There is no way that this area is under control because it is too small; no one would try to extinguish a fire on these small islands.

I agree with you that improved techniques have changed the fire situation somewhat, but climate change is really the driving force.

Senator Wiebe: In your graphyou had some figures about what would happen with the increase of CO2 emissions and the damage it would do to our forests. Say, for example, a miracle occurred and all countries kept their CO2 emissions at the current levels. Could our forests still survive, or would we have to cut back dramatically?

Mr. Bergeron: That is a tough question. The problem is that even a small change in fire frequency will have a huge economical impact. It looks as though there is a very slight change, which is not similar to the fire frequency that we had in the past. For the forester, it could mean 10 per cent less in their timber yields even if this change is very slight. Everything we can do to keep the change slower than expected will have an effect on the economy.

If you ask me whether the forests are in danger in respect of the expected increase in fire frequency, the danger is far less for most of Canada. I am referring to areas such as the forests of northern Saskatchewan, northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories. For much of the rest of Canada, it would not be enough to create a catastrophe in the forests.

Senator Chalifoux: I find it interesting when you discuss the controlled burn and the effect that it has. In the West and North, we have lodge pole pine. The cones will not open unless they are burned by fire. I would like your comments on that.

When the members of the subcommittee on forestry trekked the woods of Finland and Sweden, I was disappointed that there was no small wildlife; the forests are so controlled that they have lost all the wildlife.

You spoke about all the environmentalists who are against clear-cutting. Yet, you are saying that it could have the same effect as a controlled burn. I would like your comments please.

Mr. Bergeron: If I may, I will begin with the last question. I am in favour of clear-cutting but you must understand that you cannot have only clear-cutting; it must be part of a package. If we clear-cut to mimic what I call the first ``cored forests'' of less than 100 years of age, we would have to find something to keep the forests that are over 100 years of age. We need partial cutting or extended rotation. That is a big problem with environmentalists because of the way in which the concept was sold to the environmentalists.

I know the story in Ontario where they believe that emulating natural disturbances can be accomplished with large clear-cutting, partial cutting or expanded rotation. However, the environmentalists began with the large clear-cut and discovered that they were not happy with the results. They wanted to mimic what was good for the forest industry and not the rest.

If we want to emulate natural disturbances we have to do it as a package for not only the young forests, but also for old growth forests.

I will return to the question about controlled burns with the pine trees. In Quebec, in general, we replant after the fire. We do not use natural regeneration in jack pine stands; we cut the jack pine and replant or reseed. If we wanted to have natural regeneration, then a controlled burn would be a good strategy. It seems that for several reasons, it costs less to clear-cut, site repair and either seed the area or plant trees.

The best strategy seems to be more a question of economy. If it costs too much to replant, then we could go to controlled burning to regenerate. Jack pine is even worse than lodgepole pine because most of the trees have closed cones. Lodgepole pines have open cones.

In regard to the diversity in Finland and Sweden, I fully agree with you. In Finland and Sweden they use tree industrial rotation of clear cutting and they completely destroy all the natural forests. We will do that if we continue to normalize our forests with clear cutting with the 100-year rotation. We have to learn from what people are doing in Sweden and Finland.

Across the Finnish border into Russia the situation is completely different; no one wants to cut trees along the border. The forests are completely different than in Finland only a few kilometres away. There is more wildlife closer to the Russian border than in either Russia or Finland. We could learn from that bad example.

On the other hand, we should learn one important thing from them. It is the question of a trial approach where we would practice intensive forest management on a smaller part of the land base in such a way that we increase the productivity. We would decrease the pressure on the rest of the land base. We could do extensive forest management there.

In the eastern part of Canada we could probably have as much as four times more productivity per hectare if we were able to do intensive forest management in a smaller part of the land base. That is part of the future.

Senator Hubley: We have heard from some of our witnesses that different areas of the country will be affected by climate change. To which areas may we look for greater production? What areas might perhaps be more at risk because of climate change?

