Wednesday, 20 November 2019

SAM Members Mitigating Climate Change Since 1993

At the 2019 SAM Fall meeting in Gander, Mayors, Councillors and municipal staff were called to action by our keynote speaker, Kate BrownKate is a 16-year-old student, who is part of a new youth environmental group who are participating in Friday’s For the Future climate strikes. The strikes are part of a global movement in protest of climate change started by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenage environmental activist. 

Kate spoke passionately about her community, her future and the effect climate change will have on her generation. Most people were impressed that Kate spoke with such conviction, others thought of their own young families and their future in our province. We started thinking about how SAM's conservation efforts fit into the bigger picture of climate change mitigation.

Over 26 years SAM has brought together municipalities and the province in stewardship agreements that conserve almost 50,000 acres. Municipalities that are a part of SAM protect areas of land, usually wetland, within their town boundaries for wildlife habitat. 

Ducks spotted using conserved habitat to breed in Torbay.
Protected habitat and wetlands help to support healthy populations of birds, waterfowl, mammals, plants, and lichen. It also has positive effects for residents including social, physical and mental health benefits, as well as tourism and economic benefits . But let's not forget the conservation of wetlands is one of our most powerful tools in climate change mitigation.

Mitigation is defined as reducing emissions and stabilizing the levels of greenhouse gases we allow into the atmosphere (read more in our past blog "Defining times: The new climate change terminology").  

But how exactly does a Newfoundland bog equal climate change mitigation? Listed below are three of the many reasons SAM's conservation efforts in NL help mitigate climate change.

Protecting peatlands, our natural carbon sinks.The majority of Canada is within the boreal forest biome. This biome is characterized by cool summers, mild winters, and lots of wetlands. About 25% of Canada's boreal forest is covered by wetlands. Our province is no exception, with all classes of wetlands represented (learn more about wetland classification in our blog "Know your wetland types").

This map from 1987 shows Canada's geographic distribution of wetlands. From "Our vanishing wetlands" Canadian Geographic August/September 1987. 
The most common types of wetlands in the province are bogs and fens, otherwise known as peatlands. Made up of peat, a mass of decomposing and decaying organic matter, they have an incredibly slow rate of decomposition.This very slow process allows the carbon that is produced to be stored, instead of released into the atmosphere. (Learn more about peat in our past blog “Perfectly Peaty: how peatlands are an amazing carbon sink").

The world's peatlands cover about 3% of the earth’s surface , but store at least twice as much carbon as earth’s forests. It was estimated that globally peatlands contain at least 550 Gt of carbon, which is double that amount stored in the world’s forests.

Carbon stored in terrestrial habitats Source; 

Peatlands have been proven to be amazing carbon sinks, but if peatlands are disturbed they go from a carbon sink to a carbon source. Disturbance, such as burning, draining, and ATV damage can allow the release of stored carbon into the atmosphere which contribute to greenhouse gases. 

ATV damage to a wetland in Newfoundland. This type of damage releases stored carbon into our atmosphere.
Municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador that are part of SAM have been conserving wetlands and peatlands through stewardship agreements since 1993. 

Municipal leaders in 2005 walking through a
protected conservation area.
Some examples of conserved peatlands within the SAM network include Northwest Bog in Gander, Bakeapple Marsh in Bauline, and Gambo Bog in Gambo

Northwest Bog, Gander, protected since 1993.
Decreasing the effects of flooding. 
Another consequence of climate change is increased flood risk (learn more about how wetlands protect communities from flooding see “Hold Back the Gates: Wetlands mitigate flooding"). 

Wetlands are a natural solution to flooding: by acting like a sponge, they can hold excess water.  According to a study done by Hallock et al in 2015 a 1-acre wetland that is 30 cm deep can hold 1.2 million liters of water. Once fully saturated, wetlands release the water slowly allowing water levels in the rest of the watershed to adjust, which helps to mitigate flood runoff and erosion. 

And wetlands do this for free. Researchers at the University of Waterloo, using computer simulations, found that leaving wetlands intact can reduce the financial costs of flooding by up to 29% in rural settings and up to 38% in urban settings.

Sedges commonly found in wetland estuaries. Picture taken in
the Frenchmans Cove / Garnish Barasway, protected since 2013.
Buffering the coastlines
The extreme weather associated with climate change includes increased hurricanes, tornadoes and tidal waves. Coastal erosion is responsible for roughly $500 million per year in property loss, including damage to structures and loss of land. Vegetated wetlands found along the shores of lakes, rivers and estuaries can act as a buffer protecting shorelines during floods and storms. Wetland plants can absorb energy of surface waters because of the density of the vegetation.

Kate Brown’s passion during her keynote address was felt by everyone in that room and it was a good reminder that SAM has been helping to mitigate climate change since 1993. As a network of municipalities, we will continue to work across the province to conserve new areas and to protect our existing areas through conservation, enhancement, and education.

Learn more about climate change resources available to municipalities by visiting our website at

Resources and further reading:
"Stewardship of wetlands and soils has climate benefits" Natural Resources Defense Council

"Conserving Prarie Pothole Wetlands: Evaluating their effects on carbon sequestration in soils and vegetation" Natural Resources Conservation Service

"Estimating carbon sequestration in wetlands" Ducks Unlimited National Boreal Program

"Plumbing the depths of Canada Peatlands - One of the worlds largest carbon sinks" Ducks Unlimited Canada

"Clarifying the role of coastal and marine systems in climate mitigation" Ecological Society of America
"IUCN Health and Well Being" 

"Economic Benefits of Land Conservation"