Integrating Climate Change into Forest Planning: A Spatial and Temporal Analysis of Landscape Vulnerability

Craig Robert Nitschke, PhD Dissertation, University of British Columbia

“The achievement of sustainable forest management requires the incorporation of risk and uncertainty into long-term planning. Climatic change is one stressor that will have significant impact on natural disturbances, ecosystems and biodiversity, particularly on landscapes influenced by forest management. Understanding where vulnerabilities lie and when climatic thresholds are reached are important areas of knowledge that must be used to manage the risks associated directly or indirectly with climatic change. The vulnerability of landscapes to natural disturbances, the resilience of ecosystems and distribution of biodiversity are all important components that need to be considered when undertaking forest planning. Through the use of modelling the vulnerability of a 145,000 ha landscape in the south-central interior of British Columbia was used as case study to assess the vulnerability of fire potential, fire regimes, ecosystem resilience and biodiversity to climatic change. The results from the analysis of fire potential identified a 30% increase in fire season length and a 95% increase in fire severity by 2085. A statistically significant shift in fire behaviour was also detected by 2070 with crown fires predicted to be more common. Climatic change was also found to significantly increase mean fire size by 2025 and decrease the mean return interval. By 2085, 95% of the landscape could burn every 50 years or less compared to the 34% currently classified. Ecosystem resilience was modelled to be affected to varying degrees with a shift in many species to higher elevation and/or to non-water deficit sites between 2025 and 2085. Six species were predicted to be at extreme risk and four others at high risk. An analysis of bark beetle risk identified 38.7% of the study area is currently at some degree of risk to attack. An analysis of biodiversity identified 19 indicator species that could be used to monitor management actions with a biodiversity management area that covers 66% of the landscape. These analyses were used as a foundation to guide forest zoning allocation, using the triad zoning framework, and for developing a “Climate-smart” management paradigm to be used for managing the landscape after allocation.”

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