We have noted that the trees in the North take a very long time to grow. They do not grow to the size that trees in other areas of the country grow. They are not managed in the same way. Yet with climate change, there are indications that the trees are suffering more lightning strikes. The communities are seeing lightning more now than they have in the past.

Would you comment on the future of northern forests as well as the favourable attributes of the climate change in some areas of the country?

Mr. Bergeron: That is a very active debate in Quebec. The government recently put limits on forestry. The limit is south of the forest. There is still forest north of this limit that has sufficient cubic metres of timber to make it profitable. However, the province decided to impose a limit because there are different aspects to consider.

I can discuss fire, because it is what I know best. When you move north, close to James Bay and Hudson Bay, it is somewhat like it is in the North of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba where there is a very short fire cycle. It is not that the forests cannot grow there it is because they burn too often.

To try to practice forestry there would not be sustainable. Of course, you can cut the forests, but the forests that would grow back would burn again. You cannot have the pressure of fire and the pressure of logging at the same time.

There is a decision that we should make in the North. It would not be mining the forests. There is a resource there, but if we use it all we will lose a huge part of the forests.

People will tell you that with climate change, the growth will be better, and we will be able to have more productive forests. However, you must ask questions about the fire frequency. If the fire frequency is too high, it is not a good idea to open that land to forestry.

There is a debate regarding a northern limit across Canada. When I give courses to students, I say that Canada is better in management. We cut far less wood than we have, but most of the forests that we do not use for forestry are the forests of the North. If we start logging in this part of the forest, we might encounter a big problem with the fire frequency.

[Translation]

Senator Ferretti Barth: As you know, the forest industry represents one of Canada's principal sources of revenue. What is the attitude of that industry with regard to adapting to the major changes which will be affecting forests?

Mr. Bergeron: The main problem is that the forest industry in Canada does not own the territory. It must work with public lands over which it has no long-term rights— nor does it own the land.

When I speak to industrial partners, or when we attempt to obtain funding for work on the impact of climate change, logging companies tend to not give us a very good hearing, because this is something that will be taking place in the future on a territory which they do not own and will not be able to use over the long term.

We can have an impact, however, and this is happening currently in Quebec — this is quite new — when we ask companies to calculate their potential losses due to forest fires.

They have to restrict the quantity of wood they harvest because they have to factor in the losses that are expected due to forest fires. They are now taking an interest in climate change because if it increases or decreases, this will have an effect on the quantity of wood they can cut down today. Clearly, if we want to interest and involve the forest industry, we have to speak to them about the consequences they are experiencing today and not ask them to think about adapting to something that may occur 25years from now.

Senator Ferretti Barth: As a researcher, do you maintain fairly comfortable relations with the forest industry? Does the forest industry listen to your advice, or are you preaching in the desert?

Mr. Bergeron: Currently they do listen to us, because in order to sell their products they have to have environmental certification and prove that they are managing the forests properly. This creates quite a bit of pressure on the forest industry to move to sustainable forest management. This is no secret: forestry is seen first and foremost as an economic generator by the provincial jurisdictions.

I think this is where we are not being heard, in particular. The forest is perceived as a job creation engine, and if we take the current situation in Quebec as an example, there is not a single log which has not been allocated to a logging company. This means that there is no leeway, no wiggle room. If I wanted to create a park tomorrow morning, I would be obliged to take back rights that have been granted to a logging company.

The problem, however, exists not so much at the level of logging companies, but rather at the provincial government level — I am referring here to the Quebec provincial government — which uses the forest as an economic development factor, without imposing any limits.

The 1996 Quebec Forest Act expresses a will to meet the criteria of sustainable forest management. This has been in the act since 1996. But aside from sustained yield, there is nothing in current legislation concerning the other sustainable forest management criteria.

We cannot ask the forestry industry to police itself while government, the steward, is not even monitoring itself. The current pressure comes from the market; it comes from the Americans who want certified wood. It is a curious thing, but that is the factor that is putting the brakes on the poor development of our forests, rather than our own legislation. We have focused too much on the economic aspect of forestry and not enough on the environmental aspect.

