Focusing On The Conservation of Ecosystems, Habitats & Wildlife

Temperate Forests

FYA: For Your Awareness 

Most temperate forests contain a variety of deciduous (leaf-shedding) trees, support a broad assortment of plant life and vegetation, and are home to an array of animals.  The vegetation encompassing these forests consists of several layers beginning on the ground layer and stretching high above the forest floor.  

What is a Temperate Forest?

A temperate forest has a vast range of temperatures with four changing seasons including: winter, spring, summer, and fall.  

These forests are found in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres and are characterized by mild winters and moderate rainfall.  

In temperate regions, there are three main kinds of forest:  Temperate Coniferous, Temperate Broadleaf and Temperate Rain Forest. 

1.  Temperate Coniferous Forests (Evergreen)

Temperate Coniferous Forests are where pines and other conifers grow.  Conifers are evergreens (which means they keep their needle-like leaves all year and shed them continuously) and bear seed in distinctive cones.  Conifer leaves are usually covered in a waxy layer which helps minimize water loss helping them survive in colder and drier regions.  These trees vary in shape and often grow on mountains as well as on low ground.  The most unique feature of most conifers is the fruit or “cone” which function as flowers.  These beautiful trees are also wind-pollinated.  

There are seven families of living conifers, containing over 600 species.  Typical examples of conifers include: cedar, cypress, fir, juniper, kauri, pine, podocarpus, spruce, redwood and yew.  Conifers generally consist of two layers, an understory and overstory. Often the understory supports a wide variety of herbaceous and shrub species.  Wildlife that inhabitant these forests include: beaver, chipmunk, deer, mink, squirrel, silver fox, lynx, sable, and many more. 

Where are temperate coniferous forests located?  

These forests are located in the Western United States, Alaska to Labrador, Canada, Scandinavia, Japan and Russia typically receiving an average of 30 inches of rainfall per year.

2.  Temperate Broadleaf Forests (Deciduous)

Temperate Broadleaf Forests are trees that shed their leaves every year.  Temperate broadleaf trees evolved from tropical species in response to lack of rain during dry periods as a strategy for survival, thus becoming deciduous.  In the temperate zone, the deciduous forests are located between the coniferous forest (which is located above) and the tropical forests (below).  

These gorgeous trees are known for their leaves turning brilliant colors of red, orange, and gold in autumn/fall season.  The shorter daylight hours cause the trees to withdraw chlorophyll from their leaves, allowing a brief but beautiful display of other pigments before they lose their leaves for their winter dormancy.  These forests are multilayered containing 1-2 tree layers, a shrub layer, and an herb layer. Trees grow 60-100 feet tall and can include a mix of oak, hickory, beech, hemlock, maple, basswood, cottonwood, elm, willow, sorrel, dogwood, and redbud. The shrub layer can contain rhododendron, azalea, mountain laurel, and huckleberry. Moss and lichens are found growing on trees and the ground. 

Animals found in the broadleaf forest can include squirrel, chipmunk, rabbit, deer, skunk, raccoon, opossum, mountain lion, bobcat, wolf, coyote, fox, and bear. Some animals hibernate during winter since food sources can be scarce. Birds can include, woodpecker, chickadee, blue jay, warbler, wren, thrush, tanager, and hummingbird, some of which migrate to warmer climates during winter months.

Where are temperate broadleaf forests located?  

These forests are located in Eastern United States, Europe from Britain to Belarus and Russia typically receiving an average of 40 inches of rainfall per year. 

Did you know temperate (deciduous) forests cover one eighth of the Earth and yet every year 30 million acres of forest are destroyed to meet the global demand for wood products?

3.  Temperate Rain Forest (Evergreen)

Temperate Rain Forests contain some of the oldest and tallest trees on Earth.   These forests grow mostly on coasts facing rain-bearing winds. They receive between 60 – 200 inches of rain annually. Summer temperatures can reach 80 degrees while winter temperatures can reach freezing. Trees found in the temperate rainforest include Douglas fir, Western red cedar, Mountain hemlock, Western hemlock, Sitka spruce, and Lodgepole pine. The Olympic National Forest in Washington state is an example of a temperate rain forest.

Animals tend to live close to the ground and can include bear, cougar, wolf, elk, deer, beaver, racoon, mice, and tree frogs. Bird species are eagle, owl, raven, thrush, and jay.

Did you know that temperate rain forests are more endangered than most tropical rain forests?

Where are temperate rain forests located?  

These forests are located in the American Northwest, southern Chile, Tasmania, western Scotland and New Zealand typically receiving an average of 100 inches of rainfall per year.

Why are temperate forests so important?

Temperate forests are important to protect for many reasons, the least of which is they are a wonderful place for hiking and outdoor recreation. They serve as habitats for 80% of animal and plant species. Temperate forests perform an important role in the environment by counteracting the effects of green house gases by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  Temperate forests also are source of lumber for the construction of homes and buildings and necessary in the production of paper products. They provide jobs for those who manage forests and depend on lumber. Many of our fruits and vegetables originally were domesticated from temperate forests.

When are temperate forests under threat?

Temperate forests are threatened by many factors, mostly human. Cutting trees for timber especially the practice of clear-cutting is very detrimental to temperate forests. When trees are cut and not replanted the forests can take decades to grow back. Also clearing forests for farming and for land development to make way for residential and commercial development reduces the temperate forest footprint.  This impacts the entire ecosystem of the plants, birds, and animals that live here making it more difficult for them to survive. 

Cultivation of non native trees that can choke out the indigenous trees also threaten temperate forests since there is more competition for the same nutrients. Acid rain, a result of human intervention, causes the trees to be less disease resistant and reproduce much slower also undermining the growth and maintenance of temperate forests.

Who is protecting and preserving our temperate forests?  

Forests are rich in natural resources and need to be protected from over development. In recent years organizations such as World Wildlife Federation have worked with government, timber and paper companies, retailers, and consumers to prevent the destruction of these forests and to create programs for monitoring sustainable use.  This has included such efforts as creating the Global Forest & Trade Network which is now a global effort with 275 retailers, producers, community groups and other organizations from across the forest industry supply chain to safeguard the world’s forests and ecosystems that are dependent on them.

The Forest Stewardship Council was formed to certify well managed forests. In the building industry the Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification process encourages the use of FSC harvested wood products in their buildings.

In addition, ongoing efforts to conserve unique forests from development have been established successfully in Russia and Canada.

A big goal is to reach zero net deforestation by 2020, which is achievable by replanting and restoring forests at the same rate that they are harvested. 

How can we protect the temperate forest?

You can help protect and restore the temperate forest by purchasing paper and wood products that are FSC certified for your home and business. These are products that have come from sustainably managed forests, where trees are replanted and not clear cut. You can also consume less paper  by using both sides of paper, purchasing paper with recycled content, and switching from paper napkins to cloth.  Recycle paper products whenever possible including paper, newspapers, and packaging, so that less trees need to be cut down. Another way to preserve our forests is to cut down on driving by combining trips, carpooling, using public transportation, walking and riding a bike because car emissions are a contributor to acid rain which is damaging to our forests. And you can donate money and time to organizations that protect and restore forests.