According to the Chief of the USDA Forest Service, climate change is already impacting the nation’s forests. For example, the annual fire season is coming earlier and lasting longer each year, with fires burning hotter and bigger.
Forested lands at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware. Climate change could shift the composition of trees species in Delaware’s forests and lead to increased risk of stress from drought, disease, insects and invasive species.
|Delaware's state forests: Blackbird, Taber, and Redden.
Warmer winters are affecting water supplies as mountain snowpacks become thinner and melt earlier in the spring, reducing water availability to many regions in the summer. Insects, pests and disease also are spreading faster and causing increasing problems for forest managers.
Delaware’s forests are also at risk. Delaware’s 375,000 acres of forests are under continuous stress from urban development. Delaware’s forests cover 35 percent of the land area in the State—less than any other state in the region. Delaware’s Forest Service manages three state forests totaling over 15,000 acres; Blackbird Forest near Smyrna, Taber Forest near Harrington, and Redden Forest near Georgetown (see map below). According to a 2006 analysis by the Delaware Forest Service, approximately 3,000 acres (or one percent of the State’s total forest land) have been cleared for development each year during the last five years. This development of forest lands in not sustainable in the long run. In addition to these direct pressures, climate change could further impact the health of Delaware’s native forest species.
According to the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (NCIA), while gradual shifts in climate over the past 120,000 have not caused any climate-driven extinction of tree species in the Northeast, the projected rate of human-induced warming is now too fast for most species to adapt. Trees with slower response times and narrow habitat requirements are particularly susceptible as their suitable habitat shifts northward.
A report by the US Global Change Research Program (2000) indicates that, as temperatures rise, Delaware’s northern oak/pine forests are expected to transform into a more mixed forest type characteristic of the area south of Virginia.
Moreover, the US Environmental Protection Agency (1997) estimates that the extent and density of forested areas in Delaware could decline by as much as 10-20 percent because of climate change impacts. US
Shifts in species composition are not the only projected stress on Delaware’s natural forest habitat.
Warmer temperatures and reduced summer precipitation may increase the risk of forest fires and alter trees’ resistance to insects and other pests. Warmer climate might also allow invasive species to establish themselves in areas that were once too cold or unsuitable. Also, changes in Delaware’s tree species composition could bring changes to the state’s other forest wildlife, especially if natural habitat quality declines.