Senator Ferretti Barth: Since it is the provincial government that sets the rules of the game, and since you are a researcher in the forestry area, I want to ask you the following question: When there are problems that need to be solved and you give your opinion, do they listen to you, or not?

Mr. Bergeron: They do listen to me, but they are constrained by an array of regulations issued by the Government of Quebec that prevent them from changing their practices. To change those practices they must ask for exemptions from provincial acts, provincial regulations, and the province does not really support them because it says that if they want to break the rules, they will do so at their own peril, and assume the risks.

The forest industry is not reactionary — it is forced to change because of the market — but it is caught in a morass of constraining provincial regulations that are very reactionary and inhibiting.

The government is reacting too slowly to the needs. This may seem incredible to you, but as the holder of this Chair in Sustainable Forest Management, with the results of the research we have, I get a better hearing from the logging companies than at the regulatory level, because the government's structure is not very flexible when it comes to making changes.

[English]

Senator Tkachuk: Mr.Bergeron, you spoke earlier about the economic pressures on forests. Economic pressures are competing interests. We have national and provincial parks, environmental and forestry needs. Is there some way that we can use the market?

There is no price tag on many of these things. Can we put price tags on these things so that there is a reason for forest companies and provincial governments to behave in a way that will preserve our forests but also make use of them for all of us?

You talk about parks and getting back parkland. What economic interest is there to get the parkland back? What is the point unless it has some kind of economic or social value that can be shown in economic terms?

Mr. Bergeron: This value might not be there today, but will be there in the future. It is very difficult to convince people to keep something that will have a value for the future. The black spruce boreal forest is not the place where we will soon develop ecotourism. However, if we clear-cut everything and we do not keep anything aside, in 50 years there is no way we can go back. That is the case in Sweden and Finland. In Sweden there is not a single natural forest left. That is a question of value in some way.

I do not know what it is like elsewhere in Canada, but in Quebec we have a system that believes that the only way to make money on a forest is to practice forestry. Most of the land base, more than 80 per cent of the Crown lands are dedicated to forestry. It seems that we cannot change the system. As soon as there is one hectare of forest, we want to use it for forestry. The reason we are doing that is not because the government is making money. If you look at the stumpage fees you will see that they are not very high.

Senator Tkachuk: I know that. Do not tell the Americans that, though.

Mr. Bergeron: It costs a lot to cut the forests, but it creates jobs. We should create jobs with something else than the forests. We are intelligent enough to say that in the Abitibi region we can do second and third transformation rather than only shipping the wood to the United States. There is a way we can produce jobs and we must be more intelligent. The way it works now is that we have forests and we are obliged to use them.

Senator Tkachuk: Let us carry on this discussion further. Mr.Bergeron hit the nail on the head when he spoke about stumpage fees. It is all Crown land; there is no private ownership of the land.

If the forest company was allocated a certain amount of forest by purchase, and they were managed for their own purposes and wealth creation, then the province would have the option of saying that in the future it would want a piece of the forest. The province would realize that in the future they might need part of the forest for any one of a number of usages: parks, environmental needs or perhaps for the purpose of having the thing if nothing else.

Part of the problem is like the oceans: Nobody owns it; everyone abuses it. Just rape it until it is gone, because you have no sense of ownership.

Would not having private sector woodlots help that process? At least people would know what would and would not be used.

Mr. Bergeron: Yes. Part of the solution is that we have more intensive forest management in the part of the area where the tenure is different. Perhaps it is not to sell the land base but to sign a lease for a longer period, or allow private owners to produce the timber for a company. Thus, it is privately owned and the owner sells the wood to the big companies. That system would lessen the pressure on Crown land in the North.

We must realize that with intense forest management we may not be very competitive with other countries because our climate is not very good. The size of the forest is something we still have to count on. Perhaps a mixture of intensive forestry in some places and tenure for extensive forestry in other places would be a solution. I am an ecologist. I am neither an economist nor a specialist in that area.

