Northern Research Station News Releases

In the Mid-Atlantic Region, Economically and Culturally Valuable Tree Species Face Challenging New Climate Conditions

Flooded maples on the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Photo by Albert D. Horner. Used with permission. Newtown Square, PA, November 20, 2018 - In the 32 million acres of forest located in the Nation’s Mid-Atlantic region, many economically and culturally important tree species and forest communities will face increasing threats under warmer and more variable conditions, according to a new USDA Forest Service assessment of the vulnerability of 11 forest ecosystems in a region that includes Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, eastern Maryland, and southern New York.  

A team that included National Forest managers, state natural resource managers, other federal agencies, universities, and conservation organizations contributed to the report, “Mid-Atlantic Forest Ecosystem Vulnerability Assessment and Synthesis: A Report from the Mid-Atlantic Climate Change Response Framework Project.” The report was published by the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and is available at https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/57325

“Forest conditions are changing, and anyone managing land, from family forest owners to state foresters, corporate foresters, and urban foresters, needs science on how changed conditions will affect forest ecosystems,” said Tony Ferguson, Director of the Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. “The information presented in the Mid-Atlantic vulnerability assessment will be useful to all of the forest managers working to ensure resilient forests and continuation of the many benefits they provide, including clean air and water.”

Of the nearly 60 million acres of land in the Mid-Atlantic region, about 32 million acres are forested. Effects of climate change on forest ecosystems will lead to habitat changes for a variety of plant and animal species as well as having effects on forest recreation, timber harvesting, and infrastructure such as roads and culverts, according to the report. The five states in the Mid-Atlantic region produced more than $22 billion of wood and paper products in 2013 and employed 82,000 people. Across the same area, outdoor recreation brought in nearly $107 billion and employed 845,000 people.

“This assessment demonstrates that climate change can already be observed in the Mid-Atlantic region,” said Patricia Leopold, the report’s lead author and a climate change specialist with the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science. “Future changes could dramatically alter the landscape that characterizes the region, especially in areas affected by sea-level rise.”

Of 11 forest ecosystems assessed, three forest systems – coastal maritime forest, lowland conifer, and montane spruce-fir – were considered highly vulnerable due to negative impacts on dominant species and a limited capacity to adapt to disturbances such as drought and salt water intrusion. Oak and pine dominated forests were rated with low vulnerability because they are composed of more drought- and heat-adapted species and are better able to withstand large-scale disturbances.

The vulnerability assessment documents past and current conditions, and synthesizes the potential impacts of climate change on forests in the region. Key findings include:

  • The amount and timing of precipitation will change. Heavy rain events are expected to become more common.

  • Sea level will continue to rise, threatening low-lying coastal habitats.

  • Forest plants will face increased risk of drought in summer and fall, largely due to warmer temperatures and heat waves.

  • Certain insect pests and pathogens will increase in numbers or become more damaging.

  • Tree regeneration and recruitment will change in response to temperature, moisture and other seedbed requirements.

  • Habitat for northern species will decrease, while habitat for many southern species will increase. Forest composition will change as tree species respond differently.  

Led by the Forest Service’s Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, the assessment is part of the Climate Change Response Framework project, a collaborative approach among researchers, managers, and landowners to incorporate climate change considerations into forest management. More information can be found at https://forestadaptation.org/

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The mission of the Northern Research Station is to improve people's lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

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The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains world-renowned forestry research and wildland fire management organizations. National forests and grasslands contribute more than $30 billion to the American economy annually and support nearly 360,000 jobs. These lands also provide 30 percent of the nation's surface drinking water to cities and rural communities; approximately 60 million Americans rely on drinking water that originated from the National Forest System.

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USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Stop 9410, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call toll-free at (866) 632-9992 (English) or (800) 877-8339 (TDD) or (866) 377-8642 (English Federal-relay) or (800) 845-6136 (Spanish Federal-relay).


Last modified: November 20, 2018