Community Agriculture Alliance: Adaptive silviculture for climate change
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Everyone in Northwest Colorado has appreciated the moist spring and summer months. It has been good for local agriculture and ranching, and good for wildlife. The forests have also gotten a much-needed break from years of drought.
Meteorologists are now predicting that a third La Niña year might also bolster Northwest Colorado’s winter snowpack. Despite this welcome reprieve from drought, the longer-term trend is clear: temperatures are rising. Some of the consequences we see right here in Routt County include fir decline, insect outbreaks, bigger and hotter fires, and limited establishment of young trees.
So what will this mean for the future of our existing forests? And for the new forests coming up after the mountain pine beetle outbreak?
The Colorado State Forest Service understands that climate change is a tremendous challenge to its mission to be the stewards of Colorado’s diverse forest environments for the benefit of present and future generations. This is why, among many other things, the CSFS is working with the Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change Network to establish experimental silvicultural trials at the Colorado State Forest in Gould.
The goal of the ASCC Network is to find meaningful ways to integrate climate change adaptation into the current planning and future management of different forest ecosystems.
Silviculture is “the art and science of controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health, and quality of forests and woodlands to meet the diverse needs and values of landowners and society on a sustainable basis,” according to the Society of American Foresters Dictionary of Forestry.
Thinning, regeneration harvests, planting, site preparation, pruning, and prescribed burns are some examples of silvicultural treatments. Foresters use these approaches as part of a broader toolbox when managing and stewarding forest lands for a variety of ecosystem services, such as watershed protection, forest restoration, wildlife habitat, timber, recreation, and carbon sequestration.
The ASCC Network and the CSFS have been working with a broad group of scientists, land managers, practitioners, and other partners to define experimental trials that respond to different management strategies of high elevation forests on the northern west slope of Colorado.
These experiments could help forest managers understand which tree species and forest communities are better suited for a warming climate. For example, encouraging the establishment and growth of some of our more drought tolerant native species at higher elevations might make our forests more resilient as temperatures rise.
The challenges of climate change require forward thinking to increase the resiliency of our ecosystems. Managers need to manage today’s forests while considering what the forest will look like in the next 50 to 100 years. Research from projects like the ASCC Network will help us plan for healthy forests on our future landscape while we work to reduce wildfire risk and increase watershed health and protection today.
Carolina Manriquez is a forester with the Colorado State Forest Service Northwest Area.
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