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Impact of Climate Change on Forest Diseases Assessed in New US Forest Service Report

A report being released by the U.S. Forest Service examines the impact of climate change on eight forest diseases and how these pathogens will ultimately affect Western forests.

The report analyzed a range of future conditions from warmer and dryer to warmer and wetter.  The first scenario, which is considered more likely for most regions in the West, includes dryer and hotter summers.  These conditions will increase the risk of wildfires and warmer winters allowing insect outbreaks, like the bark beetle, which has destroyed millions of pine trees in Colorado, to continue.

Compounding the problem of a warming climate are forest diseases, such as Sudden Oak Death, that thrive in these conditions and have already killed or infected millions of trees in the Western U.S. and Canada.

An oak succumbs to Sudden Oak Death/US Forest Service photo

An oak succumbs to Sudden Oak Death/US Forest Service photo

“The risks we manage are rapidly changing with the climate,” said Dr. Dave Cleaves, Climate Change Advisor for the U.S. Forest Service. “Publications like this provide valuable information to land managers so that they can capture opportunities as well as reduce or avoid losses.”

Drawing on a large body of published research, the report details the effects these eight forest diseases will have under two climate-change scenarios: warmer and drier conditions, and warmer and wetter conditions. Although the report’s results suggest that climate change will affect forest health, uncertainty exists regarding the degree of climate change that will occur and this can ultimately affect the report’s projected outcomes.

Predicting the effects climate change will have on forests is a difficult challenge. But it’s highly important that scientists attempt to measure the far reaching environmental impacts of a warming climate on forests. Much of what we depend on, from clean drinking water; to lumber for building homes; to clean air (because trees work as natural carbon absorption machines) is tied to managing healthy forests.

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