Senator Tkachuk: I am neither an economist nor an ecologist. I am probably speaking ignorantly on both issues. I know that we have to make certain changes. You talked about Saskatchewan earlier. Over one-half our province is forest. It is all Crown land. Just knowing human nature, that system will, in the end, be abused more fully than if they had actually paid upfront big cash for that land. The only way they can get that money back is to sell it at some future time in a healthy state.

That is my view of things. It is not a very popular view, but I think it is the right one, Chair.

[Translation]

Senator Biron: Can you explain or summarize how the Americans operate, as compared to the Canadian system?

Mr. Bergeron: I am not the best person to answer that question. The difference in the United States centres around the number and extent of private forests, as opposed to State-owned forests. This difference creates a completely different market, one wherein private owners sell wood. As compared to the Canadian situation, the quantity of wood coming from private forests and public forests is different.

The other difference we have with regard to the United States is that they have enormous national forests that serve as a cushion between supply and demand.

When wood is not expensive in Canada, they decrease pressure on their national forests and practically turn them into parks, because the population wants to go there for recreational purposes, and if our wood is too expensive, they can then reopen those national forests to logging. This is an American attitude in several areas; they tend to keep their resources for themselves and look for less expensive resources in other countries.

I am aware of certain statistics. The more protection is given to American national forests, the more lumber crosses the border between Canada and the United States. There is a connection.

These two things mean that their system is completely different from ours, because of the vast abundance of private forests there and the leeway for action they have which we do not. Quebec has given all of its forests to the forest industry.

We do not have the possibility of reopening a territory or of closing it. We are stuck without any leeway, while the Americans have some.

As I said, I may not be the best person to answer that question.

[English]

The Chairman: Professor Bergeron, I want to thank you very much for a most excellent presentation. I am sorry we do not have more time. You have answered some very important questions for us. Your evidence will be very important to us when we do our report.

Professor Mooney, we look forward to hearing your presentation. After your presentation I can assure you that we will all have a number of questions because we are really enjoying our study on climate change effects on forests and agriculture.

Please proceed.

Ms. Siân Mooney, Assistant Professor, University of Wyoming: It is an honour to be invited to appear before this committee. I appreciate the opportunity to make this presentation and hope that I can be of some assistance to you.

I will start with a short PowerPoint presentation.

I have conducted two studies of climate change in Canada: one that has examined the impacts of climate change on agriculture in Manitoba, and then an extension of that study that also incorporated some of the affects of climate change upon Saskatchewan and Alberta. More recently, I have focused my research work on looking at ways to mitigate climate change using agricultural practices. We are looking at greenhouse gas mitigation.

Today I will talk about some of the issues I feel are important for determining how climate change could influence agricultural profitability within Canada.

Essentially, climate change is likely to have several effects on Canadian agriculture. Broadly, we can divide these into two different categories. I would like to class these as biophysical effects and economic effects. Essentially, the overall outcome for Canadian agricultural, i.e. whether climate change is beneficial or detrimental economically, will be determined by a combination of both factors.

Before we discuss those factors, we need to talk about what drives them, which of course is climate change. As the committee has probably heard before, several climate change models are available that indicate that global average temperatures will increase by approximately 2degrees centigrade by the year 2050. However, having broad agreement between these various models on how the global climate will change is actually not necessarily very helpful when we are looking at a particular region. Both in Canada and the U.S., it is regional and local changes that are most important because it is those changes that drive the biophysical changes that we will see under a changed climate.

Let us look at what we know so far about how regional climate might change on the Canadian Prairies. A recent study done by Henry Hengeveld of Environment Canada compared four different major models, one of which was the Canadian model, one was the Hadley model out of the U.K., one was an Australian model, and one was out of the U.S.

For southern Alberta we can see that these models were in broad agreement as to what might happen to mean summer temperatures. They indicate an increase of 2 degrees to 3degrees in southern Alberta, and also an increase in mean winter temperatures of 2.5 degrees to 4degrees over the winter.

