Manage Forests for Climate Change


Climate change is already altering fire regimes, invasive plant and insect dispersal, and disease occurrence in forests across the United States. As average global temperature continues to warm, these changes will continue.

What Does Climate Change Mean for Forestlands?

Forestlands across the nation are experiencing increased threats from fire, insect and plant invasions, disease, extreme weather, and drought. Scientists project increases in temperature and changes in rainfall patterns that can make these threats occur more often, with more intensity, and/or for longer periods of time.

The potential impacts to forest ecosystems vary by region, species composition, established weather patterns, and other factors. Key impacts include:

  • Climate change will likely alter the frequency and intensity of forest disturbances, including wildfires, storms, insect outbreaks, and the occurrence of invasive species.
  • The productivity of forests could be affected by changes in temperature, precipitation and the amount of carbon dioxide in the air.
  • Climate change will likely worsen the problems already faced by forests from land development and air pollution.

How Can Land Trusts Help?

Although many of the effects of future changes are negative, natural resource management can help mitigate these impacts. Management strategies informed by the best current science enable natural resource professionals to better protect the land and resources and conserve the region’s forestlands into the future.

Specific approaches vary with site and species of concern, but examples of adaptive strategies include:

  • Managing tree densities where needed through sound forest management practices to maximize carbon sequestration while reducing the susceptibility of forest stands to water stress, insect and disease outbreaks, and wildfire.
  • Focus restoration efforts in cove forests where cool microclimates buffer the effects of future warming and water stress.
  • Maintain piles of natural woody debris and promote wetlands in areas of high amphibian diversity to supplement habitats that retain cool, moist conditions.
  • Monitor for new invasive species moving into areas where they were traditionally not found, especially in high-elevation communities.
  • Enhance riparian corridors to provide shade to moderate increases in water temperature and stream flow that could decrease water quality and harm native trout populations.

Forestry activities can mitigate climate change by contributing to the reduction in atmospheric buildup of greenhouse gases (GHG)  in three important ways: sequestration, emissions reductions, and fossil fuel substitution.

  • Sequestration: Carbon dioxide (CO2) removed from the atmosphere can be stored in soils, biomass, and harvested products, and protected or preserved to avoid CO2 release back to the atmosphere. These become carbon stores or carbon sinks.
  • Emissions reductions: CO2 emissions can be reduced by adopting more fuel efficient technologies and practices, and on some working forests, deployment of renewable technologies including biofuel production may further reduce impacts associated with fossil fuel emissions.
  • Fossil fuel substitution: Using biofuels produced in the forestry sector instead of fossil fuels can help lower GHG concentrations. Even if lands are not in production, an organizational commitment to reducing carbon intensive uses can set an example within your community that inspires others to do the same.

While there is no single solution to forest management challenges, opportunities to improve the resilience of forest ecosystems while mitigating global greenhouse emissions are increasingly being embraced by land stewards across the country. In addition to supporting sustainable forestry practices that can provide multiple ecosystem services including carbon sequestration, as long-term environmental stewards land trusts are in a unique position to support mitigation policies and practices that galvanize immediate actions to reduce the potential extent of future climate change today.

Learn More

For more detailed information and the latest scientific literature about managing healthy forests for the future visit the TACCIMO online tool.