The study, led by university researcher Greg Latta, suggests global warming would significantly increase the productivity of high-elevation forests in the Pacific Northwest. However, forests at lower elevations -- which have accounted for more than 80 percent of the region's recent timber harvest – could face a decline in growth.
The scientists said their computer models show the most productivity would occur in Washington, where high-elevation forests could have productivity increases between 35 percent and 500 percent annually, depending on which climate scenario is used. In Oregon, similar elevations might see more modest forest growth increases of 9 percent to 75 percent.
The researchers said overall, forest productivity could increase about 7 percent annually in forests west of the Cascade Range and 20 percent in forests east of the range.
"There's a lot of variability here, depending on which climate scenario turns out to be most accurate and what policy changes are made as a result," said Professor Darius Adams. "And there are dramatic differences in forest regions and elevations. Clearly the forest growth is likely to increase the most at higher elevations, but it's worth noting that those forests never had very high growth rates to start with."
The study appears in the journal Forest Ecology and Management.