Monday, July 21, 2008

Report: Future forest management may focus on water

Environmental Protection: The forests of the future may need to be managed as much for a sustainable supply of clean water as any other goal, researchers say in a new federal report – but even so, forest resources will offer no "quick fix" to the insatiable, often conflicting demands for this precious resource. 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 recently released a report on the hydrologic effects of a changing forest landscape. "But 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 science of how forest management affects water quantity and quality, Jones said, has produced a solid foundation of principles. But forests in the United States are changing rapidly, and additional research may reveal ways to provide a sustainable flow of fresh, clean water. Changes in water supplies from forests due to climate change, the researchers said, are a particular concern, and water supplies may already be affected by increased fire frequency and insect or disease epidemics. Many such factors require more study, they said.

Photo of a brook in a fall forest in Surgut, Russia, by "Mariluna," who has generously released it into the public domain. Thank you, Mariluna