Warming temperatures may freeze North American timber industry

COLUMBUS - Global warming trends may seriously harm North America's stronghold on the timber production industry, a recent study suggests.

But rising temperatures could mean an economic boom for the timber industry in regions with subtropical climates, such as South America, Africa and Asia-Pacific.

Global warming may cause forest growth patterns to slowly change, said Brent Sohngen, a study co-author and an associate professor of agricultural, environmental and development economics at Ohio State University.

This shift in timber production could have serious ramifications for growers in temperate regions, such as North America, the former Soviet Union, China, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe, areas that currently supply 77 percent of the world's industrial timber.

But at the same time, growers in the subtropics will be able to expand their plantations of fast-growing trees to gain a larger share of the world timber market.

"Timber growth rates in the tropics can double those in cooler, temperate climates," Sohngen said. "These plantations can raise the same amount of fast-growing softwood species in 10 to 30 years that their temperate counterparts can in 50 to 100 years."

His study predicts that the area occupied by timber plantations in the tropics will increase an average of 675,000 acres per year for the next 50 to 100 years - an annual increase roughly the size of Rhode Island. These new plantations will typically be built on farmland that is no longer used for conventional crops.

But productive temperate regions won't stop producing trees. Rather, a rise in temperature will cause their forests to undergo a shift in species. Temperate forests in Canada and the northern United States and Europe typically produce hardwoods such as cherry, oak and maple. But warming temperatures will allow softwood species, primarily southern pine, to

Contact: Brent Sohngen
Ohio State University

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