Katherine is a senior at the University of Washington majoring in Environmental Science and Resource Management with a focus in Wildlife Management and minoring in Marine Biology. She is from Eugene, Oregon and plays trombone in the Husky Marching Band.
Forests around the world cover 4 billion hectares of land, that’s 30% of the earth’s surface (Kirilenko 2004)! Forests act as the lungs of the Earth by turning the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, into oxygen and sugars with help from the sun. This chemical process allows the trees to store this carbon for hundreds of years until they die and decompose (Kirilenko 2004). Trees can be made into biofuels, which could decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and other non-renewable energy sources. At the same time this could decrease the biodiversity and natural functionality of the forests (Righelato 2007). Trees are of course, used for building materials, paper and other widely used products. Deforestation is a major problem in countries like Brazil and Indonesia where it is occurring at alarming rates compromising the positive effects that forests have on our climate. Trees are truly an important resource and provide many ecosystem services
This summer I interned at the Olympic Natural Resources Center in Forks, WA near the Olympic National Park through the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forestry Sciences. During this 3-month internship I collected understory vegetation data for a Long Term Ecosystem Productivity study being carried out in Sappho, WA. This study was started in 1994 and includes institutions and agencies such as the University of Washington, Western Washington University, Washington Department of Natural Resources (WA DNR), and the US Forest Service. I worked mostly with WA DNR employees. I learned from them how private and public logging in Washington has changed in recent years to promote sustainability and ecosystem health while selling the timber on the state trust lands. This study is unique because of its multiple sites in Washington and Oregon, and its longevity. The study is planned to last for 200 years, presenting an excellent opportunity to explore long-term changes in the forests that are being studied.
The manipulated variables in the study include the age and species of trees, and amount of woody debris left after cutting. These components are very important in the functionality and roles of a forest within its ecosystem as well as to the adaptability of forests to climate change. Different treatments included selective thinning of older trees to create old growth habitat, planting earlier successional species or using the plantation style planting of Douglas-fir used by most commercial loggers. Earlier successional stands with alder are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen and improve the nutrition of the soil decreasing the need for fertilizers. Some understory species, such as salal, have deep root systems and can break down rock parent material increasing the amount of soils. Longer lived tree species such as Sitka spruce and Douglas-fir have shallow root systems and do not fix nitrogen, but do provide excellent habitat for animals that require old growth forests such as the marbled murrlet. All of these different stages of forest have their benefits and a goal of the Long Term Ecosystem Productivity Study is to see how these treatments react to changing conditions and climate change, while also preserving the natural resources we need for our society. Maintaining biodiversity, different age classes and types of species will allow scientists and managers to have a better chance of keeping our forests intact at some level (Bormann 1999). With less rain, higher temperatures and more forest fires (Bormann 1999) in the Pacific Northwest these systems may react differently and by knowing how, forest managers will be able to better protect habitat and resources.
Everyone in the business of trees and natural resources are trying to answer the question: what is the best way to manage this ecosystem? However, those stakeholders involved all want what is best for their sets of needs and goals, which leads to conflicts of interest. Managing a forest for lumber, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation and carbon sequestration can prove difficult with so many agencies and private interests involved.
As climate change continues worldwide, forest management will be at the forefront of environmental science and resource management discussion. The national and international trade of timber products is affected by, and in turn influences, climate change. If scientists, forest managers and citizens can work together to better protect our forests and help them adapt to climate change, then perhaps this resource can be sustained for future generations.
Bormann, B.T., J.R. Martin, F.H. Wagner, G. Wood, J. Alegria, P.G. Cunningham, M.H. Brookes, P. Friesema, J. Berg, and J. Henshaw. 1999. Adaptive management. Pages 505-534 in: N.C. Johnson, A.J. Malk, W. Sexton, and R. Szaro (eds.) Ecological Stewardship: A common reference for ecosystem management. Elsevier, Amsterdam.
Climate Change and Food Security Special Feature – Research Articles – Biological Sciences – Sustainability Science: Andrei P. Kirilenko and Roger A. Sedjo, Climate Change impacts on forestry PNAS 2007 104 (50) 19697-19702; published ahead of print December 6, 2007, doi:10.1073/pnas.0701424104
Righelato, R., & Spracklen, D. V. (2007). ENVIRONMENT: Carbon Mitigation by Biofuels or by Saving and Restoring Forests? Science, 317(5840), 902-902. doi:10.1126/science.1141361
Image 1: National Science Foundation
Image 2: Photo taken by Courtney Bobsin
Image 3: Sustainable Forestry Initiative