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Pacific Northwest Research Station

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2011 Climate Change Research

Key Findings and Products

Recent changes in tundra fire regimes, probably in response to climate warming, may cause large amounts of carbon to be released and offset any increases in carbon storage acquired through Arctic greening.

Researchers identify ecosystem processes that can be monitored to track climaterelated change in Alaska’s forests.

Gene expression atlases for Douglas-fir and two subspecies of big sagebrush have been produced in an effort to identify climate-responsive genes in these species.

New synthesis of physiological and ecological responses of forest trees to climate change is a resource for forest vulnerability and risk assessments.

Maps of predicted vegetation impacts and associated climate change effects on environmental services.


Science-management partnership facilitates management adapted to climate change


Field crew inventory a study plot on the Wenatchee National Forest (photo by Jon Williams).As part of an agency-wide effort, station scientists have been collaborating with national forest managers and other agencies to ensure that climate change will be addressed effectively on federal land. Through a science-management partnership, they have developed scientific principles, processes, and tools for communicating about climate science, conducting assessments of the vulnerability of natural resources to climate change, and developing adaptation strategies and tactics that ensure sustainability of resources in a warmer climate.

In the Pacific Northwest, scientists and land managers have developed (1) a vulnerability assessment and climate change adaptation strategy for Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park, (2) a national adaptation guidebook for national forests, and (3) the North Cascadia Adaptation Partnership (, which is implementing education, vulnerability assessment, and adaptation planning across two national forests and two national parks in Washington state.

This effort is helping national forests follow the U.S. Forest Service Climate Change Roadmap and addresses specific elements in the Climate Change Scorecard, which is used by national forests to track progress on the integration of climate change into their operations.

Contact: David L. Peterson,, Threat Characterization and Management Program

Partners: University of Washington Climate Impacts Group, USDI National Park Service

For more information: Peterson, D.L.; Millar, C.I.; Joyce, L.A. [et al.]. 2011. Responding to climate change in national forests: a guidebook for developing adaptation options. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-855. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 109 p.


New NetMap module facilitates climate change planning at the watershed level


global climate models indicate that areas of highest elevation are predicted to have the greatest reduction in snowmelt runoff by 2080 in the upper Yakima basin, Washington. In NetMap, downscaled predictions from global climate models are routed downstream, creating a fish-eye view of potential climate impacts that include increased winter flooding or reduced summer low flows.

Use: Five national forests use new projections to plan for climate change.

The effects of climate change differ depending on local conditions such as topography and aspect, making it difficult for natural resource managers and decisionmakers to plan ahead. To remove some of the guesswork, Forest Service scientists and collaborators developed NetMap, a tool to help users determine where a suite of ecological processes that influence aquatic ecosystems are likely to occur in a particular landscape. Now, researchers have added a feature to NetMap so users can further scale likely climate-change impacts to specific watersheds in national forests of the Pacific Northwest. Changes in the pattern and amount of streamflow, water temperatures, and wildfire frequency and magnitude are the main impacts considered. Results from this analysis can be exported to Google Earth to better show where changes are most likely to occur. NetMap and the associated downscaled projections were shared with five national forests in the Pacific Northwest in 2011. National forest personnel are using the projections to help develop management strategies and programs to respond to climate change and to develop more strategic monitoring plans. All national forests in the Pacific Northwest will have NetMap and the climate change module by September 2012. The Bureau of Land Management has contracted the PNW Research Station to make NetMap available for selected districts in Oregon, as has the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

Contact: Gordon Reeves,, Land and Watershed Management Program Partners: Earth Systems Institute, University of Washington

How to get it:


Arctic fire releases large amounts of stored carbon to the atmosphere

Arctic tundra stores large amounts of carbon in cool wet soil that is hundreds to thousands of years old. Fire has been largely absent from this biome for thousands of years, but its frequency and extent are increasing, probably in response to climate warming. The Anaktuvuk River Fire in 2007 burned 645 square miles of Alaska’s Arctic slope, making it the largest fire on record for the tundra biome and doubling the cumulative area burned since 1950. The fire released 20 times more carbon to the atmosphere than what is lost annually from undisturbed tundra. This amount is similar in magnitude to the annual net carbon sink for the entire Arctic tundra biome averaged over the last quarter of the 20th century. If fires become a regular disturbance in the Arctic, massive amounts of stored carbon could be released to the atmosphere, leading to further warming of the Earth’s climate.

