• Start-up
  • Planning
  • Action
  • Evaluation
Taylor Park, located in the central Colorado Rockies, has been selected as a study site in the Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change (ASCC) Network. The goals of this project are to test different silvicultural approaches to climate change adaptation that will also serve as useful examples across the U.S. and Canada.

Project Area

Mountain view from Taylor Park ASCC site. Photo Credit: Kirsten Martin, Colorado State University
The Taylor Park ASCC project site is located in the north-central portion of the Taylor Basin, west of the upper Taylor River and south of Trail Creek on the Gunnison Ranger District of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests. This high elevation basin sits between the Sawatch and Elk Mountains and is primarily underlain by Precambrian granite and some metamorphic volcanic rocks with glacial drift and alluvium in the valley bottoms.

This area is composed of a mosaic of mature forests, regenerating clearcuts, and regeneration from a 1980’s wildfire in the uplands. Meadows and fens occupy lower landscape settings. Forests are composed of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) with a very minor component of Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmanii) and subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa). The current climate of the Taylor Park region is characterized by cold, snow-dominated winters with a dry, continental snowpack and cool summers with precipitation stemming from afternoon convection that can be enhanced by the North American Monsoon.

Management Goals

Managers and scientists touring Taylor Park ASCC site; Photo Credit: Kirsten Martin, Colorado State University

The landscapes of Taylor Park provide a suite of important ecological values and ecosystem services, including biological diversity, wildlife, timber production, livestock grazing, recreation, carbon storage, and hydrological functions. A growing body of evidence highlights increasing forest vulnerability to changing climate and disturbance regimes. Accordingly, this area is subject to active, landscape-scale management intended to support forest resilience. Overarching management objectives for Taylor Park include: 

  1. Increase the forest’s ability to respond to multiple and interactive forest stressors including climate change, drought, insect attack, and/or disease
  2. Treat stands to improve forest health using commercial harvest, non-commercial, and prescribed fire treatments, as appropriate, to the site-specific situation
  3. Reduce fuels in the wildland-urban interface to allow for the facilitation of natural fire processes on the landscape
  4. Provide wood products for the local economy, which relies on wood fiber harvested sustainably from public lands

A team of natural resource specialists from the Taylor Park region, regional managers, and scientists came together for a three-day workshop in July 2022 to develop the study design for the ASCC project site. The team developed a set of Desired Future Condition statements, Objectives, and Tactics for each major climate adaptation trajectory (resistance, resilience, transition). These three trajectories are briefly summarized below:

Resistance:

  • Retention of lodgepole pine on landscape
  • Reduce stand density
  • Reduce fuel continuity and ladder fuels
  • Maintain or increase water holding capacity/snowpack
  • Maintain Engelmann Spruce & Subalpine Fir for habitat diversity (goshawk habitat and nesting sites and snowshoe hare habitat)
  • Resistance to aridification, low intensity fire, and mountain pine beetle
  • Maintain access to roads for recreation & operation
  • Maintain snags for wildlife / cavity nesting
  • Protect heritage sites

Resilience:

  • Increase species, structural diversity, & spatial heterogeneity
  • Maintain lodgepole pine as dominant species
  • Prevent or reduce establishment of invasives
  • Promote water storage and organic soil retention
  • Increase resilience to fire and pest
  • Retain some wildlife trees/character trees
  • Maintain access to roads for recreation & operation
  • Maintain Engelmann Spruce & Subalpine Fir to protect goshawk habitat and nesting sites
  • Maintain snags for wildlife / cavity nesting
  • Protect heritage sites

Transition:

  • Promote ecological conditions found in Cochetopa Park, a similar high-elevation basin located south of Gunnison, but which is drier and warmer
  • As best as possible, simulate year 2100 projected conditions by 2050
  • Transition away from a lodgepole pine dominated forest to lower-elevation, dry mixed conifer forest (maintain some lodgepole)
  • Increase species, structural diversity, & spatial heterogeneity
  • Create large 10-acre openings
  • Promote aridification, heat, and fire-adapted species (native and novel)
  • Prevent or reduce establishment of invasives
  • Maintain access to roads for recreation & operation
  • Maintain snags for wildlife / cavity nesting
  • Protect heritage sites

Climate Change Impacts

Key projected climate change impacts that the project team considered for Taylor Park include:
Increased average annual temperatures, hottest day of the year, and average summer (JIA) highs
Increased average annual precipitation days and average summer vapor-pressure deficit (VPD)
Decreased coldest minimum temperatures and snow water equivalent
Last spring freeze will occur earlier, and the first fall freeze will occur later in the year
Increased growing season length and growing degree days
Increased extreme fire danger days
Increased risk of insect pest and forest pathogens
Elevated drought risk

