New England Forestry Foundation

Exemplary Forestry

Central and Transition Hardwoods

A Tailored Set of Standards

In 2019, with the Acadian Exemplary Forestry standards officially a feather in NEFF’s cap, NEFF staff members turned their attention to the woodlands of southern New England and the creation of equally powerful standards for this significantly different setting. NEFF again engaged an expert outside advisory group to work with NEFF’s staff ecologists, foresters, and climate experts. After careful research, analysis and review, this team successfully crafted Exemplary Forestry standards for New England’s Central and Transition Hardwoods.

The Standard Definition

Exemplary Forestry is a forest management approach created by New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF) that prioritizes forests’ long-term health and outlines the highest standards of sustainability currently available to the region’s forest owners for three key goals: enhancing the role forests can play to mitigate climate change, improving wildlife habitat and biodiversity, and growing and harvesting more sustainably produced wood. Each set of Exemplary Forestry standards is tailored to the conditions of a particular forest region or forest type.

Central and Transition Hardwoods Resources

The one-page standards and metrics are supplemented by a range of materials, including Best Management Practices on topics like protecting soils, a summary of the process NEFF uses to evaluate an individual forest parcel’s habitat potential in the context of its landscape, and an analysis of how the standards will be implemented to address the challenges presented by climate change. Collectively, the documents help other forest owners and managers implement Exemplary Forestry, and they are available for download at the bottom of this page.

A Central and Transition Hardwoods Umbrella Species

New England Forestry Foundation

An endangered Northern Long-eared Bat being safely held during a bat population survey. Photo by Carla Fenner.

What’s the Same, What’s Different?

NEFF’s two sets of standards—the first for the Acadian Forest region of northern New England, and the second for the Central and Transition Hardwood forests found south of the Acadian Forest—have the same broad framework. They both preserve the full suite of ecosystem services when implemented and have the same three key goals; both sets of standards lay out specific and measurable practices to achieve these goals simultaneously; and both take the wider landscape into account when determining how to manage specific land parcels.

However, the details within that framework look pretty different from one set of standards to the other. Not only do climate zone, elevation, and forest types shift as you move from northern Maine to coastal Connecticut, but so too do human-controlled factors like forest stocking levels.

Of the Central and Transition Hardwoods standards themselves and their supplemental materials, those that address wildlife, forest types and climate change mitigation vary the most when compared to Exemplary Forestry for the Acadian Forest.

NEFF’s choice of the Acadian umbrella species was driven by the research findings of University of Maine biologists that specifically identified such species. Selecting options for the Central and Transition standards proved challenging, as existing research doesn’t point to just two ideal umbrella species. This meant selecting a suite of wild animals, rather than one, to represent each habitat type. Be sure to view the standards and metrics for the complete list of species.

Umbrella Wildlife Species and Forest Types

The Central and Transition Hardwoods standards call for managing the forested landscape for three groups of umbrella wildlife species, or wild animals whose habitat needs encompass the needs of many other species. The groups are associated with three kinds of habitat—mature interior forest, early successional forest, and edge and transition-stage forest—and include a delightful range of animals. The new standards branch out into bats, bees and birds in addition to four-footed mammals.

These species’ habitat goals apply to each forest type the standards account for, specifically, the five most common and economically important forest types in the Central and Transition Hardwoods region: Oak-Hickory, White Pine, Oak-Pine, Hemlock and Lowland/Riparian Hardwood. Hardwood forest types play a bigger role in NEFF’s more southerly Exemplary Forestry standards because southern New England represents the transition area between the Acadian Spruce-Fir forests to the north and the deciduous (hardwood) forests to the south.

Improve Wildlife Habitat and Biodiversity

With long-term implementation in Central and Transition Hardwood forests, the Exemplary Forestry standards will diversify wildlife habitats and maintain approximately half of forest stands as large, older trees of sawtimber size. These standards apply to actively managed forest, not to ecological reserves. However, the standards acknowledge the crucial and complementary role that ecological reserves play in the New England landscape. NEFF manages nine percent of its lands as ecological reserves.

Exemplary Forestry specifically provides habitat that is well-suited to umbrella wildlife species known to be representative of the needs of the great majority of native species in Central and Transition Hardwood forests. The umbrella species are broken down by forest successional stages, or the age of the forest.

