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September 2007

The Future of Forests

As the earth warms, here's how higher temps will affect our forests.

5. Less colorful autumns in the Northeast
Milder winters cause sugar maples to migrate out of the U.S.
Sugar maples depend on a prolonged cold season for optimal sugar content and sap production. Due to warmer winters, syrup producers in Vermont and New Hampshire are already tapping trees one month early, and climate models predict that the maple will migrate to Canada between 2070 and 2090, crippling New England’s syrup industry and fall foliage.

6. Fewer trout
As streams warm, habitat will decline by 50 percent.
Trout and steelhead (seagoing rainbows) need cold, swift, highly oxygenated water. As a river’s temp approaches 70°F, they stop feeding. Once it hits 80°F, many varieties such as cutthroat and bull simply die. Researchers at the University of Wyoming estimate that a 5.4°F increase in July air temperatures (predicted by most 100-year climate models) could eliminate half of Rocky Mountain trout habitat. The EPA predicts up to a 50 percent loss of cutthroat habitat throughout Oregon, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado, and greater than 50 percent in Washington, Idaho, California, and New Mexico. In the Northeast, an EPA study concluded that rainbow, brook, and brown trout will likely be “partially or completely eliminated” by the middle of this century–to be replaced by bass, carp, and catfish.

7. Evaporating wetlands
Decreasing soil moisture will likely reduce waterfowl populations across the Upper Midwest.
The northern Great Plains region along the U.S.-Canada border is a glaciated landscape of fertile soil, rugged hills, and small, shallow ponds known as prairie potholes. Besides being awfully scenic, this 310,000-square-mile wetland zone is also the breeding ground for 50 to 80 percent of all of North America’s waterfowl. At least 350 bird species use this region during migration, and 180 breed here. By 2060, warming is expected to intensify evaporation and reduce soil moisture by 25 percent, decreasing the number of potholes from 1.3 million to about 700,000. At least 14 species of waterfowl will see their populations cut in half, and scientists forecast a 70 percent reduction in ducks, and a 91 percent drop in prairie pothole wetland acreage by 2080.

8. Bigger, itchier poison ivy
Woody vines will thrive in a CO2-rich environment.
Start hoarding calamine lotion. Ecologist Jacqueline Mohan of the Ecosystems Center at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA, used a pipe system to boost CO2 levels in a North Carolina forest to the exact concentration expected by the year 2050 if current fossil fuel use rates continue worldwide. The result? The CO2-enhanced vines grew three times larger and produced a more potent form of urushiol, the toxic agent in poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.

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