Canadian Forest Service Publications
Estimating and mapping forest age across Canada's forested ecosystems
Issued by: Pacific Forestry Centre
Catalog ID: 40890
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Forest age is an important variable for assessments of biodiversity and habitat, sustainable forest and land management, as well as forest carbon science and modeling. Tree and stand age are typically measured directly on site, or estimated through visual photo interpretation, with spatially explicit maps of forest age not often produced over large areas. Remote sensing enables the generation of wall-to wall, spatially explicit maps of disturbance events within the satellite record; however, as disturbance is relatively rare on the landscape in a given year, additional means of determining forest age are required. As reviewed herein, the estimation of forest age using optical Earth observation data is challenging due to the limited spectral link to the attribute of interest, especially as forests get older. The temporally dictated multi-method approach to forest age estimation outlined herein acknowledges these limitations, by applying the approach that is best suited to the quality of the information available, depending on the epoch of interest. In this research, we combine three approaches to estimate forest age at a 30-m spatial resolution using Landsat data. The first approach uses change detection protocols to detect disturbance from 1985 to 2019, with time since disturbance used as a proxy for forest age. The second approach uses Landsat surface reflectance composites to identify pixels exhibiting evidence of recovery from a disturbance that occurred within the twenty years prior to 1985, allowing for the extension of forest age estimates to 1965. Finally, given an understanding of the linkage between forest age and canopy height, inverted allometric equations are coupled with maps of forest structure and productivity metrics to model forest age for those pixels that show no evidence of disturbance or recovery to a maximum of 150 years, acknowledging that uncertainty in age estimate increases with increasing age. Combining these three approaches, forest age estimates are made for every treed pixel found within the 650 Mha forested ecosystems of Canada. Nationwide, mean estimated forest age for forests ≤150 years old (representing 94.1% of treed area) was 70 years (standard deviation = 32.1 years). For confidence building, forest age estimates were compared to reported forest age in the National Forest Inventory (NFI) both spatially and aspatially. Nationally, 5.9% of the forested area was estimated to be older than 150 years, while 9.5% of area within in the NFI sample was recorded as older than 150 years. The median estimated forest age for forested pixels ≤150 years old was 68 years while median forest age reported in the NFI was 73 years, with regional variability matching expectations related to disturbance regimes and productivity. Spatially explicit maps of forest age provide important information for understanding forest ecosystems and can be used to inform a wide range of policy, science, and management needs.