What is problematic in many models is that there is not broad agreement in terms of what might happen to precipitation under a climate change regime. In particular, summer precipitation is quite important for agricultural practices. Of these four models, three of them suggest that summers in Alberta would become wetter under a climate change scenario, whereas one of them suggests that Alberta would become a little bit dryer.

It is this discrepancy within climate change predictions that makes it difficult for us at the present time to try to assess how different regions might actually adapt to climate change in the future. Whenever you look at the results of climate change studies, you need to keep in mind that these studies are very dependent upon the type of climate change scenario that was assumed for them.

Some things we do know. It is certainly possible that yields will increase in major crops as a result of what we call ``CO2 fertilization.'' If there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, many scientists have shown that this is quite beneficial to crop growth and may also improve water use efficiency. Some of the things we do not know are how crop yields might respond in a situation of precipitation uncertainty. In a future climate, we are not sure how variable it might be, whether it would be more prone to extreme events, and what the timing of different precipitation events could be. That could be very important. Even if we had a wetter climate, if the rain did not come at the right time to germinate our crops that could be a problem.

We would expect if the climate became warmer and wetter that yields of major crops in Canada would have an opportunity to increase, and also we would expect an increase in the growing season. One possible effect of this, and this was something that was brought out by studies that I had been involved in the past in Canada, is that there is certainly this possibility to increase the area of agriculturally productive land in northern Canada, and that would be the area north of 55degrees or north of the 55th parallel. Right now, there are soils available in that area that are suitable for agricultural production. They are class 4 soils, which means they are most marginally productive agricultural soils, and their agricultural productivity is limited at the present time by climate. The growing season is not long enough or warm enough.

A study done out of the University of Manitoba that was I involved with several years ago estimated that there was approximately 1.44millionhectares north of 55degrees north that could become productive under a changed climate scenario, and, in addition, we are likely to see a possible expansion of the southern areas too.

These studies also looked at how yields might change for Canada. Under a scenario a little bit warmer and dryer than the current climate, we used a couple of different methods to predict yield changes, but essentially we showed that warmer and drier would tend to reduce the yields of some of the major crops in the Canadian Prairie provinces at the present time, though it would allow new crops that were perhaps a little more valuable to be grown there. In a warmer and wetter climate much like the northern U.S. we would expect that crop yields might increase.

However, the effect of yields and land areas is only one part of the equation for trying to determine how climate change might influence the economics of agricultural production on the Prairies. We also need to combine changes in production with changes in economic opportunities such as market prices and input prices. Although production is determined locally by local weather conditions, market prices are determined globally, because Canada obviously plays in a global market and does not have a large influence on global market price.

What I think is important for Canada's economic change is how Canadian productivity might change relative to the rest of the world. If the rest of the world experiences a sharp decline in some of the crops that Canada might be relatively more capable of producing under a global climate change, then this actually could be quite beneficial for Canada.

The overall economic outcome will be determined by both the biophysical and economic decisions. Sometimes high yields might not necessarily always be a good thing economically, because if high yields are coupled with low prices, then the economic outcome could be worse for producers. There could also be situations of low yields, but if Canada produces better than the rest of the world, you may receive very high prices, which could be beneficial for producers. I am trying to say that the overall outcome is dependant on both biophysical and economic changes.

In previous studies of Canada, we found that overall net revenues from the Prairie provinces could be increased by climate change. Again, this is very dependent upon the number of assumptions that underlie the different models and studies.

Adaptation response is bound to be very spatially variable and it is very unlikely there will be a universal best response. Economic outcomes will be driven by the biophysical capability of an area, which is determined by local and regional conditions, by what can you grow and how well you can grow it and by pricing changes.

