Hello from Jasper! It has been a quiet and peaceful summer here so far. I haven’t posted lately but have a couple of catch-up posts now!
The biggest piece of news (or at least the one we talk about every day here in Jasper) is the weather.
In late May, there were fires burning in High Level, a place about three hours north of Edmonton. For a couple of the days, when the wind picked up, we saw smoke here in Jasper from those fires and the mountains appeared slightly hazy.
When I arrived in May, we heard a lot about fire preparation plans here. Jasper is at a really high risk for wildfires in the next couple years, for a few different reasons:
- The forest here is too old. Jasper Park hasn’t had a major fire in about 110 years. For a healthy forest, we should have had a fire several years ago. However, since we’re in a national park and people like to come here, fires have been withheld unnaturally for a long time. What’s resulted from this is an overcrowded, overgrown forest. In particular, there’s one species of tree – the lodgepole pine – which has a lifespan of about 80 years. With no fire or anything to kill them off, these trees have gotten too old, and are now essentially elderly trees. This makes them more susceptible to disease and other stressors that may enter the park.
- In the past several years, a bug called the pine beetle has become one such stressor. The beetle occurs naturally in this environment, but normally its population is regulated by cold winters killing off a portion of the beetles every year. Due to climate change, the winters in Jasper didn’t get cold enough for several years to kill the beetles, and the population exploded. The past winter (2018/2019) was finally cold enough to kill about 98% of the beetles, but unfortunately, the damage has already been done; the beetles have killed the majority of Jasper’s lodgepole pines.
- Those trees, once dead, stay standing for about 10-15 years. They become super dry during this time, resulting in what’s basically a forest of kindling, ready to burn.
A view of the valley that Jasper town sits in. All of the red trees are dead, killed by the pine beetle:
In May, the prediction for the summer was that it would be long, hot, and dry. Everyone in Jasper had to have an evacuation plan; up at the stables, we have 3 different evacuation plans for the horses (depending on how much notice we have to evacuate) and we all have “go bags” packed in case of sudden, emergency evacuation.
After a short stretch of hot days in May and June, however, the weather turned. Between June 1 and July 31, it rained almost every single day.
That’s right – rain almost every. Single. Day.
It’s also been very cold. Normally summer days in June and July in the mountains are about 20-25 degrees Celsius and sunny all day. This summer we’ve been having more like 10-15 degrees Celsius.
August so far has been better, with warmer weather and fewer rainy days. It may not have been the most summery summer in the mountains so far – but hey, at least we’re not on fire.