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Forests and Climate Change


Forests in a Changing Climate

The climate changes expected over the next century will have huge consequences for ecosystems and the benefits they provide, including the provision of wood and fuel, food, temperature and flood regulation, erosion control, recreational and aesthetic value, and species habitat, among others.

Climate changes are likely to affect important ecological processes that will in turn affect key natural resources. For example, temperature and precipitation changes have strong implications for insectswildfireinvasive plants, and forest diseases will become more frequent in some areas of the country. The emissions that cause climate change also lead to air quality problems that put additional stress on trees.

Coupled with altered hydrology and increased disturbance and stress, climate change will affect how vegetation is distributed within the U.S., and will cause changes for aquatic ecosystemswildlife species and soils. How these resources are affected will have broad implications for maintaining ecosystem services, including biodiversity and the carbon storage capabilities of forests. Each impact on one aspect of an ecosystem can affect a variety of others, producing a series of cumulative effects that can make it difficult for ecosystems to adapt.


Our Forests, Our Solutions from the Climate Change Resource Center

Find educational materials on climate change

Read assessments of the effects of climate change on forests


Image of forest with link to forest assessments

Responding to Climate Change

Meeting the diverse challenges that climate change is imposing on Earth's environments requires many approaches, and specific responses will depend heavily on the management goals for a particular resource. Scientists are currently working to understand the risks posed to ecosystems, through examining characteristics and changes in landscapes and conducting assessments on impacts and ecosystem vulnerabilities. Public lands, private landswilderness areas, and urban neighborhoods will all be affected, and each will require different management considerations. Specific management practices such as silviculture are potentially valuable tools for helping forests respond to a changing climate.

For those charged with managing ecosystems, climate change can seem like a daunting challenge. Fortunately, a range of management options exist to help ecosystems adapt to climate changes, and to contribute to climate change mitigation by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These options are often complementary to actions that land managers employ regularly.

Learn about adapting forests to changing conditions

See a comprehensive list of adaptation options proposed in the literature, complied by Natural Resources Canada.


This page features information from the Climate Change Resource Center (CCRC). The majority of the CCRC is dedicated describing ecosystem responses to climate change, and how natural resource management may be able to respond to those changes. Please follow the links in the text, or explore the CCRC website for further information.