NorthWoods Stewardship Center: Building Ecological Resilience in Vermont's Working Landscape

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Planning
The NorthWoods Stewardship Center has a mission of “connecting people and place through science, education and action.” Conservation, land management and education programs are concentrated in northeastern Vermont at the NorthWoods Stewardship Center's working forest and extend throughout New England. This project was intended to revisit the 2015 forest management plan and decide if any modifications should be made in regard to climate change adaptation.

Project Area

The NorthWoods Stewardship Center property covers 1,475 acres that serves as an educational tool for landowners, forestry professionals, and anyone curious about healthy forest ecosystems. This diverse acreage encompasses natural communities ranging from forested wetlands and beaver ponds to upland northern hardwoods and mixed forests and includes 1,800 feet of undeveloped shoreline along Echo Lake. The northern latitude and cold climate, along with past land use that included a brief period of agriculture and intensive logging, has led to a transition forest with elements of northern hardwoods and boreal softwoods. Common wildlife species include moose, fisher, bobcat, and less common ones like rusty blackbird and black-backed woodpecker have also nested on the property.

Management Goals

students listening to a presentation in the forest

The NorthWoods Stewardship Center updated its management plan in 2015, focusing on three primary goals:

  1. To promote forest health, including intact natural communities and wildlife habitat values that support a diverse native flora and fauna.
  2. To cultivate a variety of forest products while improving long term timber value and forest productivity and modeling sustainable forestry practices.
  3. To create and maintain outdoor education and recreation values that serve as a community resource and best support delivery of the NorthWoods mission. 

More specific management objectives and stand-level management were developed to help accomplish these goals. For this project, forest managers for the property revisited the 2015 forest management plan to consider how climate change may reinforce or alter any aspects of forest stewardship on the property.

Climate Change Impacts

Climate change is expected to alter the landscape in northeastern Vermont. Average temperatures will likely increase by 3.5-8.5°F over the next century and growing seasons will become longer; winters will become shorter and warmer. Storms will likely be stronger, more damaging, and more frequent. Precipitation events are expected to be more intense with possible periods of drought in between rain events. Forests may become patchier from frequent disturbance, reducing habitat for late successional herbaceous plants that take decades to recolonize after disturbance. Iconic and widespread tree species such as sugar maple, yellow birch and balsam fir are predicted to decline across much of the landscape, while species such as red maple, black cherry and white pine may increase. The natural migration of future-adapted tree species northward into newly-available habitats may not keep pace with climate change, resulting in declining forest health. In contrast, climate changes and related future pressures (increasing disturbance, declining native vegetation, and human activity) will favor invasive plants, placing additional stress on native natural communities. Additionally, more intense storm and precipitation events may degrade the habitat quality of waterways through increased erosion and sedimentation.

Challenges and Opportunities

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

Challenges

Some commercial species (sugar maple, spruce, balsam fir, yellow birch) are predicted to decline. Under current management, balsam fir regenerates vigorously on many sites, so it may be challenging to secure climate change-adapted commercial species in fu
Norway spruce may decline over the coming century, and old plantations of this species maybe at greater risk because they tend to have very low species, structural, and age diversity.
Increased storm intensity (ice, wind, etc.) may cause damage to high-quality trees, especially those in thinned, small diameter stands.
Increased storm intensity or frequency may cause greater damage to fragile regeneration.
Shorter, warmer, and less predictable winters may hinder access to wet sites for harvesting. The cost of improving forest roads and infrastructure for year-round access may be prohibitive.
The need for certain management actions, such as invasive plant control, may reduce the revenue from timber harvests or be too costly to implement.

Opportunities

Longer growing seasons may increase productivity.
Some current species (black cherry) are predicted to increase with climate change.
High-value species currently absent from the property (red oak, black walnut) may have increasingly suitable habitat.

Adaptation Actions

The Adaptation Workbook was used to identify some potential management actions to address climate impacts, which focus on: (1) declining habitat for northern tree species, (2) erosion, water quality degradation and infrastructure damage from intense precipitation events, and (3) exotic invasive plant colonization.

Based on recommendations from an evaluation and a 2015 forest management plan using the Adaptation Workbook, the following management changes are planned for the NorthWoods demonstration forest:

  • Tree species favored for retention in pre-commercial thinning be adjusted to favor native future-adapted species such as black cherry and red maple, while decreasing proportions of species expected to decline such as white ash, yellow birch and sugar maple. This resilience-building tactic will focus on existing forests that are diverse and healthy.
  • Many forest areas degraded by heavy logging in the 1980s-90s are dominated by early successional trees (primarily gray birch) with low ecological value and declining health. Management will mimic natural disturbance by establishing patches of younger forest, creating a planting site for non-invasive transition species such as red oak, black walnut and shagbark hickory.
  • Invasive plant populations will be controlled with 90-100% removal, which would not be feasible in more heavily-invaded areas. By removing invasive species before they impact native populations, diverse plant assemblages that are resistant to climate impacts will be maintained.
  • Forest roads and trails will be improved to withstand more intense rainfall events and increase access during non-frozen conditions when possible, allowing future management and outreach and reducing surface water degradation.
  • Areas of refugia will be maintained where vigorous examples of climate-threatened natural communities exist, and where non-climate stress factors are minimal. One example is a stand of eastern hemlock, a species declining in Vermont due to hemlock woolly adelgid. Spread of the adelgid through the region has slowed and it is not present in this area, so this stand may reasonably be expected to persist in a changing climate.

More details are available in the Adaptation Plan.

Monitoring

Several monitoring items were identified that could help inform future management, including:
Invasive species presence/abundance
Success of invasive species control
Species composition: proportion of future-adapted tree species
Regeneration composition and abundance

Project Documents

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Keywords

Lowland/ bottomland hardwoods, Upland hardwoods, Management plan

Last Updated

Wednesday, April 26, 2017