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Growing evidence suggests that a predicted 5- to 9-degree warming of the planet by 2080 will dramatically accelerate an already documented shift in forest times. That could mean ponderosa pine forests like this stand shown on the Mogollon Rim will retreat — especially around Payson.

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Climate change likely to transform Rim forests

Growing body of research predicts mix of trees in Rim Country will change dramatically in coming decades

Don’t get too attached to any of the ponderosa pines in town. Odds are, they’ll fall victim to a rapid transformation of the forests throughout northern Arizona in coming decades. That’s the conclusion emerging from a number of studies that have concluded rising average temperatures and deepening drought have already triggered a huge “migration” of tree species across the West. Payson balances on the ecological knife-edge between different ecosystems. Head south toward Rye and unbroken hillsides of pinyon and juniper dominate. Head downhill a bit farther and the scrubby trees give way to brush, which then gives way to saguaro. On the other hand, head uphill from Payson toward either Tonto Creek or Pine and towering, yellow-barked ponderosa pines quickly replace the squat junipers. Small shifts in temperature and rainfall produce those dramatic changes in the nature of the forest.


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