Creating a Climate-Resilient Forest on Tug Hill

Did you know the Tug Hill region is expected to warm by as much as four to six degrees Fahrenheit by the 2050s?


In recent years, the Tug Hill Plateau, New York’s third largest forest, has had a few curve balls thrown its way. Beech bark disease arrived, and invasive pests like hemlock woolly adelgid and emerald ash borer moved closer to the region. While the forests of Tug Hill are large, well-connected and relatively un-fragmented, decades of heavy selective cutting have weakened them. This is a deadly combination, leaving forests vulnerable to climate change impacts and threatening the region’s future economic security.

Healthy lands and forests provide clean water, clean air, carbon storage, wildlife habitat and opportunities that sustain local economies. Tug Hill is a mosaic of public and private lands and a critical link between the Adirondacks to the northeast and the Appalachian Mountains to the south. Black bears, fishers, American martens and forest birds like the three-toed woodpecker roam freely here, and the forest filters streams that pour clean water into the Mohawk River and Lake Ontario. The forest is also important to local recreation and timber industries. Recognizing its value to nature and people, The Nature Conservancy is using our scientific expertise to keep Tug Hill strong in the face of these changes.


“The Tug Hill region is expected to warm by as much as four to six degrees Fahrenheit by the 2050s,” says Jim Howe, The Nature Conservancy’s Central & Western New York Chapter Director. To address these impacts, The Nature Conservancy was awarded a $166,925 grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to make Tug Hill a stronghold of climate resiliency. The grant was awarded through WSC’s Climate Adaptation Fund—a fund established by a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The project goals are to re-establish a strong and diverse forest able to weather a changing climate, maintain corridors for wildlife movement and migration, and ensure that ecosystem services like clean air, water and timber are generated for people.


“The first phase of the project is a science-driven, on-the-ground experiment to create optimal conditions for a forest to stand strong in the face of a changing climate,” says Gregg Sargis, The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Ecological Management in Central & Western New York. “In 2015, we purchased a 400-acre clear-cut property that we’ll replant to encourage regeneration of native species. We’ll also apply traditional silviculture techniques to build other characteristics, such as leaving snags and large woody debris on the forest floor, which help a forest adapt to change. What we learn about managing a forest for climate resiliency can then be shared and scaled up across the entire Tug Hill landscape.” 


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