New Brunswick may see softwood species such as balsam fir and black spruce disappear from the province's forests over the next 80 years or so, says a forestry professor.

University of New Brunswick forestry professor Charles Bourque has written and tested software to create possible future scenarios for many of New Brunswick's tree species.

Under one scenario, greenhouse gas emissions are under control by 2040 and the median temperature has increased by 1.6 degrees. The second scenario sees no abatement in emissions and the temperature increase by as much as four degrees.

"So that's quite significant jump, so it's dependant on what people do," said Bourque.

The latter scenario would dramatically change the look of New Brunswick's forests. 

"The tree species that require lower temperatures, they will tend to be eradicated form the province of New Brunswick," said Bourque.

"The warmer-loving species, especially from the south, could potentially replace those species that leave the New Brunswick landscape."

Balsam fir is a New Brunswick favourite for Christmas trees and was declared the provincial symbol in May 1987. It is also important in the lumbering and pulp and paper industries.

'I just produce the facts'

The New Brunswick Climate Change Secretariat commissioned Bourque to create scenarios given New Brunswick data. Hee said no one from the department has asked him about his work, but they have attended workshops where he has presented his findings.

"I guess the thinking in terms of management, should account for the fact that the climate is changing," he said. "As far as I know, it's not.

nb-balsam-fir-change

The projected effect of climate change on New Brunswick's balsam firs is shown from 1975-2005 in the map on the left, to 2005-2035 in the middle map, and then 2066 to 2100 in the map on the right. Balsam fir is represented by green in the images produced by Charles Bourque's climate change model.

"I think at this point it's mostly at the research level. We try to bring it to the practitioners, there's resistance to accept, so that's the state of affairs.

"I just produce the facts, according to what the model provides, and it's up to the [Energy and Resources Development] to respond to those, and try to implement some scheme that allows for climate change in the model."

A forest manager with the province says Bourque's research has pointed out some 'areas of pressure', and that the information is being considered. But Chris Norfolk also said climate change is just one in a complicated web of factors in forest management.

Bourque says he's all about numbers and what they tell him. He leaves it to the government to use the results as they may. But he cautions that the numbers are saying climate change will create a very different forest in as little as 80 years.

With files from Catherine Harrop