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Responding to a Changing Forest

Each year we see the impact of climate change in our region: intense heat and cold; extreme rain and wind events; and shorter winters with less snow cover. These changes have an impact on the plants and animals on the land. As our climate shifts, our forested land will shift with it. Increased pests, invasive plants and tolerance for drought or heat are predicted to change our forested landscape.

As forest landowners and managers, FLT and MWI are actively working to arm ourselves with current science driven data and innovative and effective partnerships to ensure that we make responsible and informed management decisions on the land you love.

Last year, FLT, MWI and our partners in conservation turned to the Northern Institute for Applied Climate Science (NIACS), a division of the US Forest Service. NIACS takes climate-based forestry research and makes it accessible for landowners. NIACS has developed a Forest Management Adaptation Toolkit to help land managers review their goals and objectives for their land in the face of a changing climate. NIACS uses online tools that incorporate climate research, critical thinking and case studies to help land managers choose long term management strategies that take climate change into account.

We put the NIACS model to work by using FLT’s Walnut Hill Woods property in Buckland MA as a case study. This property was donated to FLT in 2012 and is home to a diverse forest community. It includes an active sugarbush, areas with abundant spring ephemerals such as trillium and bleeding heart, a stand of hemlock that has been heavily hit by the hemlock wooly adelgid, a healthy mix of northern hardwoods and early successional forest.

 

As landowners and stewards we have a lot of questions about how best to manage our forests with climate change in mind. Will our hemlock survive when hemlock wooly adelgid populations increase due to warmer temperatures?

Will our sugar bush survive as the climate changes to favor southern species like oak and hickory? Will the delicate timing of our spring ephemeral plants be upset by earlier leaf out caused by shifting seasonal periods?

The NIACS Forest Management Adaptation Toolkit helped us answer these questions by calling for a closer look at the unique needs for each of the ecosystem communities present at Walnut Hill Woods. We reviewed our existing management plan in light of the impacts of warmer summers, intense rainfall, reduced snow cover, prolonged drought, and potential impacts of pest and pathogens. The toolkit took us through a process of weighing a variety of management strategies against our goals, climate projections and possible outcomes.

Looking at Walnut Hill Woods through the climate change lens is actively guiding our future management of the property towards adaptation, observation and education. We plan to adapt our forest management practices to increase the diversity of tree species, and boost the presence of trees like oak and hickory that are more likely to do well in as our climate changes. We will monitor changes on the land over time with the help of citizen scientists to continue to make informed decisions well into the future. And finally, we will share what we learn with you. The forest at Walnut Hill Woods represents woodlands across our region. It is our hope that this work will serve as platform for you to learn about managing your woods according to your goals while taking climate change into account.

 

USDA’s The Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science: provides information, online courses, and resources for forest landowners and managers on managing forests for climate change, adaptation and enhanced carbon sequestration. www.nrs.fs.fed.us/niacs

 

The Massachusetts Woodlands Institute assists forest landowners like you by providing resources to help you manage your woods according to your goals.

  • Find a forestry professional near you, and learn more about managing your woods at: www.masswoods.org
  • Increasing Forest Resiliency for an Uncertain Future: provides landowners, foresters, conservation organizations and municipal officials a framework for addressing climate related challenges that is specific to your forest and takes your individual goals into consideration. masswoods.org/sites/masswoods.net/files/Forest-Resiliency.pdf
  • Caring for Your Woods: provides resources for learning about woodlands, understand natural systems, and working with forestry professionals to accomplish forest management goals. www.masswoodlands.org/programs/foreststewardship


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