Northern Research Station News Releases

In New England, Changing Climate Ushers in More Precipitation, Milder Winters

In New England, changing climate is expected to reduce the habitat suitability for iconic tree species in the region such as red spruce, sugar maple, paper birch, northern white-cedar, and balsam fir. Photo by Todd Ontl, USDA Forest Service Newtown Square, PA, January 30, 2018 - In six New England states and Northern New York, many economically and culturally important tree species and forest communities will face increasing threats under warmer and more variable conditions, according to a new assessment of the vulnerability of the region’s forests to climate change led by the USDA Forest Service.

A team that included National Forest managers, state natural resource managers, other federal agencies, universities, and conservation organizations contributed to the report,  “New England and Northern New York Forest Ecosystem Vulnerability Assessment and Synthesis: A Report from the New England Climate Change Response Framework Project.” The report was published this week by the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and is available at https://doi.org/10.2737/NRS-GTR-173

“Forests are vital to a whole spectrum of human needs, from the economy and jobs to recreation and clean air and water,” said Tony Ferguson, Director of the Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. “Forest Service scientists and our partners are providing tools that enable everyone managing the region’s forests to begin managing now for resilient and sustainable landscapes.”

Of the nearly 53 million acres of land in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and northern New York, about 40 million acres are forest. Maple/beech/birch and spruce/fir are the most abundant forest-type groups across the area, and private individuals and organizations own about 80 percent of the forest land.

“We see evidence that climate change is having an impact on the region’s forests, with damage from extreme precipitation events and insect pests,” said Maria Janowiak, the report’s lead author and a climate specialist with the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science. “Future changes could dramatically alter the landscape that characterizes the region.”

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

  • Over decades, conditions will deteriorate for iconic tree species in the region such as red spruce, sugar maple, paper birch, northern white-cedar, and balsam fir.

  • Habitat conditions will become more favorable for species such as black cherry, yellow-poplar, and several oak and hickory species, all trees that are currently found south of New England.

  • Precipitation is projected to increase in winter and spring across a range of climate scenarios. Intense precipitation events are expected to continue to become more frequent.

  • Winters will continue to become shorter and milder. Snowfall is projected to continue to decline across the assessment area, with more winter precipitation falling as rain.

  • Soils are projected to be frozen for shorter periods during winter.

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: January 30, 2018