Mass Audubon: Elm Hill Forest Management Project

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Planning
Mass Audubon is working to demonstrate best forest management practices for songbird conservation and climate change on a 1,000-acre Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary.

Project Area

The Elm Hill Forest Management Project is the implementation of the 2017 Forest Stewardship Plan for Mass Audubon's 1,100-acre Elm Hill Wildlife Sanctuary in central Massachusetts. The project's main goal is to demonstrate sustainable forestry practices that increase habitat quality for bird species of conservation concern, manage invasive species, and enhance the forest's structural and compositional diversity. The sanctuary’s landscape consists of a series of hills—a drumlin cluster—that are topped by fields and former orchards. The majority of the forest at Elm Hill is transitional hardwood forest dominated by red oak and including maples and birches, while local farmers lease many fields. Elm Hill supports populations of many wide-ranging animals, including black bear, fisher, and eastern coyote. The sanctuary’s early-successional habitats also support songbird species of conservation concern.

Management Goals

Across the Sanctuary, Mass Audubon will use sustainable forest management and timber harvesting to improve forest health, wildlife habitat, and productivity, as well as generate high quality forest products over the long term. Specific management goals for the next 10 years include:

  • Implement a timber harvest across 605 acres of forest using a variety of silvicultural techniques—including irregular shelterwood, clearcut/patch cuts, shelterwood preparation, and group selection— in order to improve forest health and wildlife habitat.
  • Create features typical of late-seral forests through silvicultural activities on 30 to 80 acres of forest.
  • Manage priority invasive plant infestations in/near proposed timber harvest sites through appropriate techniques, including mechanical and chemical methods.
  • Map and prioritize invasive plant infestations on project site.
  • Create 105 acres of young forest habitat through clearcut or patch cut treatments.
  • Maintain appropriate no- or low-management buffers near sensitive areas to protect these ecosystems.

Climate Change Impacts

Elm Hill contains transitional hardwood stands with a variety of tree species; these forests are expected to be moderately vulnerable to climate change. Managers of the site expect that the greatest negative impacts from climate change will be from to increased threats from invasive species, pests, and pathogens, all of which have the potential to reduce or eliminate important tree species from the forest. For this project, the most important anticipated climate change impacts include:
Invasive plant populations may disproportionally benefit from the longer growing season, threatening forest integrity in the areas of the site where these occur.
Emerald ash borer will likely eliminate white ash, and hemlock woolly adelgid threatens hemlock.
Southern pine beetle may spread further in Massachusetts, causing problems for white pine at Elm Hill.
The forest is moderately diverse and includes some southern-associated tree species, which should provide some buffer against wholesale climate-related forest loss.
The site has a large amount of topographical complexity, which should offer some additional thermal buffering. North-facing slopes and narrow valleys are likely to warm less.
Southern exposures and hilltops are likely warm more. Droughty hilltops may become even drier, potentially favoring oaks or pines, or even driving a reduction in forest cover in the driest areas.
Much of the site is headwaters, limiting the effects of severe precipitation events; however, Dunn Brook along the site's southeastern boundary could become flashier, increasing erosion.
Isolated wetlands are likely to have a reduced hydroperiod, potentially shifting vegetation composition toward upland-associated species.

Challenges and Opportunities

Climate change will present challenges and opportunities for accomplishing the management objectives of this project, including:

Challenges

Warmer winter climate conditions may limit window of harvest operations on stable soil.
Removing forest canopy trees might further exacerbate invasive plant performance, on top of climate-related enhancement.
Any declines of northern hardwood species will reduce site's tree species diversity (many "southern" species are already present).
Current specifications for buffers around sensitive areas may be inadequate under changed future climate conditions.

Opportunities

Increased frequency of high-intensity storm events might create similar features similar to those described by the management goals.
Climate-driven tree mortality might also increase forest structure.
Climate-driven tree mortality might also increase forest structure. Overall forest productivity may increase with climate change.

Adaptation Actions

The primary focus of management at Elm Hill is to maintain and enhance species and structural diversity, which will help to demonstrate progressive forestry for the benefit of bird species on conservation concern. These actions will help improve the overall health and function of the forest and increase its resilience to future stress and disturbance.

The Adaptation Workbook helped identify some potential adaptation actions for this project, including:

Area/TopicApproachTactics
Elm Hill
1.1 Reduce impacts to soils and nutrient cycling.
1.2. Maintain or restore hydrology.
1.3. Maintain or restore riparian areas.
Follow best management practices with respect to soils, hydrology, and wetland and waterways when conducting forestry activities.
2.2. Prevent the introduction and establishment of invasive plant species and remove existing invasive species.
Control invasive species mechanical and chemical methods, including multiflora rose, Japanese barberry, Japanese knotweed, common buckthorn, glossy buckthorn, burningbush, honeysuckle, goutweed, and Oriental bittersweet.
2.3. Manage herbivory to promote regeneration of desired species.
Monitor the effects of herbivory on the vegetation and consider steps to control deer as necessary.
4.1. Prioritize and maintain unique sites.
4.2. Prioritize and maintain sensitive or at-risk species or communities.
Limit active management in sensitive areas to protect rare plant populations and wetland structure and function.
5.1. Promote diverse age classes.
5.2. Maintain and restore diversity of native species.
5.3. Retain biological legacies.
5.4. Establish reserves to maintain ecosystem diversity.
Create areas of young forest habitat.
Enhance the structure of the closed canopy forests.
Restore red pine plantations to a more natural state.
9.1. Favor or restore native species that are expected to be adapted to future conditions.
9.2. Establish or encourage new mixes of native species.
Purposefully retain future-adapted tree species during forestry operations to provide a seed source and encourage a transition to a new species mix.

Monitoring

Mass Audubon's standard inventory and monitoring program will provide long-term monitoring of forest composition and structure. Vegetation monitoring will be conducted annually during the growing season for three years following active management, and compared to pre-treatment levels to ensure that the percent cover of invasive plant species within managed forest communities remains low. Site managers will also evaluate whether actions to use best management practices, create late-seral features, and avoid sensitive areas avoidance were successfully implemented.

Learn More

To learn more about this project, contact Maria

Keywords

Insect pests, Invasive species, Diseases, Upland conifers, Upland hardwoods, Management plan, Restoration, Wildlife habitat

Last Updated

Friday, June 22, 2018