| Mar 20, 2008

Feature Article - March 20, 2008

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Feature Article - March 20, 2008 Addington Highlands Serves as climate change model By Jeff Green

Robert McLeman, a geographer at the University of Ottawa, has a personal connection to the Hwy. 41 corridor. He owned a cabin on Sheldrake Lake for several years.

So, when he was apprised that the federal Ministry of Natural Resources was funding studies on the economic impacts of climate change on different types of communities, he thought that with the combination of tourism and logging that have historically supported the Addington Highlands economy, it would make a good candidate for study.

He got the grant, did the study, and last week he brought back his results to presentations in Denbigh and Flinton.

The specific timing of his study and the week in which he released his report were not particularly well matched, coming as it did after a week in early March when almost a metre of snow had fallen. However, McLeman and his students used data that goes back over 100 years to demonstrate that winters have indeed become warmer and shorter and summers have become longer and drier.

Weather records from Bancroft dating back to the 1880s were used, and aside from showing that winters were indeed colder and snowier in the 1880s than they are today, they also show that summers have become more consistently hot in the past few decades.

The study also incorporated local data, including information from the Hasler family in Flinton, who have kept syrup season records since the 1950s.

“The sap run is a week to ten days earlier that it was in the 50s,” McLeman said in an interview during a break between presentations to the public last week, “and records kept at Bon Echo show a trend towards less snow, this winter being a notable exception.”

The economic impacts of these changes vary.

“For summer tourism, consistent hot and dry summers are a good thing,” McLeman said, “but they do cause problems for forestry with increased forest fire activity and microbursts.”

Winter activities, such as snowmobiling, have been seriously curtailed in recent years, and this was noted by McLeman.

Climate change, on its own, is something that a resilient community like Addington Highlands can withstand, the report concluded.

However, coupled with other barriers to development, such as the other stresses on the tourism industry, a lack of cell phone and broadband service, and a lack of adequate healthcare, all combine to make the community vulnerable both socially and economically. The aging population is perhaps the most troubling factor.

“The population is entering an age when they are most vulnerable to changes in the weather at the same time as the weather is changing,” Mclemon said.

Still, the report concludes that all is not lost, and the community remains viable, which is summed up in the last line of the report:

“There is tremendous social capacity and development potential residing in this community, and residents have a very high understanding of the important balance between environmental stewardship and economic development. It is incumbent on policy makers to engage with the community in removing barriers to adaptation identified in this report.”

Copies of “Adapting to Climate Change in Addington Highlands are available at local libraries and at the township office. The entire report is posted online at www.addington.uottawa.ca

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