Climate change might have joined politics and religion as a dicey topic, but not for researchers such as Christopher Woodall. Woodall, of the USDA Forest Service, wants to learn what might be occurring—or not—to forest stands due to changing weather trends.
Why is this important? With approximately 1,000 manufacturing facilities and $70 billion in shipments, according to the American Forest and Paper Association, wood products are key to rural communities.
Woodall’s research involves measuring timber stand migrations and identifying the tree species most susceptible to possible climate change. Focusing on tree seedling mortality, he says, "for some species, we have worries that along the fringes of the ranges, the regeneration is not there. There are many reasons why regeneration could be failing, and I’ve never tried to tie it to climate change—some species look like they are moving northward, but others aren’t," he says.
Aided by a national Forest Inventory and Analysis database, researchers hope to gain insight into changes in regional forest stands by looking at tree species’ composition, stand age, overall health and regeneration.
Woodall says the wood products industry will want to invest in local economies and will need data to support its decision making. "Companies will be asking to find the most recent data that addresses [tree species for] products like wood pellets and bioenergy. Having a market incentive to address that is good for the economy and healthy for the forests."