Climate change and forest management

Forest management is an area where climate-related challenges are considerable, particularly insofar as they relate to other ongoing developments. A case in point is forest fires. At one point, the ecological view was that fire suppression was beneficial for forest ecosystems. Now, it seems that the tide of opinion has shifted to the belief that fires have an important role to play in regulating forests. For instance, they are important for the propagation of giant redwoods (Sequoiadendron giganteum). Fires both clear the underbrush of plants that compete with the redwoods and cause redwood cones to open and release seeds. Also, the suppression of fires in British Columbia has increased the proportion of aged pine trees, which are more vulnerable than young ones to mountain pine beetle.

At the same time as fires are being recognized as an important natural element in forest life, we know that climate change is causing more and worse fires in North America, and will continue to do so. Should we step back from fire management, in the hope that fires will bolster biodiversity and resilience, or should we be more active in suppressing fires, so as to partially balance-out the warming effect of our emissions?

This touches upon a related question for conservation lands: namely, how should we respond to shifting biomes in parks? If a northern park like the Wapusk National Park in Manitoba seems likely to transition from taiga and tundra to boreal forest, should those charged with protecting it try to resist that change? The same question arises in relation to parks like Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan, where a transition from boreal forest to savannah and woodlands seems likely. It is entirely possible that nothing meaningful can be done to slow or stop the transition, but the possibility of doing so raises the question of what it means to protect nature in an era where no corner of it is unaffected by human activities.

One thing that we should certainly consider is doing a lot less monoculture planting. Regardless of whether the threat in question is weather, pests, or disease, a forest that contains a mixture of plant and animal species will be more resilient than one containing only a few. Hopefully, that is one of the major lessons that will be drawn from the ongoing mountain pine beetle outbreak in B.C.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

10 thoughts on “Climate change and forest management”

  1. Bark Beetles Kill Millions of Acres of Trees in West

    DEADLY Montana has lost a million acres of trees to mountain pine beetles that burrow into bark and block nutrients.

    Published: November 17, 2008

    “In the next three to five years, Mr. Kyhl said, virtually all of Colorado’s lodgepole pine trees over five inches in diameter will be lost, about five million acres. “Already in many places, every lodgepole over five inches is dead as far as the eye can see,” he said.

    Foresters say the historic outbreak has several causes. Because fires have been suppressed for so long, all forests are roughly the same age, and the trees are big enough to be susceptible to beetles. A decade of drought has weakened the trees. And hard winters have softened, which allows the beetles to flourish and expand their range.”

  2. If a northern park like the Wapusk National Park in Manitoba seems likely to transition from taiga and tundra to boreal forest, should those charged with protecting it try to resist that change?

    I’d say it depends on the rationale for the park. If it exists to protect a certain species, or combination of species, than reasonable efforts should be made to accommodate them in a changing climate. If the park is simply meant to be terrain set aside to exist with minimal human involvement, it should be allowed to change as the rest of the world is changing. In some cases, I think parks have rationales written into charters or the laws that created them. In other cases, it will need to be up to the discretion of those who are responsible for them.

    After all, stepping in to try to conceal the effects of climate change on parks is basically akin to building Potemkin villages.

  3. The Climate Is Changing Our National Parks

    “Canada’s climate is changing. The changes will affect all our national parks. In fact, a changing climate is one of the threats to the ecological integrity of the national parks system.

    The Parks Canada Agency is studying the phenomenon of climate change and identifying measures to address the challenges. These measures include adapting park management to accommodate inevitable changes and reducing energy consumption in the Agency’s operations.”

    “A serious concern for the park system in a changing climate is the phenomenon of “biome shift”. Biomes are communities or assemblages of plants and animals such as grasslands, forests or tundra. As the climate warms, many Canadian biomes are expected to shift northward, up to hundreds of kilometres. In mountainous areas, the shift will be to higher altitudes. As a result, high-altitude communities may disappear from some mountaintops where favourable conditions no longer exist – they have nowhere left to climb!”

  4. R.K.,

    I am not sure how useful the intent of the founders is here. Just as the founders of the U.S. Constitution didn’t anticipate every aspect of modern life, those who established national and provincial parks probably didn’t anticipate climate change.

    In the end, the only feasible option is letting things develop as they will: possibly extending parks upslope and northward to accommodate the new ranges of important species.

  5. Study: Global warming decimating old-growth forests at stunning rate

    Globe and Mail Update
    January 22, 2009 at 4:47 PM EST

    CALGARY — The death of old-growth forests in the western United States and Canada is increasing at a stunning rate, a troubling trend linked directly to global warming that could soon transform forests into carbon dioxide emitters rather than much-needed carbon sinks, a new study warns.

  6. “It rains a lot in Kenya – but only in the rainy seasons. Then you have four long months with not a drop,” explains Christian Lambrechts, from the Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

    “So you need a buffer zone – a way to ration the rain water and release it slowly into the rivers in the dry season. That buffer is the forest.

    “If you remove this ecosystem, you reduce the moisture reservoir. Which means that in the dry season… ‘Hakuna maji’. No water.”

    When the rains in Kenya stop falling, the 12 rivers which stem from the Mau forest are the lifeline for about 10 million people.

    And this year in Kenya, the rains failed badly.

    Narok county – the breadbasket of Kenya – was a barren dustbowl in April, the wettest month of the year. The government declared a “national emergency” with 10 million Kenyans facing starvation.

    Cattle keeled over and died, in their millions. And as the drought worsened, Kenyan government was forced to bail out farmers by slaughtering their weak animals for just 8,000 shillings ($105; £65) a head.

    In western Kenya, the tea plantations of James Finlay, which feed on the rivers of western Mau, have seen their yields cut to 80%. And the town of Kericho experienced water rationing for the first time in a generation.

  7. The growth of wildfires is a worldwide problem, with even bigger burns elsewhere. Siberia, Tasmania, Canada and Indonesia have seen record-breaking fires in recent years. According to Greenpeace, fire consumed over 7m acres of Russian forest in the year to May 23rd (the Kremlin offers much lower figures). The area of Canadian forest burning each year has roughly doubled since the 1970s; a wildfire near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, which started in May, has turned 1.5m acres of forest and 2,400 buildings to ash. Now heading north through Saskatchewan, the fire is reckoned to be Canada’s costliest natural disaster.

    The devastation wreaked in American forests by insects is less headline-grabbing, but ecologically as dramatic. Last month the United States Forest Service (USFS), another of the federal agencies that together manage nearly half the land in western states, said that, since October, it had recorded 26m trees killed by the mutually-reinforcing effects of bugs and drought in the southern part of California’s Sierra Nevada range alone. That suggested 66m trees had died there since 2010.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *