The majestic forests that Pennsylvanians are familiar with today won’t be the forests that future generations know because of global climate change, says John Quigley, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.
While outlining his agency’s agenda on a number of fronts recently, Quigley mentioned that several species of trees will disappear from the forests in the next 50 years as the earth’s temperatures warm:
* Sugar maple trees, the source for Pennsylvania’s maple syrup crop, will be gone.
* Black cherry, the biggest cash crop for the forest products industry, won’t survive.
* The eastern hemlock, the official state tree, will suffer additional threats from invasive species. The hemlock is already threatened by the wooly adelgid, an insect that sucks fluid from the tree’s needles and injects toxins into the tree.
Quigley made his comments as two important documents addressing the future of Pennsylvania’s forests are in the public eye.
The public comment period ended last week for the Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment report released in August. This assessment was done by Pennsylvania State University for DEP to fulfill a 2008 state law.
The last two public hearings atook place in Williamsport and Carlisle on the draft State Forest Resource Management Plan undertaken by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
This updates the strategic plan for the multi-use state forests done in 2008.
The climate assessment’s underlying conclusion is that temperatures will rise to an extent that by 2050, Philadelphia’s climate will be similar to current-day Richmond, Virginia, and Pittsburgh’s climate will be similar to current day Washington, D.C.
While the assessment looks at Pennsylvania’s entire ecosystem, forests which cover 58 percent of the state’s land surface, also get their share of attention.
The warming climate will mean that the suitable habitat for some tree species will shift to higher elevations and from the south to the northern tier, the assessment said.
Some tree species will fare better with longer growing seasons and more rainfall, while others will die off.
The forest products industry will have to adapt by cultivating faster-growing trees and salvaging dying stands of climate-stressed trees.
DCNR’s resource management plan for 2.2 million acres of public forest land details which tree species will fare better or worse with higher greenhouse gas emissions.
Birch and aspen which thrive in a northern ecosystem will die off while black cherry, American beech, red maple, sugar maple, eastern Hemlock and eastern white pine will increasingly have less-suitable habitat in the state, according to the plan.
Pennsylvania’s changing habitat will become more favorable for southern species such as hickories and see the introduction of loblolly pine, common persimmon and red mulberry.
And these climate forecasts also emphasize the forests can play a role in mitigating climate change by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.