Part four of an ongoing series exploring Revelstoke’s Integrated Community Sustainability Plan.
Revelstoke’s identity is tightly bound to the spectacular mountains, glaciers, forests, rivers and wetlands of the North Columbia Mountains. As a mountain town, Revelstoke’s economy is dependent on local ecosystems for forestry products and tourism, and the well-being of local residents is closely related to the wonderfully diverse ecosystems at our doorstep.
Forest ecosystems dominate our landscape, with cottonwoods and other deciduous trees in the important riparian corridors along rivers and streams in the valley bottoms. Western red cedar, hemlock, Douglas-fir and white pine forests occupy the lower slopes of the mountains, with Engelmann spruce and sub-alpine fir (balsam) in the forests near treeline. Alpine meadows cap the mountain tops, with glaciers and rock pinnacles above.
Although they are within the reservoir drawdown zone with its annually fluctuating water levels, the valley bottom grassland and shrub habitats near Machete Island and the Revelstoke Airport, the Downie Marsh ponds and the wetlands surrounding the airstrip support a diversity of plant and animal species including migrating waterfowl and songbirds. These ecosystems are especially important because the reservoirs in the Columbia valley have greatly reduced the area of these wetland, grassland and shrub ecosystems.
Many residents and newcomers call Revelstoke home because of this amazingly diverse and spectacular environmental setting. The Integrated Community Sustainability Plan includes mapping of local habitat types and updating our environmental action plan to support the ongoing health of local ecosystems.
Residents have repeatedly stated their commitment to the local environment – in 2001 and 2007 the majority of Community Survey respondents – by far – deemed the condition of the natural environment around the community to be “very important” to our quality of life, and the state of our economy. Watch for the 2012 survey results in the next few weeks to see how we feel about our environment today.
The North Columbia Environmental Society has taken leadership in encouraging environmental stewardship through education, the community garden and other activities. The Friends of Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks also promote environmental care through their programs. Businesses are paying attention as well. Our local Chamber of Commerce recognized Sangha Bean in 2011 with the Environmentally Friendly Award and the Coast Hillcrest Hotel has taken actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which also reduced energy costs.
Population increases, ongoing development and carbon heavy lifestyles are creating significant environmental stressors across the planet. If unchecked, these stressors are expected to lead to massive changes in global and local weather patterns, ecosystem health and the survivability of plant and animal species the world over. Of greatest concern today and for the foreseeable future are increasing concentrations of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions that are leading to both local and global climate change. The consequences of climate change for Revelstoke are not trivial. The Columbia Basin Trust has identified the following trends of concern in our bioregion :
• Temperature changes: In the last century the average temperature in the Basin has increased by 1.5 degrees; most of this warming has happened in the last 30 to 50 years. Warming during all seasons is projected to continue over the next century, with the average annual temperature in the Basin projected to be 1.6 to 3.2 degrees warmer by the 2050s compared to the average temperature for 1961 to 1990. One or two degrees of warming may not seem like much – until you consider that there is about a one degree difference in the average annual temperatures in Revelstoke and Salmon Arm.
• Melting glaciers: Glaciers have shrunk on average 16 per cent based on a 15-year period ending in 2000. Most of BC’s glaciers are continuing to lose mass and many may disappear within the next 100 years.
• More rain, more snow, more extreme events: Results from five Basin weather stations indicate an increased rainfall of up to 45 per cent from 1913 to 2002 and reduced snowpack at lower elevations. Research has shown that between 1950 and 1997, snowpack declined by 20 to 40 per cent in the entire Columbia Basin. Future projections are for reduced summer rain and increased winter precipitation. Extreme precipitation events are projected to occur two to three times more frequently by the 2050s.
• Changing stream and river flows: We have experienced lower water levels in streams during the summer and higher levels in the winter. Between 1984 and 1995, spring runoff occurred 20 days earlier than it did between 1970 and 1983. These changes are likely to continue into the future, along with earlier spring peak flows and lower late-summer flows that continue into the fall.
In the face of these changes, Revelstoke has not been a passive bystander. The City understands that these changes put our community’s infrastructure and social, environmental and economic health at risk.
Cindy Pearce is a lead consultant on the City of Revelstoke’s Integrated Community Sustainability Plan team.