Can Humans Help Trees Outrun Climate Change?

By Moises Velasquez-Manoff
A dark synergy of extreme weather and emboldened pests could imperil vast stretches of woodland. Foresters are only starting to wrestle with solutions.

Foresters began noticing the patches of dying pines and denuded oaks, and grew concerned. Warmer winters and drier summers had sent invasive insects and diseases marching northward, killing the trees.

If the dieback continued, some woodlands could become shrub land.

Most trees can migrate only as fast as their seeds disperse — and if current warming trends hold, the climate this century will change 10 times faster than many tree species can move, according to one estimate. Rhode Island is already seeing more heat and drought, shifting precipitation and the intensification of plagues such as the red pine scale, a nearly invisible insect carried by wind that can kill a tree in just a few years.

The dark synergy of extreme weather and emboldened pests could imperil vast stretches of woodland.

So foresters in Rhode Island and elsewhere have launched ambitious experiments to test how people can help forests adapt, something that might take decades to occur naturally. One controversial idea, known as assisted migration, involves deliberately moving trees northward. But trees can live centuries, and environments are changing so fast in some places that species planted today may be ill-suited to conditions in 50 years, let alone 100. No one knows the best way to make forests more resilient to climatic upheaval.

These great uncertainties can prompt “analysis paralysis,” said Maria Janowiak, deputy director of the Forest Service’s Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, or N.I.A.C.S. But, she added, “We can’t keep waiting until we know everything.”

Source: Can Humans Help Trees Outrun Climate Change? – New York Times, 2019-04-25

Woodland Revival: Rehabilitating Japan’s Forests with Small-Scale Harvesting

By Satō Noriko
Japan’s forestry industry has long suffered from low timber prices and a dwindling, aging workforce. Today loggers are increasingly letting woodlands revert to an untended natural state. Small-scale logging is gaining attention as a way to revive the timber industry and better manage the country’s forests.

Forests account for some 70% of Japan’s land area. Intimately tied with the nation’s development, woodlands since ancient times have provided residents with timber for building, raw materials for crafting tools and everyday utensils, and fuel for cooking and heating. Forests have also had a vital role in agriculture, with farmers plowing leaves and brush into fields as fertilizer. However, dependence has frequently resulted in overexploitation, and governments throughout Japanese history have struggled to balance demand for timber with the need to conserve forest resources.

Source: Woodland Revival: Rehabilitating Japan’s Forests with Small-Scale Harvesting – nippon.com, 2019-01-31

Nova Scotia vows to reduce clear cutting, move toward ‘ecological forestry’

By Michael Gorman
Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin is promising “significant” changes to the province’s forestry sector as the government embraces more sustainable management. But critics say the government’s plan lacks important detail.

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin is promising a more sustainable forestry sector in Nova Scotia and less clear cutting as the province implements recommendations from the Lahey review of forestry practices, although how big that reduction will be remains to be seen.

The government’s long-awaited response to the report was released Monday and received positive reactions from critics and industry, though some said the province’s plan was short on detail.

“Forestry is a long-standing economic driver in Nova Scotia and it’s important we get it right,” Rankin said in a news release.

“We accept Prof. Lahey’s findings and will immediately begin work to put in place the tools to achieve ecological forestry in Nova Scotia. This will result in significant changes to the way forests will be managed, including less clear cutting on Crown land.”

Bill Lahey, the president of University of King’s College, presented his final report in August.

The predominant theme of the report was reducing clear cutting to 20 to 25 per cent of all harvesting on Crown land from 65 per cent.

The report recommended using a “triad model” that would see some areas used for intensive commercial forestry, some protected from all commercial activity, and some designated for less intensive forestry with little to no clear cutting.

