Ecological, Economic, and Cultural Sustainability
The north Pacific coastal temperate rainforest (PCTR) ecosystem, from central British Columbia to Alaska, includes the largest remaining old-growth forests in North America, supports some of the most robust wild fisheries on the continent, and is home to tens of thousands of people who depend on a resource and tourism-based economy for their livelihoods. Sustaining the ecosystem, the economy, and the way of life in this region is part of our vision for the future.
The PCTR is being transformed by climate change. The region is right on the snow/rain margin, with warming impacting both the amount of annual snowfall and the mass balance of the glaciers and icefields that ring the Coast Mountains. Changes in freshwater runoff patterns will impact the delivery of freshwater, organic matter, and nutrients from the land to productive coastal marine ecosystems. And sub-polar waters such as the Gulf of Alaska are vulnerable to ocean acidification driven by increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. All of these changes will impact the communities and economy of the region. The timing of fish runs is already shifting, and species compositions and overall numbers may change as well. Timber resources will be affected, due to changes in growing season and species distributions. Tourism will be affected (think melting glaciers), as will freshwater resources used for drinking, industry, and hydropower. The ACRC is involved in several projects that explore these impacts, as well as various adaptation and mitigation options.
We are also exploring regional economic development projects that capitalize on our natural and social resources. The timber economy is in flux across the PCTR, with small lumber mills, value-added timber products, and biomass gaining traction over large-scale logging. Renewable energy technologies, like biomass, geothermal, wind, and hydropower offer exciting new possibilities for far-flung villages coping with the high cost of heating fuel and electricity. And the research community itself provides a potential economic engine, drawing in scientists and students in ecology, engineering, aquaculture, forestry, and social sciences from around the world.