Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for the Quesnel Observer.

Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for the Quesnel Observer.

FOREST INK: Climate change could be mitigated by Peatland forest mosaics

Peat is one of the main and arguably most important component of the boreal forests

Jim Hilton

FOREST INK

Peatland forest mosaics are important for mitigating climate change. I used the term peatland forests because my research has shown that it is the peat that is one of the main and arguably most important component of the boreal forests.

Edward Struzik has a second book entitled For the Love of Peat, Our Best Defence Against a Changing Climate.

Published in the fall of 2021 it describes how Canada has between a quarter and a third of world’s peatlands and it is time we took better care of them. The world’s peatlands, including acidic bogs and more alkaline fens as well as swamps and marshes can be found from British Columbia to the Northwest Territories to Nova Scotia, growing many metres deep into the ground with the largest concentrations west of the Hudson Bay area.

Due to their density of decomposed or decomposing plant material, one square metre of peatland in northern Canada holds approximately five times the amount of carbon as one square metre of tropical rainforest in the Amazon. Unfortunately the country’s peatlands are being degraded by the construction of mines and hydroelectric dams, by oil-and-gas developments, and by urban expansion. We are losing an ecosystem crucial to the prevention of natural disasters such as forest fires—as well as destroying a key mitigator of climate change. Today, peat has become big business. Canada produces 1.3 million tonnes of peat annually, primarily by cutting it out of the ground in Quebec, New Brunswick, and the Prairie provinces. The country is also the world’s top exporter of peat, much of which is used as a soil additive by gardeners and farmers. I think that peat as a soil amendment could help increase carbon sequestration if the soil is improved and increases plant productivity.

Yet, despite peat’s economic value, cities and utility companies across the country often face few repercussions for draining or degrading vast peatlands for residential developments. Growing peat on land where the top layers have been extracted is not that complicated. It begins with building a base of mosses (sphagnum for bogs and brown mosses for fens) which follows with edible mushrooms and wild blueberries, rare moths and butterflies, carnivorous orchids, woodland caribou, tree-climbing turtles, and countless more ecological features.

“Peat takes time to accumulate—as much time as a tree growing to maturity—but it keeps growing steadily while trees eventually slow down. And, unlike trees, which become vulnerable with age, peat layers that grow to depths of more than twenty-five centimetres become increasingly resilient to disease, drought, and fire due to their high moisture content and low levels of oxygen. While tree planting can seem a more glamorous way to mitigate climate change, with an obviously positive outcome that most Canadians have come to appreciate when driving or hiking through forests across the country. A fen, bog, swamp, or marsh is much more difficult for people to value. Peatlands burble and smell and appear to suck up anything that falls into them—all the while doing quiet work to slow wildfires, temper floods, and store carbon as a humble buffer for a changing world,” notes For the Love of Peat, Our Best Defence Against a Changing Climate.

There is some additional information on peat research in the Northwest Territories on a story in CBC North news by Liny Lamberink.


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