Working landscapes are the key

  High Country News has brought to the fore a critical environmental quandary: Should we protect species by any means necessary in the face of climate change or let nature take its course (HCN, 2/04/08)? There is another element of our response to climate change that deserves greater emphasis: management of working landscapes. A "let nature take its course" approach may be appropriate for parks and preserves, but most forests and rangelands are already driven by a management goal. Natural resource management goals can be adjusted to accommodate increased resistance and adaptation to climate change. Managed lands must be part of our response to climate change because they cover a much great area than parks or preserves ever will.

About 74 million acres of America's forest land is protected as a park or wilderness area, but there are about 512 million acres of working timberland. On these timberlands, changes in management choices can increase wildlife habitat or the health of native species, which in turn can add to the resilience and adaptation of our forests to an altered climate. Forest managers regularly plant trees after harvest, so planting species that may be better adapted to a new climate does not require a philosophical shift. Some working forests can even increase carbon sequestration by extending rotations, employing low impact logging practices, or other relatively small changes. In Western forests, burning logging residue and material removed in fuel reduction efforts to generate heat and/or electricity can help reduce fossil fuel consumption.

The preservation of unique ecosystems and charismatic species as climate changes is daunting. Management of working landscapes is a crucial tool to help us confront that challenge.

Alexander Evans
Forest Guild, Research Director
Santa Fe, New Mexico