'Watering the forest for the trees' emerging as priority for forest management

Jun 04, 2013

A new analysis led by the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station encourages resource managers to consider a broadened view of forests as consumers of water.

A shift in thinking toward reducing the risk of to vegetation can help forests maintain their resilience and health in a , according to a paper published online in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

"Our work emphasizes how forests primarily need and consume , and so managing forest health requires thinking about how much water is available for forests, how forests use that water, and how management strategies can mitigate increasing ," said station research hydrologist Gordon Grant, who led the analysis.

More than half of the U.S. water supply comes from forest lands where most precipitation falls, filters through soil, and, ultimately, becomes streamflow. Current research demonstrates that many of the growing threats facing forests, like wildfire and insect outbreaks, are linked to water stress from combinations of drought and a warming climate. Climate change is projected to increase forest water stress in many areas.

Along with co-authors Christina Tague, from the University of California, Santa Barbara; and Craig Allen, from the U.S. Geological Survey, Grant reviewed a range of studies—mostly from the western U.S. and in drought-stressed forests—to identify management strategies that may retain water for forests, such as thinning and conservation.

Then, to demonstrate the potential effects of water-enhancing strategies, the researchers used a model of vegetation, water, and carbon cycling on a forest site in New Mexico's Bandelier National Monument, which recently experienced a multi-year drought and associated . Modeling revealed that substantial ponderosa pine mortality during the 2002-2003 drought might have been prevented by small increases in plant-available water via forest thinning, mulching to reduce evaporation from the soil, or irrigation.

"Many of the strategies for addressing increased drought stress are consistent with established forest management objectives and practices, but increasing water availability to forests through the use of specifically designed management activities has not been an explicit goal," Grant said. "Ultimately, these strategies would need to be tailored to particular management objectives and landscapes."

Explore further: New water balance calculation for the Dead Sea

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers try to save huge US salamander (Update)

Jul 10, 2014

With a long, slimy body and beady eyes, North America's largest salamander wouldn't top any cutest animal lists. The hellbender's alien appearance and mysterious ways have earned the big amphibian a bad reputation and unflattering ...

Not at home on the range

Jul 09, 2014

A new study on parasites that infect a marine snail suggests that though hosts might expand their geographical range, the parasites don't always follow.

Recommended for you

EU sets new energy savings target at 30%

55 minutes ago

After months of tough negotiations, the European Commission recommended Wednesday a new energy savings target of 30 percent so as to combat climate change and ensure self-sufficiency.

User comments : 0