NOV 09, 2023 10:00 AM PST

Alaskan Forests Crucial for Climate and Biodiversity Goals, Oregon State University Study Finds

A recent study published in AGU Advances examines how the conservation and protection of two Alaskan forests, Tongass and Chugach, are essential in fighting the effects of climate change due to their expanse for wildlife habitats, abundant carbon stocks, and landscape integrity. This study was led by researchers from Oregon State University and holds the potential to help scientists better understand the steps that need to be taken to mitigate the long-term effects of climate change by preserving the resources of today.

Tongass National Forest (Credit: Logan Berner)

“More thoroughly safeguarding those forests from industrial development would contribute significantly to climate change mitigation and species adaptation in the face of the severe ecological disruption that’s expected to occur over the next few decades as the climate rapidly gets warmer,” said Dr. Beverly Law, who is a Professor Emeritus of Global Change Biology & Terrestrial Systems Science at Oregon State University and lead author of the study.

For the study, the researchers investigated 154 US national forests (NFs) that possessed abundant carbon stocks, acceptable wildlife habitats, and landscape integrity (amount of human change). They found the Tongass and Chugach NFs in Alaska are the most promising in terms of all three criteria, along with accounting for the largest numbers of gray wolf, brown bear, and bald eagle habitats of all 154 NFs analyzed for in the study at 18 percent, 37 percent, and 49 percent, respectively.

Along with wildlife habitats, carbon stocks are essential for capturing human-produced carbon from the atmosphere and keeping it from contributing to climate change, and the Tongass and Chugach NFs were found to account for high amounts of carbon stock compared to the other NFs in the study.

“Forests play an incredibly important part in trying to mitigate climate change and support biodiversity,” said Dr. Law. “For six decades, ecosystems on land have annually been removing roughly 30% of all the carbon dioxide humans have been putting into the atmosphere, and forests do most of that work. But intact forests with high carbon density and high biodiversity are disappearing at a frightening pace, lost to agriculture, logging and other industries, and development.”

For now, the US Geological Survey and the International Union for Conservation of Nature have Tongass and Chugach under protection at 35 percent and 57.6 percent, respectively, but could this change in the next few decades?

What new discoveries will researchers make about how national forests could help mitigate the effects of climate change in the coming years and decades? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

Sources: AGU Advances, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture (1), Oregon State University, EurekAlert!

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
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