The 1998 ice storm wreaked havoc on Montreal’s forests. Here’s how they’re doing 25 years later | CBC News
Éric Richard nonetheless remembers watching in horror as one of many largest pure disasters in Canadian historical past mangled virtually every little thing he’d been striving for years to guard.
Working with a non-profit group devoted to the conservation and preservation of Montreal’s Mount Royal Park, Richard had a entrance row seat to the devastating affect the good ice storm of 1998 left on the mountain’s forest.
“Some timber had just some branches that have been damaged, some had their trunk breaking in two,” he mentioned. Others had slumped over because of the sheer weight of the thick ice that coated their branches.
In Mount Royal Park, greater than 80 per cent of the timber — over 85,000 — have been broken to varied levels, with damaged branches littering the forest ground and others, nonetheless connected, threatening to snap at any level.
The injury resulted in about 5,000 timber needing to be lower down.
“It was a critical menace to the forest,” mentioned Richard, scientific advisor to Les amis de la montagne.
However a technology later, following the planting of greater than 30,000 new timber and the shocking regenerative powers of previous ones, Richard says you would be hard-pressed to seek out clear proof of the storm on woods that had suffered what gave the impression to be irreparable injury.
“The resilience of the forest is usually shocking us, the way it can recuperate,” he mentioned. “For those who take a look at the forest now, it is laborious to seek out traces of the ice storm 25 years after.”
Storm modified ecosystem, panorama
Whereas bodily proof of the ice storm, together with bowed trunks and department stubs, may largely be behind us, that does not imply the storm hasn’t formed our city forests or left an imprint on the panorama, in keeping with Carly Ziter, a biology professor at Concordia College, who specializes in city ecology.
“Whereas we cannot see the affect of the ice storm on particular person timber, the ecosystem we now have right this moment is totally different than the one we’d have, had we not had that enormous scale disturbance,” she mentioned.
For instance, giant timber that got here down in the course of the ice storm left equally giant gaps within the park’s cover. This produced pockets of daylight that, in flip, created circumstances for invasive species of timber to unfold and colonize the world.
Native species, just like the ash, additionally flourished in these gaps, however some 9,000 on the mountain have since been lower down after changing into infested by the tiny however harmful emerald ash borer — an invasive beetle that eats ash timber from the within.
“So this insect [had] a much bigger affect than the ice storm of 1998 on the forest of Mount Royal,” mentioned Richard.
The peak of the forest was additionally altered by the storm, with timber planted in subsequent years standing about 10 metres tall now — about half the dimensions of their neighbours.
Ziter says shedding these giant timber meant shedding all the advantages that include them, together with off-setting city warmth and air air pollution, in addition to offering areas for recreation and habitats for different animals and bugs.
“So even although, on the one hand, nature and forests are extremely resilient and they’ll regenerate and are available again over time, it isn’t a simple or a quick course of to interchange nature when it has been misplaced,” she mentioned.
Significance of biodiversity
Consultants say the present threats going through Montreal’s forests embrace stronger and extra frequent storms attributable to local weather change, together with invasive bugs just like the emerald ash borer.
Benoît Côté, an affiliate professor at McGill College and the director of the Morgan Arboretum and Molson Nature Reserve, says with extra excessive bouts of climate possible on the way in which, he worries extra concerning the wind velocity than ice accumulation.
“I feel the storms are getting extra violent … and as quickly as you get to [wind gusts of] about 80 to 100 kilometres an hour, timber will go down,” he mentioned. “I am not too positive what we are able to do to attempt to circumvent this drawback sooner or later.”
Ziter, for her half, says this emphasizes the significance of biodiversity. If city forests are dominated by just some species, which most are, together with in Montreal, that makes them much less resilient to disturbance sooner or later, she mentioned.
“Once we’re planting new timber, there’s way more of a give attention to variety, on planting not solely totally different species, however timber with totally different capabilities, totally different shapes, several types of timber in order that we are able to make it possible for our city forest is extra resilient to those sorts of occasions sooner or later,” she mentioned.
A tree that is extra resilient to an ice storm may not be the identical one which’s extra resilient to a drought or an insect outbreak, Ziter mentioned.
“There isn’t any one excellent tree species that is going to resist all of those stressors.”
Richard says there are about 80 totally different species of timber on Mount Royal and extra than 800 totally different species of vegetation and bushes that develop naturally within the forest.
Regardless of the destruction brought on by the 1998 storm, specialists say this sort of huge scale disturbance offers us an opportunity to mirror and take into consideration how we replant, rebuild and develop our city forests sooner or later.
“We have discovered loads of classes, I feel, from the ice storm as nicely, by way of not solely the resiliency of our city forest however in how we are able to handle our timber and our city forests and recuperate from these sorts of occasions,” mentioned Ziter.
She factors to Quebec foresters, for instance, who took what they thought was the very best plan of action on the time following the ice storm, however may need truly additional traumatized timber.
Richard says the storm gave Montrealers a chance to study extra about how timber react to phenomena like this and concerning the fragility of the forest and tips on how to enhance its resilience.
“It was an event for all of the professionals of the forest in Quebec to study extra about which species resist extra or can succeed extra, and it is modified the way in which they select to plant timber in the streets,” he mentioned.
Zitar says, having seen how previous occasions form our modern ecosystems and the character round us, Quebec should make combating local weather change a precedence so as to defend our inexperienced areas in opposition to future stressors.
“We have to get our emissions below management and fight local weather change as the foundation explanation for loads of these disturbances,” she mentioned.