This research is being used to implement measurement techniques that estimate carbon loss in tundra areas. It is also being used by scientists who are initiating studies on the effect of fire disturbance on tree migration into the Arctic.

Contact: Teresa Hollingsworth,, Ecological Process and Function Program

Partners: Bonanza Creek Long-Term Ecological Research Program, Marine Biological Laboratory, University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Florida, USDI Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service


Researchers identify options for monitoring climate-related changes in Alaska


As the climate changes, bark beetles and fire pose increasing threats to Alaska's boreal forests (Photo by Olaf Kudgler).

As temperatures have increased in the boreal forest region of Alaska over the past half century, spruce beetle outbreaks have become larger and more severe, wildfire frequency has increased, permafrost is melting, and boreal tree species in some regions are showing signs of drought stress. Yet impacts on species composition and ecological processes within forests are difficult to monitor.

Use: Federal agencies use assessment to coordinate monitoring.

Researchers from the PNW Research Station and the Department of the Interior examined options for monitoring ecoregional-level change in northern latitudes. Climate-related changes to Alaska’s forests that could be monitored include changes in abundance and rarity of vascular plants, wildlife habitat, invasive species, fire risk, fire effects, postfire succession, impacts on forest growth and mortality from insects and diseases, and alterations in carbon pools and fluxes. Although managers of individual parks and refuges often have specific needs that require more targeted monitoring, regional level monitoring can help provide context for changes observed within smaller areas.

The researchers published an assessment of the Forest Service’s forest inventory program for monitoring climate-related change in Alaska’s forests in a 2011 special issue of the journal Biological Conservation. This information and an associated 2009 symposium on monitoring in northern latitudes led to the creation of Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, a multiagency effort to coordinate federal monitoring.

Contact: Tara Barrett,, Threat Characterization and Management Program
Partners: U.S. Geological Survey; USDI Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service


Mycorrhizal fungi on roots of tundra shrubs may facilitate postfire establishment of tree seedlings


Understanding the complex mechanisms controlling treeline advance or retreat has important implications for projecting ecosystem responses to direct and indirect effects of global environmental change. A warming climate not only promotes growth of seedlings and mature trees; it also enhances disturbances, such as fire that leads to further seedling establishment. Critical factors in postfire tree seedling establishment at treeline may be the availability of fungal inoculum for the formation of critical mycorrhizas, which facilitate water and nutrient acquisition.

Preliminary results indicate that most species of tree seedlings can have overlapping fungal taxa with adjacent resprouting shrubs. Also, mature or late-successional fungi may be housed on the roots of tundra shrubs during fire disturbance, which are then available for recruiting seedlings. Synergistic activity between resprouting tundra shrubs and newly established seedlings after fire could either maintain boreal community dynamics at the limit of tree establishment or provide a mechanism for expansion under future scenarios of warming and fire.

Land and fire managers are using these results to help predict future successional trajectories in treeline and tundra ecosystems, and modelers are using these results to more accurately model mechanisms that limit and facilitate tree migration into previously unoccupied areas.

Contact: Teresa Hollingsworth,, Ecological Process and Function Program

Partners: Bonanza Creek Long-Term Ecological Research Program, Marine Biological Laboratory, University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Florida, USDI Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service


Warmer winters likely to expand range of dwarf mistletoe; yellowcedar continues uphill retreat


Climate is a key control that regulates where tree species and their pathogens can survive. By analyzing forest inventory data, station scientists found that hemlock dwarf mistletoe, a leading disease agent for western hemlock, is restricted to the warmer southerly and low elevation forests in Alaska. The absence of dwarf mistletoe in some hemlock forests may be attributed to shorter growing seasons or suggest that snow limits dwarf mistletoe’s reproductive dispersal. Both western hemlock and hemlock dwarf mistletoe are projected to benefit from a warmer, less snowy climate. Scientists are projecting the potential distributions of both the tree and disease agent to interpret the health of western hemlock forests during the next century in Alaska.

Continuing research on yellow-cedar populations in southeast Alaska found many dead trees at lower elevations, live trees most common at mid elevation, and that regeneration peaked at higher elevations. These trends are consistent with our understanding that the presence of spring snow is a primary factor in the health and successful regeneration of yellowcedar. This knowledge is guiding decisions about where to favor this valuable tree through planting and thinning.

