Projections of future forest age class structure under the influence of fire and harvesting: implications for forest management in the boreal forest of eastern Canada.
Yves Bergeron, Dinesh Babu Irulappa Pillai Vijayakumar, Hakim Ouzennou, Frédérick Raulier, Alain Leduc, Sylvie Gauthier.
In northeastern Canadian boreal forests, a coarse-filter approach was adopted to provide sustainable ecosystem services in order to maintain a balance between biodiversity, ecosystem function and timber production. An old forest (>100 years) maintenance target was established considering the range of historical variability in the proportion of this forest stage. However, the estimation of the harvesting rate that maintains the target level in old forests did not consider explicitly the impact of current and future, i.e. possibly higher, fire frequency. In this context, we compared historical, current, and future age structures according to recorded or projected fire activity and the current level of harvesting in western Quebec's boreal forest. Results show that under the current rates of harvesting and fire, the proportion of old forests could reach a minimum level rarely seen in the natural landscape in the past. The situation could become even more critical with the projected increase in fire activity under climate change. Numerous forest and fire management solutions exist, such as increasing rotation length, implementing a diversified silviculture, using a fire-smart approach or reaching a better balance between intensive management and conservation. We advocate their rapid implementation to reverse the projected decrease in the proportion of old forests.