Wayne National Forest: Buckeye Habitat Improvement

Yes
Planning

The National Forest is currently working to incorporate climate change considerations into their management planning.

The Ironton Ranger District of the Wayne National Forest is proposing the Buckeye Habitat Improvement Project to create habitats that are missing or under-represented in the project area, including young forest and grassy/shrubby areas. Specifically, some of the major vegetation management goals of this project are to create early successional hardwood habitat, improve forest health, and restore oak-hickory forests. 

Contact: Patricia Butler

Project Location and Partners

The Buckeye project is located within Jackson, Gallia, and Lawrence Counties in southern Ohio, near the Kentucky border. This 54,970-acre project includes nearly 29,000 acres of state and private lands. The project is intended to create diverse wildlife habitats within the project area, while supporting local economies. There are four main forest types within the project area; oak-hickory is the largest component, followed by mixed hardwoods, oak barrens, and native pine. 

Climate Change Vulnerabilities and Opportunities

In October 2015, the Buckeye Interdisciplinary Team worked with NIACS and the Ohio Division of Forestry to consider broad climate trends summarized in the Central Appalachians Forest Ecosystem Vulnerability Assessment (Butler et al. 2015), and identify specific climate change impacts that are relevant to the site conditions across the project area. Several forest impact models predict positive impacts on many of the oak and hickory species under a range of potential future climates (pignut hickory, scarlet oak, bitternut hickory, black oak, blackjack oak, chinkapin oak, mockernut hickory, pin oak, post oak, shagbark hickory, shortleaf pine, Virginia pine, and southern red oak), while competitive mesic species are expected to become less competitive (red maple, sugar maple, etc.). The teams also identified potential negative impacts on the project area:

  • Increases in extreme weather (wind, ice, rain, storms) can create more canopy gaps and will benefit nonnative invasive species that often outcompete native species
  • Droughty conditions are likely to result in higher susceptibility of oaks to certain pests and pathogens, collectively referred to as oak decline
  • Reduced soil moisture in summer and fall are expected to shift burn windows for prescribed fire, increase dry fuels, and increase fire severity.
  • Increased heavy rain events may result in increased erosion and runoff on steep slopes
  • Destabilization of soils may contribute to increased windthrow

Despite identifying some potential positive impacts, anticipated management challenges outweighed the opportunities. Oak, hickory, and pine species in this forest are generally drought and fire tolerant and impact models predict that these species will fare well or even increase under warmer temperatures. However, suitable burn windows will likely shift away from wetter conditions in Spring and toward drier conditions in Fall. Fire behavior and intensity are also likely to shift, requiring more flexibility in planning burns or more resources to control burns. At the same time, increased precipitation in winter and spring may make harvesting difficult during the early growing season because of potential soil disturbance from machinery and difficulties accessing harvest areas.  Harvest operations are also likely to shift toward fall when ground conditions are dry.

Adaptation Actions

After considering the menu of adaptation strategies and approaches from the Adaptation Workbook, the Buckeye project team generated a suite of possible adaptation actions. Some example adaptation actions include:

Current Project Status

Wayne National Forest staff completed the Adaptation Workbook in the fall of 2015 and is using this information to incorporate climate change considerations into the proposed Buckeye Project as part of the larger Joint Chiefs' Landscape Restoration Partnership, 'Collaborative Oak Management in the Ohio Appalachian Mountains'. The Partnership goals are to coordinate inventory, management and monitoring of oak-hickory forests in seventeen counties in the unglaciated region of southeastern Ohio to improve efficiency and effectiveness for landscape scale management of oak-hickory forests. An adaptation workshop completed in October 2015 brought together oak-hickory project teams from the Wayne National Forest and the Ohio Division of Forestry. Additional workshops in FY2016 will build on this work to meet the goals of the partnership.