Contact: Paul Hennon,, Threat Characterization Management Program
Partner: The Nature Conservancy


Changing climates present new threats to the conservation of forest genetic resources


Conserving genetic resources is important for ensuring sustainability. It allows populations to continue to adapt to new environments and ensures that traits of interest for genetic improvement programs are available. As climates change, populations of native trees may become maladapted and genetic diversity may be lost. Some losses may be minimized by managing stands to be more resistant to threats by using silvicultural treatments such as thinning and prescribed burning. Natural selection and adaptation to changed environments may be promoted in reserves by increasing genetic diversity and promoting gene flow by locating reserves in areas of high environmental heterogeneity, minimizing fragmentation, and using assisted colonization. Collecting seeds, particularly from rare and iolated populations, is another important piece of genetic conservation efforts.

This research highlights the importance of identifying species and populations that are vulnerable to climate change and other threats. It also identifies steps that may help protect and conserve those species and populations. National forests in Oregon and Washington and the Washington Department of Natural Resources have begun working toward these goals by identifying stands for monitoring and seed collection.

Contact: Brad St. Clair,, Land and Watershed Management Program
Partner: Oregon State University


Geneticists make progress identifying genes responsible for climate tolerance in Douglas-fir and big sagebrush


Douglas-fir needles are flash-frozen in liquid nitrogen to preserve the status of gene expression at that instant. Back in the lab. researchers will look for adpative genes that may help the species adapt to climate change (Photo by Richard Cronn).

Many forest and range plants are finely attuned to their local climate, making it necessary to match seed sources with planting locations. From ecological and economic perspectives, the adaptability of the plants is critical. Forest Service and university geneticists are working to identify genes that enable certain trees and plants to tolerate and adapt to climatic extremes. This knowledge will enable nursery managers to deliver locally adapted, genetically appropriate materials for restoration even as the climate changes. Gene expression atlases have been developed for two subspecies of big sagebrush, which together include 21,000 genes. Similar efforts in Douglas-fir have identified over 38,000. These atlases are being used in conjunction with common garden studies to identify the relevance of differential gene expression and genetic polymorphism in climatic adaptation. Candidate adaptive genes will be targeted for detailed study so that the genes responsible for climate tolerance and adaptability can be identified and managed in future forests.

Contact: Rich Cronn,, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partners: Brigham Young University, Oregon State University, Utah State University, USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station


Understanding physical processes of tree development offers clues to tree response to warmer climate


A tree undergoes many physical changes during its life. Leaf physiology, wood structure, mechanical properties, reproductive ability, and interactions with herbivores and pathogens are just some of the features that change as a seedling grows to maturity. Many of these changes are presumed to allow trees to acclimate to the environment and endure for millennia. Understanding these processes may be key to anticipating their response to warmer climates.

A new book, Size- and Age-Related Changes in Tree Structure and Function, highlights some implications of these size- and age-related changes for commercial forestry plantations with shortened rotational ages. It also discusses how current and future forests will likely respond to climate and other environmental changes.

Contact: Rick Meinzer,, Ecological Process and Function Program

Partners: Oregon State University, University of California Berkeley

For more information: Meinzer, F.C.; Lachen-bruch, B.; Dawson, T.E., eds. 2011. Size- and age-related changes in tree structure and function. Tree Physiology 4, Springer Science and Business Media.


Scientists synthesize knowledge of tree responses to climate change


Several decades of research exist on the potential responses of trees and forests to climate-related stresses. Station scientists and colleagues at Oregon State University synthesized more than 400 research articles addressing physiological and ecological responses of trees and forests to variations in climate and associated stresses and disturbance agents. Although based on an international body of research, the synthesis highlights potential climate changes and responses from species and ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest. It is organized around key themes: elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, temperature, precipitation, fire, pests, and their interactions, and discusses vulnerabilities and risks from a forestry management perspective. The authors identify options for silvicultural and genetic approaches to managing for forest adaptation. The synthesis is a resource when conducting forest vulnerability and risk assessments and planning adaptation strategies. Researchers and modelers may also find it useful when developing and testing hypotheses or models of forest development and production under various future climatic conditions.

Contact: Paul D. Anderson,, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partners: Oregon Department of Forestry; Oregon Forest Resources Institute; Oregon State University; Taskforce on Adapting Forests to Climate Change; USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region; USDI Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service; Washington Department of Natural Resources For more information: Chmuraa, D.J.; Anderson, P.D.; Howe, G.T. [et al.]. 2011. Forest responses to climate change in the northwestern United States: ecophysiological foundations for adaptive management. Forest Ecology and Management. 261: 1121–1142.


