Ottawa National Forest: Forest-wide Aspen Management


Ottawa National Forest staff considered how climate change might affect management outcomes for a forest-wide aspen management project, and a final decision for the project will be released in 2015.  

The Ottawa National Forest is proposing a forest-wide project to manage for early-successional aspen. Staff from the Ottawa NF have considered how to continue to meet the management objectives outlined in the Forest Plan while accounting for changing future conditions. More information about the project is available on the Ottawa NF website

Contact: Stephen Handler

Right: Mature aspen with trunk rot.  Photo Credit: Brandon Braden


Project Location and Goals

The Aspen Management Project will occur throughout the Ottawa NF, on approximately 30,000 acres of National Forest System lands. The Management Areas (MAs) in this project prioritize early-successional communities and/or high proportions of aspen forest.  The purpose of this project is to manage identified aspen stands to meet Forest Plan goals and objectives for vegetation, wildlife, and wildlife-based recreation over the next 10-20 years.  The purpose and need for wildlife resources within the project area are to:

  • maintain and enhance early successional habitats for wildlife species including, golden-winged warbler, ruffed grouse, woodcock, white-tailed deer, snowshoe hare, and the predators that benefit from these species
  • support wildlife-based recreational opportunities not limited to wildlife viewing and hunting
  • progress towards achieving the Forest Plan objective of maintaining 12,000 acres of aspen in the 0-9 year age class

Aspen stands included in this project have been left out of previous forest management projects for a variety of reasons; tend to be located on sandy or clay soils; are smaller and more isolated; and are characteristically older, in poorer condition, and less densely stocked than more ideal aspen stands. 

Climate Change and Aspen

Staff from the Ottawa National Forest used the Adaptation Workbook from Forest Adaptation Resources to evaluate the potential climate change impacts for the Aspen Management Project in particular. Potential climate change impacts that are of major interest include:

  • Moisture stress is anticipated to increase over time under climate change, due to longer growing seasons, warmer temperatures, and a greater proportion of moisture delivered in heavy events. This is particularly concerning for aspen stands in this project because most stands occur on drought-prone sandy or clay soils.
  • Aspen is generally projected to decline across a range of future climate scenarios. Additionally, most of the existing aspen is 60+ years old and the current rate of regeneration (harvest + natural disturbance) has not been enough to maintain a consistent acreage of aspen across the forest. 
  • Northern hardwood species such as red maple, sugar maple, and red oak are projected to increase across a range of future climate scenarios. This increases the possibility of long-term conversion of thse aspen stands to other forest types, particularly in the smaller stands included in this project.

Adaptation Actions

Staff on the Ottawa National Forest were able to identify several items that were already part of the proposed action that also have important adaptation benefits. Examples include:


Project Outcomes

Ottawa National Forest staff completed the Adaptation Workbook activity in spring 2014 and this information was incorporated into project planning and public outreach.


Current Project Status

The project is being developed according to the National Environmental Policy Act process. It was released for formal scoping in spring 2014, and the Environmental Assessment was released in June 2015.  A final decision is expected in summer or fall of 2015. More information is available on the project page for the Aspen Management Project.


Last updated: 8/6/15