Shifting Boundaries

What Does Climate Change Mean to Static Protected Areas in B.C.?

Berg Lake Trail, Flooding
Flood, Berg Lake Trail, Mount Robson Provincial Park. More unpredictable weather events and altered water regimes may cause more flooding.

Protected areas in BC have been designated in a climate perceived as unchanging, to provide spectacular destinations for tourists, campsites along highways, habitat for rare species or, more recently, for representative ecosystems or unique landforms.

Now that the climate is changing noticeably and species and ecosystems are moving in response, the question has arisen: How relevant are the current protected area system boundaries? There are three reasons why the current boundaries should not be changed without careful consideration:

Ecological Representation

In the 1990s the Protected Areas Strategy prescribed representation by two ecological classification systems. The Ecoregional Classification System is a hierarchical system based on physiography and climate, and the Biogeoclimatic Ecosystem Classification is based on vegetation, soils and topography.  This joint representation resulted in a system that is relatively well distributed across the geographical and ecological breadth of the province. No matter how the underlying species and ecosystems shift as a result of climate change, the protected areas system will continue to be representative of the range of ecosystems in the province. This will include novel ecosystems that are unknown to us today.

Irreplaceable Lands

Many of the parks in the system have a long history of ecosystem-based management. These areas, particularly the older parks in the southern half of the province, have become islands of intact ecosystems surrounded by land that is managed for resource extraction. These lands are irreplaceable, no matter what species inhabit them.

Unpredictable Future

The future climate is highly uncertain. The only thing we know for sure is that it will be radically different from the current climate. Models give us a sense of the magnitude of the changes, but the specifics, especially at the local level, are unknown. Any attempt to alter the protected areas system to capture a desired future configuration of ecosystems would be an exercise in futility. Our best approach is to maintain our current design, and facilitate connectivity through land acquisition and partnerships with adjacent land managers.