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‘It blows my mind’: How B.C. destroys a key natural wildfire defence every year

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Last year, 12,812 hectares of B.C. forest was sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate. It’s an annual event — a mass extermination of broadleaf trees mandated by the province.

The eradication of trees like aspen and birch on regenerating forest stands is meant to make room for more commercially valuable conifer species like pine and Douglas fir.

But experts say it also removes one of the best natural defences we have against wildfire, at a time when our warming climate is helping make large, destructive fires more and more common.

“It blows my mind that nobody is talking about this,” said James Steidle, a member of the anti-glyphosate group Stop the Spray B.C.

“The experts know this stuff. They’ve known about this stuff for decades, but it’s just not being translated into reality.”

When aspen and other broadleaves are allowed to flourish, they form “natural fuel breaks” if their leaves are out, according to Lori Daniels, a professor of forest ecology at the University of B.C. That’s why aspen stands are often referred to as “asbestos forests” in wildfire science circles.

A forests ministry spokesperson said the government recognizes that aspen and other deciduous trees can help reduce the wildfire threat to communities, and that in the future, more thought will be put into planting broadleaf trees near homes and businesses.

Nonetheless, the rules about aspen in managed forest stands remain largely unchanged.

The province’s Forest Planning and Practices Regulation states that when a block of forest is regrowing after a wildfire or logging, broadleaves can’t make up more than five per cent of trees, or two hectares — whichever total is smaller. The concern is that trees like aspen will out-compete conifer species, which are the lifeblood of the timber industry.

If there’s too much aspen, the block must be sprayed with glyphosate, a chemical known more familiarly as the active ingredient in Roundup. Over the last three years, 42,531 hectares of B.C. forest have been treated with the herbicide.

‘That’s just nuts’

“At the end of the day, we have rules that make fire-resistant trees illegal in our forests. That’s just nuts,” Steidle said.

Aspen naturally thrives after a forest has been cleared by logging or wildfire. Their root systems can survive for thousands of years underground, and they’re capable of sprouting new clone trees as soon as there’s enough sunshine and moisture.

Glyphosate doesn’t just kill aspen trees — it can also destroy the root system.

“When you spray a forest, that’s going to last for the lifetime of the forest,” Steidle said.

The Shovel Lake wildfire burns through a coniferous forest in the summer of 2018. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

According to Daniels, that’s a major loss in a province that struggling with how to prepare for wildfires after two record-setting seasons in a row.

“When fire is burning through needle leaf forest, it tends to be very vigorous and very fast-moving,” Daniels said. “When fire comes into a forest that has broadleaf trees in it, the conditions change so the fire behaviour is less vigorous and the rate of spread slows down.”

Trees like aspen naturally have a higher water content and don’t usually contain the volatile chemical compounds that can make trees like pine so flammable. They also provide more shade, which creates a cooler, more humid environment in the understory, Daniels explained.

Often, a “candling” wildfire that’s engulfed the crowns of a conifer forest will fall back down to ground level when it hits a clump of aspen.

“If a fire is spreading toward a community and we know that there’s a band of aspen trees that it’s going to have to cross before it approaches that community, the firefighters can use that band of aspen trees to make a stand and try to stop the fire,” Daniels said.

Spraying causes ‘irreparable harm’

The research backs that up. One 2010 study conducted by a fire behaviour specialist with the federal government tested the fire-resistance of aspen by doing experimental burns of a forest that was split between conifers and trembling aspen.

Even when there was a “high-intensity flame front” in the conifers — with flames leaping into the crowns of the trees — the fire “failed to sustain itself upon entering the leafed-out hardwood portion of the plot,” the study says.

A test burn conducted by a federal fire behaviour specialist shows, at bottom right, how aspen can resist a wildfire spreading through jack pine and black spruce. (The Forestry Chronicle)

Daniels believes B.C. needs to immediately change its forest management strategies to prioritize growth of aspen and other broadleaves.

“We’re still stuck in the vortex where we’re trying to maximize timber production from conifers, and that is causing irreparable harm in our forests, given climate change and the types of changes in forests and insects and fire that we’re witnessing,” she said.

The province has promised it’s updating forest practices as new research becomes available. That includes some recent adjustments to the rules on aspens in the Cariboo-Chilcotin. Because the region is so dry and few aspen can survive anyway, they’re not considered a threat to local conifers and don’t need to be sprayed, a ministry spokesperson said.

Calls for glyphosate ban

But critics like Steidle would like to see a complete end to the use of glyphosate in forests across the province.

“We need to ban glyphosate. There’s no question,” he said.

On a recent visit to the area of northern B.C. burned by the Shovel Lake wildfire this summer, James Steidle documented aspen trees that were left standing even though surrounding conifers were incinerated. (James Steidle)

The idea has some political support. Last week, Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver raised the issue during question period in the B.C. legislature, and asked how the province could justify spraying growing forests.

“The result is reduced plant diversity, leading to monocropped forests that are vulnerable to more frequent and destructive wildfires and beetle infestations,” Weaver said.

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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