• Start-up
  • Planning
  • Action
  • Evaluation

The Upper Saco Valley Land Trust is using forest management to create more climate-resilient trails for people and wildlife.

Located at the heart of the Conway region and surrounding the campus of Kennett High School, the Pine Hill trail system is heavily used by visitors and students across the Mount Washington Valley. The Upper Saco Valley Land Trust (USVLT) is dedicated to using their forest management efforts to educate visitors of the impacts of climate change, including increased damage from forest pests and altered hydrologic function on the property due to shifting precipitation patterns. USVLT will use a variety of ecological forest management strategies to regenerate natural communities, protect vernal pools, and provide protection and climate resilience to the Saco River watershed.

Project Area

Map of trails and wetland areas at Pine Hill Community Forest
Pine Hill Community Forest is a predominantly early to mid-successional forest composed of mixed hardwoods, pine oak uplands, moist hemlock groves, and a 125-acre wetland complex containing peatlands, northern white cedar, brown ash, and spruce/fir components. The forest provides a buffer to the Saco River along its ~4000 feet of frontage, improving water quality and reducing flood damages and stormwater runoff. This site has been affected by recent spongy moth defoliation events, emerald ash borer infestation, and continued residential and commercial development along its northern border.

Management Goals

Specific management goals and objectives for the project area include:

Increase species diversity on site (30 years)

  • Favor mast-producing hardwood species including white oak and healthy beech that are currently on site.
  • Facilitate the establishment of more southern-adapted species such as hickory, butternut, and potentially chestnut that are not currently on site.

Conduct stream habitat improvements (10 years)

  • Designate no-cut buffer areas around streams, vernal pools, and riparian zones to encourage shade from the forest canopy and maintain cold water temperatures.
  • Install debris dams to slow down sediment flow to larger water bodies.
  • Inspect and analyze existing culverts on trails and roads to support fish and aquatic invertebrate movement. 

Encourage softwood growth on groups IC and IIB soil types which favor softwood for climate resiliency, shade, and wetland protection (ongoing)

  • Map and create a buffer around these areas to promote long term health of softwood stands.

Climate Change Impacts

For this project, the most important anticipated climate change impacts include:
Temperatures in New England are projected to increase 5.3 to 9.1 °F by late century (2071-2100), with the greatest warming expected to occur during winter.
Certain insect pests and pathogens may increase in occurrence or become more damaging in the region (e.g., spongy moth, oak wilt, hemlock wooly adelgid).
Precipitation patterns will be altered, with projected increases in total annual precipitation distributed unevenly among colder months (more) and warmer months (less).
Warmer temperatures and altered precipitation in the region will interact to change soil moisture patterns throughout the year, with the potential for both wetter and drier conditions depending on the location and season.
Forest vegetation in the region may face increased risk of moisture deficit and drought during the growing season.
Many invasive plants will increase in extent or abundance in the region.

Challenges and Opportunities

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

Challenges

Increased risk of host tree damage and mortality due to forest pests (spongy moth, hemlock wooly adelgid, and emerald ash borer) may make it more difficult to maintain and increase species diversity on site.
West-facing slopes with drier soils may be more susceptible to moisture stress and may result in greater tree mortality in those areas.
Altered precipitation patterns may threaten hydrologic functioning of important water resources (seeps, vernal pools, intermittent streams) and wildlife species that depend on them.
Ongoing non-point source runoff from neighboring properties and increased development in the region alters nutrient availability and may negatively affect tree health on top of other climate stressors.

Opportunities

Seeps, vernal pools, eastern slopes, and gullies on the property have better water-holding capacity and may be better able to cope with frequent drought conditions.
Increases in tree mortality may result in more coarse woody material, snags for wildlife, and greater overall structural complexity.
Shifts in tree species ranges provide an opportunity to plant climate-resilient species that are expected to be better suited to future climate conditions.

Adaptation Actions

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

Area/Topic
Approach
Tactics
Forest ecosystems
Maintain softwood canopy cover over streams by planting softwood species and/or using buffer zone restrictions.
Manage herbivory to promote regeneration in already disturbed areas.
Plant native species mixes and favor mast-producing hardwood species where possible, including more southern-adapted species not currently on site (i.e., oak, beech, hickory, and chestnut).
Promote native shrub species including beaked hazelnut, witch hazel, high bush blueberry, arrowood, and winterberry holly.
Promote softwood species including pine, fir, spruce, cedar, hemlock, and larch.
Evaluate the condition of already established regeneration when planning forest management prescriptions and plan harvest prescriptions to minimize impacts to established regeneration whenever possible.
Forested watersheds
Conduct a baseline wetland delineation mapping project and establish future monitoring protocols.
Review and follow guidelines for minimum riparian buffers and plant future-adapted tree species in riparian areas.
Inspect and consider upgrading culverts to support fish and aquatic invertebrate movement.
Control storm water on adjacent lands by conducting outreach to neighboring landowners about protecting ecologically important features on the USVLT property.
Re-route trails away from wetlands. Install interpretive signage explaining trail reroutes and educate the public about the climate adaptation management strategy on site.

Monitoring

Project participants identified several monitoring items that could help inform future management, including:
Stream flow, temperature, and water quality using weir/depth gauge at existing Saco River station
Changes in wetland extent using photos captured by community science volunteers (e.g., using photo posts) and digital maps
Planted seedling survival in years 1,3, 5, 10 in plots established in partnership with University and State partners
Natural regeneration using photos in years 1,3, 5, and 10 in control plots
Mapping invasive species establishment and spread during annual walkthrough of property
Damage and mortality from pests and pathogens (e.g., spongy moth) using drone surveys in partnership with the NH DNCR
Annual trail use using trail counters and wildlife game cameras
Winter snow plowing efforts on abutting lands and impact of winter salt use on Cold Brook (neighboring landowners have been asked not to plow snow into the gullies to limit parking lot salt and debris from entering the brook)

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