Forest Modeling & Global Warming: Academic Job Security

Here is a presentation that will be made by Oregon State University professors to Congress later today in Washington DC:

Preserving the Role of Forests in Mitigating Climate Change

The majority staff of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and the Senate Agriculture Committee encourage you to attend a briefing where forest-carbon scientists will discuss the role of carbon in forest management and climate change mitigation in relation to the President’s Climate Action Plan and to carbon strategies underway by federal land managers and of consideration to members of Congress.

When: September 26 at 2 pm

Where: Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, 406 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Who: Beverly Law, Mark Harmon, Dominick DellaSala

America’s forests play a critical role in addressing carbon pollution, removing nearly 12 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions each year. In the face of a changing climate and increased risk of wildfire, drought, and pests, the capacity of our forests to absorb carbon is diminishing. Pressures to develop forest lands for urban or agricultural uses also contribute to the decline of forest carbon sequestration. The Administration and Congress are working to identify new approaches to protect and restore our forests, as well as other critical landscapes including grasslands and wetlands, in the face of a changing climate.

Presenters will focus on four key questions:

1 – What does the best science say about the role of forest ecosystems in climate change mitigation and adaptation planning and how can forests be best managed to optimize their carbon uptake and storage potential?

2 – What role do natural disturbances (fire, insects) play in forest carbon budgets and how do forest management strategies such as thinning affect carbon budgets on federal lands?

3 – How does forest carbon management and forest carbon preservation fit with the President’s Climate Action Plan and with efforts of federal land managers to treat carbon as a “multiple use” on federal lands?

4 – What role has federal lands management such as the Northwest Forest Plan and the forest planning rule had in managing forests for carbon storage and uptake?

Presenter Biographies

Mark E. Harmon is the Richardson Chair and Professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University and co-director the Cooperative Chemistry Analytical Laboratory (CCAL). From 1999 to 2006 he served as the lead principal investigator for the NSF-sponsored H. J. Andrews LTER and lead OSU scientist for the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon.  He has published over 120 peer-reviewed journal articles on a topics ranging from tree growth and mortality, decomposition of wood in the natural environment, management of coarse woody debris, carbon dynamics of forests, disturbances, and ecosystem modeling.

Dr. Beverly Law is Professor of Global Change Biology & Terrestrial Systems Science in the College of Forestry, and an Adjunct Professor in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. Her research focuses on the effects of climate, fire, and management on forest carbon and water cycling, addressing issues such as vulnerability of forests to drought, and carbon implications of forest harvest regimes.

Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala is President and Chief Scientist of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon and President of the Society for Conservation Biology, North America Section. He is an internationally renowned author of over 150 technical papers on forest and fire ecology, conservation biology, endangered species management, and landscape ecology.

Here is a comment I made to this blog two months ago concerning a presentation I gave more than 20 years ago on the exact same topic (Note: Bev Law was a fellow OSU forestry student at the time, as was Mark Harmon who also presented at the same conference)

Sharon: Thanks for excellent analysis and relevancy of Westerling’s work. I wrote a paper for EPA in 1993 that looked at the principal Global Warming computer models at that time (James Hanson’s heyday) in relation to carbon sequestration and forest plantations:

Although one of my conclusions pointed to the “critical” value of new and improved modeling so far as gaining insights into “biospheric responses to climate change and to large-scale conifer forests,” the very first conclusion was: “Selection of a model is dependent upon the temporal and spatial scale of the question that is being asked.” The very same points you made about generalizing Westerling’s work.

My second conclusion was: “None of the models in current use has demonstrated an ability to make accurate or reliable projections.” My approach was to provide documented forest history conditions and see if the models could predict “backward” with any accuracy. They couldn’t. They still can’t. A model that can’ predict the past is incapable of predicting the future, by definition.

I won’t make any snarky comments as to how I think these things get funded and who pays the bills, but I will say that Westerling’s conclusions as a modeler with an economics background are significantly different than my own, based on my Phd and subsequent research in the study of forest fires. Westerling is probably a great guy and a proven scholar, but there are far more qualified and knowledgeable individuals than him when it comes to forest fire behavior. He was not an appropriate selection for this review, and for the reasons you give.


  1. Pingback: OSU Forestry: Saving our planet by letting US forests burn and rot | A New Century of Forest Planning

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