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March 3, 2016

US forests are threatened by increasing drought

Climate change and increasing drought are affecting the US forests, as a new study released by Duke University shows. The forests in the West were the first to be affected by the climate change consequences, but now, the bark beetle infestations, the wildfires and drought-induced forest diebacks are spreading across a wider territory of the US.

James S. Clark, lead author of the study and Nicholas Professor of Environmental Science at Duke University, said that their analysts “show virtually all U.S. forests are now experiencing change and are vulnerable to future decline. Given the high degree of uncertainty in our understanding of how forest species and stands adapt to rapid change, it's going to be difficult to anticipate the type of forests that will be here in 20 to 40 years."
 

As the weather conditions become warmer and drier, many tree populations can’t respond by migrating to other regions. Especially the Eastern forests can’t expand enough into favorable environments.

Clark added that "prolonged drought affects wildfire risks, species distribution, forest biodiversity and productivity, and forest-based products, so there is a pressing need to know how we can manage for these changes.”

Clark and his colleagues published their paper on February 22 in the Early View online edition of the peer-reviewed journal Global Change Biology. The paper synthesizes findings from hundreds of studies and serves as a summary overview of a full report released earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Global Change Research Program as part of the U.S. Forest Service’s National Assessment on the Impacts of Drought on Forests and Rangelands.
Without a better understanding of the complex interactions between trees, species and environmental conditions, even the most sophisticated current models can provide only limited guidance on climate effects, he explained.
 
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