Climate Change and the Forests of the Adirondacks

It’s about time people (started thinking about U.S. forests…then again, this article holds a landmine toward the end…it’s called “biomass fuels.” Not a bad concept-if it means a return to wood-stoves & local, sustainable harvesting by local workers & sawmills (& not in roadless or old-growth areas).

This is all part of the Great North Woods that run from Maine to Minnesota…therefore this article has implications for the entire bio-region.

ASW

For a decade and more now, headline stories about the relationship
between our emergent new climate and the loss or reduction of forest
cover has proceeded as if only the forests of Africa, the Amazon,
Asia, and the Boreal North mattered. Forests in the U.S. have
remained substantially managed for extraction of wood products and
creation of related jobs–including extraction for jobs in the new
and still unsettled industry of burning forest biomass for fuels.

Lance

Times Union
November 23, 2008

Climate change affects forest
By BRIAN NEARING, Staff writer

TUPPER LAKE-What if we looked at the Adirondacks as more than just
a 6-million-acre forest? What if we also viewed it as a kind of
living factory in the fight against global warming, a mechanism
capable of sucking up tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
every day?

In an era increasingly defined by the search for ways to control
carbon, how much is the Adirondack region worth to the state, the
nation or even the planet? And could that value somehow turn into
cash that both protects the forest and supports the people who live
there?

Those were among the questions raised at a conference last week on
how climate change is altering the Adirondacks. More than 190 people
crowded into The Wild Center, a natural history museum devoted to the
region, to hear about both challenges and solutions.

“It is easy to get gloomy. Our landscape is at risk,” said Jerry
Jenkins, a Washington County botanist who co-authored an Adirondack
climate report released by the center and the Wildlife Conservation
Society.

“The Adirondacks are warmer and wetter, with longer springs and falls
and shorter winters. We have new birds, less snow, different seasons
and colors, new diseases,” said Jenkins, who has studied climate
change for more than 20 years. “Thus far, these are not threatening.
If the climate models are right, the warning signs of larger changes
could be very threatening.”

The Adirondacks are the southernmost outpost of a colder boreal
climate found in Canada, Jenkins said. It is winter that is receding
most rapidly, with average winter temperature rinsing 5 degrees over
the past century – more than double the rise in spring and summer
temperatures.

Frosts arriving a week later in the fall and departing a week earlier
in the spring have added some two weeks to the growing season, said
Tom Tucker, whose family has farmed since the 1860s in Gabriels,
Franklin County, a hamlet about 20 miles north of Lake Placid.

Even if CO2 emissions are brought down now, global temperatures will
rise, up to another 6 degrees by the end of the century because of a
lag in climatic systems. A hotter Adirondacks might not be helpful to
Tucker’s signature potato crop, which prefers cool temperatures.

Even the best scenario will bring the Adirondacks a climate more akin
to the mountains of West Virginia, and lead to severe declines in
classic Adirondack trees like hemlock, white pine, sugar maple and
white ash, Jenkins said. During the winter, the number of days with
snow cover will be cut by a third to a half.

If emissions keep climbing unchecked, temperatures could jump by 8 to
11 degrees – moving the Adirondacks into the temperature zones
currently found in the North Carolina mountains, or even the
highlands of northern Georgia.

That could leave only the highest Adirondack peaks with traces of
snow, ending the region’s tradition of winter sports like skiing, ice
climbing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. Iconic animals like the moose
and loon would retreat north, and up to half of Adirondack forest
species of trees, plants, animals and insects could gradually
disappear.

“We have to do all that we can to limit the change to 6 degrees or
less,” Jenkins said.

For now, the Adirondack region is doing a bit to preserve itself. As
trees grow, they take in CO2 like a sponge, producing growth trapping
carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere. An acre of forest,
depending on its age, can sequester up a little more than a ton of
CO2 a year.

That means the Adirondacks each year store about 7 million tons of
CO2. While that sounds like a lot, it’s just 3 percent of the 200
million tons emitted each year by New York state.

Still, it is an invaluable service that cannot be duplicated
mechanically. On a per-acre basis, the Adirondack Park is among the
nation’s five largest carbon “sinks,” areas where CO2 is absorbed
rather than emitted, according to a conference report issued by Colin
Beier, a researcher at State University of New York College of
Environmental Science and Forestry, and Dan Spada, natural resources
analysis supervisor with the Adirondack Park Agency.

“We are wrestling with this: How does the forest owner, the forest
industry, get paid for the carbon that they sequester? That is hard,”
said Ross Whaley, co-chairman of The Wild Center conference. Whaley
served as chairman of the Adirondack Park Agency during the Pataki
administration, and now represents the Adirondack Landowners
Association. About half of the land within the park is privately
owned.

Further complicating this is the concept called “additionality,”
which Whaley explained as the idea that any theoretical value of
forest carbon sequestration should reflect only the additional CO2
absorbed by the forest each year, and not the long-term carbon that
has already been locked into the trees.

Whaley said the state could offer financial incentives, possibly in
the form of tax breaks, for forest owners who manage their property
to contain carbon.

And forests also must be looked at as a resource for replacing fossil
fuels when possible. Harvesting some trees for use as locally-used
heating fuel, a concept known as biomass, could actually result in a
net reduction of CO2 by reducing the need for higher-carbon oil or
electric heat, especially if more-efficient centralized heating
systems that use pellets or wood chips could service more
densely-populated hamlets.

The average Adirondack resident emits about 17.5 tons of CO2
annually, mostly through heating or vehicle travel over the huge
park. While that is less than the national CO2 per capita average of
23.6 tons, primarily due to a lack of industry in the park, it is
still more than the average person in Germany (12.3 tons) or France
(8.7 tons).

All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2008, Capital Newspapers
Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, NY

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