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ESF Joins Partners to Create Climate-Resilient Forest on Tug Hill

Grant will help 150,000 acres of Tug Hill forest adapt to the impacts of a changing climate

The College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) is a partner in a project led by The Nature Conservancy to establish a forest that can weather a changing climate in the Tug Hill region.

A $166,925 grant was awarded to The Nature Conversancy to establish a forest that will provide corridors for wildlife movement and migration, and ensure natural services such as clean air and water are generated for people.

The project will take place on the Tug Hill Plateau, the third largest forest landscape in New York state. The area is a critical link between the Adirondacks to the northeast and the Allegheny and Appalachian mountains to the south.

While the forests of Tug Hill are large, well-connected and relatively unfragmented, decades of repeated, heavy selective cutting have yielded forests that lack high-quality timber and regeneration of valuable timber species. Such conditions leave landowners with few viable management options and leave forests vulnerable to climate change impacts.

"The Tug Hill region is expected to warm by as much as four to six degrees Fahrenheit by the 2050s," said Jim Howe, executive director of The Nature Conservancy's Central and Western New York Chapter. "This could mean decreases in snowpack and more frequent and intense weather events like ice and wind storms. The forest could also become more vulnerable to pests and pathogens."

To combat these threats, The Nature Conservancy will use the Wildlife Conservation Society grant to collaborate with ESF and Cornell Cooperative Extension-Onondaga County to apply sustainable forestry techniques and establish a more climate-resilient forest on Tug Hill, beginning with 775 acres. Over time, the lessons learned could be applied throughout the entire 150,000-acre Tug Hill Plateau, said Howe.

The project involves replanting a 2014 clear-cut to ensure the forest that emerges there has a diverse mix of native species. Traditional silivicultural techniques will be used to build other characteristics, such as snags and coarse woody debris that help a forest adapt to change.

To ensure the project is successful from both land managers' and woodlot owners' perspectives, ESF will conduct extensive ecological monitoring.

"We need data and evidence to show that projects like this hold value for conservation and landowners alike," said Gregory McGee, assistant professor of environmental and forest biology at ESF. "Our monitoring program will gather the information needed to determine whether the techniques we are testing can successfully create a more climate-resilient forest.

Findings will be shared with both private and public landowners in the area.