Changing climate, adapting management

The forests of the Pacific Northwest are amazingly productive, but will this change in the future? Most scientists agree that global climate change has already affected where and how trees grow, and long-term changes in temperature and precipitation will present new challenges to forest managers in working forest landscapes. The key is that forest species are genetically adapted to their local climates—and forest health and productivity are expected to change with changes in the local environment. Adaptability of forest trees—their ability to tolerate stresses such as drought, temperature extremes, insects, diseases, and fire—will be crucial in the future. Adaptability has both genetic and environmental components that can be altered via forest management, but we currently lack sufficient site specific knowledge to apply these measures broadly or with confidence.

Glenn HoweThe Taskforce on Adapting Forests to Climate Change (TAFCC), under the leadership of Glenn Howe, FES, in the CoF/FRL, is a group of scientists and land managers from universities and state and federal agencies working to understand the potential effects of climate change on natural and planted forests in the western United States. They are developing new genetic and silvicultural approaches that foresters can use to help increase forest health and productivity in the face of climate change.

Howe, a forest geneticist, is studying the adaptive potential of forest trees and developing new seed zones, breeding zones, and tree improvement methods that foresters can use to ensure well-adapted and productive plantations in the future. Howe is also planning for the future by developing genomic approaches to better understand forest adaptation and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of tree breeding programs.

Howe’s research on climate change and forest genomics is being supported by the members of the Pacific Northwest Tree Improvement Research Cooperative, as well as by TAFCC. Financial support is also being provided by the National Science Foundation to the Center for Advanced Forestry Systems and by the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to the Conifer Translational Genomics Network.