Managing forests of the future
UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA EXTENSION - www.extension.umn.edu
When creating a stewardship plan for your land, you are managing your woodlands not only in their current state, but their future state as well. The concept of managing forests of the future is not new in the world of forestry. However, the specific methods that we use to manage future forests have become more relevant as forest stewards shift their focus to climate-informed forest management.
There are many tools in the climate adaptation toolbox that you can use to manage forests for future climate. The approach that you choose will depend on your desired future conditions for the land as defined by your goals, objectives and values.
Depending on the desired future condition, climate adaptation approaches fall somewhere on the spectrum between resistance, resilience and transition. This spectrum can help you decide how to manage your forests in the short- and long-term with climate change while meeting your goals and objectives.
In resistance-focused management approaches, the desired future condition is the same as the current condition of the forest. Management actions under a resistance-focused approach aim to avoid any future changes to the forest. This approach can be most effective in the short-term, but in the long-term, the resources required and level of risk associated with maintaining current conditions increases as the climate continues to shift.
Examples of resistance-focused management actions:
- Thinning your woodland to reduce competition, drought stress, and insect activity.
- Removing ladder fuels (e.g., understory balsam fir) to prevent canopy fires.
- Protecting and creating cavity trees and refuge areas for wildlife, particularly for endangered and threatened species (e.g., roost trees for the endangered northern long-eared bat).
With a resilience-focused approach, the future forest may look similar to current conditions, but some change is accepted. When a disturbance occurs, a resilient forest may experience some change, but will return to near-prior conditions through management actions or natural means. Resilience involves improving functional redundancy — which is when there are multiple species to fill a function in an ecosystem — so that the forest can recover from a disturbance and tolerate a wider range of conditions.
Examples of resilience-focused management actions:
- Increasing diversity in terms of species, age, structural, and genetics to maintain functional redundancy.
- Favoring species in their native range that are predicted to respond well to future climates.
- Managing risk of major disturbances by removing ladder fuels, reducing competition through thinning, and controlling infection by diseases and pests.
Transition-focused approaches involve managing for a desired future condition that looks different than current conditions. Management actions include facilitating change and improving the ability of the forest to respond and adapt to changes in the climate and future disturbances. These approaches anticipate future changes in the climate and facilitate the transformation of the current forest into a new forest type to accommodate the anticipated changes.
Examples of transition-focused management actions:
- Facilitating the growth of native species out of their historic range based on their predicted future range with climate change (e.g., planting northern red oak in northeastern MN).
- Planting a new species (e.g., swamp white oak) to replace a species that is predicted to be lost to disturbance (e.g., black ash due to emerald ash borer).
- Planting a mix of species that are predicted to respond well to future climates.
Climate adaptation for backyard woods
The recommended trees and plants lists that we’ve been sharing in our Rewilding your backyard woods blog series have been crafted specifically to help stewards manage small woodlots for a climate that is becoming warmer and wetter. (See the sidebar on this page to find links to those posts.) Managers of these smaller properties have an opportunity to be a bit more adventurous when attempting assisted migration of tree species.
In a future post we’ll learn more about the concept of assisted migration as a transition-focused climate adaptation approach, allowing you to consider the level of risk associated with this management approach and decide if it’s right for your woods.