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How climate change is affecting B.C., from cattle to glaciers to wine grapes

When Fred Thiessen moved to B.C. 50 years ago, the beauty of the Kokanee Glacier took him in.

But lately, the provincial landmark isn’t looking as inspiring to the mountaineer and member of Friends of West Kootenay Parks.

“It was a different glacier then than it is now, in that there was much more ice and much more snow,” Thiessen said in an emotional interview with CBC News Network’s Hannah Thibedeau.

“In the 50 years since I’ve been here, I’ve watched the glacier retreat markedly … it’s harder to get around up there, and it makes me sad to go up there because what I used to see is not what I see now.”

WATCH In retreat

B.C.’s iconic Kokanee Glacier could be gone in 50 years. It’s not the only one. What are we losing? Mountaineer and member of Friends of West Kootenay Parks, Fred Thiessen talks about that with Hannah Thibedeau on CBC News.

Thiessen cited climate change for the disappearance of the ice, and the recession is making it more difficult for mountaineers and backcountry skiers to scale the glacier.

He said rising temperatures will also change the beautiful imagery associated with the province he calls home.

“We’re moving to a drier landscape, and those icy, shimmering mountain tops that we used to see aren’t going to be there any more,” he said.

Run-off effects

The disappearing glacier will have other detrimental effects — less cold water flow will mean warmer, drier streams.

Lower water levels in rivers is concerning to Jason Hwang of Kamloops, who’s vice president of salmon with the Pacific Salmon Foundation. That’s because it makes it harder for salmon to migrate and spawn.

“Kamloops is known as a place that’s hot and dry, but all of British Columbia has been seeing hotter, drier conditions,” he said.

“We’re starting to see some really significant effects now to our rivers and streams in the province.”

WATCH | Severe drought conditions in B.C. could threaten salmon runs

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Severe drought conditions in B.C. could threaten salmon runs

9 days ago

Duration 6:52

CBC News Network’s Hannah Thibedeau speaks with Jason Hwang, vice-president, salmon, with the Pacific Salmon Foundation.

Hwang said the North Thompson River in Kamloops is about five degrees warmer than usual right now. Heat can have adverse effects on the salmon, he added, including death.

“This is what’s happening not just in this river, it’s happening in almost every river and stream in British Columbia,” he said.

A decline in salmon affects other fauna who consume them, such as killer whales, grizzly bears — and humans.

“It’s already affecting fishing opportunities. Fishing restrictions have been put into place to try to protect salmon returns,” Hwang said.

“The City of Kamloops right here has already restricted water use in public works facilities, in our parks and in our fields, and are asking citizens in the city to do the same, to voluntarily reduce water to try to leave as much as we can in the rivers and the ecosystem.”

Cattle conundrum

Though Vancouver Island is known for its wet climate, cattle rancher Brad Chappell said the region can get quite dry in the summers, and it’s increasingly parched.

Chappell, the president of the Vancouver Island Cattlemen’s Association, said ranchers are seeing only 25 to 50 per cent of the usual cattle feed yields, and wildfires have burned away many summer pastures.

“The cattle don’t have as much to eat, so you’re being forced to feed earlier with the winter feed that you’re already deficient on,” he said.

WATCH Dealing with drought

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Dealing with drought

12 days ago

Duration 7:58

Brad Chappell is a Comox, B.C., cattle rancher and the president of the Vancouver Island Cattlemen’s Association. He talks with CBC News Network’s Hannah Thibedeau about the summer so far; and how he and other ranchers are making out during a very dry season.

The situation became bad enough that Chappell’s family recently had to consider culling some of its herd, but decided against it.

“We just decided that we were going to borrow more money, and try to spend our way through this rut of production in the feed side of things,” he said.

But Chappell said others have made a different decision — auctioning off cattle they can no longer care for.

That’s concerning to Coralee Oakes, the B.C. United MLA representing Cariboo North in B.C.’s interior.

Oakes said the local cattle auction typically sees 300 to 500 cattle in July. This year, however, the number is 3,200. 

“I talked to a family here, they’ve had to send their herds here because the fires impacted their fences and they had no choice,” she said.

“Already a lot of people can’t afford to fertilize. [There’s] so much increased costs, that it’s making it really, really difficult for ranching families and farming families just to make a go of it.”

WATCH Cattle auction surge

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Cattle auction surge

5 days ago

Duration 6:23

Drought conditions in B.C. have ranchers sending their cattle to auction in numbers greater than usual. How much greater? B.C. MLA Coralee Oakes was at a cattle auction in Vanderhoof when she spoke with CBC News Network’s Hannah Thibedeau about what she is seeing and hearing — at the show ring, and in the pasture.

Oakes said the issues should prompt government action, including financial aid, and a conversation about how to bring down the costs of agriculture and value agricultural workers more.

“People are making really difficult decisions, and for that next generation, how do they make a go of it when you’ve got all of these issues that communities are facing?”

Adapting to climate change

Winemaker and viticulturist Severine Pinte is trying to make a go of it in hotter and drier conditions, but it’s meant a lot of adjustments at her Oliver, B.C winery. 

Though the vineyard is located in Canada’s only desert, Pinte, the managing partner of Le Vieux Pin winery, said it’s been an unusually hot and dry growing season. Temperatures have gone as high as 36 degrees.

Pinte said she’s been able to adapt with adjustments such as irrigating at night to minimize evaporation, switching from overhead irrigation to drip irrigation to conserve water, adjusting her growing season and testing the soil more rigorously.

WATCH Climate extremes — a vintage view

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Climate extremes — a vintage view

9 days ago

Duration 6:10

Winemaker & viticulturist Severine Pinte, managing partner of Le Vieux Pin winery in Oliver, B.C., talks with CBC News Network about growing grapes and making wine in Canada’s only desert; a challenge heightened by recent climate extremes.

“Trying to know what we’re working with is the key to manage the heat and the water consumption,” she said.

“There’s … a lot of different tools that we can use to manage the water and the heat.”

But between last year’s brutal heat dome and unpredictable periods of extreme cold, Pinte said climate change is having a noticeable impact on the business.

“I’ve noticed a lot more extremes,” she said.

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