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Climate Change – Shrinking Alpine Environments in Canada

Photographs from the Mountain Legacy Project show the present condition of Canada’s mountain ranges. The icy environment has become more uniform and less icy with the passage of time. Researchers say that these spell trouble for the alpine birds and also will increase the number of forest fires in future.

Julie Fortin, an environmental scientist has categorised the types of land cover present in 46 pairs of photographs (both modern and historic photographs) taken in the Alberta’s Willmore Wilderness Park. She outlined the photographs with different colours in the digital versions of the images to take a measure of how much of each of the habitats that were available in the 1900s are available today.

Although the trees will help in controlling the level of carbon present in the atmosphere, more trees are not necessarily good. More forest land is useful for some species but there are some other species which depend on other kinds of habitats and the increase in the forest area has a negative impact. By using a computer model, Fortin showed that the birds that lived in the alpine areas, for example- the American Pipit, have declined in numbers.

Other birds have also dropped in their numbers. Around 35% of Canada’s birds use the mountains for migration stopovers. By recent reports, a quarter of those birds belong to the conservation list and the environmental scientists are not sure how the birds will deal with the shrinking alpines.

A century ago, 15km southeast of Mt. Persimmon on this site, there were more natural breaks. These breaks came out as a result of the sections of forest areas that were allowed to burn. When the fires were controlled, the breaks started closing up.

Eric Higgs, ecologist made a statement that mountains would be creating their own type of fire risks. He had taken some modern photographs for the Mountain Legacy Project, in order to understand how the mountain habitats can be retained.

Higgs said that the environmental restoration measures must consider controlled burning. Fortin is currently using images from her project to bring awareness among the locals on controlled burning projects.

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