• Climate Change and Alaska's Forests: People, Problems, and Policies

      Burnside, Roger; Juday, Glenn; Berman, Matthew (Center for Global Change and Arctic System Research, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 1999)
      Forests cover over one-third of the total land area of Alaska, and forests border the communities in which about 90 percent of Alaska’s residents make their homes. Climate change has begun to affect the growth and condition of these forests (Juday et al. 1998). Plausible amounts of additional climate change would likely change both the extent and the character of Alaska’s forests (Juday et al. 1998). Alaska residents and public officials would face significant challenges in coping with hypothesized global change effects in its forests. Forest managers face the dilemma of being required to implement often irreversible plans that influence or even produce future forests and yet they must do so amid many uncertainties (Pollard 1991a). Many Alaska forests regenerated today will be experiencing the climate of the year 2100 and well beyond. This paper discusses potential human effects of climate change on Alaska’s forests. It begins with a summary of the role of forests in Alaska’s economy, including both commercial and ecosystem values contributed by forests. Next, the paper discusses human dimensions of potential climate effects on forests, focusing on what one needs to know to be able to turn projections of changes in forest ecosys- tems into flows of impacts to the human environment. Then, it analyzes climate-driven change specifically hypothesized for Alaska forest ecosystems, emphasizing those effects that are likely to have a significant effect on the regional economy and society. The final section summarizes the most important short-term and long-term regional impacts that emerge from the review of climate effects, and discusses the role of institutions and public policy in reducing costs or increasing benefits of the changes. The paper concludes that hypothesized climate changes on Alaska forests are likely to impose significant short-term costs to the economy and population, and that strategies for mitigating these harmful effects should be considered.