Spring budburst model projects timing of budburst under different winter conditions

Different populations of Douglas-fir burst bud at different times. The seedling in the foreground has not burst bud while the one from a different population behind it has begun to grow (photo by Connie Harrington).

Many plant species and different populations within species have evolved so that their spring budburst coincides with environmental conditions conducive to growth. Plants sense cold and warm temperatures during winter so that they can tell when winter has passed and it is safe to burst bud. New growth that emerges too early in the spring, for example, could be killed by a later cold snap. Climate change has the potential to alter the signals that plants use, thereby changing the timing of budburst. Models are needed to predict the timing of budburst under different types of winter conditions. Because different populations have evolved to survive in different winter environments, the models need to be sensitive to how each population determines when it is safe to burst bud. Station scientists developed a model to predict the timing of budburst for populations of Douglas-fir, the major tree species in northwest forests. The budburst model has been published so that it can be used by other scientists and land managers. It can be used to help assess climate impacts on scales ranging from individual trees to the entire range of coast Douglas-fir.

Contact: Peter Gould,, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partners: Oregon State University, USDI Bureau of Land Management, Washington Department of Natural Resources


Maps summarizing projected change in global and North America vegetation available online


Until now , the sheer volume of information generated by the MC1 dynamic global vegetation model simulations has created a bottleneck when it comes to analysis, limiting its utility to managers, regulators, and policymakers. The MC1 model is routinely used in North America to predict vegetation impacts associated with climate-change projections to the year 2100, as well as associated changes to ecosystem services such as water availability and carbon sequestration. When using 5- by 5-mile grid cells, roughly 350,000 cells cover North America, and MC1 outputs for each cell include over 50 measures for each of three climate realizations (from multiple general-circulation models) and three carbonemission scenarios, and data are output monthly for a 200-year simulation. The MC1 user community spans a large number of international, federal, state, local, and nongovernmental organizations. Now, the most commonly requested summary map products from the global and North American MC1 simulations are available to this community for viewing and download from the DataBasin Web site at

Contact: Keith Reynolds,, Ecological Process and Function Program

Partners: Conservation Biology Institute, Environmental Systems Research Institute, Oregon State University


2010 Climate Change Research

Key Findings and Products

Global simulations of the effects of climate change on terrestrial ecosystems were published and made available to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Higher resolution simulations for North America (8-kilometer resolution) and the U.S. West (800-meter resolution) were released for testing by stakeholders.

The Climate Change Resource Web site becomes the Forest Service’s national Web site for climate change research and development.

The station co-sponsored the Forest Service’s first national workshop on climate change adaptation as part of the Westside Climate Initiative. The event and resulting guidebooks provide the scientific basis for planning and decisionmaking in relation to climate change across all national forests.

The Water, Climate Change, and Forests report is published and distributed to all units in the National Forest System, the Western Governors Association, and others.

Strategically placing dispersal corridors for headwater species allows populations to move across ridgelines in response to climate change and maximizes existing protected areas.

Potential forest productivity in Oregon and Washington over the next century varies for different climate scenarios.

Cascade Range volcanoes may be at greater risk for debris flows as climate warms. As glaciers retreat, loose sediment is exposed on the steep flanks of the volcanoes, potentially forming destructive debris flows during intense rainstorms.

Climate change is predicted to produce more extreme wildfire behavior and lessen the success of initial suppression efforts in California.


Global to regional simulations of climate change on terrestrial ecosystems now available

ACCURATE FORECASTING of potential climate change impacts on terrestrial ecosystems is critically important for many reasons, including international negotiations on greenhouse gas emissions. Global to continental-scale carbon balance and vegetation change could enhance or diminish climate change over the next century via trace gas and other biophysical feedbacks. At landscape to regional scales, however, land managers are concerned about potential forest dieback, changes in species composition, possible catastrophic disturbances, and decline or changes in ecosystem services. The Nested Scale Experiment is the latest endeavor of the Mapped Atmosphere-Plant-Soil System (MAPSS) project. It addresses natural resource management questions at global, continental, regional, and local scales by attempting to sample the range of uncertainties in future climate scenarios, as well as the scaling of uncertainties from coarse to high-resolution grids. The model simulations are developed to help ecosystem planners and managers at all scales answer two fundamental questions: How will climate change affect ecosystem structure and composition? How will climate change affect ecosystem function (goods and services)? A sample of the global-scale portion of these masive simulations has been published. The complete results present a formal uncertainty analysis of ecosystem change under climate change and will be available to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the next U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change, and all other stakeholders. Simulations for North America (8-kilometer resolution) and for the U.S. West (800-meter resolution) were presented at national and regional workshops and released for testing. Federal and state agencies, local and regional governments, nongovernment organizations, and private landowners have requested use of the simulation outputs.

