Climate change is a present and growing threat to our communities, ecosystems, and coldwater streams across the country. Here at Trout Unlimited Canada, we believe we can make a difference by helping to build resilience and hope in the face of climate change. Our work to protect, conserve, and rehabilitate freshwater ecosystems not only helps to protect sensitive aquatic species like trout from rising temperatures, but also helps to protect our communities from more frequent high heat days, and more intense flooding and wildfires.
Trout Unlimited Canada’s Cooling Streams program is focused on restoring riparian areas – the buffer of vegetation that connects land and water along streams, rivers, and lakes. By planting trees and shrubs along lakes, rivers, and streams we can help take carbon from the atmosphere. The trees and plants found within riparian zones are adapted to natural disturbance, such as spring floods and summer low-flow periods, which helps make these ecosystems more resilient to the expected disruptions from climate change. The built-in resilience of riparian ecosystems is ideal for protection and provides refuge for vulnerable wildlife and plant species, while also helping communities adapt to climate change.
Cooling Streams is funded by the Government of Canada’s 2 Billion Trees program. It is a commitment of $3.2 billion over 10 years to support organizations in their tree-planting efforts. Planting two billion trees is taking a significant step forward in Canada’s approach to tackle the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. These trees will capture and store carbon from the atmosphere, improve air and water quality, help to restore nature and biodiversity, cool our communities, and create and support thousands of green jobs.
This rehabilitated section of Armstrong Creek provides habitat and spawning opportunities for native brook trout,a vulnerable species in Ontario, and expand habitat for bird and animal species. It is also a popular amenity for families and the community to enjoy beauty and nature now and in the future.
Contact me to learn more about Cooling Streams!
Climate Change & Freshwater Ecosystems
The impacts of climate change on freshwater ecosystems can include reduced snowpack, which will result in reduced volume and altered timing of peak stream flows; more frequent and more severe flood and drought events; higher water temperatures that will threaten coldwater species like trout; and changes to soil moisture and groundwater recharge that influence stream flow rates. These and other expected impacts of climate change can place additional stress on streams and riparian habitats that have already been degraded by development, logging, and agricultural practices.
Intact riparian zones are highly productive ecosystems, which provide essential services and resources for both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. These services include food and habitat, sediment and nutrient capture, water temperature regulation, and so much more. The trees and plants found within riparian zones are adapted to natural disturbance, such as spring floods and summer low-flow periods, which makes these ecosystems potentially more resilient to the expected disruptions from climate change. The built-in resilience of riparian ecosystems makes them ideal candidates for protection and restoration to serve as refuge for vulnerable wildlife and plant species, while also helping human communities adapt to climate change.
We Love Riparian areas!
How Riparian Areas Can Be Climate Change Refuges
Riparian areas connect land and water ecosystems, and they also connect upland ecosystems with those downstream. Wildlife and plants have evolved within habitats that have particular resources, such as food, microclimates, and relationships with other organisms. As habitats are disrupted, species may be pressured to migrate to other areas that can meet their needs, but there may be natural or human-made barriers to their movement. The connectivity that riparian zones offer may provide migration pathways for animal and plant species as they move to more suitable habitats.
On a hot day, you may find yourself drawn to shady spaces and waterbodies. Likewise, riparian areas act as heat buffers for plant and animal species, providing refuge from higher temperatures. The higher water content found in riparian areas absorbs heat while trees and other vegetation shade streams and rivers from sunlight, which, along with ground water inputs keeps the water cool for temperature-sensitive species like trout.
In connecting land and water ecosystems, riparian areas make each more productive and support many different plant, animal, and insect species. For example, terrestrial plants trap sediment during floods by slowing water flow and allowing the sediment to settle in place, this in turn adds nutrients to the soil and improves conditions for tree and plant growth. The streamside trees and shrubs in turn provide woody debris for aquatic invertebrates and these emerging aquatic insects provide food for birds and bats. Intact and restored riparian areas have many of these mutually supportive land/water relationships that can increase the likelihood of species survival in the face of climate change disruptions.
Riparian zones are also structurally complex, that is the various plant communities form several different layers that can include ground cover (moss, ferns), low and high shrubs (Red-osier Dogwood, Bebb’s Willow), tree understory (Sassafras, Ironwood), and tree over story (Cottonwoods, Black Willow). The many layers present in a healthy riparian area provide habitat niches for a diversity of wildlife and insect species. For example, bird species like American Woodcock can be found on the ground hunting for worms among tree roots, while Wood Thrushes and Northern Cardinals seek out food in the shrubby understory, Northern Flickers and Red-headed woodpeckers seek out or create nesting cavities in the low tree canopy layer, and Blue Jays and Eastern Wood Peewee establish nests in the highest canopy layer. The more complex the structure, including age difference as well as vertical layers, the more diverse the wildlife a riparian area (or forest) can accommodate. A structurally complex riparian zone can also act as a barrier to invasive species by denying them a niche to infiltrate and shading out non-native pioneering species.
The future is hot, we gotta make shade!