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Responding to Oak Wilt and Climate Change on the Menominee Nation Forest

Posted by Arthur Blazer, Deputy Undersecretary, Natural Resources and Environment in Conservation Forestry
Sep 09, 2015

Standing in a disturbed patch of forest, Menominee forester Jeff Grignon looks around and explains, “My role is to regenerate the forest, maintain the forest, create diversity, and look toward the future.” This task is becoming increasingly challenging as growing forest health issues intersect with additional stressors brought about by climate change in the forests of the Menominee Nation and elsewhere.

As a leader in forestry and natural resource conservation, USDA has a long history of working with tribes to address their management issues and concerns. Climate change is an active part of that discussion, and has been increasing through development of the new USDA Regional Climate Hubs. The network of Hubs deliver science-based knowledge, practical information, and program support to help natural resource managers, producers, and landowners make climate-informed decisions and then implement those decisions.

The Menominee Forest provides one example of this type of support. There, the non-native oak wilt fungus has killed thousands of red oak trees across 220,000 acres of forest managed by Menominee Tribal Enterprises. Over 300 pockets of forest affected by oak wilt have been found and treated so far. The treatment is disruptive to the site because all affected or potentially affected oak trees must be removed completely, and their stumps pulled to avoid transmission of the fungus through roots.

Responding to the disease also provides opportunities. Some of the sites have been identified as demonstration sites that will be reforested, while also increasing forest diversity and introducing species that are expected to be better-adapted to future climates. Over the past few years, foresters at Menominee Tribal Enterprises have prepared the forest soil and begun planting an array of plant and tree species, informed by a combination of the traditional ecological knowledge and the latest climate change science.

The Menominee adaptation demonstration was supported by the Forest Service through its leadership in a collaborative effort called the Climate Change Response Framework. The Framework provides useful information, resources, and tools to help natural resource professionals and woodland owners consider climate change as they make decisions about how to manage their land. Adaptation demonstrations are critical for providing real-world examples of how climate change adaptation actions can be planned and implemented. To date, hundreds of natural resource managers have used the same process that was used at the Menominee Forest—an adaptation workbook—to integrate climate change information into dozens of on-the-ground projects.

The project with Menominee Tribal Enterprises is a great example of the kind of climate-informed management that emerges from combining local judgment and traditional knowledge with the latest applied climate science, and it shows how USDA can help land owners and managers respond to climate change.

This demonstration project was also featured in the September 2014 issue of the Journal of Forestry.  Learn more about Tribal Demonstration Projects using the Climate Change Response Framework.

Category/Topic: Conservation Forestry