Lumber prices are up more than 500 percent in some areas, and people are even poaching trees from public forests for home projects, but this late-pandemic surge in lumber demand is a short-term threat to trees compared to the ongoing climate emergency. In some regions, temperatures are warming too fast for trees to catch up.

Because trees take decades to grow, today’s well-adapted seedlings may be unprepared for the future climate. That can have consequences far beyond the forest. Trees that are not adapted to their climate are more likely to succumb to pests and disease, and dead trees intensify forest fires. Fires lead to increased flood risks, and floods drag dust and dirt to downstream water systems, which can clog pipes and strain treatment systems.

“O’Neill and forestry researcher Erika Gómez-Pineda are coauthors of a recent article published in the Canadian Journal of Forest Research that makes the case for forestry practices to incorporate a process known as assisted population migration, in which seeds are moved to colder climates within the species’ natural range. This can help foresters capitalise on existing adaptations and bolster their forests for future climate change.

The study addressed two seed stock questions: Where will British Columbia have problems, and where are solutions already growing in the United States? Using Representative Concentration Pathway 4.5 projections, the authors identified key parameters, including average precipitation, average temperature, and growing degree days for British Columbia’s ecosystems in the year 2055.

The study design assumes an impending planting date in 2040 and accounts for the first years of growth when trees are most susceptible to stress. Out of 207 seed zones, 44 (about 21 per cent) were at high or moderate risk of losing adapted domestic seed supply by 2040, suggesting that these zones may soon lack domestic seeds worth planting.

Next, the researchers mapped areas of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia where historical growing conditions from 1945 (the earliest era of province-wide weather records) mirrored the expected climate in 2055.

O’Neill and Gómez-Pineda found that a matching climate area greater than 20,000 square kilometres existed in the United States for 42 of British Columbia’s 44 at-risk seed zones—that’s an area about twice the size of Puerto Rico. Even considering lakes, slopes, and neighbourhoods that would reduce the feasible seed access area, that’s still a large region where Canadian foresters could secure heartier seeds.

Read the full article about planting forests by J. Besl and at Eco-Business.