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Seven things you can do to prepare your woods for a changing climate

3 min read / February 15, 2023

Act now for the future of your woods

In Vermont, warmer temperatures, shorter and warmer winters, and increasing precipitation are altering conditions in our woods. Thinking about how to address these changes can feel overwhelming. But if you own or manage a woodlot, there are plenty of steps you can take.

1. Set some goals for your property

Take some time to clarify your goals for forest management. Are you looking to harvest firewood or produce maple syrup? Grow high-value sawtimber? Improve the local wildlife habitat? Protect ash trees or encourage your woods to be more like an old growth forest? A combination of these things?

If you are unsure how to go about this and would like to talk things over, you can get help. If you own conserved land get in touch with your VLT forester. Alternatively, anyone can contact a County Forester who can provide a list of consulting foresters in their area.

2. Build your team

Forest professionals can be a great resource for you. We encourage all woodland owners to work with a consulting forester. One of their jobs is to help turn your vision into a forest management plan. Loggers are also an important part of your team.

Your consulting forester will help find a logger who will do a good job on your land and they will work together to make your vision a reality. Need help building your team? If you own land conserved with VLT, ask us and we can help you find a forester. Otherwise, reach out to your county forester to start.

3. Strive for a variety of tree species

The greater the variety of native tree species on your property, the lower the likelihood that a disease outbreak or a migrating invasive insect will cause serious harm to your woods. These challenges are made worse by climate change. More variety will also mean greater wildlife habitat diversity. Pay particular attention to species that are more likely to do well in Vermont woods as our climate warms and that will thrive in your particular woods. These may include red and white oak, red maple, and black birch.

To learn about the trees that will struggle and those that will thrive with Vermont’s changing climate, see the information starting on page 55 of this report prepared by the state.

4. Let nature be your guide

Nurturing a wide range of tree ages and structure will also strengthen your forest’s ability to withstand threats posed by climate change. Work with your forester to designate some trees that will live out their full lifespans, retain a few dead trees, and fell others that can be left on the forest floor. It may seem odd to leave felled trees behind, but they provide important habitat for wildlife, they feed the soil, and offer moisture protection that is largely missing from our woods. Remember, a forest is much more than just trees, so also encourage a variety of plants in the understory. These actions mimic the natural processes that have helped forests persevere for millennia.

5. Identify and remove invasive plants or insects

One type of nature you don’t want in your woods is invasive species. Scores of invasives in Vermont are wreaking havoc on the state’s forests, and ultimately leading to soil loss, monotone landscapes, and reduced biodiversity. Work with your forester to identify invasive plants or insects and take steps to remove or control them. The steps you take will differ depending on the species, but the sooner you tackle the worst offenders––the better.

If you have ash trees, learn about the Emerald Ash Borer. Check out our in-depth video on Emerald Ash Borer, which shows what to look for and what to do. And see this guide to common invasive plants in Vermont.

6. Protect young trees from deer

Deer are amazing creatures, but too much of a good thing is creating a serious threat to our woods. In some parts of the state, especially the Champlain Islands and southern Vermont, the deer population has exploded, which translates to a lot of large, doe-eyed ruminants scouring the landscape for food. They browse vast quantities of tree saplings, native shrubs and herbs, and wildflowers right down to the ground while invasive plants take root in the disturbed areas. This spells trouble for the future of our forests. Consider allowing hunting on your land or protecting tree saplings from deer until the trees are well established.

7. Stay in touch with your woods

You can learn a lot by paying attention to what worked well and what didn’t with previous management efforts on your land. Keeping an eye on your woods can also help you better understand how the changing climate is affecting your property. For example, you could record the date leaves appear each year, check for signs of insects or disease on certain trees, note the number and success rate of young tree seedlings, and track signs of wildlife. All of this information can be useful to your consulting forester, and together you can plan to help your woods thrive.

Go deeper: More resources for helping your forest adapt to climate change

Assess how your forest may be affected by a changing climate

This booklet is designed to help you identify potential risks in your woodlot, and highlight management options that may increase its ability to cope.

View PDF

Learn what the changing climate means for woodlands in New England

This website has detailed information on how climate change will affect our region. The sections on climate change and effects on forests are especially helpful. If you know what kind of forest is on your land, you can also look at the section on forest vulnerability.

View website

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