• Start-up
  • Planning
  • Action
  • Evaluation

This project demonstrates a variety of concepts and techniques described within the NIACS Adaptation Workbook across approximately 629 acres.

The Savoy Mountain State Forest Landscape Resiliency Project incorporates a range of climate adaptation actions. These include a mix of actions intended to resist the impacts of climate change, as well as actions intended to transition the current forest to one less vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The most significant impacts of a changing climate to the project area are the anticipated range expansions and introductions of invasive plants, insects, and pathogens; increases in the number of severe precipitation events, especially ice storms; the vulnerability of spruce-fir forest ecosystems, and the vulnerability of aspen, paper birch, and choke cherry. The project is divided into four management blocks and will be implemented over the course of 3 to 5 years. The four management blocks share identical goals and objectives related to increasing climate adaptive capacity, but the specific strategies and tactics differ between them. This project also works towards fulfilling goals and objectives identified in the Massachusetts Forest Action Plan.

Project Area

Savoy Mountain State Forest and Windsor State Forest are primarily northern hardwood and spruce-fir forest ecosystems. The areas selected for this project were previously abandoned agriculture operations focused on sheep as commercial livestock and subsistence crop production.

Once abandoned, these fields began the process of forest succession with pioneer species such as quaking aspen, choke cherry, black cherry, white birch, grey birch, serviceberry, etc. colonizing the site and creating conditions for more mature forest species such as yellow birch and sugar maple. Balsam fir and red spruce components are generally found in wet areas that were likely grazed, but not cultivated for crops or pasture. The previous frequency or extent of occurrence for balsam fir and red spruce is unknown.

During the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps installed numerous plantations in the area, with Norway spruce being the most common. The large areas of abandoned fields that began regenerating concurrently, in addition to extensive plantations, have led to approximately 70% - 80% of the forest being comprised of 2 age classes.

Additionally, the extent of young forest is declining, reducing the amount of high-quality habitat for plants and wildlife dependent on early seral stages. The loss of young forest also negatively impacts the ability of shade intolerant trees to establish; including quaking aspen and chokecherry , which are listed as vulnerable to climate change by the USFS Tree Atlas.

Management Goals

Habitat management for healthy young forest

The management goals and objectives of the Savoy Landscape Resiliency Project reflect the Massachusetts Forest Action Plan, specifically:  (1) Forest Health, of which forest resiliency is a component; (2) protect remaining young forest and restore young forest habitat; (3) encourage the recruitment and establishment of balsam fir and red spruce; (4) balance carbon sequestration and storage with the other benefits of a healthy forest; (5) increase sunlight reaching wetlands to benefit pollinators; (6) supplement regeneration failures with more climate adapted species such as Appalachian red spruce and Frasier fir; (7) minimize stream filter strip disturbance; (8) invigorate heritage apple trees; (9) treat nuisance and invasive vegetation; (10) create high-functioning habitat for species listed in the State Wildlife Action Plan

