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Forest Change in the Oregon Coast Range


Forests are a major sink for greenhouse gases sequestering approximately 20% of U.S. carbon emissions annually. Forest biomass is considered a green, renewable fuel source for electricity generation.  In fact, a limited number of power plants are currently using “hog fuel,” which is wood left after logging or salvage operations to produce power.  It has been shown in certain cases that forest productivity declines with repeated timber harvesting; a result of soil disturbance, lost soil carbon and removed nutrients.  The consequences, however, of more intensive, short-rotation harvesting and removal for the production of biomass fuel are less understood.  An immediate concern is compromising the ability of forests to sequester atmospheric carbon, but also longer-term loss of forest productivity and ecosystem services, such as water quality maintenance, are possible.  This research will use the Panther Creek Watershed in the Oregon Coast Range Mountains as a case study to simulate the effects of biomass removal for energy production on forest sustainability under different forest management practices and climate change scenarios.  Collaboration between EPA, BLM, the forest products industry and local watershed councils has produced a unique data set at Panther Creek. The watershed is extensively instrumented with meteorology stations and extensive biomass and soil inventories have been conducted.  LIDAR data have been assembled and are being used to estimate biomass carbon within the watershed and regionally.  We will use the Panther Creek study area and associated data, in conjunction with LANDIS-II/Century modeling, to address multiple questions such as: 

  • How will forest harvesting biomass for power generation alone and in conjunction with climate change alter forest sustainability in Oregon Coast Range forests?
  • How will the trajectory of sustainability be altered due to anticipated changes in climate?
  • Can impacts be mitigated?
  • Can management and harvest strategies be developed to reduce forest and soil carbon losses and greenhouse gas production?
  • Are there potential disturbance interactions (e.g., fire, disease) that could exacerbate climate change and harvest effects and how would that affect our uncertainty? 
People:  Robert SchellerMelissa LucashMegan CreutzburgMark Johnson (EPA), Stephen LeDuc (EPA)
Funding:  BLM, EPA