Source: Nova Scotia vows to reduce clear cutting, move toward ‘ecological forestry’ – CBC News, 2018-12-03

The science behind California’s surging wildfires

As three major fires blaze in California, we consider some of their causes, both human and meteorological. Science correspondent Miles O’Brien has been filming a NOVA documentary on megafires and witnessed the Camp Fire not long after it began. He joins William Brangham to describe that stunning experience, along with the broader scientific context around these destructive phenomena.

Source: The science behind California’s surging wildfires – PBS, 2018-11-13

Pando, the Most Massive Organism on Earth, Is Shrinking

By JoAnna Klein
The grove of 47,000 quivering aspen trees in Utah is being diminished by mule deer, foraging cattle and human mismanagement.

On 106 acres in Fishlake National Forest in Richfield, Utah, a 13-million-pound giant has been looming for thousands of years. But few people have ever heard of him.

This is “the Trembling Giant,” or Pando, from the Latin word for “I spread.” A single clone, and genetically male, he is the most massive organism on Earth. He is a forest of one: a grove of some 47,000 quivering aspen trees — Populus tremuloides — connected by a single root system, and all with the same DNA.

But this majestic behemoth may be more of a Goliath, suggests a study published Wednesday in PLOS ONE. Threatened by herds of hungry animals and human encroachment, Pando is fighting a losing battle.

The study, consisting of recent ground surveys and an analysis of 72 years of aerial photographs, revealed that this unrealized natural treasure and keystone species — with hundreds of dependents — is shrinking. And without more careful management of the forest, and the mule deer and cattle that forage within him, the Trembling Giant will continue to dwindle.

Source: Pando, the Most Massive Organism on Earth, Is Shrinking – New York Times, 2018-10-17

Loosing the forest for the trees – the tragedy of modern forestry

By Dr. Ranil Senanayake
What is known by science reveals the forest as an ecosystem of tremendous complexity. The trees, while providing the essential framework of a forest constitutes only a fraction of the total biodiversity. It contains a huge array of organisms, that continually change in form and function. Thus biodiversity is what gives a forest its identity. It should also be borne in mind that, from the small bushes of an area after a fire to the tall growth fifty years later, the species and architecture goes through many changes, and all these ecosystems are expressions of the growing, maturing forest.

The international response to the loss of natural forest ecosystems can be seen in the massive global investment in forestry. However, a great majority of these revegetation programs around the world do not seem to provide an environment that is hospitable for sustaining local forest biodiversity. A situation brought about by neglect of the ecological and biodiverse reality of a forest in project planning. There is no excuse to be found in the argument that there was no information. Forest Ecology has a long and distinguished history in the scientific literature. The result of this neglect was that institutional forestry activity was centered around the growing of even aged monocultures of fast growing trees with no requirement to attend to the rehabilitation of forests.

The discussions on the sustainable management of forests still lack clear definitions creating a sense of confusion in the identification of goals. For instance, the inability to distinguish between plantations and forests have allowed processes that have led to a massive reduction of forest biodiversity. A clear definition of ‘a Forest’ needs to be clarified and harmonized in statements transmitted from the CBD to the IPF or the CSD. As forests are biological entities, any criteria or indicator chosen to represent biodiversity status must be rooted in biological variables. The current practices of assessing physical cover alone will not adequately indicate forest quality and trends. In this context, socio-cultural values should also be incorporated into the setting of criteria and indicators. Further, for every acre of forest that stands today, hundreds of acres of forest have been lost in the surrounding countryside. Yet there has been no mention of the need for rehabilitation and recovery of the biodiversity status of such degraded lands. If these fundamental issues are not addressed, the loss of forests and biodiversity in these critical ecosystems cannot be contained.

Source: Loosing the forest for the trees – the tragedy of modern forestry. Forests-Beyond The Wood IV. – The Island, 2018-09-07

Logging site slash removal may be boon for wild bees in managed forests

New research suggests the removal of timber harvest residue during harvesting may be a boon for wild bees, an important step toward better understanding the planet’s top group of pollinators.

