Helping Tug Hill Plateau forest deal with climate change

Mar 2, 2017

The Nature Conservancy is hoping to create a climate resilient forest on the Tug Hill Plateau.

The Tug Hill Plateau is the third-largest forest landscape in the New York state -- a critical link between the Adirondacks and the Allegheny and Appalachian mountains. Its headwaters pour clean water into Lake Ontario, and the area is home to a variety of wildlife, ranging from black bears to forest birds.

The Tug Hill
Credit Courtesy: The Nature Conservancy

But selective cutting has weakened some parts of the forest, according to Nature Conservancy Central And Western New York director Jim Howe. And he says, add to that climate change, and these forests are very vulnerable.

"That region is supposed to warm by 4 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050. That’s a lot. And in a region that depends on snow pack like Tug Hill, that’s going to change the forest,” said Howe.

To help it adapt, the Nature Conservancy will use a grant to experiment with ways it hopes to create a strong and diverse forest. That includes things like thinning, understory removal and girdling trees. This active management also includes plans to plant 45,000 new trees on conservancy land.

The Tug Hill forest
Credit Courtesy: The Nature Conservancy

The end game says Howe, is to try to figure out ways to nudge nature to deal with climate change a little more quickly. Researchers with SUNY ESF will try to figure out ways to help the forest adapt.

“That’s one of the chief concerns we have with climate change. Will the species that are affected by it have the time to evolve and adapt to it,” said Howe.

For example, warming temperatures make the forest more susceptable to invasive insects.

“We are concerned about forest pests and forest pathogens like the hemlock wooly adegide, that can be devastating to forests. We’ve seen the Emerald Ash Borer. Will a change in climate favor them over our native insects? That could be very damaging.”