I feel that you need to maintain an industry that is flexible. By that, I mean that perhaps if we offered economic incentives right now to encourage producers to adopt practices that might look likely at the present time, there is not much certainty that in a few years, these practices might be most beneficial for producers. In insulating producers from market forces, we could perhaps reduce the incentives they face to make necessary changes, which would actually be detrimental in terms of adaptation to climate change.

For adaptation assistance, there are a number of things we could do. Certainly, producer education is an important area, as is more research. There is so much we do not know at the present time and more we could do, in terms of looking at technology and different information to help producers.

One other thing, which I think is quite interesting, is that climate change has provided new opportunities for producers with the potential for a greenhouse gas market. Agricultural soils can also sequester soil carbon, reducing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. Though the possibilities for agricultural sequestration are quite small, countries like Canada and the U.S. are land rich, so small amounts of carbon per hectare over very large quantities of lands can result in significant carbon reductions. Estimates for the U.S. suggest that up to 208million metric tonnes per year of carbon can be sequestered in agricultural soils.

This could be done at low cost. These are estimates of what it would cost to sequester soil carbon in the U.S. states of Iowa and Montana. We can see that both areas can provide carbon at low prices, less than $40 a ton. At these prices agriculture can compete with forestry. Thus, we can expect carbon to be sequestered by agriculture.

There are a number of ways to design these schemes. Perhaps the most efficient is to provide payments for credit, just as if carbon were a ton of corn. That would require monitoring, but there is a lot of research being done in this area now showing this need not be costly.

This would also provide other benefits to producers. In the present, it would help them in their adaptation, including improvements in soil fertility, increasing diversification and potentially reducing the rate or amount of climate change.

Senator Wiebe: For some reason, we get the feeling that climate change means that things are going to get warmer and that things will get dryer. That moisture has to go somewhere. We will not lose it; it stays on the globe. I appreciate your comment about warmer and wetter.

Are we able to have a look today and say the Pallister triangle, from Calgary to Winnipeg to Saskatoon, which used to be classified as a desert, could now be an area that might be wetter? Do we have the technology to forecast what the future might be?

Ms. Mooney: We do not have very secure forecasts of what the future will be. Three of the four models I presented earlier predicted warmer and wetter, while one predicted dryer. This is actually a large problem that needs to be overcome so we can determine what will happen to climate. Climate models are not very good at predicting what will happen to precipitation.

Senator Wiebe: I certainly agree.

On page 5 of your presentation, section D is adaption response. I found the second sentence to be very interesting. You say:

Maintaining an agricultural sector that is flexible could be an important adaptation strategy.

I guess flexibility for the future will be one of the keys for us in Canada. Has your country started any programs that would allow for that flexibility for their farmers?

Ms. Mooney: In terms of the activities that the U.S. is engaged in at present, I do not really see they have developed any policies that would encourage producers to engage in any particular practice that might help them adapt to climate change. In fact, I think the main thrust in the U.S. so far has been trying to fund research to find out more about climate change. A considerable amount of research money is being spent on greenhouse gas mitigation, in terms of how you might mitigate climate change and perhaps make it better. In terms of flexibility, I think the best way to let producers remain flexible is to let them respond to market prices as they see them.

Climate change is likely to be quite gradual and incremental and producers are often well-educated, very good businessmen who are capable of making small changes over time, as long as you do not steer them in the wrong direction.

Senator Wiebe: Do you mean the less government involvement the better?

Ms. Mooney: I think that is what I am saying, yes.

The Chairman: As you know, we have heard from a number of other witnesses, some of whom were from the United States. Two of the witnesses from the United States told us that based upon their modelling and their research, it is their opinion that, with average temperatures increasing Canada's forestry and agricultural sectors will benefit from the changing climates. I know you have shown us your models and, based upon those models, there is great variation within them. What do you think of the conclusions that were reached by two previous American witnesses who said that we should be able to benefit from the effects of climate change?

Ms. Mooney: That is certainly possible, and I think there are a number of factors that point to that. Canada is a country that is so far north, of course, that you will experience more of an effect from climate change than some other countries. However, one of the limitations is temperature. You have so much snow and a short growing season for many of the crops. I think it is certainly quite possible that, if water was not a limiting factor, then climate change could be really quite beneficial for Canada, particularly when you consider Canada in relation to other countries.

