The changing climate the Earth is experiencing is changing the forests in Michigan. Warmer and shorter winters affect trees, pests and the diseases that damage trees.
Stephen Handler is a climate change specialist with the U.S. Forest Service. He’s based in Houghton, in the Upper Peninsula.
Handler described two main changes happening now to Michigan’s climate: Winters are milder and more variable, and more precipitation falls in heavy rainstorms.
In the past, cold winters have kept pest populations in control. Due to fewer cold snaps, certain pests, like the hemlock woolly adelgid, have spread north.
Since trees use carbon dioxide to grow, Handler said increased CO2 in the atmosphere could mean bigger trees. Some growth trials suggested trees grown with more CO2 had 20% to 25% more wood.
“When we grow trees in an atmosphere that is enriched in CO2, that’s like growing them in an all-you-can-eat buffet,” he said.
He said many factors, including water and nutrients, contribute to tree growth, and that it’s an area of active research.
Why is this important? For one thing, the health of Michigan forests impacts the quality of water in Michigan, Handler said. Forests consistently capture, filter and release water through the soil.
“The most important product we get from forests is not wood, it’s water,” he said.
To hear the full conversation about Michigan forests and climate change, listen above.