“Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change”

on the Exurban Landscape

Forests in New England face many challenges. Some are biological (deer overpopulation, gypsy moth outbreaks), some are related to climate change (greater frequency and intensity of storms, unpredictable freeze/thaw cycle), and some are human-caused (fragmentation, degradation due to irresponsible logging). Willingness to address these problems and improve the condition of our forests is high among land owners, forest managers and other stakeholders, so what is holding back action? What is between the current condition of the woods and a landscape that is more resilient to climate change and other challenges – A landscape with a greater capacity to adapt to the uncertain future?

Many factors play into this. A recent needs-assesment survey highlights the paralyzing complexity of the issue. The changing of the climate seems too far out of the hands of forest managers. In some case, land managers are constrained in what they can do by the multiple objectives assigned to each of our many fragmented forests: is this land for hiking trails, or timber production, or bird habitat, or all of those? In a lot of cases, the research that shows forest managers what actions would lead to greater resilience and adaptive capacity is just not there yet.

Some researchers are working on just that subject:

The Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change (ASCC) project is a collaborative effort to establish a series of experimental silvicultural trials across a network of different forest ecosystem types throughout the United States and Canada. Scientists, land managers, and a variety of partners have developed seven initial trial sites as part of this multi-region study to research long-term ecosystem responses to a range of climate change adaptation actions.

Each trial is focused on understanding and evaluating management options designed to enable forests to respond to a changing climate. Site-specific treatments were developed according to local conditions and tailored to meet site-specific management objectives, while at the same time aligned under a common framework for answering questions about how different forest types will respond to future climate.

In using this two-tiered design, ASCC provides a means for evaluating adaptive management strategies across distinct forest types, allowing researchers to ask broad questions about climate change adaptation across all study sites, while also addressing on-the-ground management needs specific to individual sites.

(see Nagel et al., 2017 and Janowiak et al., 2017 for more information)

UConn is working with the ASCC project to adapt their protocol to the exurban landscape of southern New England. We think we can start a network of exurban sites to better understand what makes effective adaptive silviculture in this region.

The hallmark of the ASCC protocol is a workshop that brings together scientists and land managers to create a custom forest management plan for a given parcel. ASCC plans aspire to one of three broad objectives:

  • Resistance – maintain relatively unchanged conditions over time
  • Resilience – allow some change in current conditions, but encourage eventual return to original conditions
  • Transition – actively facilitate change to encourage adaptive responses

The first step is to hold a workshop and develop these plans for sites in southern New England. UConn will be holding a workshop on June 8th, 2020, through the 10th. The first day is for reaching out to, and hearing from, a wide variety of people with a stake in Connecticut forests. Days 2 and 3 are for land managers who will be invited for their work with the specific forest parcels that we intend to create plans for.

Check out the plans for the workshop here

Register Here

Study Objective

The objective of the Exurban ASCC project is two-fold. First, as is the case with the original program, we want to test out forest management methodology and quantify it’s utility in increasing the resilience and adaptive capacity of our forests – in this case, specifically the exurban forests of southern New England. Our second objective is to improve our understanding of how the southern New England context (ecological conditions and social environment) effects how we implement silvicultural treatments and forest management practices here.

An important aspect of a resilient and adaptive forest articulated by Messier et al. (2014) is the “capacity to self-organize after a disturbance.” Messier et al. go on to suggest that allowing that self-organization of the forest system should be a principle of doing forestry for resilience and adaptation, but in addition to the forest ecosystem, the social constructs surrounding the system also need to be allowed to self-organize. That way, they create management plans that are meeting local needs and are adaptive and resilient themselves. The procedure developed by NIACS embodies that principle of allowing local stakeholders to organize themselves and their system of forest management, while steering them towards a plan that allows self-organization of the ecosystem in turn. We are excited to see the thoughtful and innovative plans that come out of this exercise!


Nagel, Linda M., et al. “Adaptive silviculture for climate change: a national experiment in manager-scientist partnerships to apply an adaptation framework.” Journal of Forestry 115.3 (2017): 167-178.

Janowiak, Maria K., Christopher W. Swanston, Linda M. Nagel, Leslie A. Brandt, Patricia R. Butler, Stephen D. Handler, P. Danielle Shannon et al. “A practical approach for translating climate change adaptation principles into forest management actions.” Journal of Forestry 112, no. 5 (2014): 424-433.

Messier et al., From management to Stewardship: Viewing Forests as complex adaptive systems in an Uncertain World. Conservation Letters. 2015