The Nature Conservancy: Setting Northern New York Forests on Climate-Adapted Trajectories by Improving Regeneration & Forest Structure


This project is being implemented in 2017-2018, supported in part by the Wildlife Conservation Society's Climate Adaptation Fund.

The Nature Conservancy is promoting forest resilience by improving regeneration of tree species that are adapted to projected future conditions; improving forest structure; and increasing tree species diversity across 775 acres of Tug Hill in northern New York.

Project Area

Tug Hill is the third largest forested area in New York. Its location at the southwestern corner of the Northern Appalachian ecoregion and its range of diverse geophysical characteristics makes Tug Hill a connected, permeable landscape critical to the facilitation of species range shifts and community reorganization as the climate changes. At the same time, a legacy of timber harvest has left the forest less able to adapt to a changing climate. The Nature Conservancy is demonstrating climate-adapted forestry practices across 775 acres to inform the greater landscape of the Tug Hill region in northern New York.

Management Goals

The Nature Conservancy owns and manages 15,000 acres of a larger protected core of the Tug Hill landscape. The goal of the Tug Hill Conservation Area is to restore this core reserve to mature forest, a successional stage that is virtually absent on Tug Hill. The conserve forest protects habitat for wide-ranging mammals (such as bobcat, pine marten and black bear) and woodland birds (such as blackburnian warblers, three-toed woodpeckers and goshawks), as well as safeguards the water quality of miles of rivers and streams/

Climate Change Impacts

Legendary for its snowfall and harsh winters, the Tug Hill Plateau is expected to warm 4.4‐6.4°F by the 2050s, which is far less than a tree generation away. While precipitation is likely to increase overall, more precipitation will fall in the winter with less in the summer and early fall, and more will fall as rain or freezing rain than snow. Winter snowpacks are expected to melt earlier in the spring. In combination, these changes may increase the frequency and severity of extreme ice and wind storms resulting in damage to forest canopies, and increase summer drought stress. Forest pests and pathogens, such as hemlock and balsam woolly adelgids, are also projected to intensify in impact and severity due to warmer winters.

Challenges and Opportunities

The combination of multiple climate change impacts is expected to lead to increased tree mortality, and that mortality will be more extensive in even-aged and lower diversity stands, which lack the species and structural diversity to buffer the overall system against disturbance. Furthermore, without robust and diverse regeneration in the understory, marked reductions in canopy cover, aboveground biomass, and wildlife habitat are likely. Over the long-term (>100 years), these climate stresses are projected to alter the composition of Tug Hill forests. They will reduce the predominance and importance of red maple, sugar maple, and yellow birch, which are currently the dominant canopy and understory species, as well as reduce or even extirpate red spruce and balsam fir in low lying wetlands. Reduced winter snowpacks will amplify the impact of deer herbivory on already poor tree regeneration, already impacted by interfering vegetation boosted by beech bark disease. This may eventually lead to declines in canopy cover, particularly if other species predicted to do well with climate change, such as white pine, oaks and hickories, do not regenerate sufficiently.

Adaptation Actions

Managers from The Nature Conservancy have identified Tug Hill as an important climate refugia in the near to medium term, as well as a current and future corridor for regional wildlife populations. Informed by both Conservancy’s and external science resources, they conducted critical evaluations of possible strategies and their likelihood of long-term success in the face of climate change. They determined that forest recovery through natural processes would not be sufficient on the time scale needed to bolster ecosystem adaptation to climate change and that minor management interventions are needed to enable long-term processes key to forest community resilience. As such, this project is focused on guiding climate resilient species composition during early stand development, and restoring adequate regeneration of underrepresented, native, climate-adapted species and promoting more diverse age classes. These interventions will increase forest system resilience against the combined impacts of climate change.

Several resources, including the Adaptation Workbook, were used to identify adaptation actions for this project. These include:

Project area
1.4. Reduce competition for moisture, nutrients, and light.
5.1. Promote diverse age classes.
5.2. Maintain and restore diversity of native species.
5.3. Retain biological legacies.
9.1. Favor or restore native species that are expected to be adapted to future conditions.
Increase structural complexity immediately by utilizing variable density thinning, group selection and girdling to mimic naturally occurring small gap disturbances of 0.25 -0.5 acres; release advanced regeneration.
Reduce competition for legacy trees important for good seed production.
Increase density of snags and amount of coarse woody debris across ≥150 acres.
9.3. Guide changes in species composition at early stages of stand development.
9.4. Protect future-adapted seedlings and saplings.
9.7. Introduce species that are expected to be adapted to future conditions.
Plant 45,000 native seedlings of species projected to be able to adapt to future climate on 125 acres of a recently clearcut stand to guide diverse climate adaptable composition in early stages of stand development.
This includes working in wetland buffers and upland forests.
1.4. Reduce competition for moisture, nutrients, and light.
Reduce groundcover of interfering beech sprouts & hayscented fern to <30% density (level that permits native tree seedling success) on ≥500 acres to release seedlings and advanced regeneration saplings.
1.1 Reduce impacts to soils and nutrient cycling.
3.4. Promptly revegetate sites after disturbance.
Implement soil de-compaction and regrading techniques on 1 mile of logging roads and skidder trails.


Several monitoring items were identified that could help inform future management, including:
Planting success: Majority of plantings well established and reaching advanced regeneration stage (>6’ tall).
Composition of regeneration: >65% of regeneration are climate adaptable species.
Competing vegetation: Impact of interfering vegetation minimized, allowing a mid-tree canopy to establish in at least 90% of treated stands.
Forest growth: Demonstrated vigor of retained trees is improved due to reduced competition.
Coarse wood: Measurable increase in the density of standing and downed coarse woody debris.
Biological legacies: Retained legacy trees are persisting, demonstrate improved tree vigor and seed production.
Forest structure: New regeneration and multi-cohort structure is present in small gaps in at least 50% of treated stands.

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Insect pests, Invasive species, Upland hardwoods, Planting, Refugia, Regeneration, Soil

Last Updated

Wednesday, May 10, 2017