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Volume 27, Issue 2 p. 503-518
Article

Forest management scenarios in a changing climate: trade-offs between carbon, timber, and old forest

Megan K. Creutzburg

Corresponding Author

Megan K. Creutzburg

Department of Environmental Science and Management, Portland State University, P.O. Box 751, Portland, Oregon, 97207 USA

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Robert M. Scheller

Robert M. Scheller

Department of Environmental Science and Management, Portland State University, P.O. Box 751, Portland, Oregon, 97207 USA

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Melissa S. Lucash

Melissa S. Lucash

Department of Environmental Science and Management, Portland State University, P.O. Box 751, Portland, Oregon, 97207 USA

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Stephen D. LeDuc

Stephen D. LeDuc

National Center for Environmental Assessment, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW (8623P), Washington, D.C., 20460 USA

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Mark G. Johnson

Mark G. Johnson

National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 200 SW 35th Street, Corvallis, Oregon, 97333 USA

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First published: 21 October 2016
Citations: 64
Corresponding Editor: Carolyn H. Sieg

Abstract

Balancing economic, ecological, and social values has long been a challenge in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, where conflict over timber harvest and old-growth habitat on public lands has been contentious for the past several decades. The Northwest Forest Plan, adopted two decades ago to guide management on federal lands, is currently being revised as the region searches for a balance between sustainable timber yields and habitat for sensitive species. In addition, climate change imposes a high degree of uncertainty on future forest productivity, sustainability of timber harvest, wildfire risk, and species habitat. We evaluated the long-term, landscape-scale trade-offs among carbon (C) storage, timber yield, and old forest habitat given projected climate change and shifts in forest management policy across 2.1 million hectares of forests in the Oregon Coast Range. Projections highlight the divergence between private and public lands under business-as-usual forest management, where private industrial forests are heavily harvested and many public (especially federal) lands increase C and old forest over time but provide little timber. Three alternative management scenarios altering the amount and type of timber harvest show widely varying levels of ecosystem C and old-forest habitat. On federal lands, ecological forestry practices also allowed a simultaneous increase in old forest and natural early-seral habitat. The ecosystem C implications of shifts away from current practices were large, with current practices retaining up to 105 Tg more C than the alternative scenarios by the end of the century. Our results suggest climate change is likely to increase forest productivity by 30–41% and total ecosystem C storage by 11–15% over the next century as warmer winter temperatures allow greater forest productivity in cooler months. These gains in C storage are unlikely to be offset by wildfire under climate change, due to the legacy of management and effective fire suppression. Our scenarios of future conditions can inform policy makers, land managers, and the public about the potential effects of land management alternatives, climate change, and the trade-offs that are inherent to management and policy in the region.