On June 2,  Sustainable Insight Capital Management (SICM) hosted Dr. Robert Scheller of Portland State University and Charles Bullard, Fellow at Harvard Forest, as part of an event titled “Forest ecosystems and climate uncertainty: investment implications along the supply chain.” Investors, data providers and consultants who are active in forestry convened to hear a presentation from Dr. Scheller and discuss the role investors in forestry and forest management can play in addressing climate change impacts.

Dr. Scheller is a leading scientist on the impact of climate change on forests. His team has developed a forecasting tool, Landis II, which models different scenarios to forecast the impact of climate change and forestry management activities for forests around the world.  His research focuses on the role of people and management actions in addressing the impacts of climate change on forests.

Dr. Scheller discussed the spectrum of forests’ response to climate change, from resistance to adaptation, with resilience the key factor in a forest’s response. Resilience is further categorized as organic (how much the forest can absorb change by itself) and managed (how much can human management activities help the forest absorb change). At one end, resistance seeks to preserve the forests in a pre-climate-change state while adaptation sees major change in the forests to adapt to climate change.

The view expressed during the presentation is that the fate of forests under climate change goes beyond the physical impacts and, more importantly for us, depends on management actions of we take in response. The questions, therefore, are:  1) How can management shape the trajectories of forested landscapes? 2) What management strategies are reasonable and effective? 3) When and where should they be deployed? 4) What role should managed resilience play?

Management actions are linked to the economic value of the forest, its cultural significance and legislated mandates; the value humans place on a particular forest will guide its stewardship. Therefore, forestry management in the face of climate change is rooted in what we value about the forest, what it can adapt to naturally, and what management actions we can cost-effectively take to build resilience and adapt.

Dr. Scheller did note that some forests may not be able to be saved at all. Recent studies predict that the southwest of the U.S. will be too hot for forests in
50-70 years. Therefore, it may not be practical to undertake management actions and these forests may be lost. In other parts of the country, such as the Oregon Coast, climate change could actually benefit the forests and management actions may not be necessary. Modelling by Landis II showed that the high rainfall and relatively connected landscape of the Oregon Coast engendered relatively high natural resilience. A practical application of the Landis II tool could be the identification of forests that would benefit the most from management activities and then developing carbon projects (linked the Californian carbon trading scheme) that fund these activities.

Sebastian Vanderzeil is a Research Analyst at Cornerstone Capital Group. Previously, Sebastian was an economic consultant with global technical services group AECOM.

Bruce Kahn, Ph.D., is a Portfolio Manager at Sustainable Insight Capital Management.  Bruce has over 26 years of academic, environmental and investment management experience. For more information on this event please contact bruce.kahn@sicm.com.