Contact: Ron Neilson,, Ecological Process and Function Program

Partners: USDA Forest Service Northern, Pacific Southwest, and Rocky Mountain Research Stations; USDI Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and National Park Service; state and local governments; universities; and nongovernmental organizations

For more information:


Climate Change Resource Center Web site goes national

THE CLIMATE CHANGE Resource Center was initiated in 2008 by the Pacific Northwest Research Station. The Web site quickly became a collaborative project involving the Pacific Southwest and Rocky Mountain Research Stations. It was designed to provide information, access to relevant research findings, decision-support, and other tools to help land managers develop adaptation and miti- gation strategies for climate change. Its resources include video lectures, searchable libraries, selected tools, and the latest information about potential impacts to natural resources under various future climate scenarios. In 2010, the Climate Change Resource Center became the Forest Service’s national Web site for climate change research and development. It now includes information from research stations across the Forest Service. Land managers, reporters, and interested members of the public from around the country can now find information relevant to their region, placed within the context of global change. The number of visits to the site has steadily grown as more people learn about this resource. In 2010, the site had 108,297 page views from 174 countries.

Contact: Michael Furniss,, Communications and Applications Group

Partners: USDA Forest Service Northern, Pacific Southwest, Rocky Mountain, and Southern Research Stations, Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center, Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center

For more information:


Water, Climate Change, and Forests provides framework for watershed stewardship

WATER FROM forested watersheds provides irreplaceable habitat for aquatic and riparian species and supports our homes, farms, industries, and energy production. Secure, high-quality water from forests is fundamental to our Nation’s prosperity and is our stewardship responsibility. Yet population pressures, land uses, and rapid climate change combine to seriously threaten these waters and the resilience of watersheds.

Water, Climate Change, and Forests: Watershed Stewardship For a Changing Climate, published by the station, provides a framework for watershed stewardship in a rapidly warming world. It identifies steps for thinking, collaborating, and acting to implement practices that maintain and restore watershed processes and services. The report was distributed to all units in the National Forest System. The Rocky Mountain Region of the Forest Service funded a second printing and distributed 1,200 additional copies. The Western Governors Association gave one to each of its members. The report’s lead author received a personal note of appreciation from the Secretary of Agriculture.

Contact: Michael Furniss,, Communications and Applications Group Partners: USDA Forest Service National Forest System, Northern, Pacific Southwest, and Rocky Mountain Research Stations, State and Private Forestry For more information: Furniss, M.J.; Staab, B.P.; Hazelhurst, S. [et al.]. 2010. Water, climate change, and forests: watershed stewardship for a changing climate. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-812. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 75 p.


Adapting to climate change: a short course for land managers 3.0

THIS SHORT COURSE summarizes the state-of-the science for natural resource managers and decision-makers regarding climate variability, climate projections, and ecological and management responses to climate variability. The information and talks included were produced from a July 2008 workshop at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest that brought together key U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Geological Survey scientists, and a select group of pioneering resource managers who served as reviewers. The short course was produced as a DVD, which was approved by the U.S. State Department and distributed at the 2009 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Smartphone versions of the lectures were also produced. The short course was sent to all units within the National Forest System, and some are using it in weekly seminars.

Contact: Michael Furniss,, Communications and Applications Group

Partners: USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest and Rocky Mountain Research Stations, White River National Forest; University of Washington; U.S. Geological Survey

For more information: Furniss, M.J.; Millar, C.I.; Peterson, D.L. [et al]. 2009. Adapting to climate change: a short course for land managers. [DVD]. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-789. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of griculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Smartphone version:


Station co-sponsors agency’s first national workshop on climate change adaptation

THE STATION played a lead role in developing and convening “Adapting to Climate Change on National Forests: A Workshop for Resource Managers” in April, 2010. The workshop for national forest leadership, managers and others focused on processes used to facilitate learning about climate change science, vulnerability assessment of resources to climate change, adaptation to climate change across diverse resource disciplines, and implementation of adaptation in planning. It provided a forum for distributing a draft guidebook for climate change adaptation in national forests and discussing how the principles being employed on the Olympic National Forest and in Olympic National Park can be used and emulated at other locations. Small group discussions provided an opportunity for learning, sharing of information, and development of recommendations to national leadership regarding climate change adaptation. The workshop and resulting guidebooks were a major milestone in the nascent effort by the Forest Service to prepare for climate change. They provide the scientific basis for planning and decisionmaking across all national forests and fostered the learning and communication needed by various management units to move forward with climate change adaptation.

