Adaptation Forestry in Minnesota's Northwoods

Story Highlights
  • Adaptation forestry will be implemented across 2,000 acres (500 acres of each of the following forest types: Boreal Mixed, Mesic Pine, Dry-Mesic Pine, Hardwoods).
  • 88,000 native tree seedlings will be planted across county, state, and federal ownerships

TNC Forester Chris Dunham (left) discusses options for adaptation forestry with Forest Ecologist Mark White (TNC, center) and Stephen Handler (Right) (Northwoods Coordinator for the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science).

The Conservancy is embarking on a new project in the Northland this spring. We will demonstrate and test climate-informed forestry practices designed to lead to healthier, more resilient forests in the long-run . In the Great Lakes region, conventional forestry practices currently emphasize the regeneration of aspen-birch forests. Today’s forestry techniques, such as clear-cutting and planting white spruce or red pine, are likely to become commercially and ecologically unviable as many northern tree species decline under anticipated warmer, drier conditions. This project is a first step in helping northern forests transition to an uncertain future, ultimately influencing the adaptive capacity across millions of acres in the Great Lakes region.

Adaptation forestry, the focus of our project, consists of a combination of management and planting that increases ecosystem complexity and bolsters forest resilience. We will manage for a range of species with a diverse array of life history traits (e.g., tolerance of shade, drought and fire). A full spectrum of traits translates to a better ability to respond favorably to new climate conditions. Our suite of climate-adapted tree species includes bur oak, red oak, white pine, and basswood. We chose these species because ecological modeling suggests they are likely to thrive under warmer, drier conditions. All four species are native to the region, but uncommon due to a legacy of past harvesting practices, a climate that historically favored boreal species and dispersal limitations. Other climate-informed forestry practices will include promoting  a multi-aged forest using partial harvest methods, retaining biological legacies, broadening the genetic range of planting stock, and managing herbivory.

The Conservancy is collaborating on the project with the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the Minnesota Forest Resources Council and the Sustainable Forests Education Cooperative. In addition, we are part of the Collaboratory for Adaptation to Climate Change as participants in the Northwoods Adaptation group.

The project is made possible through the generous support of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) through its Climate Adaptation Fund. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation supported the establishment of the Climate Adaptation Fund through a grant to WCS. Monitoring results is supported with funding from The Nature Conservancy’s Cox Family Fund for Science and Research. More details are available in the project fact sheet.


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