Nelson Family: Climate-Informed Forest Stewardship Plans


The Nelson family worked with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and NIACS to incorporate climate change considerations into new Forest Stewardship Plans for Dan Nelson and Gerald Nelson, a father and son who own adjacent parcels of land near Hinckley, MN. Tony Miller and NIACS staff did a field tour with the Nelsons and completed the Adaptation Workbook in May 2014.  The plans were finalized in 2014 (available below), and Dan and Jerry have started implementing the actions outlined in their plans. 

Northeastern Area (NA), the State & Private Forestry branch of the US Forest Service in our region, is interested to use the Forest Stewardship program as a mechanism to help private landowners prepare for a changing climate. NA and NIACS helped to fund this example of climate-informed Forest Stewardship planning and implementation in Minnesota. The Nelson family near Hinckley, MN, worked with a Minnesota DNR foresters to prepare a new Stewardship Plan that accounts for climate change. The Minnesota DNR provided matching funds for the project.

Project Area

Dan and Gerald Nelson collectively own 280 acres just a few miles east of Hinckley, MN. The forest cover types across their two properties include northern hardwood forest, aspen forest, lowland brush, and lowland grass. The property features gently rolling upland areas, several wetland pockets, and a large wetland with peat soils.

Management Goals

DNR forester Tony Miller and Dan Nelson inspect a recent paper birch harvest on the property.

Dan and Gerry’s overall goals include improving wildlife habitat for deer, grouse, waterfowl, and other wildlife; improve tree species diversity; and to provide recreational opportunities on the property.  This property is used for hunting a variety of wildlife species, and there is an extensive trail network across the property. The Nelsons worked with Tony Miller, a private lands forester from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, to prepare 10-year management plans for the Forest Stewardship Program.

Climate Change Impacts

A small wetland area on the Nelson's property.
The DNR forester and NIACS considered broad climate change trends that are expected for Minnesota forests and the site conditions across the property. They identified several risks associated with climate change, as well as several opportunities. Some of these include:
Much of the aspen and paper birch on the property was harvested less than 20 years ago, and it is young and vigorous. These stands likely have less risk in the near-term.
Some species that already exist on the property, such as red maple, basswood and northern red oak, are projected to do well under climate change.
Longer growing seasons and greater evapotranspiration could dry out vernal pools and reduce water levels in wetlands in the future.
Northern hardwood stands might face additional obstacles due to high deer population levels. Deer populations are quite high in this area due to the mixed agricultural landscape.

Adaptation Actions

After considering the menu of adaptation strategies and approaches from the Adaptation Workbook, the DNR forester generated several possible adaptation actions for each major forest type on the Nelson’s property. Because of recent timber harvests on the Nelsons’ property, some of these actions won’t need to be completed within the 10-year duration of the current Forest Stewardship Plans.

Paper birch
2.3. Manage herbivory to promote regeneration of desired species.
Install tree shelters or bud caps to protect planted seedlings.
5.2. Maintain and restore diversity of native species.
10.2. Allow for areas of natural regeneration to test for future-adapted species.
In recent harvests of paper birch and aspen, all hardwoods were retained (red and sugar maple, basswood, oak, etc.)
In recently harvested paper birch stands, wait 1 year for natural regeneration to establish
9.2. Establish or encourage new mixes of native species.
Plant a mix of species in upland gaps in recently harvested birch stand: Ohio buckeye, bur oak, white oak, black cherry, Kentucky coffeetree
In lowland gaps, plant hackberry, hemlock, swamp white oak, tamarack
2.1. Maintain or improve the ability of forests to resist pests and pathogens.
9.3. Guide changes in species composition at early stages of stand development.
Thin stump sprouts of paper birch and red oak to select 2 or 3 healthy individual stems.
5.1. Promote diverse age classes.
In aspen stands, begin a three-stage clearcut starting at age 40. Cut 1/3 of the overall aspen type in each entry, and wait 10-15 years between entries.

Project Photos

Click to enlarge photos

Paper birch stump sprouts that were thinned by hand in fall 2015.
A planted hemlock seedling on the Nelson's property.
A planted white oak seedling on the Nelson's property.

Project Documents

Next Steps

The Forest Stewardship Plans were finalized for Dan and Gerry in the summer of 2014 (see below). These plans have 10-year time horizons, and the Nelsons are already implementing some of these ideas. A contractor completed the bud capping and stump sprout release for paper birch, red maple, basswood, and oak in October 2014. The Nelsons planed almost 1,000 seedlings in spring 2015, including hemlock, white oak, swamp white oak, butternut, hackberry, bitternut hickory, and Kentucky coffeetree. These seedlings will be checked annual for estimated growth and survival. Additionally, the bud-capping will be evaluated to see how well it prevents deer herbivory.

Learn More

To learn more about this project, contact Stephen


Lowland/ bottomland hardwoods, Upland hardwoods, Assisted migration, Management plan, Planting, Recreation

Last Updated

Monday, November 7, 2016