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Juneau's coastal rainforest center hosts symposium

Posted: April 20, 2012 - 12:08am

It takes a community to understand a rainforest.

This is the new mantra on collaboration between scientists, resource development corporations, environmentalists, Alaska Natives, and local, state and federal resource managers. Those disparate groups met for three days to find ways to work together, build on each other’s understanding and shape the study of temperate rainforests. Their goal is to do so in ways which avoid and discourage litigation.

The Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center hosted the Coastal Temperate Rainforest Symposium at Centennial Hall, April 17-19.

The symposium, subtitled “integrating science, resource management and communities,” is being sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service Alaska Region, Tongass National Forest and Pacific Northwest Research Station, the University of Alaska Southeast, the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Region and the Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative, Wilberforce Foundation and the Juneau Economic Development Council.

The goal of the event is to “synthesize best practices, foster collaboration for future projects and improve community engagement in science and resource management,” according to the Rainforest Center’s website.

At one lecture session four scientists discussed climate change as it relates to different pieces of the coastal rainforest ecosystem.

Roman Motyka, a UAS professor, talked about isostatic rebound — where the earth, relieved from the weight of a receding glacier, lifts back up — and its race with ongoing sea level rise. Juneau residents, he said, are not in immediate danger as the earth is rebounding at 13 millimeters a year and the ocean is expected to rise at 10mm. Sitka is not so lucky with rebound rate half that of sea level rise, he said.

Phil Mundy, director of the Auke Bay fisheries science center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association talked about ocean acidification.

The ocean’s carbon content increases with increased levels of carbon in the atmosphere. The result is a lower ocean pH, acidification. This affects the calcium carbonate used by copepods to build their shells. These small crustaceans are a major food source for young salmon.

Southeast Alaska’s marine organisms, however, could prove resilient to an increase in ocean acidification, Mundy said. He said local marine life has already adapted to cope with regular seasonal pH fluctuations caused by snow melt.

“Much more resilient than you’ll find in oceanic organisms,” not used to fluctuations in pH.

Though the session’s scientist agreed that Southeast Alaskans should not be alarmed yet by changes taking place as the climate warms, there are some troubling signs.

Southeast’s Yellow Cedars are in decline. Paul Hennon, research forest pathologist for the U.S. Forest Service said less insulating snow due to a warmer climate is causing cedar to die from root freeze.

“Half million acres of dead cedar (in Alaska) and more down in British Columbia,” any climate change effect linked to snow, “we should be thinking about that,” Hennon said.

For more information visit acrc.alaska.edu.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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