I’m really pleased that our CounterAct Climate Change Project (C3) offers educational programs that aren’t your average, garden-variety presentations. Although you can find just about anything under the sun on TED Talks or YouTube, isn’t it nice to hear from local people who are experts in various ecological niches? Plus, those static programs on the Web don’t give the audience an opportunity to interact with the presenter, or talk to each other. Let’s keep the dialogue going!
Pete Clark’s presentation last week on “Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change” was a good example of such interactive programming. Pete’s a PhD candidate at the University of Vermont who is focused on ecological forestry and keeping forests healthy. He’s good at listening, and asking questions; both are critical skills for encouraging productive dialogue between citizens and scientists. Specifically, his current research at UVM is on planting over 7,000 seedling trees in a forest in northern New Hampshire to test ways to help forest ecosystems adapt to the disturbing impacts of climate change. How can we ensure healthy tree stands that can survive droughts, wind events, floods, etc.? Ideally, this research will be able to continue for decades, given that it takes that much time for trees to mature.
If you missed his presentation, you missed a lot! Fortunately, it’s recorded, so you can see it here. It was chock full of information about which tree species store more carbon, which ones are commonplace now in northeastern forests, which might thrive in future climate conditions, what factors create ecological resilience in a forest, and how much wood Massachusetts imports to get timber for various purposes such as building homes and making furniture.
The greatest threat to forests is the loss to development. In New England, since the 1980s there has been a precipitous decline in forest cover because forest land has been converted to non-forest land (developments). How we should manage the forest land we have left (active vs. passive management) is a subject of great debate. There are multiple approaches to mitigating climate change (see image below), so the issue is much more complicated than to simply plant lots of new trees and protect existing forests. Whether young forests store more carbon than old-growth forest is somewhat debated, but one thing is certain: forests are critical to storing carbon.
Earth is our only home, and our house is on fire. Aside from the recent (and seemingly perennial wildfires in western US), the planet is dealing with floods, droughts, dying coral reefs, rising sea levels, pestilence, and record-breaking heat. To avoid catastrophic loss of life in many regions, we have to change our ways, now, not in some distant future.
So, in times of a crisis like this, when many people wonder whether earth will be habitable 100 years from now, it may seem absurd to plan for 75-100 years in the future. Yet we must plan, we must think long-term and imagine a positive outcome, or we’ll never get there. I’ve heard it said that “a failure to plan is a plan to fail.”
What we’ve learned in the past couple of programs is that it’s not “either-or,” but “both-and.” That is, we need multi-faceted, parallel approaches that include protecting existing forests, and planting trees that will withstand the test of climate change. Hopefully the multi-faceted approaches are complementary, and synergistic. Then multiply them across international boundaries, the timber industry, and environmental working groups. Easy, right? Ha. We need all hands on deck for this challenge!
Pete put together a handy reference list for future reading on this topic. Also, it’s interesting that Pete has another career as a cliff ecology consultant, with 15+ years of experience specializing in studying rare and inaccessible landscapes, from cliffs to remote mountaintops to lava flows; check out his Cliff Ecology website!
P.S. Save the date for our next program, on Tuesday, September 22, 7:30-8:30 pm:
Carbon Storage, Climate Change, and Species Conservation Efforts
Presented by John Scanlon of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife