Global warming in the next century, a recent study on climate change alleges, could cause a significant increase in the productivity of high-elevation forests of the Pacific Northwest.
The potential changes, which are based on the projections of computer models, would be most pronounced in Washington.
In that state, high-elevation forests could see their productivity increase substantially, from 35 percent a year to as much as 500 percent, depending on which climate scenario is used.
In Oregon, similar elevations might see more modest forest growth increases of 9 to 75 percent.
Overall, forest productivity could increase about 7 percent annually in forests west of the Cascade Range and 20 percent in forests east of them, in conclusions based on one climate scenario that largely reflects current trends of energy use, globalization and economic growth.
These findings analyzed changes in forest productivity further into the future than most previous work.
"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 Darius Adams, a professor of forest economics at OSU (Oregon State University).
"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," he added.
Any climate scenario that shows an increase in future temperatures could potentially lead to an overall increase in forest productivity in the Pacific Northwest, especially in Washington.
Increases in high-elevation forest productivity were partially offset by probable declines in lower-elevation forest productivity.
Private timber lands that have accounted for 83 percent of the timber harvest in this region over the past decade are concentrated at lower elevations.
The models showed that increases in forest growth at higher elevations could increase carbon sequestration for those areas.