Ducks Unlimited, Inc.: Improving Bottomland Hardwood Forest and Wetland Resiliency to Changing Climate Patterns in the Central Hardwoods Region

Yes
Action

Project implementation began in 2016. 

Ducks Unlimited, along with the National Wild Turkey Federation and state and federal partners are implementing science-based adaptation strategies to increase bottomland hardwood forest resilience to predicted changes in regional climate regimes, with a specific focus on the Mississippi River and Cache River Bottoms of southern Illinois and Patoka River Bottoms of southwestern Indiana.

Project Area

The project takes place at the confluence area of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, with a specific focus on the Mississippi and Cache River Bottoms of southern Illinois and Patoka River Bottoms of southwestern Indiana. Conservation efforts are focused on lands owned and managed by the Shawnee National Forest and Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge in southern Illinois and Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Indiana. This encompasses an area where the bottomland forest and wetland habitats associated with the Central Hardwoods Region transition to those of the Mississippi Alluvial Valley.

Management Goals

Sites targeted for restoration at Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge

The primary goals of the project are to: 

  1. Restore, maintain, and/or manage hydrologic conditions in wet bottomland forests and associated floodplain wetlands to increase their ability to withstand more severe and variable flood regimes under a changing climate;
  2.  Enhance resilience and natural regeneration of flood-tolerant oak, hickory, and other hardwood species stands of wet bottomland forests via thinning, prescribed burning and other silvicultural techniques; 
  3. Restore new stands of wet bottomland forests, especially on higher elevation sites previously converted to crop production, to reduce fragmentation and serve as existing refugia stands of wet bottomland forest due to future flooding predicted by climate change. 
 

Climate Change Impacts

For this project, the most important anticipated climate change impacts include:
Heavy precipitation events have already been increasing in number and severity and will continue to do so
Increase in total runoff and peak streamflow during the winter and spring could lead to increases in magnitude and frequency of flooding, which may likely lead to changes in vegetative species composition
Increases in runoff could lead to increases in soil erosion, which may be exacerbated by a reduction in vegetative cover due to climate changes and ecological stressors, such as fire
Habitat suitability for wet bottomland forest may be reduced at the lowest elevations in the landscape, and slightly higher elevations may serve as refugia for this habitat type

Challenges and Opportunities

Climate change will present challenges and opportunities for accomplishing the management objectives of this project, including:

Challenges

Longer growing seasons could favor invasive species that out-compete native trees
Flooding could be too severe or long in duration for some species
Dry periods later in the growing season could reduce habitat for migratory waterfowl during fall migration

Opportunities

Improved conditions for prescribed fire in the fall, which could help establish oak species and control invasive species
Favorable climate conditions for pin oak, a species that provides a key food source to migratory waterfowl
Potential increases in overwintering waterfowl that previously would have migrated further south

Adaptation Actions

Project participants used the Adaptation Workbook to develop several adaptation actions for this project, including:

ApproachTactics
6.1. Manage habitats over a range of sites and conditions.
Providing more productive wintering habitat for waterfowl species which are not expected to migrate as far south, such as mallards, American black ducks, gadwalls, and wood ducks
8.1. Use seeds, germplasm, and other genetic material from across a greater geographic range.
9.2. Establish or encourage new mixes of native species.
Diversifying the species composition and genetic stock of hardwood trees used for reforestation efforts, such as planting pin and willow oak seedlings from further south in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, utilizing increased numbers of cypress and tupelo
Strategy 5: Maintain and enhance species and structural diversity.
Taking advantages of changes in hydrology to conduct controlled burns, tree stand improvements, and management for wetland diversity

Monitoring

Initial monitoring efforts by project partners will be to document forest stand conditions before and after conservation action. To determine the success of reforestation activities, permanent survival plots will be established and monitored for five years. The successful advancement of bottomland oaks above competing trees will serve as an indicator of success. Water management structure upgrades are expected to improve the water management capabilities and enhance the associated wetland. The structures will be maintained and monitored several times a year following the project. Bottomland oak vigor and regeneration will serve as indicators of project success. With the establishment of seasonal wetland habitat, it is expected that floral diversity and habitat resilience will increase. The wetland sites will be visited each year and species richness will be noted. A floristic survey of each site was previously completed and will serve as a baseline.

Project Photos

Click to enlarge photos

A group of people view a restoration site
A group of people stand on a road with a box culvert underneat
A wet bottomland hardwood stand with an open canopy

Next Steps

Project implementation continues in 2017.

Learn More

To learn more about this project, contact Leslie or learn more at: http://www.ducks.org/conservation/du-conservation-initiatives/big-rivers-initiative

Keywords

Flooding, Lowland/ bottomland hardwoods, Infrastructure, Landscape-scale planning, Restoration, Wildlife habitat, Wetlands

Last Updated

Friday, April 21, 2017