Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve: Prudence Island Heritage Unit

Yes
Planning
This forest on Prudence Island has been degraded by forest pests and invasive species, and work is underway to develop a strategy to restore healthy forest conditions while also adapting to climate change.

Project Area

The Heritage Unit includes 290 acres on Prudence Island in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay. This forest is owned by the State of Rhode Island, managed the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and is recognized as a critical habitat in the State’s wildlife action plan. The closed-canopy forest has been recently degraded by prevalent and persistent insect pests and invasive plant species. Some locations on Prudence Island have undergone a complete loss of forest with replacement cover dominated by invasive shrubs and vines, which could be the fate of the project area in the absence of management.

Management Goals

The Heritage Unit does not have a management plan or strategy that has been developed specifically for this site, although the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve does have broad goals for land stewardship, preservation of biodiversity, habitat restoration, education, and outreach.

Staff from the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve have used the Adaptation Workbook for this project area to help inform the restoration component of a revised management plan for the area (currently under development) to specifically acknowledge current issues, potential climate change impacts, and management strategies to consider for future action. The preservation and restoration of native vegetation and associated wildlife species are of particular importance for this project.

Specific management goals were to:

  • Retain a majority component of this closed-canopy forest with current habitat characteristics.
  • Limit replacement of under- and over-story vegetation by non-native invasive species.
  • Support wildlife species that are dependent on this forest type.  

Climate Change Impacts

a forest and trail with many invasive species
For this project, the most important anticipated climate change impacts include:
Altered precipitation patterns may result in substantial changes in groundwater recharge and soil moisture. Precipitation that comes during extreme events may be more prone to runoff and decreased infiltration, while hotter and drier summers could lead to
Warmer temperatures and altered climate conditions may be more favorable to many insect pests and invasive plant species that are already problematic.
Changes in climate may exacerbate threats on the already-stressed forest canopy, which has been degraded by past land use, insect pests, invasive species, and deer herbivory.

Challenges and Opportunities

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

Challenges

There are already many challenges to maintaining a closed-canopy forest in this area, and climate change is expected to enhance current stressors or create new ones.
Invasive species and deer herbivory currently limit tree regeneration, and waiting too long to manage these stressors could cause forests to undergo irreversible changes.
Dead trees increase fuel loading, which may increase risk of fire under dry conditions.

Opportunities

Oak and hickory species are generally expected to do better in the future, and many of these species would be desired native vegetation.
Near-term management interventions to remove invasive plants could increase native tree regeneration and promote future-adapted tree species.

Adaptation Actions

The Adaptation Workbook was used to identify some potential adaptation actions for this project, which are listed below. These will be considered further and may be implemented where resources are available.

Area/TopicApproachTactics
Central hardwood-pine forests
3.2. Establish fuelbreaks to slow the spread of catastrophic fire.
Create firebreaks as necessary (e.g. identified in the Prudence Island Community Wildfire Protection Plan) at the stand boundary and use prescribed fire to reduce fuels
Lowland and riparian forest
1.2. Maintain or restore hydrology.
Install culvert and berm downstream on Mill Creek to retain freshwater associated with normal peak flows and extreme precipitation events
Entire project area
2.1. Maintain or improve the ability of forests to resist pests and pathogens.
Apply pesticide or biological control methods to manage pest populations (e.g. winter moth)
2.2. Prevent the introduction and establishment of invasive plant species and remove existing invasive species.
5.1. Promote diverse age classes.
7.2. Maintain and create habitat corridors through reforestation or restoration.
Use volunteers to remove non-native species in forest gaps to allow for natural regeneration of tree species and/or plant trees as necessary
2.2. Prevent the introduction and establishment of invasive plant species and remove existing invasive species.
5.2. Maintain and restore diversity of native species.
10.3. Realign significantly disrupted ecosystems to meet expected future conditions.
Conduct a companion study at a fully degraded site to determine best management practices for the control of known invasive species (e.g. oriental bittersweet, Japanese barberry, autumn olive) and for the natural regeneration of desired species.

Monitoring

Several monitoring items were identified that could help inform future management, including:
Changes in the extent of central hardwood-pine and lowland/riparian forest, measured through forest vegetation cover maps
Number and extent of canopy gaps from dead trees
Effectiveness of tree and shrub establishment measured by species survivorship and abundance
Species richness and abundance of wetland indicator species
Groundwater and streamflow levels

Project Photos

Click to enlarge photos

A small creek under relatively dry conditions, surrounded by invasive species
A hardwood forest with several trees with dead canopies

Project Documents

Learn More

To learn more about this project, contact Maria

Keywords

Drought, Invasive species, Upland hardwoods, Restoration, Coastal

Last Updated

Friday, April 21, 2017