We have to cut right to the chase on this one. Every single major forest biome is dying, according to reports in the latest issue of Science, which is devoted to the special topic of worldwide forest health. It’s happening now, it’s happening fast, and it’s even happening in forests that have traditionally proven resistant to the changes that endanger other forests.
Some of the largest forests on earth are known as boreal forests, which are at higher altitudes in the northern hemisphere and contain mostly pines, spruces, and larches. These are among the hardiest forests on earth, typically suffering relatively little in response to the same environmental shifts that have devastated other types of forests.
Forest ecologist Sylvie Gauthier led the first study featured in the special issue of Science, and she’s concerned about the future of boreal forests, which are now showing evidence of decline. Industrial logging is one of the biggest threats to these once-resilient habitats, and her team estimates that two-thirds of the world’s boreal forests are targets of heavy resource extraction, which leads to deforestation, wildfires, and a loss of biodiversity.
Another study in the issue discusses the health of temperate forests, which are struggling just as much. Temperate woodlands are especially prone to drought and wildfires, much like we are seeing in Washington state and other areas right now. The ever-rising global temperatures are making survival especially challenging for deciduous trees in temperate forests, because trees there have a lower threshold for change than in the sturdier boreal forests. As forests become dehydrated, risk for wildfires increases, and the severity of those fires skyrockets exponentially, since the dried up forests are essentially turned into fire-starting tinder at that point.
Tropical forests—among the most biodiverse areas on earth—are also in big trouble. And the common thread connecting the threats to all the world’s forests is simple: it’s us. Human activity is the main and direct contributor to the climate change issues that are threatening these precious resources. If radical changes aren’t made soon and the forests’ health continues to decline at this rate, it won’t be long before they are gone forever.