What makes the Northern Forests unique?
Forests of the Midwest and Northeast significantly define the character, culture, and economy of this large region, but face an uncertain future as climate continues to change. Forests vary widely across the region, and vulnerabilities are strongly influenced by differences in forest composition, disturbance regimes, and exposure to climate change. The Northern forests have substantial economic benefits to the region, with regional wood products and their manufacturing generating more than $175 billion annually. At the same time, forests provide much greater value than just that of the forest products industry. Regionally, 48% of the water supply originates on forest lands, providing clean water to metropolitan areas like New York City and Boston, as well as rural municipalities. To sustain economic, ecosystem, and cultural values within the region, the USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub prepares regional land managers for climate change risks, supporting them to make climate-informed management decisions.
How is climate change and weather variability affecting Northern Forests?
Some forest types are more vulnerable than others. Longer growing seasons and warmer temperatures will increase suitable habitat and biomass for many temperate species. However, changes in precipitation patterns, disturbances, soil moisture, pest and disease outbreaks, and nonnative invasive species are expected to contribute to the vulnerability of forests across the region. Considering these potential forest vulnerabilities and opportunities is a critical step in making climate-informed decisions in long-term conservation planning.
- Upland systems dominated by oak species are generally considered to have low vulnerability due to greater tolerance of hot and dry conditions, and some oak, hickory, and pine species are expected to become more competitive as conditions become hotter, and presumably, physiologically drier.
- Northern, boreal, and montane forest communities are widely considered to have the greatest vulnerability to climate change as many of the dominant tree species in these communities are projected to decline or lose habitat under warmer conditions.
- Coastal systems are especially vulnerable along the Atlantic coast, where coastal forests can be threatened by inundation, more frequent coastal erosion, flooding, and salt water intrusion.
What is USDA doing about it?
USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub develops and delivers science-based, region-specific information and technologies, to help natural resource managers and woodland owners integrate climate change information into planning, decision making, and management activities in order to sustain the diverse benefits from forests in a changing climate. The Northern Forests Climate Hub provides additional capacity to two primary USDA Regional Climate Hubs—the Northeast and Midwest Hubs—and works within their broader scope and organization.
Northern Forests Climate Hub (NFCH) provides:
- Technical support for land managers to respond to drought, heat stress, floods, pests, shifts in habitat suitability, sea level rise and coastal erosion of forests, and any other forest and ecosystem challenges in the context of climate change.
- Regional assessments on ecosystem vulnerability and adaptation planning.
- Outreach and education for land managers to understand climate change, and education on adaptation in order to minimize risks.
Building on Success
Climate Change Education:
Managers can learn about climate change, how it may influence land management, and options they have for responding to these changes at the Forest Service Climate Change Resource Center. A series of three comprehensive education modules were created using curriculum developed by the USDA Forest Service. The modules give an in-depth introduction to basic climate change science, the effects of climate change on forest and grassland ecosystems, and how we can respond to climate change with management.
Implementing Climate-Informed Actions:
The Adaptation Workbook
The Adaptation Workbook enables natural resource professionals, and urban forest planners to consider the potential effects of climate change on forests and to then design actions that can help reduce risk and increase the ability to cope under changing conditions. A flexible process accommodates a wide variety of geographic locations, scales, ecosystems, land uses, management goals, and ownership types. The online Adaptation Workbook is a web-based version of the climate change adaptation toolkit in Forest Adaptation Resources: Climate Change Tools and Approaches for Land Managers, 2nd edition. The online platform allows for a self-guided, interactive, and enriched experience. The tool is national and providing regional content on climate change impacts drawn from the National Climate Assessment and ecosystem vulnerability assessments developed through the Climate Change Response Framework in the Midwest and Northeast.
Consultations and Hands-on Workshops
The NFCH has supported managers in sharing their story, with more than 200 adaptation demonstration projects that showcase real-world examples of climate change adaptation. Many of these demonstrations were developed through the Forest Adaptation Planning and Practices training. This is an active, hands-on training to help natural resources managers incorporate climate change considerations into their own real-world forest management projects. The training uses information and tools developed through the Climate Change Response Framework, including the Adaptation Workbook.
Need more information?
USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub Director
Chris Swanston, USDA Forest Service
Danielle Shannon, Michigan Technological University, Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science
Kristen Schmitt, Michigan Technological University, Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science
USDA Regional Hub Partners
Northeast Climate Hub
Dave Hollinger, USDA Forest Service
Midwest Climate Hub
Dennis Todey, USDA Agriculture Research Service
Please contact us for more information.