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Researchers using assisted migration to help forests in changing climate

Project using assisted migration as possible solution to help forests in changing climate
Posted at 1:20 PM, Jul 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-29 13:20:25-04

You can learn a lot about our environment just by following scientists and researchers into the forest for a few hours.

“We’ll start here in block two,” Kevin Evans said, pointing to a map of projects at Darmouth’s Second College Grant in northern New Hampshire. “We’ll look at the control a little bit.”

Tony D’Amato took us and a couple researchers from other countries to sites where they are testing practices to enhance forest resilience.

“We’re basically at the location for one of the 11 installations of what's known as the Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change experiment,” Tony D’Amato, a professor of forestry and director of the forestry program at the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont, said.

D’Amato is leading the project with the help of other stakeholders. The project is federally funded through the Northeastern State Research Cooperative.

This particular project is 400 acres, broken up into 25-acre sections. The first area is the control.

“We’re really just observing how does climate change affect the forest,” D’Amato said.

The second is focused on resistance. This is maintaining the current forest as it is by improving defenses against things like disease. And the third is managing for resilience.

“One way is to diversify the species,” D’Amato said. “Trying to have that diversity of species that when there is a stress event, they can respond.”

The fourth is transition, which uses assisted migration. This is a process where they take plants from other environments and put them in this ecosystem.

“We’re taking tree species that, if they could walk, might say hey my climate is now 50 miles north. I’m going to go there and now exist there,” D’Amato explained. “That includes sometimes planting species that aren't currently here that we know are likely to be better adapted to future climates.”

They’ve planted red oak, white pine, and Bigtooth aspen which may not seem like a big deal to you, but D’Amato said this is the most controversial part of the project. The goal is to introduce these species to certain areas to see how they might help the overall ecosystem. Not to let them completely take over.

“It might be 100 years before oak would get here but climate is changing so much faster, so the idea is can we get more of the species here now,” he said.

“Forests are on the move. In fact, everything that’s alive is on the move to get out of the heat right now,” Dr. Ari Bernstein, a pediatrician and director of the Center for Climate, Health, and Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said.

He said as forests change, it could have an impact on everything from allergies to diseases to water supply and fire danger.

“We know that the movement of forests and all the species in them has direct consequences for people because in those forests live creatures that matter to infections we might get. A good example here in the Northeast is Lyme Disease,” Berstein said. “The experiment in New Hampshire is really important to look at because it reflects the kind of choices we are making already and will increasingly have to make.”

D’Amato said the purpose of this project is not to re-engineer entire forests.

“The real key end goal is that we’re developing kind of actionable adaptation practices that managers and others can use on the ground to deal with climate change,” he said.