Climate Change Impacts

For this project, the most important anticipated climate change impacts include:
- Warmer Winters: Warmer winters may have less snow cover when there are periods of very cold weather leading to frost heaving (which severs roots), or the freezing of fine roots. Ground may not freeze, which is critical for logging in certain areas.
- Fewer Days with temperatures below 32°F: The elevation of Savoy may create conditions that encourage more icing events. Ice glazing events lead to breakage in the tops of trees, as well as along major limbs. Spruce and fir remain in-tact after ice storms far more frequently than hardwoods. Breakage in tops and along major limbs leads to decay and rot in those areas that eventually infects the entire tree.
- Forest composition will change across the landscape in New England and northern New York. Many ecosystems with northern and boreal tree species will be facing increased stress: These elements could lead to the loss of the current spruce-fir (red spruce-balsam fir) forest ecosystems and replace them with more hardwood components. The trending hardwood components are anticipated to be oak-hickory (likely northern red oak-bitternut/shagbark hickory) which are currently very minor components of larger forest ecosystems, specifically northern hardwoods.
- Forest productivity in New England and northern New York will increase during the next several decades in the absence of significant stressors: The shorter growing season on Savoy Mountain State Forest, when compared to other areas in the state, is a negative factor in the overall productivity of the natural systems. Higher rates of forest productivity present opportunities for a more rapid production of timber for long-term durable goods which also represent long-term carbon stores. Other benefits of a more productive forest include more productive wildlife habitat, potential for better air quality, more opportunities for disturbed areas to be colonized by native vegetation, water quality benefits as more nitrates are removed from runoff and sheetflow prior to entering streams, and longer periods of productivity from wetlands before they freeze over.
- Certain insect pests and pathogens will increase in occurrence or become more damaging in New England and northern New York, with invasive plants increasing in extent or abundance: Stressors from native plants and pathogens that may become invasive, along with higher potentials for invasive exotic introductions, may cause conditions that reduce the integrity of function of natural systems creating a net degradation of quality. Impacts from invasives also include reduced seedling and ground cover recruitment. For instance, garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) does not require mycorrhizal associations and degrades the mutualisms in soils it invades.
- Forest Vegetation in New England and northern New York may face increased risk of moisture deficit and drought during the growing season.: Balsam fir comprises 30% or more of the spruce-fir cover type and serves as an important minor component of northern hardwood types on Savoy Mountain State Forest. Balsam fir require moist conditions for seedlings to establish, and in many cases, moisture is more important than light. Drought during a summer that would lead to moisture stress and mortality in a significant number of healthy mature trees in a given area, of any species, will also kill large portions of the entire cohort of newly germinated and young seedlings in the same area. In a more general sense trees and vegetation also become less effective at defense and recovery during droughts, i.e.: leaves do not flush as readily following defoliation events in hardwoods and conifers do not produce enough pitch to dislodge or deter predators.
- Precipitation Patterns will be altered with projected increases in total annual precipitation distributed unevenly among colder months (more) and warmer months (less).: Changes to precipitation during the summer months is of higher concern for the project area. This is because during the winter months the vegetation is dormant, and springs are historically wet with saturated soils. Colloquially this time of year is referred to as mud season. The excess precipitation will either pool or become runoff much like it already does. The models suggest that summers will either be drier, or, have the same amount of precipitation occurring as larger events with longer drying periods. This could create a condition where the ability of a site to maintain soil moisture levels, especially for a longer period with higher rates of evapotranspiration due to higher forest productivity, will be compromised. This chain of events could lead to a variety of outcomes including: lower diversity and/or richness of species at the end of each growing season that successfully reproduce; an influx of more drought tolerant species displacing less tolerant species, creating a species shift but maintaining diversity; and/or more invasive species occurrences, especially in those areas with marginal site occupancies caused by colonization gaps.

Challenges and Opportunities

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

Challenges

As the project moves through time both native and non-native pest problems are anticipated to become more common and/or severe. This could lead to drastic changes in forest competition, forest composition, structure, and diversity.
More frequent intense storms, and other unpredictable weather patterns will require more time on-site. Decisions based on previous experience may have less value as conditions change more quickly in both the long and short terms.
Requirements for frozen ground conditions may need to be re-evaluated or changed to stable soil conditions e.g., during drier summers, or, summers in which rainfall occurs as larger and more infrequent events with longer dry periods.
Warming temperatures in the winter have the potential to produce more ice than snow resulting in more damage across large areas. This may require more frequent salvage operations and have significant impacts to long-term forest management planning.
The diversity and frequency of invasion by native-turned-invasive and exotics keeps growing.
Changes to moisture regimes and storm events may impede the opportunity and efficacy of vegetative, insect, and pathogenic treatments.
The expected and/or desired plant/tree/shrub regeneration may not be the species mix that colonizes the site.
Areas of significant forest disturbance can become attractive to colonization by invasive vegetation. This is especially true with expectation of expanded ranges of existing exotics and potential invasions by yet unidentified species.
Group selection systems within the project area are intended to promote diversity and complexity within the larger ecosystem. Increased ice and wind events could make the openings larger than intended during the rotational period.
The overstory trees in an irregular shelterwood are designed to be a source of seed, crop trees, and snags. More intense storms, ice damage, and stressors associated with drought or flooding may increase mortality of these trees..
Group selection may become a more viable regeneration method in the project area as summers become drier, or have more frequent dry periods, and opportunities for scarification without significant deep-soil disturbances increase.
Flooded or droughty conditions make wetland boundary delineations difficult in the field.
Disturbance around wetlands can become pathways for invasions by exotic vegetation, which are much more difficult to treat in wetlands.
Undisturbed filter strips provide reserves for organisms during and after harvesting is conducted. With changes in moisture regimes and more severe storms, these areas may have as much or more disturbance as the areas being harvested.
Changes in temperature and moisture associated may have negative impacts on seedling establishment. New pests and pathogens and the potential for more exotic vegetation infestation may present additional challenges to seeding establishment.

