GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) - Big changes are in store for the nationís forests
as global warming increases wildfires and insect infestations, and generates
more frequent floods and droughts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture warns
in a report released Tuesday.
The compilation of more than 1,000 scientific studies is part of the
National Climate Assessment and will serve as a roadmap for managing
national forests across the country in coming years.
It says the area burned by wildfires is expected to at least double over the
next 25 years, and insect infestations often will affect more land per year
Dave Cleaves, climate adviser to the chief of the U.S. Forest Service, said
climate change has become the primary driver for managing national forests,
because it poses a major threat to their ability to store carbon and provide
clean water and wildlife habitat.
ďOne of the big findings of this report is we are in the process of managing
multiple risks to the forest,Ē Cleaves said during a conference call on the
report. ďClimate revs up those stressors and couples them. We have to do a
much better job of applying climate smartness ... to how we do forestry.Ē
The federal government has spent about $1 billion a year in recent years
combating wildfires. Last year was the warmest on record in the lower 48
states and saw 9.2 million acres burned, the third-highest on record,
according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationís website.
Insect infestations widely blamed on warming temperatures have killed tens
of millions of acres of trees.
Forest Service scientist James Vose, the reportís lead author, said the
research team found that past predictions about how forests will react to
climate change largely have come true, increasing their confidence in the
current reportís predictions.
The report said the increasing temperatures will make trees grow faster in
wetter areas of the East but slower in drier areas of the West. Trees will
move to higher elevations and more northern latitudes, and disappear from
areas on the margins of their range.
Along with more fires and insect infestations, forests will see more
flooding, erosion and sediment going into streams, where it chokes fish
habitat. More rain than snow will fall in the mountains, shortening ski
seasons but lengthening hiking seasons. More droughts will make wildfires,
insect infestations, and the spread of invasive species even worse.
The nationís forests currently store 13 percent of the carbon generated by
burning fossil fuels every year, and losing trees to fire and insects makes
it likely in coming years that forests in the West will start giving off
carbon as they decay, the report said. It suggested that burning the trees
cut during thinning operations in bioenergy plants to generate electricity
would help reduce the carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels.
Beverly Law, professor of global change forest science at Oregon State
University, said in an email that her research in Oregon showed that despite
more fire, the amount of carbon stored in forests continues to increase.
Tara Hudiburg, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois, said
there is little conclusive evidence that burning trees for bioenergy helps
reduce overall carbon emissions.
Andy Stahl of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, a watchdog
group, said the agency traditionally has been guided by political pressures,
and he has seen no evidence that concern over climate change is now playing
Cleaves said climate coordinators are stationed at every national forest
across the country, every regional headquarters, and at each research
station. The threat of future flooding has prompted the Olympic National
Forest in Washington state to start upgrading the culverts that carry storm
water runoff on logging roads.
The report did not specifically address whether logging would decrease due
to more thinning projects generated by global warming concerns. But it did
say that privately owned timberlands would be much quicker to react to
market pressures related to global warming than the national forests.
Cleaves said thinning projects designed to make forests more resilient to a
changing climate were likely to produce less timber and revenue, because
they tend to leave big trees standing.
The Forest Service has struggled to pay for thinning projects that donít
generate revenue. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has been exploring the idea of
tapping state lottery funds to pay the Forest Service to plan timber sales
in fire-prone areas.