There are areas of the U.S. that are now productive, but it is extremely likely they will become dry under a climate change scenario. Areas that are now large agricultural producers might actually become less productive and, as such, Canada could benefit. It is the relative difference between the two countries that could become important.

The Chairman: I was particularly taken with your assessment on the economic side that overall economic outcome is determined by biophysical and economic conditions. I agree entirely but before we can talk about economic outcomes, we have to know what species of trees to grow as a result of climate change, or the longer summers, or more severe droughts and so on.

Do you have a model that would help us, even before we get to the question of overall economic outcome, to help us determine the particular species of trees to plant in Canada? We should know that before we could determine any economic outcome.

Ms. Mooney: Actually, I do not have any models for those. Foresters and biophysical modellers may have that information. Many economists are working in integrated assessments, which is what I do. I usually work in that area but most of my experience has been with crops rather than with forests. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you any more than that.

The Chairman: A number of witnesses who have appeared before us from across Canada have talked about the necessity for a model where a whole group of disciplines work together to help resolve the problems of adaptation to climate change, not just in forestry but also in agriculture. I would be interested in knowing the disciplines that you work with. Who are some of the scientists and researchers that you work with and what are their backgrounds?

Ms. Mooney: I work with climatologists who run some of these climate change models. I also work with soil experts and crop modellers, with whom I have long-standing relationships, and I work with economists. When you can get a group of people together from many disciplines, although it is definitely hard to work together, some wonderful results can occur in respect of insights into the complex and interlinked problems. Climate change is not a problem for a single discipline. Integrated modeling is certainly the way that I think we should go for climate change.

The Chairman: As you know, there are three main components to our study: one is forestry adapting; another is agriculture; and the third is rural communities. Do you work with sociologists or people from other disciplines who are dealing with the effects of climate change on people living in the communities and the communities' water supply and other problems?

Ms. Mooney: My studies have not extended to their effect on rural communities, although that is an extremely important factor.

Senator Hubley: Ms.Mooney, you are an assistant professor at the Department of Agriculture at the University of Wyoming. Does your information gathering and research find their way into the textbooks, or is the work still in the experimental stage?

Ms. Mooney: Some of the general things that people have discovered about climate change, such as crop yields may go up or down and economics may be good or bad have definitely made their way into the textbooks. Most of the research activities tend to be region-specific or area-specific. As such, they are probably not that amenable to a textbook.

Certainly, many of the things that we are discovering through our research are probably well accepted. There is a lively research community that seems to be finding fairly similar things through a variety of different modeling techniques; we are not all using the same technique.

Senator Hubley: Is that information getting to the communities and to the farmer who will have to make some decisions? Have we made that link yet? Have we crossed over so that the farmer is able to determine his direction? What avenues do you have to share this knowledge with the people who will be most affected by climate change?

Ms. Mooney: That is an excellent point. Some of our activities are actually more directed to extension. Education professionals work at the university and distil the research into a form that lay people can readily understand. They communicate the broad ideas, rather than the specifics, to producers.

I have noticed during my time working in climate change that in the 1990s, many people were quite dismissive and believed that it was not really happening. Now, producers are much more aware that something is happening just from reading the popular press, where there are many more articles than there were then.

We have also tried to educate producers through producer conferences. I have participated in some of those but again, many of the extension professionals are now taking this material and distilling it down into a form that they think is more educational. This is an excellent way to make producers aware of what is happening so that they can think about how they may want to respond.

Senator Wiebe: I understand that you are doing a fair amount of work in agriculture, soil and carbon sequestration. Those of us who are actively involved in farming have a difficult time with that last word. We have a tendency to call it ``carbon sinks.'' The agricultural community is beginning to discuss this in Canada.

