NEFF is helping local landowners prepare their woods for climate change.
Walking in their Woodstock, Conn., woods on a balmy January afternoon, Bet Zimmerman Smith and her husband Patrick were talking with a forester about the wildlife that visits their land—everything from bobcats to bluebirds—and how to create habitats for them. Looking up to the maple branches arcing above their heads, consulting forester Eric Hansen pointed out the tree was already putting forth red buds, and yet winter was far from over.
“It was a fantastic experience. We learned so much,” said Bet of a free, two-hour forester visit they received in 2016 through the MassConn Woods partnership. “Eric offered useful tips on how to prepare for the changing climate, and how to best attract wildlife.”
Thanks to a new USDA Forest Service grant, New England Forestry Foundation and partners will continue to offer science-based forestry advice to private woodland owners. The Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) will train professional foresters to work with landowners to assess climate change vulnerability and incorporate climate-informed practices into their forest management.
Early bud break is just one of the many changes landowners and managers are noticing in our New England woods, and temperature and rainfall patterns are another. For example, annual precipitation has increased 3-6 inches in southern New England, causing more frequent flooding and erosion as streams overflow their banks and overwhelm culverts. Average annual temperatures are projected to increase 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, and with a longer growing season, more extremely hot days and variable summer rain, droughts may also become more frequent.
Following their visit, the Smiths were left with a “Considerations for Your Woodlot” Checklist of suggested practices for their unique site—a 30-acre property they affectionately dubbed “The Fen.” They are applying for federal “cost-share” to control invasive plants, many of which do well with warmer temperatures. When trees are already stressed by bugs or disease, changing climate conditions such as drought can gang up on them and make it harder for them to recover.
“One of our biggest challenges is managing invasive plants, since the property had been untouched for four decades,” said Bet. She also mentioned that in addition to winged euonymus (burning bush), Multiflora rose, and “the dreaded tick-infested Japanese barberry,” Eric also spotted some other invasives that she and her husband hadn’t: Japanese stiltgrass and glossy buckthorn.
While many states and cities are working on climate change adaptation to reduce costly damages from extreme weather and storms, the NEFF grant-funded outreach focuses at the hyper-local, privately owned parcel level.
“It was so straightforward and simple,” said Chris Kueffner, who had a free Checklist visit to his wooded property in Mansfield, Conn., where he proceeded to work with the forester on a management plan. “I did not need to fill out elaborate numbered forms with unfathomable questions or vocabulary. It was simply, ‘Here’s my little patch of forest, how can we best enhance it?’”
The climate adaptation assessment is also appropriate for already conserved lands. Opacum Land Trust took advantage of the free forester climate consultation for its 140-acre former farm in Southbridge and Dudley, Mass.
One recommendation was to reduce the number of hemlocks, which suffer from the woolly adelgid insects, and to promote a diversity of trees. With changing conditions, it’s best to have a variety of native tree species present, so eventual “winners” can adapt and thrive. Opacum has completed invasive plant treatment on patches of 12 acres, as well as a 40-acre timber harvest to diversify both the ages and types of tree species at the site.
To learn more about climate-informed forestry or forester visits to owners of 30 or more acres in key Connecticut and Massachusetts landscapes, contact Lisa Hayden at email@example.com or call 978-952-6856, ext. 121.
NEFF will offer grant-funded forester visits in 2018-2019 to private woodland owners in the MassConn Woods and Last Green Valley regions of central Massachusetts and eastern Connecticut—and we’re expanding to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts.
Writing and photography by Lisa Hayden.