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An adaptation plan was developed with a focus on maintaining late-successional and old growth ecosystem processes in a working forest in Northern Maine and highlights the challenges managers will face in light of a changing climate.

Project Area

Baxter State Park, is a 209,644-acre wilderness area in northern Maine. The Park is one of the most intact wilderness landscapes in the eastern United States, forming a core ecological reserve in a mosaic of conservation lands spanning northern New England. The park contains Maine’s largest concentration of rare plants, as well as critical habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered animal species. Baxter State Park and Maine’s western mountains contain most of the natural communities considered highly vulnerable to climate change in Maine, including snowmelt-dominated headwater streams, alpine tundra, peatlands, and high-elevation forests. This region lies at the heart of the largest, most intact temperate forest in North America, and forms a critical linkage between temperate biomes to the south and the vast boreal forests to the north.

Frost Pond is 140-acre area of late-successional spruce-hemlock forest that is located within Baxter State Park's Scientific Forest Management Area. The Scientific Forest Management Area (SFMA) consists of almost 30,000 acres in the northwest corner of Baxter State Park that is managed primarily for sustainable timber management with an emphasis on supporting natural ecosystem processes and ensuring sustainable forest management.

Management Goals

The overall intent of management in the Frost Pond area is to maintain, foster, and, where necessary, create late-successional stand attributes in this spruce-hemlock forest over time. Specific management objectives include:

  • Maintain the current stocking levels of large red spruce and hemlock trees.
  • Maintain the current age distribution of red spruce over time, which means ensuring the survival of currently old trees and managing conditions that allow for healthy recruitment of trees into older age classes over time.
  • Maintain current levels of downed wood and standing dead trees.
  • Develop an operational schema that outlines how to conduct harvest operations in a way that mimics natural disturbance and supports natural ecosystem processes.
  • Support natural biodiversity and monitor population levels and dynamics of old-forest obligate birds, salamanders, mammals (e.g., American marten), herbaceous species, and lichens.

Climate Change Impacts

The dominant trees species of red spruce and eastern hemlock are generally projected to decline across the region, and these species have limited adaptability to climate change. The vast majority of species int the forest are at risk of declining as a result of climate change, including less common but important species like yellow birch. Eastern hemlock is further threatened by the potential for hemlock woolly adelgid to expand northward under warmer climate conditions.

However, the forests at Frost Pond have several factors that increase their adaptive capacity in light of the potential impacts, including high levels of landscape connectivity, high structural diversity, a lack of invasive species, and a currently cold climate that is likely to remain so for several decades.

Challenges and Opportunities

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

Challenges

Increases in average temperature and growing season, alterations in precipitation regimes, and frequent capricious storm events that cause disturbance are expected to increase.
Multiple disturbances will likely work in concert to cause unprecedented competition dynamics where particularly red spruce will struggle to naturally retain its niches given the increasing stress the species is expected to encounter.
Therefore, red spruce accretion and ingrowth into these larger size classes, although not apparently impossible, may require more than what conventional silviculture can afford.
Increases in the frequency of intense storm events put large standing live and dead trees at risk for premature windthrow.
Increases in the spread of insect pest and pathogens, especially hemlock woolly adelgid given its temperature sensitivities, would pose an immediate and catastrophic threat to maintaining hemlock trees.
Increases in dramatic storm events could result in a glut of dead wood in the near term, potentially causing deficits in coarse woody material in the future.
Novel competition and regeneration dynamics may lower efficacy of conventional spruce/fir/hemlock silviculture procedures.
Warmer winter temperatures and shorter winter seasons may make operating in this stand unwise. Alterations in late-summer precipitation (probably the best time to treat this stand given location and soil drainage) may be problematic to protecting forest s
Treatments (even at low intensities) followed by intense wind events may put residual stocking at risk.

Opportunities

Northern Maine is minimally fragmented in terms of non-forest inclusions. Therefore, this region may be best suited for fostering northern conifer forests to facilitate future migration.
Dramatic storm events could create coarse woody material where there are currently deficits, especially in areas of the stand treated in 1992.
The silviculture most likely to be employed (if financially viable) will be some form of natural disturbance gap group selection system, which will be designed to mimic natural processes as much as possible in order to meet the management objectives.

Adaptation Actions

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

Area/Topic
Approach
Tactics
Mixed northern conifer forest
Continue forest management activities that promote late-successional characteristics and a healthy, diverse forest as a way to enhance the forest’s capacity to adapt to change.
Employ thinning operations to allocate growing space and resources to specific groups (based on size and species) to maintain current composition and size class distribution.
Design operations to perform like natural (and historical) disturbances to resist impact from novel ones, including gap size, dispersal of retention within gaps, species of retention, and skid trail layout.
Maintain late-successional conditions and minimize/avoid harvesting in riparian areas near Frost Pond above and beyond state regulatory requirements.
Maintain or reduce eastern hemlock component of the forest.
Enforce and continually develop Park regulations on the prohibition of bringing in outside firewood into the park.
Consider underplanting genetically-adapted stock if managers experience regeneration failure/difficulties.

Monitoring

One of the goals of this project was to develop an operational schema (silvicultural system, harvest trails, marking details, target removal and retention levels, intermediate treatment options, and reentry schedules) for a period of 50 years that would promote late-successional conditions and ecologically-sustainable forest harvest. This includes developing a monitoring protocol to ensure current management regime of Frost Pond Forest is providing sufficient habitat for old-forest obligate biota, such as old-forest obligate birds, salamanders, mammals (American marten), herbaceous species, and lichens.

Several monitoring items were identified in addition to the existing continuous forest inventory system that is in place. This includes work to measure tree cores to better understand the forest age distribution and expanding current monitoring of the condition of large red spruce trees to include eastern hemlock. Monitoring of lichen, bird, insect, and fungal communities will likely need to be done by skilled researchers, and so additional work to build relationships with the research community and pursue funding will be necessary.

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Keywords

Forest threats
Upland conifers

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