Preparing forest industries for the future - climate change adaptation research

​Over $3.6 million has been spent on research aimed to develop information that would allow the commercial forest sector, forest planners and managers, and forestry dependent communities, to better adapt to climate change. The research was aimed at developing diagnostic tools and techniques to determine when (and what) specific management intervention is required to respond to the threats and opportunities of climate change. A number of projects also focused on examining forestry relevant tree species and determining which species (and their genotypes) are most likely to thrive under predicted climatic changes. In addition, research also examined options to mitigate the predicted increase in bush fire risks, and testing and advancing Australia’s biosecurity preparedness with regard to major forest pests.
The 9 projects, outlined in further detail below are:

  • Potential effects of climate change on forest and forestry
  • Australian Forest Productivity and Merchantability Database
  • Forestry adaptation and sequestration alliance
  • The amplified climate change plantation bushfire risk study
  • Genetic resources moving with climate change
  • Climate adaption strategies to manage drought risk and mortality in existing and new plantation forest in Australia
  • The Hawkesbury Forest Experiment: providing the missing information for decision support systems to manage forests under rising carbon dioxide and global warming
  • Forest biosecurity and preparedness for climate change
  • Prioritising uncertainties in resource flow dynamics for Australian timber industries

Potential effects of climate change on forests and forestry

Grantee

Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES)

Summary

This study aimed to help governments understand future wood yields and the effect of that level of production on the economy and to identify the communities most vulnerable to climate change. Assessments conducted by ABARES describe the possible effects of climate change on forest growth in six regions across Australia and estimate the resulting effects of those changes on wood production, the forestry and forest products industries and the communities that depend on those industries. The six regions included in the study were Green Triangle, north–eastern New South Wales – south–eastern Queensland, northern Australia, south–eastern New South Wales – Eastern Victoria, south–western Western Australia and Tasmania.

Climate modelling has shown that compared with 2005, most production forest areas in Australia would receive lower rainfall and experience an increase in temperature by 2030 and 2050. The effects of climate change on forest productivity would vary across regions and subregions of Australia, with wood yields projected to decline in most commercial forest production areas.. Declining wood supply may result in reduced investment in harvesting, haulage and log–processing capacity and could lead to reductions in the value of production and levels of employment. The estimates produced by this study have not taken into account any measures that could be used to adapt to the new environment. Assessment of the relative vulnerability of forest and forestry–dependent communities has indicated that a number of communities across the six forest regions exhibit high to very high vulnerability.

Australian Forest Productivity and Merchantability Database

Grantee

Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences

Summary

This project aimed to produce a validated productivity/merchantability baseline for Australia’s forests for use in analyses to address a key climate change knowledge gap. Mapped outputs from the Australian Forest Productivity and Merchantability Database (2011) were examined to determine accuracy of the mapped productivity and assigned yield association – using LandSAT, Google imagery and SPOT5 imagery – and adjusted as required.

Forestry adaptation and sequestration alliance

Grantee

University of Sunshine Coast

Summary

This project used data from a large number of 10 year old trials, of species with potential for use by the plantation forest industry in north–eastern Australia. The project was designed to contribute to policy deliberations on emerging forestry opportunities that can be integrated in the landscape, with particular consideration given to lower rainfall regions. It was developed for several north–eastern Australian examples where production forests have developed sub–optimally, due to poor selection of tree species stemming from previously limited information on which species selection decisions could be based.

The project identified tree species which had the best potential for use in sustainable forest plantations, agroforestry systems and other natural resource management systems in Queensland and northern New South Wales. The final report for the project summarises data from a range of trials and provides information that will assist in improving growth rates and carbon sequestration of selected hardwood species in north–eastern Australia, as well as reducing the impact of pests and diseases.

The amplified climate change plantation bushfire risk study

Grantee

GHD

Summary

This project examines a research gap on how plantation fire risk profiles and factors may alter with climate change. Mitigating the risks of climate variability to plantations has historically been a challenge for forest owners and managers, considering the often long rotation lengths involved. The effect of climate change adds significantly greater challenges, including amplified bushfire risk, with the timing of forecast changes potentially within the current rotation of existing plantations. The project’s objective was to improve this particular knowledge on the nature and degree of climate change amplified bushfire risks to more effectively target adaptive responses, at a range of levels from individual plantation owners to consolidated industry level.

The project’s final report gives an overview of climate change, risk context, potential effects of climate change and other factors. The project focused on six study areas around Australia, with the research giving climate change projections on each region and risks associated with the plantation forestry sector. Comprehensive final reports have also been prepared for each of the individual regions, which are likely to be useful for distributing the results of the project on a regional basis.