Opportunities

Opportunities for assisted migration may present themselves. With growing space no longer occupied by host trees, less vulnerable trees with more southerly ranges may be appropriate, such as shagbark hickory, bitternut hickory, hackberry, and butternut.
Due to the potential for periodically drier conditions in the summer, soil BMP's may become easier to comply with and/or exceed.
Research has indicated that in many cases coarse woody debris within the stream channel is lacking. With more storm events, this may correct that deficiency through natural processes rather than trying to actively conduct stream restoration activities.
Due to forest health concerns, heavier and more frequent cutting in prescribed areas will favor younger and more vigorous forests.
Age class diversification through natural processes may occur more often, improving complexity within natural systems without as much need for human intervention.
Shorter winters and longer growing seasons may provide more opportunities to treat invasive vegetation.
Changes in moisture regimes and temperatures may reduce the occurrence and/or density of nuisance natives and create enough tension in the natural system to encourage the migration of those species out of the area.
The potential for drier periods during summer may reduce the requirements for frozen ground conditions, allowing for more scarification. Scarification is essential to regenerate several species from seed.
The greater diversity of species, and the vigor associated with young forest, make it more resilient to environmental stress than old forests.
The variability and complexity introduced into irregular shelterwood systems may make them more resilient to extreme weather events and pathogen outbreaks while leaving enough shade to discourage large scale exotic vegetation infestations.
More climate-adapted tree species may be planted, with a higher chance of long term survival. This may have positive impacts on the ecological services derived from the project, e.g., more hard mast species for wildlife or N-fixers for soil enhancement.

Adaptation Actions

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

Area/Topic
Approach
Tactics
Forest Carbon Management
Maintain at least 256 cubic feet per acre of CWD
Leave legacy trees and large snags
Intermediate silvicultural treatments such as TSI and commercial thinning
Forest Carbon Management
Treat invasive vegetation
Increase structural and biological complexity at the landscape scale by initiating new areas of young forest
Transition the landscape as a whole into an 80 - 100 year rotation with a mosaic of different stand ages
Utilize a variety of silvicultural treatments
Forest Carbon Management
Do not mark timber for harvest within filter strips or within wetlands.
Reserve any treatments for wetlands when they are dry or frozen
Forest Carbon Management
Stands with less than 500 - 1000 stems per acre of desirable tree species will receive supplemental planting through planting seedlings (if available) or direct seeding.

Monitoring

Project participants identified several monitoring items that could help inform future management, including:
Plot sampling every 5 years recording information such as species composition, live trees, standing dead wood, CWD, regeneration, invasive vegetation, and representative photos of the sampled area.
CFI Plots, that have been established on a ½ mile grid across all DCR lands since the 1960’s and measured every ten years, will also become part of the monitoring program that will help track forest level changes and the impacts of management activities

Keywords

Carbon mitigation
Early-successional habitat
Invasive species
Management plan
Restoration
Wetlands
Wildlife habitat

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