How Climate Change Could Wipe Out the Western Forests

In The Atlantic.

So what I think it interesting about this is that we don’t actually know if conditions will suit trees in the future, just logically some tree genotypes and species might be replaced by others. Do you want to give up on trees at all, say in New Mexico and Arizona, or do you want to try planting? Do you trust climate models to tell you what the climate is going to be like in 2050, or do you want to figure out strategies that might work under a variety of climate scenarios? If, as the last paragraph says, we “haven’t had landscapes like this,” will we have to change our expectations of where associated wildlife species can live?

Here’s the link and here is an excerpt.

Climate change can’t take all the blame for the severity of the fires or the other problems forests are facing in the U.S. and around the world. But here at least, much of the blame can be pegged to other kinds of human activity. A bad year for fires in 1879 laid waste to huge swaths of American forest — thanks to a drought, but also to the ongoing efforts of settlers burning off forest to make way for homes and agriculture. As Teddy Roosevelt put it several years later, when he was pushing for better conservation of the nation’s natural resources, “The time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone.”

The trees grew back, but the destruction led to extensive areas predominated by same-age trees, which are now just the right size for a beetle attack, according to Sibold. In the 1900s, Americans swung in the opposite direction. They became overprotective of their forests and suppressed many fires, which allowed fuel to build up and made conditions ripe for more extreme burns now.

The scientists don’t like to characterize the changes to the Western scenery as “bad.” Many prefer to stay neutral with words like “different” and “unique.” But when pressed, they sound concerned, and gloomy. “We haven’t had landscapes like this,” Sibold said. “You have all of these things interacting, and it’s generally not good news if you’re a tree in Colorado.”

Leave a Comment