Contact: David L. Peterson,, Threat Characterization and Management Program

Partners: USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest and Rocky Mountain Research Stations


Collaborative learning efforts are needed to deal with climate change

CLIMATE CHANGE adaptation strategies for federal forests require an integrated socioecological perspective. The recent shift toward ecologically based forest management provides a good starting place for conserving biological diversity under climate change. Nevertheless, undesirable changes in species and ecosystems will occur, and a number of adaptive actions could be undertaken to lessen the effects of climate change.

Current environmental policies appear to be flexible enough to accommodate many adaptive actions. It is less certain, however, if sufficient social license and economic capacity exist to undertake these actions. Given the history of contentious debate about federal forest management in the Pacific Northwest, it is likely that some of these actions will be seen as double-edged swords, spurring social resistance, especially where actions involve cutting trees. If society and managers are to learn how to think about climate change and implement adaptive actions, collaborative learning efforts need to be rejuvenated and expanded.

This research fills a knowledge gap on how social dimensions influence the development and implementation of adaptive strategies for climate change in the Pacific Northwest. The findings are being used in discussions with managers from the Pacific Northwest Region and Willamette National Forest on how to develop strategies for dealing with climate change at multiple scales.

Contact: Tom Spies,, Ecological Process and Function Program

Partner: Oregon State University


Pilot project yields watershed vulnerability assessments for 11 participating forests

PROLONGED DROUGHT, extreme floods, and water quality problems are likely to be intensified by climate change in most regions of the United States. However, watersheds differ greatly in their vulnerability and resilience to climate change. To build and restore resiliency in a watershed, people need to identify and understand its vulnerabilities. It is essential to map watershed vulnerabilities when crafting strategies that will provide critical water and aquatic habitats in the coming decades. A station hydrologist is leading a watershed vulnerability assessment project on 11 national forests throughout the country. Researchers and forest managers are collaborating on this pilot project to evaluate the risks that climate change poses to important water resources on each participating forest. The working group uses a Web site to provide science support and facilitate collaboration among members. Each forest has prepared a draft that assesses watershed vulnerability at the sub-basin, watershed, and subwatershed scales. The next step will be identifying priority areas and developing recommendations for reducing vulnerability and building resilience on each forest.

Contact: Michael Furniss,, Communications and Applications Group

Partners: USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Chaquamegon-Nicolet, Chugach, Coconino, Gallatin, Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre, Helena, Ouachita, Sawtooth, Shasta-Trinity, Umatilla, and White River National Forests


Strategically linking headwater habitats across ridgelines benefits amphibians and management

THE MOVEMENT of stream-breeding amphibians overland across forested ridgelines to adjacent drainages can be interrupted by forest disturbances. To mitigate this, station scientists developed criteria for placing and managing dispersal corridors extending out from headwater riparian reserves, up and over ridgelines to the neighboring headwater riparian area. This design considers placing linkage areas at stand-to-landscape scales, for example (1) in north-south directions to allow population resiliency in the face of climate change, (2) across watershed boundaries that have no aquatic connectivity, (3) at landscape nodes where three discrete watersheds join, and (4) by co-locating linkages with debris-flow-prone areas, existing reserves, and federal lands. Scientists modeled this approach for the Oregon Coast Range. Federal biologists, land managers, and watershed stewardship councils are interested in this design. Implementation is being considered on several national forests in the Pacific Northwest Region as well as on federal lands in Arizona and New Mexico.

Contact: Dede Olson,, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partners: USDI Bureau of Land Management; Earth Systems Institute


Briefing papers provide decisionmakers with current knowledge about climate change

SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE about climate change is ever expanding and difficult to assimilate. For effective policy formulation and land management, decisionmakers and policy analysts need periodic syntheses of climate change information. Station scientists have compiled six briefing papers based on literature reviews and syntheses pertaining to specific questions about climate change. The main topics addressed are economic effects on the forest sector at the national and global scales, costs of forest carbon sequestration as part of mitigation strategies, and mitigation aspects for nonindustrial private and public forest ownerships in the U.S. forest sector. Salient findings from the literature are summarized in the synthesis of the literature, along with identified research needs.

