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Criterion 7 Indicator 67
Rationale
Capacity to Predict the Impacts of Possible Climate Change on Forests
 
Climate changes, such as global warming, could have immense effects on forests. If researchers can predict climate change and its impacts on forests, then forest managers would be able to take mitigating actions earlier. This capability would improve the likelihood that forests will be managed on a sustainable basis.

Evaluation
In order to predict the effects of global climate change on forests, researchers need to develop a good understanding of how climate change would affect forest disturbances such as insect pests and forest fires.
 
The United States has had a global change research program since 1990. Participating agencies include the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Forest Service. The U.S. Forest Service research is looking into the potential effects of climate change on forests and their management. As the knowledge base grows, so will the ability to predict the impacts of possible climate change on forests.
 
Forest production studies have been enhanced by ecological research examining how forest ecosystem processes are affected by climate and nutrient cycling. Based on this research, models have been developed to quantify the impacts of climate change on forest productivity. With these models, the capability now exists to set up large-scale climate scenarios and examine their potential impacts on forest production. This understanding is limited, however, particularly in the area of empirical data demonstrating the direct effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide on tree growth and the long-term effects on ecosystem productivity.
 
Federally managed forests — predicting the impacts of climate change
 
Climate patterns appear to be changing rapidly. If this shift continues, there is strong concern about how quickly forest ecosystems can adapt to the changed climate. However, it is not known yet if the patterns are simply normal variation, or really are the first signs of long-term climate change and, if so, the exact nature and speed of that change.
 
Given this uncertainty, the current federal forest policies are probably the best choices for an uncertain future that may involve climate change. These federal policies include an emphasis on ecosystem diversity, recognition of the role of disturbance, and the preservation of large reserve areas. They are a significant change from previous policies that emphasized short timber rotations, a single species forest, and high production forestry.