Low-Value Beech Trees Dominate U.S. Woodlands Due To Climate Change, Maple, Birch In Decline

Beech trees are becoming more abundant, but it's a bad thing for people in the lumber industry.

Beech trees in forests increase
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Beech trees are becoming more abundant, but it's a bad thing for people in the lumber industry.

A new study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology reveals how climate change is affecting the composition of woodlands, making low-value beech trees more abundant than other types of trees.

The study, which took place over a span of 30 years, looks at how southeastern Canada and the northeastern United States changed over the decades. One of the authors of the study, Dr. Aaron Weiskittel of the University of Maine, revealed how changes in the composition of forests can have a negative impact on industries dependent on forests and on these environments as a whole.

Forest Composition Shifts

Among the study’s most glaring findings is just how dominant Beech trees have become. Beech is commonly used as firewood. Unlike other tree varieties, such as maple and birch, beech has a lower commercial value since it can’t be used as flooring or in making furniture.

Weiskittel explained how people react to this shift in the most abundant tree species.

“There’s no easy answer to this one. It has a lot of people scratching their heads. Future conditions seem to be favoring the beech, and managers are going to have to find a good solution to fix it.”

Another reason for the steep increase in beech trees is the fact that deer are not too keen on eating beech seedlings.

The study’s researchers, who come from Purdue University and the University of Maine, used data from 1983 to 2014 from the U.S. Forest Service. They looked into the forest compositions in New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. From this data, they saw a trend: the American breech has become more abundant while birch and maple lag behind.

Why Beech Is No Good

The fact that beech doesn’t fetch as much income as other forest trees is not the sole problem. As reported by Phys.org, most of these trees also get beech bark disease, which is why a lot of the trees die young. New trees grow in their place, but they are also affected by the same disease.

The culprit, according to researchers, is the higher temperature and precipitation in forests. Breech trees are particularly abundant in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, Vermont’s Green Mountains, and New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Loggers and timberland owners will experience the greatest impact of these changes since the increase in low-value beech trees has a significant effect on their livelihood.