Contact: Ralph Alig,, Focused Science Delivery Program

Partners: Ohio State University, Oregon State University, USDA Forest Service Northern and Southern Research Stations

For more information: Alig, R.J., tech. coord. 2010. Economic modeling of effects of climate change on the forest sector and mitigation options: a compendium of briefing papers. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-833. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 169 p.


Projections indicated changes in forest productivity in Oregon and Washington

USING CLIMATE and site productivity data from 3,356 plots, station and university scientists developed a spatial model to estimate the impacts of climate change on potential productivity of forests in Oregon and Washington. Potential productivity was modeled as a function of annual temperature, precipitation, and precipitation in excess of evapotranspiration. The model, coupled with climate change output from generalized circulation models, was used to predict the productivity impacts of four different scenarios developed by the International Panel on Climate Change. The projections indicated decreases for some currently productive regions but increases in many areas that currently have low productivity. Overall results differed between the west and east sides of the Cascade Range, and Washington had a greater overall increase than Oregon. Potential productivity is projected to increase after 50 years, ranging from 1.5 percent for the scenario with constant levels of carbon dioxide to a 7-percent increase for a high population growth or high energy use scenario.

These projections should only be viewed as possible changes in potential productivity, as they are based on many assumptions and do not reflect changes in natural disturbance or shifts in forest management or public policy. For managers and policymakers, they suggest the relative magnitude of effects and the potential variability of impacts across a range of climate scenarios. Future work could improve projections by including interactions of climate-related productivity changes with genetic and species migration limitations and fire, insect, and disease disturbances. Findings from this study received media coverage, appearing on ABC News and in the New York Times, Sacramento Bee, and The Olympian.

Contact: Tara Barrett,, Threat Characterization and Management Program

Partner: Oregon State University


Maps of biomass dynamics support North American Carbon Program

KNOWING WHERE and at what rates biomass accumulates or is lost across broad scales is critical to understanding how forest disturbance and regrowth processes influence carbon dynamics. Station scientists modeled live, aboveground tree biomass by using Forest Inventory and Analysis field data and applied the models to more than 20 years of Landsat satellite imagery to derive trajectories of aboveground forest biomass for study locations across the continental United States. Maps of biomass dynamics were integrated with maps depicting the location and timing of forest disturbance and regrowth to assess the biomass consequences of these processes over large areas and long timeframes.

These maps enable a first approximation of continental rates of biomass loss and accumulation as a result of forest disturbance and regrowth and can be used to support the North American Carbon Program. Scientists from a variety of universities and government agencies that model

carbon dynamics are using this information. Policymakers and managers now have information to use in understanding how forest biomass has changed over the past 20 years to inform their decisions about how forest management affects biomass change today and in the future.

Contact: Warren B. Cohen,, Resource Monitoring and Assessment Program

Partners: Montana State University, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Oregon State University, University of Maryland, USDA Forest Service Northern and Rocky Mountain Research Stations


Comparison of methods finds similar estimates of total aboveground biomass, differing estimates of merchantable biomass

RELIABLE METHODS for estimating tree biomass and carbon stocks on forest land are increasingly in demand, as concerns over global climate change raise questions about issues such as carbon accounting and bioenergy feasibility studies. But models for estimating tree biomass differ. Station scientists examined and compared three approaches that might be useful for regional analyses. They found that the three methods produce relatively similar estimates of total aboveground biomass for softwood species in Oregon, but substantially different estimates for the proportion of total biomass that is merchantable. At the local scale, for example when analyzing the carbon dynamics of a proposed management regime on a watershed, or assessing a bioenergy project where profit margins are slim, the differences in results could profoundly affect outcomes.

Contact: Xiaoping Zhou,, Focused Science Delivery Program


Managing forest land for profitability in southwest Germany will be increasingly difficult under climate change

CLIMATE CHANGE predictions have indicated probable shifts in tree species distributions as moisture and temperature conditions change. But restricting discussion to the ecological effects of climate change hinders mitigation and adaptation planning. Considering the economic viability of any forest management action is also important. Researchers conducted an economic evaluation of the expected range shifts of major European tree species in southwest Germany, including Norway spruce, a highly productive species. Using two climate change scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they predicted losses in the potential growing area of Norway spruce by 2030, 2065, and 2100. Based on 2004 prices with an interest rate of 2 percent, the financial loss resulting from reduced growing area ranged from $857 million to $3.9 billion. Studies like these can help managers design adaptation strategies such as active forest transformation that can minimize economic losses.

