Superior National Forest: North Shore Forest Restoration Project

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Action

Superior NF staff completed the Adaptation Workbook for this project in March 2013 as part of the NEPA project planning process, and they refined their ideas for an Environmental Assessment, published in December 2013. A final Decision Notice for the project was issued in August 2014. Implementation will continue for the next several years.  

The Superior National Forest used the Adaptation Workbook to consider climate change risks and adaptation actions for a large vegetation management project along the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Project Area

The North Shore Restoration Project was planned across more than 39,000 acres of the SNF, as part of an overall project area of more than 100,000 acres. The project area consists of a long, narrow band of forest land parallel to the Lake Superior shoreline. Prior to European settlement, the North Shore of Lake Superior was comprised of mostly conifer-dominated forests. Logging in the late 1800s and early 1900s removed most of the white pine and white cedar, and the forest that grew back is heavily dominated by paper birch and quaking aspen. Current stands of birch and aspen have reached their typical age limits and nearly 80 % of the birch forest along the North Shore are old and dying. In addition, conifer regeneration is nearly absent in the understory of North Shore forests due to fewer older pine and cedar trees to provide seed, increased competition from native bluejoint grass, and heavy deer browse. Both the decline of aspen and birch and the apparent lack of conifer regeneration have prompted attention and concern from many agencies and landowners in the region.

Management Goals

A declining birch stand in the North Shore project area.

Coastal forests provide many critical ecosystems services in the Great Lakes region, such as stabilizing stream banks, increasing infiltration, improving water quality, and providing habitat for wildlife like wolves, bears, and moose. In addition, Minnesota’s coastal forests support a thriving recreation and tourism economy, and many outfitters, restaurants, and lodges cater to the tourists who frequent the area each year. 

Like many other landowners in the area, the Superior National Forest is trying to restore forests in this area through active forest management. The North Shore project has several overarching goals: 

  • to restore native vegetation communities, particularly through regenerating stands of birch and aspen and increasing conifers across the landscape
  • to improve conditions in riparian areas by increasing long-lived conifers
  • to improve growing conditions in white spruce and red pine plantations through thinning
  • to reduce hazardous fuels, particularly in WUI areas 

 

Climate Change Impacts

The potential effects of changing conditions on the forests along the North Shore of Lake Superior include:
Warmer temperatures, including 2 to 12 °F warmer during winter months.
Changing precipitation patterns, with a net change toward drier conditions during the growing season that could be exacerbated on south-facing slopes in the project area.
More frequent intense rainfall and changes in spring snowmelt could increase run-off and lead to greater risk of erosion on steep slopes and ravines in the project area.
Future conditions may increase the risks from wildfire, invasive species, and forest pests.

Adaptation Actions

After going through the Adaptation Workbook, SNF staff continued to think about possible adaptation actions and refine the North Shore Forest Restoration Project. Importantly, the team recognized that many of the management actions they already had planned also had benefits for climate change adaptation. Also, northeastern Minnesota may turn out to be one of the best possible “refuge” areas in the region for boreal species like paper birch and white spruce. Therefore, the team ultimately decided to proceed with many of the original goals and objectives of the project. Several modifications were added to the Proposed Action to increase diversity and future management flexibility, and some of these included:

Area/TopicApproachTactics
White pine
5.2. Maintain and restore diversity of native species.
6.1. Manage habitats over a range of sites and conditions.
9.1. Favor or restore native species that are expected to be adapted to future conditions.
Plant white pine on over 6,200 acres on a range of site conditions.
2.3. Manage herbivory to promote regeneration of desired species.
700 acres of white pine, cedar, and birch will be protected with single tree or up to 10 large deer exclosures, 5-20 acres in size.
Project-wide
5.2. Maintain and restore diversity of native species.
Plant 5,800 acres of white spruce, 729 acres of yellow birch, 150 acres of black spruce, 344 acres of cedar, and 150 acres of tamarack.
Plant 250 acres of northern red oak and bur oak.
Paper birch
5.1. Promote diverse age classes.
Regenerate and plant paper birch on roughly 980 acres, and
Ash
2.1. Maintain or improve the ability of forests to resist pests and pathogens.
5.2. Maintain and restore diversity of native species.
Group selection cuts on 147 acres, followed by planting a diverse mix of tree species mix
Riparian areas
1.3. Maintain or restore riparian areas.
5.2. Maintain and restore diversity of native species.
Roughly 1,350 acres of white pine, red pine, northern white cedar, and white spruce will be planted in riparian areas.

Monitoring

The Superior National Forest is including an adaptive management strategy in the North Shore Restoration Project to help improve success at accomplishing restoration objectives. The adaptive management will be an iterative process, using monitoring data to inform and adjust implementation of the decision, rather than simply eliminating areas from treatment when conditions at the time of implementation do not match conditions at the time of the decision. This will help the forest face increasingly variable environmental challenges, such as a changing climate and increasing non-native invasive species. The Adaptation Management Implementation Guide is available below, which lays out monitoring items and criteria for taking different actions in the future.

Project Photos

Click to enlarge photos

Declining paper birch in the North Shore project area.
A healthy paper birch stand in the North Shore project area.

Project Documents

Next Steps

A cross-ownership group called the North Shore Forest Collaborative is connecting landowners around the common goals of improving forest health and returning more long-lived conifers to the landscape. The Superior National Forest has worked closely with this collaborative to promote forest restoration across the larger landscape. In February 2015, it was announced that the Lake Superior North Shore Coastal Forest Restoration Project was selected as one of 15 funded projects in the US Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service Landscape Restoration Partnership Projects. This award will provide extra funding to implement actions on Forest Service land, as well as funding to engage private landowners in forest restoration through NRCS programs.

Learn More

To learn more about this project, contact Stephen or learn more at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=36159 or http://northshoreforest.org/

Keywords

Upland conifers, Upland hardwoods, Early-successional habitat, Planting

Last Updated

Tuesday, December 13, 2016