"Trees melt our snow, but it lasts longer if you open up some gaps in the forest," Lundquist said. "The hope is that this paper gives us more of a global framework for how we manage our forests to conserve snowpack."
For the study, Lundquist examined relevant published research the world over that listed paired snow measurements in neighboring forested and open areas; then she plotted those locations and noted their average winter temperatures. Places with similar winter climates parts of the Swiss Alps, western Oregon and Washington, and the Sierra Nevada range in California all had similar outcomes: Snow lasted longer in open areas.
"It's remarkable that, given all the disparities in these studies, it did sort out by climate," Lundquist said.
Even in the rainy Pacific Northwest, we depend on yearly snowpack for drinking water and healthy river flows for fish, said Rolf Gersonde, who designs and implements forest restoration projects in the Cedar River Watershed. Reservoirs in the western Cascades hold approximately a year's supply of water. That means when our snowpack is gone usually by the summer solstice our water supply depends on often meager summer rainfall to get us through until fall, he said. Snowpack is a key component of the Northwest's reservoir storage system, so watershed managers care about how forest changes due to management decisions or natural disturbances may impact that melting timetable.
The UW's research in the watershed has been a beneficial partnership, researchers say. The 90,000-acre watershed is owned by the City of Seattle and provides drinking water to 1.4 million people. The area now is closed to recreation and commercial logging, but more than 80 percent of the land was logged during the early 20th century, and a large swath of dense, second-growth trees grows there now. Watershed manager
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University of Washington