When you sell a credit, how long is it to be stored for that value? What happens when the farmer finds that it will be more economically viable for him to start cultivating that soil again? Once that happens, we would lose some of the carbon sinks that we stored. What kind of work have you done in that area to develop a formula or a solution?

Ms. Mooney: There is certainly a significant amount of work being done in this area and for the last five years, I have worked in this area specifically. I must say that it is not perfectly well developed yet. To address your first question, which would concern the duration of the credit, there are a number of different contracting ways to try to accommodate people's preferences for storing carbon.

For example, in forestry, it is probably not a bad idea to have a 60-year contract or a 50-year contract, something more akin to a tree rotation, whereas in agriculture, we have annual rotations. It is perfectly reasonable to have this idea of carbon rental such that you would pay someone a rental fee each year for the carbon that they stored. The actual rules of the game would probably depend to a large extent on what you would like to set as a government. Certainly, there is the idea of a rental payment.

There could be buy-out clauses or others just as in most contracts. You may have to pay two or three percentage points of the contract to buy out, much like you would with any other good on contract. There is a considerable amount of work being done on how you might contract the carbon credits. Carbon credits are a bit strange, as you probably realize, because you do not take delivery of the commodity and it is invisible. You cannot see it and you do not take delivery of it. That raises the issue of how to measure and monitor for these contracts.

All of these hurdles can be overcome. There is certainly a great deal of research being done on this right now to make it accommodating for producers to participate. One could anticipate that there would be voluntary participation in a market for carbon credits. If it did not make sense, the producer would not participate.

Senator Wiebe: We are certainly trying to come to grips with this in Canada as well. I have not been able to get into my mind yet how we go about the sale or the rental of carbon credits. As an example, a farmer makes a contract with an oil company that he will store two pounds of carbon per acre per year. He signs a contract for four years. In the fifth year he decides to plough up his land. He has stored 16 pounds during those four years, and he may release 10 pounds by breaking that soil. We would have not gained anything, or we would have gained very little.

Is a pay back necessary in case this happens? If that is the case, to whom is the pay back made? Have you had a chance to discuss this issue?

Ms. Mooney: Those are large issues and issues with which people are wrestling currently. There are a number of ways in which they could be handled.

One way would be to require pay back. Another way would be that if, for example, your power company had bought the credits, and they had only contracted with this person for five years, there could be an obligation on the power company to replace those credits. Not only would they have to buy additional credits, but also they would have to buy credits to replace the credits that they no longer have when they release that person from that contract. This would be done to ensure that approach did not allow release of carbon over time.

These issues have not been explored in their entirety yet. There is a significant amount of research happening in this area to determine how this might work. It can work in a way that would provide us with some meaningful greenhouse gas reductions.

We must remember that agriculture will be a short-term stop gap for carbon credits. Ultimately, we might expect a technological change such as cleaner power or something along those lines that would secure far more credits several years down the line. This could be a cheap way to shore the credits until we had some technological change that would be very expensive for those companies right now.

Senator Wiebe: My last question will probably be the most difficult one. It is probably one that you have been coming to grips with as well. Perhaps in the long run the open market will make that distinction. What is a pound of carbon over 10 years worth?

Ms. Mooney: That is the $64,000 question. Ultimately, we will not know until there is a market.

There is a pilot market in the U.S. at the present time with the Chicago Climate Exchange. It is a research market that looks at what might happen and what the prices might be in the future.

My knowledge of the prices in that market is that certainly we are not looking at huge prices for each ton of carbon per year. I do not know the specific prices, but from talking with people who work at the exchange I believe that the price is under $10 per ton per year. That is not very high. However, if you have a large quantity of land, perhaps there is some possibility to secure some funding from selling carbon credits.

The Chairman: ProfessorMooney, as I understand it, we have no more time left for questions for you. I wish to thank you on behalf of the committee for taking time today to present and to answer a series of difficult questions. You did it magnificently. Thank you for helping us in our study.

Ms. Mooney: Thank you, it has been a pleasure.

The committee adjourned.