As climate changes, so does forest industry

Scientists and supporters attending a regional conference earlier this month in Concord agree climate change in the woods of New Hampshire is real.

The early arrival of spring means a longer mud season and less time for foresters and loggers to spend in the woods. Less time means less money. As a result, the region’s character, along with billions of dollars could be lost due to the changing climate, according to speakers participating in the conference.

Nearly 360 foresters, professors, professionals and advocates, including Rafe Pomerance, president and co-founder of the Climate Policy Center, and former New York Gov. George Pataki, turned out for the daylong conference.

Scientists equate the changing climate to an increase in carbon emissions — heat-trapping gasses — which many scientists have said are resulting in a warmer global temperature. The warming trend has already begun to change the Earth, glaciers are melting, more storm events are occurring, animal species are fluctuating, and in New England less snow is staying on the ground, according to a handful of recent reports from scientists who support climate change theories.

Records indicate 2005 was the warmest year worldwide.

The conference attendees discussed the realities of the changes and their effect on the forests of the state. Reports show a need to begin thinking differently about the forest industry, according to participants.

Adapting to change

The maple sugaring industry is likely to be the first victim of the warming climate, according to the New Hampshire Division of Forest and Lands Director Phil Bryce, who said, “Canadians may own the maple tree at the end of the century.”

With the changing climate and a 50-year period of warming already under way, future forests of the state will look much different than they do today, said Eric Kingsley, vice president at Antrim-based Innovative Natural Resources Solutions.

Kingsley told the audience to take their kids or grandkids to a maple sugar house today or tomorrow, because the industry and the culture that goes with it is disappearing. By the middle of the century, he said, the industry will be entirely lost.

In the last 20 years, $1.3 million in syrup sales have been lost in the Granite State. Kingsley predicts that over the next 100 years, the loss of sugar maples will mean a $7 billion economic loss and the complete annihilation of the industry.

But maple trees won’t likely be the only species to disappear from the region. Steve Hamburg, director of the Global Environment Program at the Watson Institute for International Studies and associate professor at Brown University, said many species are going to begin migrating out of the region. Spruce and pine trees, which have played an important role in the state’s forest industry, may also be on the outs.

Kingsley pointed to a forecast that calls for forests being eventually dominated by commonly southern—and cheaper—species, like hickory and oak, as the future of the regions forests.

Since hickory and oak are less expensive woods than those commonly forested in the Northeast, the transition to southern species in northern forests will cost the region a substantial amount of revenue and will require the forest products industry to rethink its future, according to conference scientists.

However, if those in the industry prepare for the change now, scientists agree the forests will continue to be profitable.

“It’s easy to think the forest industry is withering away, but that’s not the truth,” Kingsley said.

Foresters have adapted successfully before, and they can again, but top climate experts warn the change is not taking place on some arbitrary date in the future, it’s happening now and it needs to be dealt with. And Hamburg said one thing for certain is climate change will make the forests unpredictable, a reality that is not a good one for those trying to make money from it.

And while many changes are still just predictions, advocates agree on one thing: “Things are going to change,” Bryce said.

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