6 Nov 2009, 6:20pm
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Warming forests

by the Baker City Herald Editorial Board, November 04, 2009 [here]

It turns out that a warmer climate might not be a universal disaster.

Turning up nature’s thermostat could help trees in some Northwest forests grow faster, according to researchers from Oregon State University and the U.S. Forest Service.

Which sounds like a good thing in several respects — more timber to harvest and more acres of the old growth habitat that certain animals prefer, to name two examples.
We wonder, though, whether we will glean the full range of benefits from faster-growing forests.

Specifically, we’re skeptical of the notion that we have, collectively, the political will to revive Oregon’s moribund timber industry, even if the supply of raw material gradually rises along with average temperatures.

This worry seems to us especially trenchant in Northeastern Oregon.

The researchers predict the biggest increase in tree growth rates will happen in the Blue Mountains. Trees grow relatively slowly here now in part because winter temperatures are much lower than in the temperate forests of the Western Cascades and Coast Range.

So far so good.

The key question, though, is what do we do with our more fecund forests?

Because if we continue the policies of the past two decades — that is, to favor leaving trees over cutting them even when stands become overcrowded — then our forests could fall victim to the same warming trend that spurred their growth.

Warming, after all, won’t be limited to winter.

Scientists predict that summers will be hotter, too. And that means wildfires are likely to burn hotter and move faster.

Mix in hundreds of thousands of acres of dense forests and you have a volatile concoction.

We’re not advocating for reviving clearcut forestry in the Blues. But in the warmer future, a hands-off forest policy might be a curse rather than a blessing.



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