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Five Factors will Alter US Northern Forests 50 Years from Now

Apr 18, 2014 05:01 PM EDT
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Five anthropological factors independent of climate change will radically alter US Northern forests 50 years from now, a US Forest Service study reports.
(Photo : USDA Forest Service - Northern Research Station)

Five anthropological factors independent of climate change will radically alter US Northern forests 50 years from now, a US Forest Service study reports.

The northern sector of the United States has some of the most populated and dense forests in the nation. Logging and clearing forests for agriculture and development, for example, could threaten these lush regions.

The report was published recently by the journal Forest Science and is part of the Northern Forest Futures Project, an effort led by the Forest Service's Northern Research Station to forecast forest conditions over the next 50 years. Authors looked at the 20-state region extending from Maine to Minnesota and from Missouri to Maryland.

"In our research, we found five short- and long-term factors that will be highly influential regardless of the nature and magnitude of the effects of climate change," lead author Stephen Shifley, a research forester with the Northern Research Station, said in a press release. "Addressing these issues today will make northern forests more resilient to the effects of climate change and to any other natural or anthropogenic disturbances in the long term."

For one, the majority of Northern forests are in the same age class, and therefore are all naturally growing old, regardless of any external influences. Nearly 60 percent of northern forest land is anywhere from 40 to 80 years old. Young forests (age 20 years or less) are only 8 percent of all forests in the region and forests older than 100 years make up 5 percent.

Increased urbanization will also change Northern forests as we know them. Cities in the 20-state expanse are expected to grow by 27 million people in the next 50 years.

Invasive species, plants and animals will alter forest density, diversity and function. The Northern United States has the greatest number of invasive insects and plants per county. Authorities also do not manage forestry effectively, and will likely continue in this manner. And they will prioritize non-timber activities, such as logging and the selling of timber.

"In the next 50 years, the link between forests and economic and human health will grow. The Northern Forest Futures Project is helping identify the individual and collective steps needed to ensure healthy and resilient futures for trees and people alike," Michael T. Rains, director of the Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory, concluded.

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