Forests, and the millions of species that depend on them, are valuable economically and ecologically, providing an estimated $4.7 trillion in goods and services annually. Their ecosystem services include nutrient cycling, carbon sinks, climate regulation, and raw materials. Approximately 60 million people rely on forests for their livelihoods, with the production and manufacturing of industrial wood products estimated to contribute $400 billion to the global economy, approximately 2 percent of the global Gross Domestic Product.
Forests are especially vulnerable to climate change, given the difficulty in migrating to keep pace with temperature changes, and the varying climate tolerance levels of forest ecosystem species. Mountain forests are limited to migrating upslope to mountain peaks, while development may block migration of lowland forests. Climate change will also exacerbate existing stress from changing land use patterns that fragment habitats. Impacts such as unusually intense fires and devastating parasite infestations, historically stemmed by cold winter temperatures, are already occurring. Such impacts affect both the economic productivity and biodiversity of forests.
Increasingly, forests are managed adaptively, if not specifically in response to climate change. Adaptive measures have sought to reduce pressures on biodiversity from habitat conversion, over-harvesting, pollution, and alien species invasions. Specific projects include an adaptive management approach by the U.S. Forest Service to stem decline of the northern spotted owl. In addition, the 1994 U.S. Northwest Forest Plan established 10 Adaptive Management Areas, each with a focus, strategic plan, and activities consistent with their purpose. The Northwest Forest Plan demonstrates the importance of a clear organizational commitment, capacity, and leadership; effective public participation processes; clearly-defined elements of an adaptive management plan (including goals and objectives); and the use of creative and innovative approaches.
The mere presence of forests will help bolster environmental resilience to climate change by preserving biodiversity. Conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecosystem structure and function are important climate change adaptation strategies, because genetically-diverse populations and species-rich ecosystems are better able to adapt to climate change. Management structures can help build forest resilience by minimizing factors that degrade forests. For example, forests with natural species diversity can better adapt to other threats, such as population growth and depletion and degradation of forests, than can monoculture tree farms. Methods for maintaining species diversity without prohibiting tree harvesting include selective cutting and controlled burning.
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