Anticipating climate-induced changes to forest cover in Ontario and the implications for future bioenergy development
Malo, Lauren Douglas
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Climate change is expected to have marked impacts on forest ecosystems. In Ontario forests, this includes changes in tree growth, stand composition and disturbance regimes, with expected impacts on many forest-dependent communities, the bioeconomy, and other environmental considerations. In response to climate change, renewable energy systems, such as forest bioenergy, are emerging as critical tools for carbon emissions reductions and climate change mitigation. However, these systems may also need to adapt to changing forest conditions. Therefore, the aim of this research was to estimate changes in forest growth and forest cover in response to anticipated climatic changes in the year 2100 in Ontario forests, to ultimately explore the sustainability of bioenergy in the future. Using the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve in Ontario as a case study, this research used a spatial climate analog approach to match modeled Haliburton temperature and precipitation (via Fourth Canadian Regional Climate Model) to regions currently exhibiting similar climate (climate analogs). From there, current forest cover and growth rates of core species in Haliburton were compared to forests plots in analog regions from the US Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA). This comparison used two different emission scenarios, corresponding to a high and a mid-range emission future. This research then explored how these changes in forests may influence bioenergy feasibility in the future. It examined possible volume availability and composition of bioenergy feedstock under future conditions. This research points to a potential decline of softwoods in the Haliburton region with a simultaneous expansion of pre-established hardwoods such as northern red oak and red maple, as well as a potential loss in sugar maple cover. From a bioenergy perspective, hardwood residues may be the most feasible feedstock in the future with minimal change in biomass availability for energy production; under these possible conditions, small scale combined heat and power (CHP) and residential pellet use may be the most viable and ecologically sustainable options. Ultimately, understanding the way in which forests may change is important in informing meaningful policy and management, allowing for improved forest bioenergy systems, now and in the future.