Florence County: Climate-informed Forest Restoration

Yes
Evaluation

Florence County (WI) and the Sustainable Resources Institute used the Adaptation Workbook to design tree-planting and soil amendment activities on a 400-acre parcel of county-owned land. These actions have been imlpmented and monitoring is underway. 

The County worked with the Sustainable Resources Institute (SRI) and NIACS to consider climate risks and opportunities and brainstorm adaptation actions. They partnered with Michigan Technological University, Wisconsin DNR, and Verso Paper Corporation on a successful application to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Climate Adaptation Fund in 2014, which launched the implementation of this project. Planting and soil amendments have been completed, and monitoring is underway.

Project Area

Florence County is in northeast Wisconsin on the border with the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Florence County and neighboring areas contain large forested areas on sandy, nutrient-poor sites. The declining precipitation in northern Wisconsin over the past several decades has added stress to these forests, in many cases leading to dying trees. The stands selected for this project cover nearly 400 acres, and they have experienced significant mortality in recent years. As many as 90% of the trees in these stands were dead, due to a combination of drought and forest pests like two-lined chestnut borer. This is an ongoing issue that is unfortunately common to many landowners in northern Wisconsin.

Management Goals

This stand on the Florence County forest experienced heavy mortality and was recently salvaged.

The Florence County Forest covers more than 36,000 acres of tax forfeit land. This land is used for timber production and public access for hunting, fishing, camping, and other recreational uses. Florence County maintains dual certification under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) standard and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standard. The primary goal for this project was to restore 400 acres of forest land that had recently experienced heavy mortality due to drought and forest pest outbreaks. The County wanted to keep these lands forested, but was unsure if it made sense to keep trying to restore the forest to the prior cover type (scrub oak). 

Climate Change Impacts

Two-lined chestnut borer damage on an oak tree. Photo credit: Mike Hillstrom, WI DNR.
Partners from Florence County and SRI considered broad climate change trends that are expected for northern Wisconsin and the site conditions on this particular collection of stands. They identified several risks associated with climate change, as well as several opportunities. Some of these include:
The project area may become more susceptible to droughts because of sandy soils, warmer temperatures, earlier snowmelt, and a longer growing season. Northern Wisconsin has already experienced declining precipitation over the past several decades.
Conifer species such as red pine, jack pine, and white pine may be more suitable in the future on the sandy soils in these stands.
If oak species decline, that will also remove an important food source for several wildlife species in the area.
Oak wilt wasn't a factor in the recent decline of these stands, but it is present in the county and has been showing up closer to the project area each year.

Adaptation Actions

After considering the menu of adaptation strategies and approaches from the Adaptation Workbook, the project team generated several possible adaptation actions that could be implemented at the project site. In order to prepare for future conditions, Florence County is focusing on these primary adaptation actions:

Area/TopicApproachTactics
Forest restoration
5.2. Maintain and restore diversity of native species.
Healthy pockets of scrub oak and northern red oak will be identified and reserved.
9.1. Favor or restore native species that are expected to be adapted to future conditions.
The sites will be trenched and planted to jack pine and red pine, with a small amount of white pine.
Bur oak and juneberry will be planted in clusters to provide mast sources for wildlife.
Small areas of white pine and swamp white oak will be planted along riparian corridors and lowlands in the project area.
1.1 Reduce impacts to soils and nutrient cycling.
On 100 acres within the project site, add wood-based soil amendments (wood ash and biochar) to increase soil water-holding capacity, nutrient exchange, and soil microbial communities.

Monitoring

Monitoring is underway on this project, in collaboration with Michigan Technological University and the US Forest Service. Initial monitoring results are available in the webinar presentation below. A few of the items being monitored include:
Survival and growth of planted seedlings.
Water-holding capacity and bulk density in biochar amendment areas.
Soil pH and cation exchange capacity in all soil amendment areas.

Project Photos

Click to enlarge photos

Florence County created a wood ash spreader for use in this project.
A red pine seedling planted with a biochar soil amendment.
A planting crew planted 435,000 tree seedlings for this project.
Wood ash spread along the planting trench.

Project Documents

Next Steps

Florence County and SRI staff completed the Adaptation Workbook at in Winter 2014. The proposal to the Wildlife Conservation Society was accepted in Fall 2014 and site preparation work began in December 2014. Wood ash was applied to test areas within the site in winter 2014/15. The project area was planted in spring 2015, and biochar amendments were applied in test areas at planting time. Baseline monitoring and first-year growing season monitoring for soil characteristics and tree growth has already been completed by partners from Michigan Tech University and the US Forest Service, and monitoring will continue for the duration of the WCS project. The project partners are sharing information about this project with audiences across Wisconsin and the upper Midwest, including the Wisconsin County Forests Association, private consulting foresters, and conservation organizations. The support to establish the Climate Adaptation Fund was provided by a grant to the Wildlife Conservation Society from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Learn More

To learn more about this project, contact Stephen or learn more at: http://wcsclimateadaptationfund.org

Keywords

Drought, Upland conifers, Planting, Research, Soil

Last Updated

Friday, November 25, 2016