• Start-up
  • Planning
  • Action
  • Evaluation

Two sites have been planted with species expected to be better adapted for future conditions, and plans are underway for additional sites.

Providence Water is managing forests to be better-adapted to future conditions, which includes experimenting with planting tree species from farther south on a number of sites.

Project Area

Dry conditions, deer herbivory, and insect pests have contributed to regeneration failure at this site. Photo courtesy Christopher Riely, Providence Water.
Providence Water supplies drinking water to about 600,000 people, or two-thirds of all Rhode Islanders. The main Scituate Reservoir (the state’s largest fresh waterbody) and five smaller tributary reservoirs are surrounded by 13,000 acres of mostly forested public land. These lands serve as “green infrastructure” that essentially performs the first step in the treatment process, filtering surface runoff and preventing the City-owned public utility from having to invest in additional expensive treatment facilities.

Management Goals

Providence Water has actively managed the land for nearly a century since the creation of the reservoir system. The overarching goal is to maintain a forest that is resilient to disturbances that could negatively impact water quality. The desired condition is a mosaic of forest stands with trees of different species and ages. 

Tour this project in 360° virtual reality (courtesy of the USDA Northeast Climate Hub)

Climate Change Impacts

For this project, the most important anticipated climate change impacts include:
Climate models suggest that temperatures will increase 3 to 10°F by the end of the century in the region, which will also increase the growing season.
Precipitation patterns will continue to change, with less winter snow and the potential for drier conditions later in the growing season.
Many “northern” tree species will face increasing stress from climate change, while those that have more southerly distributions and can tolerate hotter and drier conditions may be favored.
Climate change is likely increase threats from many forest stressors, including insect pests, forest diseases, invasive plant species, and deer.

Adaptation Actions

One of the most significant forest health issues affecting the woodlands surrounding the reservoirs (and much of the southern New England region) is lack of hardwood regeneration due to deer browse and related issues. Because of so many challenges to regeneration, Providence Water is experimenting with actions that promote the “transition” adaptation option in some areas in order to improve regeneration conditions. This includes seedling and planting a variety of species thate are expected to be better adapted to future conditions, including some species that are not currently found in native Rhode Island forests. These efforts have been focused on the upland oak cover type since 2015, where this issue is most pronounced. These stands are characterized by black, white and scarlet oaks growing at a relatively low stocking with a dense shrub layer on sandy and rocky soils.

Forest manager Christopher Riely describes species selection (video courtesy of the USDA Northeast Climate Hub)

The Adaptation Workbook was used to identify some potential adaptation actions for this project, including:

Area/Topic
Approach
Tatics
Oak forest with regeneration failure (5 acres of a larger stand)
Plant tree species expected to be better-adapted to future conditions: black oak, black locust, white oak, pin oak, persimmon, sweetgum, eastern red cedar, sassafras, and loblolly, pitch, and shortleaf pines.
Follow-up measurements, tending, and treatments as needed.
Nearby oak forest with deer exclosure fence
Plant tree species expected to be better-adapted to future conditions: black oak, black locust, white oak, pin oak, persimmon, sweetgum, eastern red cedar, sassafras, and loblolly, pitch, and shortleaf pines.
Follow-up measurements, tending, and treatments as needed.
38-acre upland oak stand
Harvest declining and poor-quality trees to improve the growth of the residual stand.
Enrichment planting and seeding of tree species that are expected to be better-adapted to future conditions: black locust, black oak, chestnut oak, persimmon, shortleaf pine, sweetgum, Virginia pine, and white oak.

Monitoring

Monitoring occurs across the entire land base through periodic forest inventories, as well as more intensive vegetation monitoring to assess deer impacts using a network of plots and transects . The growth and survival of the planted trees is also being monitored to evaluate the success of the adaptation actions.

Project Videos

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Keywords

Assisted migration
Drought
Forest threats
Insect pests
Oak
Planting
Regeneration
Upland hardwoods
Water resources

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