Restoring forests for today and tomorrow

To restore former agricultural land into forest, the first draft of the plan called for planting four species of trees that would be favored by the migratory birds that frequent this area near Lake Erie.

But there was one more variable to consider: How would those trees fare in a warming world?

It’s a question increasingly on the minds of practitioners of restoration projects because, in this case, choosing trees that might not succeed in the climate of the near future would not improve the ecosystem and would waste restoration dollars.

A section of former farmland near Lake Erie in Ohio that will be restored with vegetation that can thrive in a warming world (Photo by Melinda Koslow, National Wildlife Federation).

Melinda Koslow, regional campaign manager at the National Wildlife Federation, said a thorough climate-smart analysis of the project on a 512-acre parcel in the Maumee River Area of Concern in the Toledo, Ohio area showed planners that they should plant more of some species of trees, and fewer of others.

The analysis considered the sensitivity of the tree species, their exposure to climate changes, and their adaptive capacity to survive those changes.

She recounted the analysis Wednesday at the Great Lakes Restoration Conference in Cleveland and described how NWF partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to produce “Restoring the Great Lakes’ Coastal Future,” which provides an initial suite of tools and methods to assist in the planning and implementation of climate-smart restoration projects.

“How do we make integrating climate change as easy as possible” into restoration projects, said Koslow. “We hope it’s been helping many in the region and we hope it’ll help many more.”

The Maumee River project tapped $1.3 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds, which could be threatened in the next federal budget. But it shows how those dollars are being spent as efficiently as possible, even accounting for environmental changes that are still to come. In this case, changing the selection of trees did not add to the project’s costs, and it helps ensure the restoration project will provide ecological benefits as the temperatures in the region increase and changes occur in precipitation.

The site is near the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and the area provides one of the largest landbird migratory habitats in the country. The restored wetlands, grasslands and forest habitat will provide public access for bird watching, improve habitat for birds, create areas for fish passage, and control harmful invasive species.


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