Local climate change has been mapped out, with online buttons to show the various effects.
The high-tech maps, built on a foundation of exhaustive scientific research, are now available to the public on the city's website at www.princegeorge.ca, by following the Climate Change link under the Environment tab.
Designers expect it will be especially useful for land developers and government departments in their pursuit of smart growth choices and investment decisions.
The tool is so new its department head, Dan Adamson, only presented it to city council on Monday and by Wednesday it was up for a provincial award.
The "City of Prince George Natural Areas and Climate Change Mapping and Information Tool" is a finalist in the public sector category of the Real Estate Foundation of B.C.'s annual Land Awards. There are only two finalists.
The research to build the maps and the public manipulation tools was done by the Pacific Institute of Climate Solutions (a research-based think tank on climate change implications) in conjunction with UNBC. Local researchers like Ian Picketts and Craig DeLong had input into the process. Their data was shaped into online tools by Ken Simonar's team at Bio-Geo Dynamics Ltd.
"There is a split in the beliefs about what's causing it, but 95 per cent of Canadians believe the climate is changing. And it is. That is proven. The data is there. It is not just your imagination or some scientist's theory," Adamson said, showing charts and graphs of compiled data from the research team and others from Environment Canada to the Goddard Institute of Space Studies.
The purpose of the research was not to uncover the reasons for the change in temperature, moisture and weather patterns but to understand how it is affecting Prince George and how future adaptations might happen.
The best prediction models any municipality can build will ease the cost on taxpayers for road rehabilitation choices, placing future roads and pipes in the correct place with the correct materials, building homes and businesses in the proper way, and how the city's land should be used.
"We've got about 65 per cent of the Prince George land base - about 22,000 hectares - as undeveloped natural land within city boundaries," he explained. This local climate change research discovered for the first time that Prince George is home to 117 different ecosystem types, now collected into 14 theme groups for future reference.
What is already happening as a probable symptom of the climate changes is growing evidence of Douglas fir bark beetles already chewing the local firs. With the expected changes in temperature and moisture, the large amount of local birch and aspen are likely to die off and fir proliferate but be more susceptible to pest death like the mountain pine beetle.
Every plant on the local landscape could be at risk, and a whole host of new plants could be waiting for the opportunity to move in. Some of these will be beneficial to the local ecosystem, explained Adamson, but some will be unwelcome, damaging vandal plants. The same will occur with the animal kingdom as well, from beetles to fish to wildlife. The final results are impossible to fully predict, he said, but it will almost certainly have unwelcome and costly consequences for the public.
"According to the modelling, and you can go to the city's website and play around with the images to see for yourself, in only eight years from now Prince George will change from its current slightly dry conditions to moderately dry conditions," Adamson said.
With the push of a few online buttons, the city's map changes from a mostly lush green colour to a mostly khaki brown colour, illustrating the land-base alterations.
"The impact of that will affect wildfire management, slope stability, erosion into waterways, natural habitat, ground water, aquafers, a lot of important things we will need to consider in our future plans. We are one of only a handful of municipalities anywhere to have such detailed ecosystem mapping, and this level of climate change assessment done."
Although more research will reset the modelling information in years ahead, this current data will always remain for a baseline, said Adamson, and the data is freely available for municipal decision-makers and private developers to use to inform their policy and investment plans.
"It is not intended to be a red-light / green-light map, it is the best set of estimates we have and is intended to cast our minds towards these issues as we make our land-use plans."
Perhaps the best part for the local taxpayer, said Adamson, was how grant money, not tax dollars, paid for the project.