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Northern Forests Vulnerability

Forests of the Midwest and Northeast significantly define the character, culture, and economy of this large region but face an uncertain future as the climate continues to change.

How are forests vulnerable to climate change?

Forests vary widely across the region, and vulnerabilities are strongly influenced by regional differences in climate impacts and adaptive capacity. Not all forests are vulnerable; longer growing seasons and warmer temperatures will increase suitable habitat and biomass for many temperate species.

Major findings

  • Upland systems dominated by oak species generally 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 under hotter and physiologically drier conditions.
  • However, changes in precipitation patterns, disturbance regimes, soil moisture, pest and disease outbreaks, and nonnative invasive species are expected to contribute forest vulnerability across the region.
  • Northern, boreal, and montane forests have the greatest assessed vulnerability as many of their dominant tree species are projected to decline under warmer conditions.
  • Coastal forests have high vulnerability, as sea level rise along the Atlantic coast increases damage from inundation, greater coastal erosion, flooding, and saltwater intrusion.
  • Considering these potential forest vulnerabilities and opportunities is a critical step in making climate-informed decisions in long-term conservation planning.

Download the assessment

Vulnerability of forests of the Midwest and Northeast United States to climate change 1 page Summary

Browse regional forest ecosystem vulnerability assessments

Climate change introduces uncertainty about future conditions, which creates additional challenges for land owners and natural resource managers who are interested in sustaining healthy forests over the long term. Understanding the potential impacts is an important first step to sustaining healthy forests in the face of changing conditions. Projected changes in climate and the associated impacts and vulnerabilities will have important implications for economically valuable timber species, forest-dependent animals and plants, recreation, and long-term natural resource planning. Find detailed regional assessments of climate change impacts, and forested ecosystems:

New England (CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT and northern NY)
Mid-Atlantic Region (PA, NJ, DE, MD and central and southern NY)
Central Appalachians (OH, WV, MD)
Chicago Wilderness
Michigan - Eastern Upper Peninsula, Lower
Michigan - Western Upper Peninsula and Northern Wisconsin
Central Hardwoods (MO, IL, IN)

Outside of the region we have assisted and lead efforts to assess the vulnerability of forested ecosystems in the City of Austin, TX

City of Austin TX

Information provided by the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science's Climate Change Response Framework. Learn more about this resource and find more at

Climate Change Field Guide for Forests: Site-level considerations and adaptation

Field guides are designed to put useful climate change and adaptation information into the hands of natural resource professionals as they walk through the woods. This field guide provides summary information about the effects of climate change on regional forests, helps professionals identify existing site conditions that could increase or reduce risk from climate change, and helps natural resource professionals start discussions about climate change with co-workers, partners, and clients. This guide contains condensed information drawn from the regional vulnerability assessments featured above, and other scientific documents and reports.

Northern Wisconsin field guide - 2nd edition Southern Wisconsin field guide Minnesota field guide Northern Michigan field guide

Tree species habitat suitability

Forests may look very different in the future as a result of climate change. Many of the northern tree species that provide economic and cultural benefits are adapted to cold climates and may be under greater stress as the climate warms and changing conditions create less favorable growing conditions. Other species may be able to take advantage of new conditions and expand northward over time. Find synthesized tree species handouts derived from peer-reviewed publications, reports and tools. Learn more about regional forest vulnerability by choosing a regional forest vulnerability assessment listed above, and explore tree species habitat suitability model results and maps, at the Climate Change Tree Atlas.

External links:
Individual tree species habitat suitability lists
USDA Climate Change Tree Atlas tool