Climate Change and Forests — how to prepare?

Everyone knows our forests are influenced by the environment — especially temperature and rainfall.

And while there are some swirling debates around the cause, there’s no doubt our world is experiencing a period of climatic change.

Everyone knows our forests are influenced by the environment — especially temperature and rainfall.

And while there are some swirling debates around the cause, there’s no doubt our world is experiencing a period of climatic change.

Nobody can say for certain exactly what the environmental conditions of our region will be in 2050, but most scientists say it’s likely Northern Vancouver Island will be warmer in the summer and wetter in the winter than it is today.

We do know for certain this climate change will influence our forests and many people are wondering what can we expect, and what should we be doing to prepare?

Warmer temperatures will influence where different tree species can grow, and the geographic range of local trees will likely change.

Trees like Douglas-fir may start playing a larger role in our forests as summers become hotter and longer.

High elevation trees like mountain hemlock may find increased competition from amabilis fir and western hemlock and may  move further upslope if space allows.

Trees that aren’t well suited to changing environmental conditions will become stressed, and will begin to grow poorly in these sub-optimal conditions.

This will make them more susceptible to insect pests and disease.

Forest health surveys and treatment may become important as we transition to new environmental conditions.

Diligent forest managers are already considering what the optimal species to plant will be post-logging, knowing climate change is a reality.

Regulations that control tree seed use may have to be updated to allow forest managers to replant with non-local species and tree varieties we feel will do the best in the predicted climate range of the future.

Hotter, drier, and longer summers mean increased risk of forest fire.

This may mean that forest managers need to consider fuel management issues and may influence work scheduling as hot-weather shutdowns become more frequent.

Fire-guarding of communities, like that which occurred in Woss in 2010, could become far more routine on the North Island.  Increased fire risk often leads to the hot-weather shutdowns of forest operations, and managers responsible for fibre flow may have to consider another element to their annual work plan.

There is no doubt that climate change will influence how our forests are managed in the future and diligent forest managers should be considering that change today and work to ensure we continue to have a robust and healthy forest for future generations to enjoy.

Andrew Ashford is a registered professional forester who is the district manager of the North Island-Central Coast Resource District and will be a guest panellist for the Sept. 15 Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities dialogue session in Port McNeill.