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Viewing:Executive Summary: Part 1
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Executive Summary

Richard A. Birdsey and John L. Hom - Part 1
USDA Forest Service, NERS, Newtown Square, PA 19073

ABSTRACT: The Forest Service goal for global change research is to establish a sound scientific basis for making regional, national, and international resource management and policy decisions in the context of global change issues. The objectives of the Northern Global Change Program (NGCRP) are to understand: (1) what processes in forest ecosystems are sensitive to physical and chemical changes in the atmosphere, (2) how future physical and chemical climate changes will influence the structure, function, and productivity of forest and related ecosystems, and to what extent forest ecosystems will change in response to atmospheric changes, and (3) what are the implications for forest management and how must forest management activities be altered to sustain forest productivity, health, and diversity. The NGCRP currently emphasizes scientific inquiry into the effects of multiple air pollutants and climate changes on forest ecosystems. As the program matures, the impacts of prospective changes on interactions between forest ecosystems and social and economic processes will be evaluated, as will policy options for mitigating or adapting to predicted changes.

Introduction

Global change adds a new dimension to forest management policy and practice. Historically, management planners assumed that the physical and chemical environments on which a forest ecosystem depends would remain roughly stable. Our incomplete understanding of landscape-scale processes and our inability to predict how ecosystems will be affected by future environmental changes limit effective management planning and application. Furthermore, since we cannot predict the fate of many plants and animals under changing climatic conditions, we cannot adequately evaluate the mitigation and adaptation strategies under consideration by policy makers in response to increasing atmospheric CO2 and possible climate changes.

Forest resources in the Northeastern, North Central, and Midwestern United States are intensively utilized for many different purposes. Population density is high and people are intimately associated with forest values in the Northeast, the most densely forested region of the United States. In the North Central and Midwestern states, forests scattered throughout agricultural landscapes play an important role in reducing sediment and nutrient runoff from farmlands to aquatic ecosystems. Both large and small municipalities rely on forested watersheds for water supplies. Local communities are tied to forest resources for outdoor recreation, hunting, maple syrup production, wood fiber production, and aesthetic values. The mix of urban, agriculture, and forest cover produces a fragmented landscape that in some areas may affect the ability of tree and wildlife species to adapt to major environmental stress or to migrate along with the changing environment.

Along with climate change, air pollution and acidic deposition exert strong influences on forest ecosystems in the northern region. Gradients of moisture and temperature are supplemented by strong pollutant deposition gradients, generally from very low levels in the Midwestern plains to the highest national levels in the East. Climate and pollution stresses, and their interactions with pests, humans, and other environmental changes are likely to cause unprecedented cumulative effects on northern forest ecosystems.

GENERAL PROGRAM DESCRIPTION

Program Goals

The Forest Service goal for global change research is to establish a sound scientific basis for making regional, national, and international resource management and policy decisions in the context of global change issues. This is accomplished through a broad research initiative addressing the three national research questions concerning global change and forest ecosystems:

1. What processes in forest ecosystems are sensitive to physical and chemical changes in the atmosphere?

2. How will future physical and chemical climate changes influence the structure, function, and productivity of forest and related ecosystems; and to what extent will forest ecosystems change in response to atmospheric changes?

3. What are the implications for forest management and how must forest management activities be altered to sustain forest productivity, health, and diversity?

Answers to these research questions will provide guidance to policy makers and resource managers.

Research in the North (As seen below in the figure) will lead to understanding of how changes in the physical and chemical environment will impact forests and people's associations with them. The challenge and opportunity facing the NGCRP is to increase understanding of ecosystem processes and global change effects at various temporal and spatial scales, and to identify key processes that link temporal and spatial scales. The NGCRP currently emphasizes scientific inquiry into the effects of multiple pollutants, atmospheric change, and increased climatic variability on forest ecosystems. As the Program matures the impacts of prospective changes on interactions between forest ecosystems and social and economic processes will be evaluated, as will policy options for mitigating or adapting to predicted changes.


NGCRP Study Area

Program Budget

The annual budget for the NGCRP has been approximately $6.5 million per year. Of this amount, approximately half is appropriated directly to field locations and half to program management for funding research studies selected through a competitive, peer-reviewed process. The operating goal is to fund 50 percent internal and 50 percent external research by interdisciplinary teams of federal and nonfederal scientists.

Research Emphasis - 1991 to 1993

Initial priorities focused research on the effects of global change on forest health and the productivity of forest lands. Approximately 50 percent of the research effort was a continuation of studies related to acid deposition and ozone effects, and 50 percent was allocated to study the effects of stresses identified with climate change (CO2, temperature, precipitation, weather events). The approximate percentage of funds allocated to six broad research areas for the first three years was:

Studies of physiological processes 25%
Studies of ecosystem processes 48%
Landscape-scale studies 8%
Model development and application 15%
Social interactions and economics 2%
Assessment and policy 2%

Research Emphasis - 1994 to 1995

More recent studies increased the program emphasis on the complicated issues of species migrations and composition changes, and effects of expected changes on human interactions with forests, including model development and application to support policy assessments (regional and national) and technology transfer. As a result, funding allocations to the six research areas has shifted to the following approximate distribution:

Studies of physiological processes 20%
Studies of ecosystem processes 40%
Landscape-scale studies 10%
Model development and application 15%
Social interactions and economics 5%
Assessment and policy 10%

Specific subject areas have been identified as lacking sufficient resources to complete regional and national assessments by 1997. These subject areas may receive emphasis in new research initiatives. The relative emphasis of these and possibly other subject areas is part of an ongoing review process.

Executive Summary: Part 2