Genetic resources moving with climate change

Grantee

Southern Tree Breeding Association

Summary

This project aimed to help match genetic resources with current and future production environments in response to climate change. The development and identification of genetically improved trees that are adapted to a range of conditions provides the plantation forestry sector with an opportunity to match genetic resources to potential future production environments resulting from climate change. The Southern Tree Breeding Association which runs national breeding programs for the main plantation species has characterised genetic material for various growth, wood quality, pests and diseases attributes for different production regions.

The project has resulted in the collation of data and information from 1488 field trials into national databases for plantation and emerging species. Economic models used in tree improvement for harvested forests and forest products were extended to include carbon. The project also resulted in the development of methodologies to incorporate new traits (survival, reproduction and fitness) deemed important for climate change. In addition, this project has identified some knowledge gaps which should be addressed through new strategic research initiatives.

Climate adaption strategies to manage drought risk and mortality in existing and new plantation forest in Australia

Grantee

University of Western Sydney

Summary

This project sought to improve the data available to predict the potential productivity of new forests by gaining a better understanding of the effects of site characteristics, management and climatic variability on the relationship between productivity and risk. Existing data and new measurements were used to characterise high, medium and low rainfall functional types for both southern Australia and Queensland. These data were incorporated into CSIRO databases in order to estimate productivity and drought risk for major groupings of soils in northern and southern Australia.

The project also examined the risk profiles of major stakeholders and how scientific information is processed by these groups. Research which focused on communities in WA, Qld and NSW showed, among other results, that most participants believed that climate change was happening, and that overall, government and university scientists were the most trusted sources of information on climate change. The outcomes of the research include practical adaptation options for managing forests in response to climate change including significantly improving the knowledge base for predicting climate driven mortality and the capacity for testing proposed adaption strategies.

The Hawkesbury Forest Experiment: providing the missing information for decision support systems to manage forests under rising carbon dioxide and global warming

Grantee

University of Western Sydney

Summary

The appropriate use of blue gum genotypes (Eucalyptus globulus) represents a major way the forest industry can adapt to climate change, as the species comprises a major proportion of the hardwood forest plantation estate. This project used unique tree chamber facilities–the Hawkesbury Forest Experiment and a commercial plantation – to generate critical new information about the interactive effects of elevated carbon dioxide and increasing temperatures on processes underpinning growth and water use in blue gum.

Project results indicate that while there is substantial carbon dioxide fertilisation of photosynthesis and stem growth, the blue gums tested showed minimal acclimation to the warming treatment, suggesting that those growing past their natural geographical range are unlikely to thrive. The grantee also observed carbon dioxide/temperature interactions in terms of greater photosynthetic enhancement and stem growth in the combined treatment compared with other treatments. Given the uncertainties in modelling outcomes of stand growth in relation to climate, the project represents an increased understanding of the adaptation potential of eucalyptus plantations to climate change, which enhances decision support systems for plantation stand management.

Forest biosecurity and preparedness for climate change

Grantee

University of Tasmania

Summary

This project examines forest biosecurity arrangements and Australia’s preparedness under a changing climate. It assesses the capacity of models to deliver useful information to enable the forest biosecurity to adapt under climate change scenarios, and reviews approaches to reducing invasive pest risk in forest production systems. Two invasive pests which primarily affect Pinus spp,. Dothistroma septosporum (red band needle blight – pathogen) and Sirex noctilio (woodwasp), were the selected representative organisms on which to base the study.

Models for the pests were developed under current and future climate scenarios using a process orientated niche modelling program. Results suggest that under the current climate both pest species are likely to be able to establish and persist in climatically suitable areas of the moist periphery of Australia, including all known softwood plantation areas. In addition, under both the climate scenarios examined it is projected that the potential distribution of both pests would expand southward, with particular increases in climatic suitability in Australia. A series of adaptation options are being developed in order to better Australia’s forest industry biosecurity preparedness.

Prioritising uncertainties in resource flow dynamics for Australian timber industries

Grantee

Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences

Summary

The aim of this project was to deliver a resource risk assessment matrix for the timber industry in the context of potential changes to future resource stocks and flows due to climate change. An expert reference group was established and forest industry stakeholders and professionals were surveyed to identify and prioritise key future risks and information requirements for major forest product sets (building products – functional and appearance, furniture, communications products, packaging products, sanitary products, fuel wood, log and chip exports and other).

Some risks identified were common to all products sets whereas the nature and/or priority for other risks where specific to individual product sets. Climate variability and change impacts on resources were viewed as one of the high priority risks for many product sets. Information gathered in this project will be used to ensure national forest and plantation resource information can best inform forest dependent industries into the future including factoring in risk of future climate change.