Climate Change is Leaving Loggers Stuck in the Mud

Jan 03, 2015 09:59 PM EST

You've likely heard all about how climate change is impacting our forests, changing how fast they grow, and which species grow fastest. However, new research has revealed that foresters, not just forests, are having to adapt in the wake of these changing climes, and their entire industry might still suffer.

A study recently published in the Journal of Environmental Management has revealed that the period that ground remains frozen in northern forests has significantly decreased over the last six decades, shortening harvest seasons and causing difficulty for loggers.

"We found a significant decline in the duration of frozen ground over the past 65 years, and at the same time, a significant change in the species being harvested." Adena Rissman, a forest ecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said in a statement.

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She explained that many for forests in the northern hemisphere, it is essential that the ground stays frozen in late winter months, giving loggers a chance to bring in their heavy machinery and transport vehicles. Soon after this season ends, spring melt will cause forest floors to become muddy and nearly impassible.

"Nobody wants to get stuck; you lose time and have to get hauled out or wait for the ground to firm up again," co-author Chad Rittenhouse explained. Consequentially, many loggers are taking on debt because they have to end harvest early, or are slowed due to unexpectedly early thaws.

The pair found that when loggers didn't shorten their planned harvests to accommodate for earlier and earlier thaws, equipment and logs would still have to be moved with heavy-duty vehicles, pressing harmful ruts into roads and the surrounding countryside that do nothing but facilitate erosion and even landslides.

"Excessively wet and muddy ground during harvest is a lose-lose-lose for the logger, the landowner and the environment. People in the forestry industry say this is a big deal; winter is normally the most profitable time."Rissman added. "For many people, climate change is something that happens, or not, in places that are far away, at scales that are difficult to see or understand through personal experience. Here's an example of something we can clearly document, of a trend that is having an impact on how forests are managed, right here at home."

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