Here’s a window into how foresters are looking at climate change: the Forest Guild is a national, nonprofit network of practicing foresters whose advice and efforts on behalf of their landowner clients has a big role to play in the health and future of privately owned forests. The Guild “promotes ecologically, economically, and socially responsible forestry as a means of sustaining the integrity of forest ecosystems” (and the welfare of those dependent on them).
So it’s not a big surprise that the new edition of their publication, Forest Wisdom (large PDF), goes to some depth in exploring the challenges presented by climate change. It includes articles like “Recent Trends in US Private Forest Carbon” (of nine forest regions identified by the Forest Service, four are most important in terms of potential carbon gains and losses — the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest/Lake states, and Pacific Northwest — due to their high ratio of private ownership, high productivity, and intensity of management), and also a piece on carbon markets.
What caught my eye was the cover story by editor Fred Clark, “Forest Stewardship in a Changing World,” the main issues of which he describes like this:
Forest practitioners will be on the frontlines in the effort to protect our forests and our environment from the effects triggered by changing climate. Guild members already possess many of the tools and skills that will be most needed … [and] are well-suited for meeting both the new realities and expectations that society is rapidly placing on forests.
The “What’s New” section of their site links to this edition of the publication, and lots of other interesting papers all delightfully full of forester-speak, but I wanted to (heavily) paraphrase here some of Fred’s main points contained in the cover story:
On one hand, there are many efforts afoot in private forests towards greater carbon storage. On the other, there’s planning for the prevention of “conversion” of forestland into, basically, nonforest. It goes on to say that there’s a huge incentive for managers to ‘keep forests in forests’ to maintain the carbon storage there, and this can be done by encouraging landowners to pursue conservation easements, supporting the work of land trusts, and continuing to help landowners realize personal and financial benefits from their lands which encourage continued stewardship.
Management that increases growing stocks of trees and larger standing volumes while minimizing disturbances will provide the greatest carbon sequestering value.
With the predicted temperature increases of 3.6 to 11.9 degrees F, looking to the past to determine good management practices tomorrow looks less useful. Forest communities may begin to dissolve and re-coalesce into new associations of species, changes we can only imagine today.
Recommendation: rather than managing for any desired mix of species in the next 100 years, it may become necessary to step back to a more basic objective of simply maintaining forest health and stability, to protect the forest’s primary functions, including its ability to survive as forest.
This means managing for resiliency and makes it important that we keep all of the pieces. Mixed-species forests are more productive over the long term and can thus sequester more carbon at a higher rate and store it more predictably than plantations.
Increased fire severity and frequency is a working assumption, and “stand-replacing fires” can result in complete loss of any carbon mitigation benefit they were providing. So prescribed burns, while adding CO2 to the atmosphere, may be necessary. Likewise, responsible biomass removal that minimizes fire risk and supplies products that offset fossil fuel use provides a double bonus.
Strategies to consider:
When selecting species to manage for or introduce, consider their potential growth and viability in a warmer climate.
Manage for stocking levels and for species mixes that will reduce the risk of catastrophic disturbances.
Plan for stand/landscape-level patterns that will promote continuity and heterogeneity: patches, mixed-species stands, and reserve networks to provide refugia for species under climate stress.
Interesting, and good to know what foresters are thinking of along these lines. What’s key is that the kinds of management strategies suggested in the article fit the Forest Guild’s standards for excellent forestry practices … and if you’re going to manage a forest, you ought to at least do it well.