Context Forest landscapes at the boreal–temperate ecotone have been extensively altered. Reducing the gap between current and presettlement forest conditions through ecosystem-based forest management (EBFM) is thought to enhance ecological integrity. However, climate change may interfere with this goal and make these targets unrealistic.
Objectives We evaluated the impacts of climate change on the ability of EBFM to reduce discrepancies between current and presettlement forest conditions in southeastern Canada.
Methods We used early-land-survey data as well as projections from a forest landscape model (LANDISII) under four climate change scenarios and four management scenarios to evaluate future discrepancies between presettlement forest conditions and future forest landscapes.
Results By triggering swift declines in most late succession boreal conifer species biomass, climate change would greatly reduce the ability of forest management to reduce the gap with presettlement forest composition, especially under severe anthropogenic climate forcing. Scenarios assuming extensive clearcutting also favor aggressive competitor species that have already increased with high historical harvest levels (e.g., poplars, maples).
Conclusions EBFM would still be the ‘‘less bad’’ forest harvesting strategy in order to mitigate composition discrepancies with the presettlement forests, though it is likely to fail under severe climate forcing. In this latter case, one might thus question the relevancy of using presettlement forest composition as a target for restoring degraded forest landscapes. As such, we advocate that managers should relax the centrality of the reference condition and focus on functional restoration rather than aiming at reducing the gaps with presettlement forest composition per se.