Allegheny National Forest: Otter Project

Yes
Planning
The Allegheny National Forest is identifying management options that will address climate-related challenges while meeting management goals in even-aged and uneven-aged forest stands that contain riparian areas and wildlife openings.

Project Area

This project is located on the Marienville Ranger District. The project area contains 12,375 acres of predominantly northern hardwoods aged 70 years or older, and lacking in early successional habitat. The most common species are black cherry (44%), red maple (27%), American beech (15%), eastern hemlock (10%), and sugar maple (3%). This area is currently being managed under the "Allegheny National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan" (2007).

Management Goals

Treatment is proposed on 1,633 acres. Approximately 59% of the Otter Project is in even-aged management (MA 3.0) and 41% is uneven-aged management (MA 2.2). In MA 3.0, the primary management goals are to provide a sustained yield of high-value species and high-quality timber products, and to create a balanced forest age class distribution. In MA 2.2, vegetation managment is directed towards restoring late structural forest conditions with an emphasis on sustaining forest structure and continuity. Additional goals will continue to implement and monitor a range of silvicultural and reforestation practices in order to be responsive to emerging issues and regenerate stands with a diversity of healthy tree seedlings. 

Climate Change Impacts

Black cherry trees
For this project, the most important anticipated climate change impacts include:
This ecosystem is stressed by many invasive species that are expected to benefit from a longer growing season, warmer temperatures, and increased natural disturbances. For example, invasive glossy buckthorn is prolific in the understory.
Hemlock is a keystone species where it occurs in the project area. Climate-driven expansion of the hemlock wooly adelgid is expected to increase mortality of hemlocks. The loss of hemlocks in riparian areas will change the character of the ecosystem.
Other insect pests that have stressed this ecosystem include the invasive beech scale and emerald ash borer, and the native black cherry scallop shell moth; these pests have caused mortality and suppression of beech, ash, and black cherry trees.
Larger rain events are expected to increase flooding in riparian areas, and cause soil erosion and damage to culverts and road infrastructure.

Challenges and Opportunities

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

Challenges

Valuable species such as sugar maple, black cherry and hemlock are sensitive to warmer temperatures: hemlock is also at risk of mortality from the adelgid and black cherry is susceptible to leaf spot disease.
Maintaining wildlife openings will become more difficult due to invasive plants and other stressors and will require intensive forestry/vegetation management practices to maintain these small openings.
Stream shading will decline with the loss of hemlock; shading will depend on finding substitute conifers that can serve as thermal cover; the time between hemlock mortality and revegetation will need to be actively managed to retain consistent cover.
Regeneration of desired species is expected to become more challenging: seed supply must match anticipated needs for future forest cover and protection of regeneration from increased stressors is expected to be more costly.
There are very wet soils in the project area which affect accessibility for operations and harvesting; increased precipitation in spring and summer make soils soft. Winter harvest is expected to become more challenging with unfrozen ground conditions.

Opportunities

Forestry practices to utilize herbicide near wildlife openings could reduce the opening maintenance intensity. Buffers from forest management and the relatively small wildlife opening size may also help reduce invasive species spread.
The loss of hemlock in riparian areas in the short term may result in a more open canopy and thus provide an opportunity for planting a mix of conifer species that could help shade streams.
Across the forest, near-term planting a mix of future-adapted species and seed from southern locations may help identify vigorous species that may become high-quality timber species.
Efforts to address declining stand health (due to age class structure) will likely meet and exceed targets for creating early structural habitat.

Adaptation Actions

The Adaptation Workbook was used to identify some potential adaptation actions for this project, which will be refined while the project continues to meet the requirements of NEPA. Potential adaptation actions that would promote a diversity of vegetation patterns across the project area include: 

Area/TopicApproachTactics
Wildlife openings in MA 3.0/2.2 - Even-aged/Uneven-aged northern hardwoods
2.2. Prevent the introduction and establishment of invasive plant species and remove existing invasive species.
5.2. Maintain and restore diversity of native species.
Repetitively treat buckthorn in areas of new disturbance in or around the openings using a combination of mechanical and chemical treatments. Prioritize the openings that were created specifically for wildlife habitats.
Use impact models, and other resources to identify native future-adapted shrubs, herbs, and grasses to seed and plant in wildlife openings.
MA 3.0 - Even-aged northern hardwoods
1.1 Reduce impacts to soils and nutrient cycling.
1.2. Maintain or restore hydrology.
1.3. Maintain or restore riparian areas.
7.1. Reduce landscape fragmentation.
Apply lime to selected (experimental) forested stands in/near riparian areas to improve nutrient recycling
Identify and prioritize roads for decommission based on condition and future management needs.
Storm-proof roads that experience frequent washouts and that are not needed for foreseeable future
Plant a diversity of native species to restore cover in riparian areas. Consider planting eastern white pine and shrub species expected to do well under a range of future climate; use conifer comparison sheet to identify replacement for hemlock.
Plant future-adapted oak species (northern red oak, scarlet oak, black oak, chestnut oak, shingle oak), hickories, and/or southern pines after harvest to fill in gaps in natural regeneration
MA 2.2 - Uneven-aged northern hardwoods
5.1. Promote diverse age classes.
5.3. Retain biological legacies.
8.2. Favor existing genotypes that are better adapted to future conditions.
9.3. Guide changes in species composition at early stages of stand development.
Allow passive management to produce nurse snags and pit-and-mound topography.
Plant long-lived species (white pine, red oak, black oak) and native shrubs (eastern redbud, flowering dogwood) across a range of sites
Use group-selection method or a two-age treatment to promote structural diversity and natural regeneration

Monitoring

Project participants identified several potential monitoring items that could help inform future management, including:
Seedling diversity and success
Continued monitoring for forest health threats such as hemlock mortality from hemlock wooly adelgid
Density of large downed wood
Stream temperature and water quality

Next Steps

The ID team will begin the scoping stage of the NEPA process later this summer or early fall. Adaptation actions and monitoring items will continue to develop as the project continues to meet the requirement of the NEPA process.

Learn More

To learn more about this project, contact Patricia

Last Updated

Wednesday, May 16, 2018