Extreme weather affects forest communities for decades Print
Written by sekira   
четврток, 10 април 2008 13:30

Rare and extreme weather events have a major long-term effect on forestry-reliant communities in Northern Europe, according to recent research. Although more general climate change scenarios have been widely discussed, government planning for the socio-economic impact of major storms accompanying climate change can limit the long-term effects on communities.

Storms like Gudrun, which devastated 70 million m3 of forest in southern Sweden in 2005, will affect forest communities differently, based on their vulnerability and adaptive capacity. Swedish research, funded by the EU BALANCE project, modelled the effect of a storm like Gudrun on three forest communities: Norrbotten, Sweden, Lappi, Finland and Arkhangelsk Oblast in Russia. Researchers considered socio-economic factors, sector specific factors (such as harvest rate and wages) and the natural forest system.

In Sweden and Finland, a major storm leads to a short-term employment increase, as storm-felled timber is processed. However, within five years Norbotten and Lappi will see negative effects on forest-based employment, lasting as long as 40 years.

Finnish and Swedish forest communities have better adaptive capacity in the face of both extreme events and climate change in general than those in Russia. In Arkhangelsk Oblast, the effect of a big storm on long-term employment would be devastating. This community is more dependent on forestry than the other communities studied, and may have less support from central government in the form of measures such as social security.

In all three communities, a major storm has more negative effects than long-term climate change. Small-scale stakeholders are also less likely to invest in long-term measures that can minimise the impact of these types of event. Small businesses, for instance, are unlikely to be able to relocate or spread their risk by managing sites in several regions.

Increased temperatures and rainfall in northern Europe are predicted to lead to faster forest growth, but may be accompanied by flooding and disruption to transport networks. These will hamper timber transport. Forests grow slowly, and planting appropriate species is important: coniferous trees and shallow rooted trees are most likely to fall in high winds. Careful selection of tree species, as well as creating stands of trees of mixed ages limits vulnerability.
Policy measures that encourage diversification could help build resilience in forestry related industries. These might include options to diversify into pulp-and-paper or biofuels production, or encourage and support communities dependent on forestry.

Source: Lundmark, L., Pashkevich, A., Jansson, B. and Wiberg, U. (2008). Effects of climate change and extreme events on forest communities in the European North. Climatic Change.87 (1-2) :235-249.