higher into New England’s mountains over the past40 years. This upward climb is expected to continue.The migration is driven by two factors — the lossof once-suitable habitat that has grown too warm,and the gain of once-unsuitable habitat that is nowwarm enough to support a new suite of species. Eachspecies responds differently, depending on its tem-perature tolerances and other ecological needs. Theiconic sugar maple, for example, could decline bymore than 50 percent in New England as warmertemperatures weaken the trees and allow moresoutherly competitors to invade. Eventually, much of New England’s classic maple forest could be overrunby oaks and hickories: temperate trees that current-ly dominate the forests of Virginia, West Virginia, andsimilar latitudes. Likewise, the sugar maple and itscohorts are steadily encroaching on the territory thatonce belonged solely to the firs and spruces. In time,New England’s blazing fall color — largely fueled bythe sugar maple’s bright orange-red foliage — couldbe confined to the tallest peaks. Or, possibly, Canada. Across the country, rising temperatures are alsobeginning to affect a particularly remarkable groupof trees. California’s coast redwoods are the tallesttrees in the world, sometimes reaching more than320 feet toward the heavens. In fact, the world’stallest known tree is a coast redwood that measures just over 379 feet tall. The tree is called Hyperion,after the Titan god of Ancient Greece who was son of Gaia and Uranus — literally Earth and Sky.Despite their mythological proportions, coast red-woods are held captive by the subtleties of fog. TheCalifornia fog belt, which stretches from southernOregon to California’s Monterey County, encompassesthe entirety of the coast redwood’s range. DuringCalifornia’s dry summer months, coast redwoodsacquire more than half of their water from this fog.The prevalence of fog in this region is an accidentof geography, winds, and sea currents — fog formsalong California’s coast when warm, moist air inter-acts with the region’s cool ocean waters. Anythingthat affects this balance between air moisture andwater temperature can impact fog formation.Climate change could tip the scale from either side:warmer summers can both strip the air of its mois-ture and increase sea surface temperatures, eitherof which could hinder fog formation.Recent research indicates that fog production hasalreadydeclinedbyasmuchas50percentwithinthepast century, suggesting that climate change hasalready begun to make an impact here. The implica-tions for redwoods are dramatic, although theresults will probably move too slowly for any onehuman to witness. Drier conditions affect the growthand survival of redwood seedlings more than maturetrees. As a result, mature redwoods may stand forcenturies past the point when their forests havegrown inhospitable to seedlings. Only after thesegiants begin to perish without replacement will theimpacts of climate change be fully realized.Or change could come much faster, in the timerequired for lightning to spark a fire in bone-dry for-est debris. Fire is a regular visitor to California’secosystems. Even the moist redwood forests burn, onaverage, every six to eight years. Current predictionsand past evidence suggest that such fires willbecome more frequent and more fierce in the com-ing years. For example, fires raged in the SierraNevada’s giant sequoia groves every two to threeyears during an unusually warm period between theyears 1000 and 1300, rather than the more typicalthree- to eight-year cycle. A similar change could beseen in today’s coast redwood forests.Mature redwoods are rarely killed by forest fires,but understory plants — including redwoodseedlings — are more vulnerable. And even estab-lished redwoods may be felled by repeated fires,which can carve out cavities in the heart of sometrees. These hollowed trees are weakened by repeat-ed fires and eventually fall. Such events will opengaps in the redwood canopy, allowing light to reachthe forest floor and perhaps speeding the establish-mentof newunderstoryplants.These,inturn,wouldalso affect the fire cycle.Fire may also be the ultimate change agent in theRocky Mountains, where the kindling and tinder arealready provided. From Mexico to British Columbia,the diminutive mountain pine beetle — roughly thesize of a grain of rice — has been decimating wholeforests of lodgepole and ponderosa pine. The beetlehas already killed 6.5 million acres of pine forest in
28 AMERICAN FORESTS
U . S . G L O B A L C H A N G E R E S E A R C H P R O G R A M / B E C K A G E E T A L . 2 6 0 / S C H E M A T I C A D A P T E D F R O M J . A B U N D I S
Warming climatesmake New England’severgreens, which areadapted to cooler con-ditions, more suscepti-ble to competition fromhardwoods, effectivelymoving the species’ ranges north or tohigher elevations.