Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe: Forest Management on the Isabella Indian Reservation


Saginaw Chippewa staff used the Adaptation Workbook at a workshop in June 2015, and since then they have worked to update the tribe's Forest Management Plan and design project-scale actions for climate change adaptation. 

Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe natural resources staff used the Adaptation Workbook to consider broad-scale amendments to the forest management plan that covers the Isabella Indian Reservation, and have used this high-level plan to design project-level actions for climate adaptation.

Project Area

The Isabella Indian Reservation in central Michigan was established in the mid-1800s. The reservation originally encompassed over 130,000 acres north of Mount Pleasant, MI. These lands were in the heart of the original wave of white pine lumbering, and much of the land base was lost during the late 1800s. Today, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe owns about 2,700 acres of trust lands across the reservation. About 500 acres are forested, spread among 20+ separate parcels of land. The forests on these properties include aspen, bur and white oak, northern hardwoods, and lowland hardwoods. A Forest and Woodland Management Plan describes the intended management of these parcels.

Management Goals

The Saginaw Chippewa tribe's forest management strategy has been mostly passive in recent decades, allowing existing forest stands to mature. Forest on trust lands are generally intended to remain in a natural state and to be managed for stream protection and wildlife habitat. About 20% of the forest land in (72 acres) is in a "Reserved" category to be used primarily for cultural pursuits, including ceremonial, economic, and administrative uses. For the Adaptation Workbook, Saginaw Chippewa staff thought about general goal of increasing tree species diversity, with particular focus on songbirds and mast-producing species for deer, turkey, and grouse.  Another general management goal is to increase age-class diversity in forest stands. 

Challenges and Opportunities

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


Competitive invasive species may increase
Northern species such as aspen may decline under future conditions
Forest pests and diseases may become more damaging
Wildlife diseases like EHD may become more prevalent


Conditions may become more favorable for southern tree species
Wildfire might become more of a useful management tool under future conditions
Storms and wind events might naturally create some forest gaps
Many species of interest are already present in the local area

Adaptation Actions

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

Forest stands
4.1. Prioritize and maintain unique sites.
4.2. Prioritize and maintain sensitive or at-risk species or communities.
4.3. Establish artificial reserves for at-risk and displaced species.
Conduct biological inventory for rare plants
Set specific gathering guidelines for sustainable harvest of rare plants
Investigate forest-grown ginseng
2.3. Manage herbivory to promote regeneration of desired species.
5.1. Promote diverse age classes.
Create canopy gaps with single-tree selection or group cuts
Establish deer exclosures within a portion of gaps
9.5. Disfavor species that are distinctly maladapted.
During thinning, remove species at high risk of decline
9.1. Favor or restore native species that are expected to be adapted to future conditions.
Plant species expected to do well after thinning and gap creation, focusing on drought-tolerant species.
8.1. Use seeds, germplasm, and other genetic material from across a greater geographic range.
Trade species and seedling stock with other tribes in areas that currently have climate conditions like we expect in the future.


Project participants identified several monitoring items that could help inform future management, including:
Survival and growth of planted tree species, particularly southern species.
Track changes in refugia areas over time with photo points
Monitor deer impacts on regeneration by comparing control areas to exclosures
Yearly mast production in select crop trees

Learn More

To learn more about this project, contact Stephen


Early-successional habitat, Management plan, Wildlife habitat

Last Updated

Wednesday, October 26, 2016