Challenges and Opportunities

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

Challenges

Changes in precipitation patterns, decreased snow retention, and increased drought could increase tree stress and lead to increases in losses from forest insects, diseases, and wildfire
Warmer winter temperatures will allow for increased survival and population growth of pest and pathogens such as spruce bark beetle, spruce budworm, mountain pine beetle, white pine blister rust, and lodgepole dwarf mistletoe
Greater potential for wildfires due during summer and early fall months to drought and rising temperature
Conditions can dry fuels, increase fire danger, and reduce the historical fire return interval
Possible shift in site-specific suitable habitat for tree species across the Taylor Park area
Changes in seasonality and shorter, milder winters could lead to challenges with the timing of vegetation management and when loggers can harvest

Opportunities

The Taylor Park area will experience hotter and drier summers and shorter and milder winters which will lead to longer growing seasons
Increased habitat range/suitability for tree species better adapted to future conditions
Ponderosa pine is more drought and heat tolerant; limber pine is more drought tolerant; lodgepole pine, subalpine fir, and aspen are more cold tolerant; ponderosa pine, and Douglas fir, are more fire resistant.
Fires allow lodgepole pine to regenerate, when fires are less severe and frequent, lodgepole is successional, and replaced by shade-tolerant species (Douglas fir, subalpine fir, and Engelmann spruce)
Fire may dampen impacts of insects
Shifting away from a lodgepole pine dominated forest will increase habitat diversity for snowshoe hare and lynx

Adaptation Actions

The ASCC project was designed to explicitly test three different adaptation options: resistance, resilience, and transition. A detailed silvicultural prescription was designed for each adaptation option, which was replicated several times across the study site. Detailed silvicultural prescriptions can be found in the Adaptation Workbook. The study site also includes several no-action "control" stands for comparison. Some of the adaptation tactics employed in this project include:

Area/Topic
Approach
Tactics
Resistance
Commercial thin - crown thinning BA to open-up crown spacing
Favor removal of large diameter trees with Dwarf Mistletoe
Reduce surface fuel continuity
Retain shading to increase snow water equivalent
Sanitation thin
Retain Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir component
Retain 1-2 snags/acre
Promote a diverse herbaceous composition
Maintain CWD
Resilience
Variable density thinning (a.k.a 2-cut Group shelterwood)
Seed cut; removal cut (20-40 yrs.)
Reserves in clumps for wildlife E.g., spruce, legacy trees, snags, etc. 180-300/100 acres of 8” DBH or greater (1-3/ac)
1–5-acre gaps for snow retention; irregularity for edges (curved); 2 or 3 landings per unit based on skidding needs
Density reduction throughout the matrix: 80-90 ft for tree length
No harvest on existing spruce and fir
Regenerate every 10-20 years
Plant Douglas-fir (matrix & gaps), blister rust-resistant limber pine (gaps), Engelmann spruce - local seed (in gaps & matrix). Genotypes: Drought-tolerant southern seed sources (limber & Douglas-fir)
Weeding around seedlings for establishment
Utilize biocontrols for invasive plants
Transition
Clearcut: Create 10-12.5 acre opening; whole tree skid and scatter throughout
Site prep: Broadcast burn to prevent lodgepole pine establishment; if cannot burn, whole tree skid and weed
Plant in opening and matrix
Variable density thinning in matrix (80-100ft2/ac)
Planting variety of species throughout, as appropriate across microsites: Douglas fir, blue spruce, ponderosa pine, limber pine, and bristlecone pine
Use shade cards in openings based on species

Monitoring

Monitoring and data collection are essential components of the ASCC study. ASCC incorporates a rigorous experimental design that facilitates high quality scientific assessment of treatment effects, and contrasts between different treatments. Research partners from several institutions are working together to investigate the effectiveness of different silvicultural treatments aimed at promoting ecosystem adaptations. Research questions may include:
Effects of forest thinning on tree growth and survival, particularly under future droughts and warming
Contrasting the growth and survival of seedlings of a range of different tree species as a function of shading, microclimate, and climate variation
Treatment effects on snow hydrology including canopy interception, snowpack accumulation and retention, soil moisture, and tree sap flux
Responses of wildlife, insects, and understory vegetation to treatments

Next Steps

Formal prescriptions will be developed during the fall of 2022, with any additional NEPA to follow during the winter of 2022-2023. Heritage survey and other needed FS work will take place during summer 2023. Cone picking for seed will be conducted in fall of 2022, 2023, and perhaps beyond. Additional data collection and monitoring plans will be developed during spring 2023. Pre-treatment sampling completed by the end of summer 2023. The sale will be offered in the fall of 2023, roadwork conducted summer 2024, winter logging in December 2024 and January 2025; contract clean-up and release by spring 2025. Seedlings ordered by the fall of 2025. Site preparation will take place in 2026; planting is planned for summer 2026; possibly 2027. Post-treatment sampling is planned for summer of 2025.

Keywords

Diseases
Drought
Fire and fuels
Forest threats
Forest types
Insect pests
Invasive species
Management plan
Other ecosystems
Planting
Research
Wildlife habitat

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