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The West Branch forest is undergoing a forest management plan that emphasizes managing for resilience and natural climate solutions. The property will be managed to enhance biodiversity, productivity, and carbon sequestration.

Most of the West Branch property consists of oak forests with northern hardwoods along the streams. Climate change is expected to benefit oak forests, while minimizing habitat for northern hardwoods. Selected adaptation actions seek to maintain northern hardwood species on north-facing slopes while guiding the transition to climate-adapted tree species on other aspects. Adaptation actions also prioritize high carbon stocks in low-vulnerability stands and increase access in anticipation of amplified disturbance.

Project Area

Degraded forests will be rehabilitated to increase reslience, carbon sequestration, and the number of saplings.
West Branch Forest consists of even-aged dry oak forests with northern hardwoods limited to along streams. The topography is remote and steep with limited access. The most important factor influencing forest type appears to be soil moisture. Drier sites are dominated by xeric species like chestnut oak and black gum, as well as dense ericaceous shrubs like huckleberry and mountain laurel. The hollows running through the property contain a more diverse mix of species including more mesic associated species like sugar maple, eastern hemlock, and tulip poplar along with a more diverse herbaceous community. Portions of the property are degraded because of unsustainable timber harvesting in the 1990s. Deer browsing is problematic across the property and is suppressing new growth. Invasive plants, specifically Japanese stiltgrass and mile-a-minute, have become increasingly problematic over the last decade.

Management Goals

Intact forest stands with high carbon stocks will be allowed to mature. This will also increase the number large big trees and snags.

Overarching goals in these stands are to 1) Implement Natural Climate Solutions pathways to increase forest carbon sequestration and storage; and 2) Establish and maintain a productive and resilient forest. Specific objectives include 1) increasing property-wide forest carbon stocks by at least 20%; 2) rehabilitating degraded forest stands to enhance carbon sequestration; 3) balancing age classes by managing 5% of the property as young forest habitat while stable forest stands mature; 4) increasing the amount of large trees, saplings, and snags; 5) establishing advanced oak and northern hardwoods regeneration in appropriate stands; and 6) maintaining better forest stocking in riparian areas.

Climate Change Impacts

For this project, the most important anticipated climate change impacts include:
Intensified precipitation events may increase erosion of forest trails and roads, cause sheet and rill erosion in steep terrain, and change stream locations and substrate. Saturated soils combined with high wind speeds may increase tree mortality.
Physiological drought may increase mortality in mesic species or stressed trees. The extent of northern hardwoods on the site may become limited to riparian areas and low north-facing slopes. Sugar maple, white pine, and hemlock may decrease significantly
Invasive species like mile-a-minute and tree-of-heaven are already problematic in northern hardwood stands and the loss of ash and hemlock exacerbates the issue by creating large canopy gaps.
Physiological drought may provide a competitive advantage to xeric species including oak and pine. The extent of oak forests will likely increase and replace northern hardwood forests.
An increase in the amount of the oak-pine forest will make impacts from pests, like gypsy moth and southern pine beetle, more severe. Disturbed forests will be prone to invasion by non-native plants.

Challenges and Opportunities

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

Challenges

More severe weather events, coupled with longer periods of physiological drought, will lead to a loss of northern hardwood forests.
Tree species currently within riparian borders are maladapted to future climate scenarios .
The lack of access to northern hardwood and riparian forests make adaptive management in these at-risk sites very difficult.
The projected loss of northern hardwoods and spread of oaks will decrease diversity, making the property more prone to significant forest pest outbreaks.
Wildfires and forest pest outbreaks can cause massive carbon emissions and unsustainable conditions if advanced oak regeneration is not present.

Opportunities

A longer growing season may increase annual sequestration rates.
In northern hardwood forests, relatively fast growing species adapted to warmer climates (like tulip poplar) may become more prevalent and replace sugar maple and hemlock.
Many dominant species in oak-pine forests are currently experiencing regeneration challenges on the property but may have an increasing competitive advantage over time.
Oak-pine forests will likely expand further downslope into more mesic sites currently occupied by northern hardwoods, especially on south-facing slopes.

Adaptation Actions

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

Area/Topic
Approach
Tactics
Northern Hardwoods and Oak-Pine
Plant climate adapted species to supplement natural regeneration as needed, focusing on species already present on the property in low numbers (tulip poplar, pitch pine) or species not yet present but projected to be adapted to the site (shortleaf pine).
Northern Hardwoods and Oak-Pine
Use herbicides to control hay-scented fern, striped maple, and non-native plants
Use woven wire deer fencing or slash walls to protect regeneration

Monitoring

Project participants identified several monitoring items that could help inform future management, including:
Forest species composition
Regeneration
Forest restoration mapping

Learn More

To learn more about this project, contact
Patricia
.

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