Contact: Susan Hummel,, Focused Science Delivery Program


Cascade Range volcanoes may be at greater risk for debris flows as climate warms

ONE OF THE most visible impacts of climate warming in the Pacific Northwest is the retreat of glaciers located on the flanks of volcanoes in the Cascade Range. As glaciers retreat, they expose steep, unconsolidated sediment that is prone to gullying and may fail catastrophically during intense rainstorms, resulting in debris flows. These flows can travel downslope for many miles at great speeds with enormous destructive potential. Such was the case in November 2006 when a record rainstorm initiated multiple debris flows on all major volcanoes in the northern Cascades. These flows destroyed roads and bridges and resulted in the unprecedented closure of Mount Rainier National Park for more than 6 months.

Station scientists studied how, where, and under what circumstances such debris flows initiate. They discovered previously unreported links between receding glaciers, areas of stagnant and debrismantled ice, and initiation zones for debris flows. These findings are helping the Forest Service and National Park Service reassess the risk to downstream infrastructure from such events and provide a potentially important example of how climate warming may be affecting mountain environments. These studies also are being coupled with downstream work by the U.S. Geological Survey to help explain changing patterns of channel aggradation and increased flooding potential for lowland areas surrounding Cascade Range volcanoes. The Christian Science Monitor and Los Angeles Times reported on these findings.

Contact: Gordon Grant,, Ecological Process and Function Program

Partners: Oregon State University, Mount Rainier National Park, U.S. Geological Survey, National Science Foundation


More fires likely to escape initial attacks as climate changes in California

SUBTLE SHIFTS in fire behavior induced by anticipated climate changes over the next century are sufficient to increase the number of fires that escape initial attack, especially in shrub-covered wildlands in California. Comparison between high and reduced-emissions scenarios shows that the lower emissions scenario is sufficient to produce modest reductions in the anticipated negative impacts on wildland fire severity and outcomes. Relatively modest augmentations to existing firefighting resources appear to be sufficient to compensate for climate change-induced changes in wildland fire outcomes. This information was submitted to the governor of California to serve as a basis for action on climate change in the state.

Contact: Jeremy Fried,, Resource Monitoring and Assessment Program

Partners: ATMOS Research and Consulting; U.S. Department of Energy, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Universidad


New insights into managing ecosystem productivity in a changing climate

STATION SCIENTISTS and collaborators developed a forest management strategy called GreenWave. This strategy is based on the realization that the amount of solar energy captured by green plants is the single dominant ecosystem process controlling the collective delivery of nearly all societal benefits derived from forests. Through this approach, all private and public-sector jobs associated with managing forests can be thought of as contributing to the national green economy. The GreenWave concept has several principles, including: (1) Current ecosystem productivity does not necessarily equal potential ecosystem productivity. Limitations in current productivity can be addressed by altering species composition, water-holding capacity, and nutrient supply. (2) Energy (measured with carbon budgets) is a currency that can be used to track solar capitol as it flows through societal benefit streams and analyze tradeoffs between different resources or ecosystem services. Because the annual energy use from fossil-based carbon in the United States is less than 0.5 percent of the incoming solar energy to U.S. forest land, GreenWave accounting can play a major role in examining tradeoffs between energy production and other forest uses.

Contact: Bernard Bormann,, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partners: University of Washington, USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region, USDI Bureau of Land Management


Special issue focuses on forests, management, and climate change

A STATION SCIENTIST served as the guest editor for a special issue of Forest Ecology and Management titled “Adaptation of Forests and Forest Management to Changing Climate.” The issue stemmed from an international conference held in Sweden in 2008 that brought together about 350 scientists and forest managers to discuss what needs to be accomplished globally and to share knowledge and experience to ensure that local adaption decisions are supported by global science

The concepts presented are thought provoking, and the applications include management tools for evaluating risk and reducing vulnerabilities of global forests in a changing climate.

Contact: Catherine Parks,, Threat Characterization and Management Program

Partners: Canadian Forest Service, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, International Union of Forestry Research Organizations, Natural Resources Canada, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station

For more information: Forest Ecology and Management. 2010. 259(4).

US Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station
Last Modified: Tuesday,18November2014 at14:53:00CST

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