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Siskiyou Wild Rivers: Climate Change

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Old-growth forests store huge amounts of carbon, and continue to do so.

The wildlands and temperate rainforests of the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area can help mediate the forces driving climate change and can provide a resilient ecosystem from which species and habitats can respond. The Siskiyou Wild Rivers area plays two primary functions in climate change mitigation: 1) carbon sequestration, and 2) ecosystem resiliency. Putting less carbon into the atmosphere is certainly a sound strategy, but we must also remove some as well. Forests are one of the best natural systems for doing so, and for storing it long-term. Additionally, healthy forests and wildlands are critical to the survival of many species that are already feeling the impacts of climate change.

Carbon Sequestration

Forested wildlands store huge amounts of carbon in trees and soil, and actively remove carbon from the atmosphere. During photosynthesis trees remove carbon from the air to help them grow, and through their root systems pump huge amounts of carbon into other living organisms within the soil. Scientists have found that mature and ancient forests are better than previously logged forests for removing atmospheric carbon and storing it long term.

Other effects of climate change on species include:
  • Pest outbreaks and weedy species invasions
  • Increased occurrence of drought and fire
  • Disruption of species relationships: predators and prey; pollinators and plants; migration and flowering.
  • Warming of rivers and streams will disrupt spawning and breeding of cold water fish.

Ecosystem Resiliency

An ecosystem is a complex array of relationships between species that developed based on terrestrial and atmospheric conditions. The ability of an ecosystem’s components to persist during a shift, such as climate change, will largely depend on the health of that ecosystem. A shift in current conditions can disrupt species relationships.

Warming temperatures alter how plants and animals determine the seasons. For some species “Spring” comes earlier each year. For others that depend on the length of the day Spring has not changed. Problems arise when species that depend on each other get out of synch. Some species already experience the effects of changing climate conditions. The Sachem skipper butterfly has increased its range over 700km northward. Bay checkerspot butterflies have disappeared from part of their range because rainfall patterns have changed the timing of their food supply production. Some bird species migrate earlier, or not at all. Some young tree swallows have starved in the nest because they hatched before their food supply was ready. These species signal to us that climate change is not only happening, but it is having detrimental effects.

Species within healthy wildlands will have a better chance of surviving during climatic shifts. This resiliency will provide a haven as they try to adapt to the changes brought by global warming.

Habitat Connectivity

Many species will be forced to move in order to survive the impacts of climate change. The wildlands of the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area provide a vitally important corridor linking to both the Cascades and the Coast Ranges.


    • Numerous studies have documented that more carbon is stored per acre in the moist “Westside” old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest – like those found in the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area - than in any other forests in the world.
    • For millennia, the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area’s wide variety of micro-climates has provided a critical refuge for species impacted by severe climate change events. In fact, several plant species in the area – including Brewer’s spruce and Kalmiopsis leachiana – are considered paleoendemics and have survived here for more than 10 million years, even after climate change led to their extinction in other areas.


Fabrication: Young forests remove more carbon from the atmosphere because they grow faster.

Fact: Mature forests grow more biomass per year than younger forests and remove vast quantities of carbon from the atmosphere. 

Fabrication: Wood products store carbon longer than forests.

Fact: Clear-cutting forests releases over 80% of the stored carbon, and most wood products have a short life when compared to a forest. Healthy forests can store carbon for centuries. Most wood products are sent to the dump within a decade or two.

Fabrication: Deforestation is not a major source of carbon.

Fact: In recent decades CO2 emissions resulting from human-induced changes to forests exceed CO2 emissions from all motor vehicle sources combined – 20% of CO2 emissions worldwide.