Flathead Forest research project seeks to adapt forests to climate change

  It takes a different kind of patience when you sign up to study a forest. A research project started in one lifetime might not bear fruit until the next generation of scientists comes along.

Across the country, forest researchers are setting the stage for projects they hope eventually will offer insights on management techniques that will help forests of all types make the transition that’s coming as the climate continues to warm.

In five different locations — including Flathead National Forest lands adjacent to the Coram Experimental Forest — researchers are preparing to set up new plots that could offer future scientists insights into whether it’s best to stick with what’s already there or help the transition along by introducing species that will be more tolerant to the new normal.

In western Montana, that change will likely mean warmer temperatures that stay above freezing at night, which could lead to an earlier spring runoff. Along with that, the growing season could be longer, with less moisture in the ground during the hot summer months. Predictions call for more wildfire as the forests dry out.

Flathead National Forest silviculturist Melissa Jenkins said larch has a number of qualities that might help it survive the coming changes to the landscape. Unlike some species of pine and spruce, it’s not in the crosshairs of many destructive insects and disease. If it can live long enough, larch also develops bark thick enough to resist fire.

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