This new view of forests is evolving, scientists say, as both urban and agricultural demands for water continue to increase, and the role of clean water from forests becomes better understood as an "ecosystem service" of great value. Many factors – changing climate, wildfires, insect outbreaks, timber harvest, roads, and even urban sprawl – are influencing water supplies from forests.
Preserving and managing forests may help sustain water supplies and water quality from the nation's headwaters in the future, they conclude, but forest management is unlikely to increase water supplies.
"Historically, forest managers have not focused much of their attention on water, and water managers have not focused on forests," said Julia Jones, a professor of geosciences at Oregon State University, and vice chair of a committee of the National Research Council, which today released a report on the hydrologic effects of a changing forest landscape. "But today's water problems demand that these groups work together closely.
"Because forests can release slightly more water for a decade or so following timber harvest, there have been suggestions that forests could be managed to increase water supplies in some areas," Jones said. "But we've learned that such increases don't last very long, and often don't provide water when you need it most."…The stream in Teuchl, Penk, Gemeinde Reißeck, Bezirk Spittal an der Drau, Carinthia, Austria. The shot is by Jarlhelm, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2