Successional Stage Umbrella Wildlife Species Target Habitat Block Size
Interior Forest Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, Black-throated Blue Warbler, tree-dwelling bats (multiple species) >250 acre blocks of relatively mature, interior forest
Early Successional Golden-winged Warbler, Ruffed Grouse, Woodcock, New England Cottontail, Blanding’s Turtle 6-25 acre blocks of early successional forest
Edge and Transition Red Fox, Eastern Box Turtle, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, native bumblebees (Bombus spp.) Edge and transition stage forest resulting from the above

Mitigate Climate Change

Exemplary Forestry takes a three-pronged approach to climate change.

  • Forest Protection and Adaptation
  • Increase Carbon Storage
  • Wood for Substitution

Implementing Exemplary Forestry leads to more diverse forests with a mix of tree age classes, which research suggests makes the forests more resilient to climate change’s impacts and better able to adapt to them. This ensures that New England’s forests will continue to store carbon and provide other ecological benefits over the long term, even as the climate changes. On NEFF lands, tailored management plans also account for each forest’s climate-related needs.

Forests grow a high volume of wood under NEFF’s Acadian Exemplary Forest management, which in turn increases the amount of carbon the forest can store. For example, an Exemplary Forestry approach in northern Maine would maintain about 25 cords of wood per acre, while current levels in northwestern Maine average only about 15 cords per acre. NEFF’s Central and Transition Hardwoods standards need to take a different approach, as large areas of the Central and Transition Hardwoods forest region are heavily stocked and thus already store a large volume of carbon.

When drafting this set of Exemplary Forestry standards, one of NEFF’s top priorities was determining how to manage heavily stocked stands in a way that will mitigate climate change in both the near term and the long term while still accomplishing Exemplary Forestry’s other two key goals of improving wildlife habitat and biodiversity, and growing and harvesting more sustainably produced wood.

Given the climate crisis, it’s crucial that both forest managers and people working on climate solutions understand forestry’s immense near-term climate potential. NEFF has used available data and simple modeling to calculate the net greenhouse gas impacts of implementing Exemplary Forestry silviculture, including the effects on carbon in the forest, carbon stored in wood products in use and in landfills, substituting wood products for non-wood alternatives, and burning wood waste in place of fossil fuels to produce energy.

The analysis showed a mix of careful thinning to remove the least vigorous trees and small-patch irregular shelterwood cuts, as recommended by Exemplary Forestry, can produce wood in a way that reduces greenhouse gas levels within 30 years, even when applied in high-volume stands. Given that demand for wood is growing, and that wood production elsewhere may not be climate beneficial, it makes sense to produce as much wood locally as possible, while also meeting the other goals of Exemplary Forestry.

Exemplary Forestry keeps as much carbon in the forest as possible while producing wood for engineered timber products that can safely substitute for steel and concrete in building construction. The energy-intensive production processes for steel and concrete emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases, and each material is also reliant on mining for components.

Grow and Harvest More Sustainably Produced Wood

Exemplary Forestry keeps as much carbon in the forest as possible while producing wood for engineered timber products that can safely substitute for steel and concrete in building construction. The energy-intensive production processes for steel and concrete emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases, and each material is also reliant on mining for components.

Increasing wood production and harvesting under Exemplary Forest management in turn benefits rural economies tied to the forest products industry, provides reliable and modest financial returns to landowners, and keeps private land forested thanks in part to those financial returns—landowners who make revenue from timber have less reason to sell their land for development.

How Do You Grow More and Better-Quality Wood?

NEFF’s forestry experts have crafted a one-page set of Exemplary Forestry standards and metrics for the Central and Transition Hardwoods, and the standards and metrics specific to tree growth and wood production are included below. The one-page overview also describes how the standards should be implemented, and is complemented by a more in-depth report. Because many stands in the Central and Transition Hardwoods are heavily stocked, managing to mitigate climate change by balancing carbon sequestration and harvesting for sustainable wood products requires special attention.

Practicing Exemplary Forestry results in:
  • Achieving a diverse size class distribution of 5-15% of stands in seedlings, 30-40% in saplings and poles, 40-50% in sawtimber and including up to 10% of the landscape in large diameter multi-storied stands.
  • Growing tree species well-suited to each site (e.g., matched to soil and physiographic conditions as well as expected changes in climatic conditions).
  • Stocking that fully occupies the sites; this is an average of “B-line” stocking for stands not currently being regenerated. For example, in 8-10 inch diameter stands of mixed wood this would be approximately 20 cords per acre. Adequate regeneration is considered to be 600 seedlings of commercial species per acre.
  • Growing and harvesting quality timber at an average of 0.5 cords/acre/year.