by Melanie McDermott, Science & Technology Committee

The results of the Northern Forest Futures Project (NFFP) can be useful tools to promote clear thinking and discussion about how forestland management decisions in New Jersey can enhance the widest range of social and economic benefits over the long term. These results are made easily accessible in two products: one is the report, with a chapter on socioeconomic benefits briefly reviewed here, and the other is an interactive, online tool (Northern Forest Futures Projections Dashboard).

hunter

The Forest Futures report predicts a decline in hunting between now and 2060. (photo courtesy USDA Forest Service)

The Dashboard allows the user to select one of about 20 forest stock and harvest attributes, specify one of seven future scenarios, and view the resulting projections of that attribute at the state level out to 2060. The dashboard and the underlying NFFP models include no socioeconomic outcomes, so it is left to the authors of the chapter cited to examine the socioeconomic implications of these alternatives. Although state-specific data are presented in the report’s tables and appendices, most of the analysis and conclusions in Chapter 8 refer to the entire ten-state northern region. The Dashboard provides a very handy way of looking up the NJ data points for any of the projections of interest.

First, a few of the major findings from the report as a whole with major socioeconomic implications:

There is only one forest management variable among the seven different future projection: whether (a) harvests continue at current rates or (b) increased biomass consumption for energy stimulates growing increases in roundwood harvesting. One of the most striking findings of the study is that – although the three current-harvest rate scenarios are based on different assumptions about population growth, land-use change, greenhouse gas emissions, and climate response, their projections do not vary much at all in terms of forest area, species composition, volume, volume growth, and removals.

However, when coupled with projected growth and mortality, the projected removals for the three scenarios with accelerated biomass harvesting are large enough to result in a net decrease in total standing volume over the period, i.e., they are not sustainable at the high modelled harvest levels.

Projected changes in forest attributes have two components: (1) change attributed to growth and/or disturbance on land that remains forested, and (2) decreases attributed to conversion of forest to non-forest uses. While forest acreage decreases under every scenario across the region, NJ and the other states on the Atlantic seaboard are projected to be hit with high rates of conversion by 2060 (-20 to 35%). Factoring in the projected declines in net forest growth, the report projects a loss in live tree volume of 17-29% even at current harvest levels.

Add to these trends the aging of the forest, declines in forest age-class diversity, and the resultant loss of wildlife and other ecological diversity, and the stage is set for significant socioeconomic implications. Many of these implications are laid out in Chapter 8 of the report. However, it fails to call out what to me is one of the most important, namely, the loss in human values associated with these transformations: a broad interpretation of ‘socioeconomic’ would go beyond economic and recreational values to include those of a cultural, aesthetic and existential/spiritual nature as well.

Chapter 8 findings:

  • Forest product production volume projections vary significantly across the 7 scenarios, with clear (but largely unstated) implications for employment and profitability. The authors note how these projections are greatly affected assumptions about anticipated market demand in the economic modelling and underlying the greenhouse gas emissions scenarios.
  • Imports into the region of wood and paper products projected to increase
  • Forestry-related employment (management, harvesting, processing and recreation) projected to decline further (less so under the high biomass harvest scenarios).
  • The wholesale value of wild-harvested non-timber products is estimated at $682 million for the entire United States (no projections made).
  • Population increase is projected to lead to per capita Federal and State park land to drop 19 percent and per capita non-Federal forest
[park] land to decrease by 26 percent.
  • With increased urbanization, participation is projected to grow in more developed forms of recreation (horseback trail-riding), downhill skiing, motor boating, and visiting interpretative sites) and decrease in more extensive pursuits (hunting, back-country skiing, and snowmobiling).
  • Citation: Song, N. et al. Maintenance and Enhancement of Long-term Multiple Socioeconomic Benefits to Meet the Needs of Societies. (Chapter 8). In, Shifley, Stephen R.; Moser, W. Keith, eds. 2016. Future forests of the Northern United States. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-151. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. Can be read at: http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/50457