The findings are important because bees are the driving force behind $100 billion in global economic impact each year, with insect pollinators enhancing the reproduction of 90 percent of the Earth’s flowering plants, including many food crops.

Insect pollinators are also ecologically critical as promoters of biodiversity. Bees are the standard bearer because they’re usually present in the greatest numbers and because they’re the only pollinator group that feeds exclusively on nectar and pollen their entire life.

Researchers at Oregon State University spent two years studying 28 contiguous 1-acre clearcut sites. They assessed whether the abundance and diversity of wild bees was affected by the removal of timber harvest residue, also known as slash, and the soil compaction that goes along with it.

“Bees are important for biodiversity in managed forest landscapes but we just don’t have a very good handle on them in these areas,” said lead scientist Jim Rivers of the OSU College of Forestry.

The study plots occurred within a managed conifer forest in western Oregon. Each plot received one of five unique treatments, ranging from removing only the boles – tree trunks that are used to make lumber – without compacting the soil at all (no heavy equipment used on the plot) to removing all of the logging slash and compacting the entire plot.

The findings were surprising, Rivers said.

“The combination of the most intense timber residue removal and soil compaction treatment made for the greatest number and diversity of bees,” he said.

Source: Logging site slash removal may be boon for wild bees in managed forests – EurekAlert!, 2018-08-15

Cooperative Forestry Act Celebrates 40 Years of Helping Private Forest Owners

By Joyce El Kouarti
When most people think of forested lands in our country what comes to mind are public wild lands like the Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon or the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. But the reality is most forests in America, nearly sixty percent, are owned by private landowners who very much rely on these lands for income that helps to fuel the economic health of rural communities.

So because forests continue to be threatened by wildfire, attacks by insects and diseases, and conversion to non-forest uses, forty years ago, on July 1, Congress passed the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act of 1978. The Act was designed to mitigate these threats by empowering the USDA Forest Service to partner with state forestry agencies, which typically match federal investments 2 to 1, to provide technical forest management assistance to landowners.

Today the Forest Service Cooperative Forestry programs, created through the Act, help individual and family forest owners balance timber management with the conservation of water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, wildfire management, and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

One of these programs is the Forest Stewardship Program, which each year helps connect more than 400,000 landowners with the information and tools they need to manage their woodlands for timber, fuel wood, wildlife habitat, water protection, and recreation.

Another example is the Forest Legacy Program, which offers economic incentives to permanently conserve private working forests that support strong markets for forest products. The program recently helped private forest landowners in Georgia conserve 26,000 acres of well-stocked long-leaf pine forests that are now actively managed for timber, wildlife habitat, and watershed protection with new areas opened up for hunting, hiking, and mountain biking.

Source: Cooperative Forestry Act Celebrates 40 Years of Helping Private Forest Owners – USDA Forest Service, 2018-06-29

To increase forest carbon capture, harvest trees less and less often – but still harvest

“When we shift to forestry practices that less frequently harvest smaller amounts of wood from each acre, this leads to 14 to 33 percent more carbon be stored over the next 100 years. This happens because trees would be allowed to grow older and larger and store more carbon than typically happens under current practices,”

Source: To increase forest carbon capture, harvest trees less and less often – but still harvest – Granite Geek, 2018-05-29

Managing for Healthy, Diverse Forests

Healthy forests, just like healthy human populations, are sustained by a diversity of ages and types. In many parts of the United States, forests are becoming largely homogeneous, and in places like the Appalachian Mountains, young forest and mature, old growth forests are in short supply.

A lack of diverse forests has negative impacts on wildlife and the economy, as different age classes support higher biodiversity and provide a more sustainable source of income for forest landowners. Through the use of sustainable forestry practices, forest landowners are able to compensate for lack of natural disturbance.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recommends a number of sustainable forestry practices to forest landowners. These practices provide landowners with a number of choices, depending on the land and a landowner’s goals.

Source: Managing for Healthy, Diverse Forests – USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service