USGS Western Ecological Research Center

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Scientists at the USGS Western Ecological Research Center study the many ecosystems of the Pacific Southwest. Follow our expeditions and projects through this outreach page, and learn more about your local landscape with our library of Outreach Factsheets and photos. Thanks for joining us!

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Redwoods at Redwood National Park --Photographer: National Park Service
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Monitoring Klamath Forests and Rising Temperatures
Coast redwoods. You've seen them as the lush, giant trees on the fictional forest moon of Endor in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

But here on planet Earth in California and Oregon, coast redwoods are very real and equally huge -- and they're feeling the heat from a different sort of phantom menace.

Redwoods at Redwood National Park --Photographer: National Park Service

Global climate change, of course, is a topic of investigation for many scientists. And old-growth forests in the American West are already exhibiting impacts from rising temperatures.

"Old-growth forests across the western U.S. are already responding to a warming climate by showing increased mortality rates," says forest ecologist Phil van Mantgem, one of WERC's lead scientists at the Redwood Field Station in Arcata, California. A 2009 study published in Science coauthored by van Mantgem documented this trend.

recent article in the National Park Service's Klamath Kaleidoscope newsletter features van Mantgem's latest monitoring effort to investigate whether redwoods and other common species in the Klamath region are also experiencing climate change effects.

A collaborative effort by USGS, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Southern Oregon University ecologists will install 2-acre monitoring plots in old-growth forests at these regional parks:

  • Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument
  • Oregon Caves National Monument
  • Crater Lake National Park
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • Redwood National Park
Data developed from these plots will document any changes to local tree populations over time, likely including species such as redwoods, Douglas fir, white fir, incense cedar and sugar pine.

"This information will be extremely useful for resource managers,” says van Mantgem. "If our old-growth forests -- essentially our reference conditions for restoration -- are found to be changing under our feet, it sends a strong signal that we really need to consider our management activities in the context of climate change."
-- Ben Young Landis

Quotes and additional reporting courtesy of National Park Service.

Redwoods image credit: Redwood National Park

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