Climate Change and Forests
Our climate is changing and more change is predicted. One of the major greenhouse gases (GHG) contributing to climate change is carbon dioxide (CO2). Forests play an important role in reducing carbon in the air, as they take in CO2 through photosynthesis and store carbon in their wood, branches, foliage and roots. Carbon can be stored for long time periods in trees and in soils (carbon stock), and healthy trees continue to take in additional CO2 each year (carbon sequestration). Maintaining and increasing our forest land and community tree plantings can help reduce our GHG emissions. See below for a list of links on greenhouse gas and carbon management.
Although we don’t know for sure how or when climate change will affect forests, the predictions for our region include higher summer and winter temperatures, wet winters and drier summers. Other changes include higher CO2 levels and higher ground level ozone pollution. Some changes will have positive effects, but more likely the effects will not be favorable. For example, the warmer climate will mean a longer growing season and higher growth rates, but may also increase insect pest reproduction and expansion upward in elevation and farther north from their historic ranges. See below for a list of links on climate change impacts on forests.
Here in Vermont, we have observed some changes linked to climate change. The timing of spring is generally earlier, resulting in changes to associated ecosystem activities, as well as activities such as the timing of maple syrup production. Likewise, there is evidence that tree species elevation limits may be changing. A recent study on Camel’s Hump showed that as temperatures over the 40-year period (1964-2004) increased on the mountain (1.1 C), deciduous trees from the low elevations were able to grow at higher elevations. Other species changes, including a reduction in balsam fir and sugar maple trees, are predicted in this century. Our current climate, supporting a sugar maple-beech-birch forest, will transition to favor more of an oak-hickory or oak-pine forest. Maintaining the health of trees can help slow species changes. See below for a list of links on Vermont climate change impacts.
Greenhouse gas and carbon management links:
Climate change impacts on forests links:
Vermont climate change impacts: