DEM Forest Restoration Project Aims to "Future-Proof" 45-Acre Parcel in Richmond from Effects of Climate Change

Published on Tuesday, August 15, 2023

PROVIDENCE, RI – The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is announcing that it will begin a forest health improvement project that, along with harvesting standing dead oak trees that were killed by a combination of repeated insect defoliations and drought, aims to “future-proof” a 45-acre state parcel in Richmond by planting species of trees that may be better adapted to endure Rhode Island’s hotter and drier future.

The work will take place on the south side of Old Mountain Road in the Hillsdale/deCoppett Preserve on or about Aug. 21, weather permitting. No clear-cutting will be occurring. At the project’s end, there will be a residual stand of healthy, well-formed trees to encourage future regeneration. This is first project in Rhode Island where DEM has partnered with foresters and scientists from the Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change (ASCC) network. ASCC is conducting a series of experimental silvicultural trials across a network of different forest ecosystem types throughout the United States and Canada to research long-term ecosystem responses to a range of climate change adaptation actions.

“This project aims to find out how different forest types will respond to future climate,” said DEM Division of Agriculture and Forest Environment (DAFE) Supervising Forester Will Walker. “As foresters, DEM wants to improve wildlife habitat, reduce wildfire risk and intensity, and protect water quality. These are the goals of many silvicultural projects. But, at the same time, we must envision what the northern forest is going to look like in 100 years, 500 years, 1,000 years.”

“This is an exciting opportunity for Rhode Island to participate in a leading-edge national research project,” said Christopher Riely, Forestry Specialist and Research Associate with the University of Rhode Island. “We’re testing different science-based treatment approaches to addressing forest health threats that many private landowners around the state are also familiar with. We need to care for forests and help them adapt to the changing conditions we are already experiencing to boost their resiliency and ability to store carbon, support human health, filter our drinking water, and provide high-quality wildlife habitat.”

Increasingly, climate research is predicting that the northern forest is going to look a lot more like the southern forest, with plant and animal ranges shifting northward to accommodate warmer temperatures.

As with much Rhode Island forestland, spongy moth and forest tent moth caterpillars — combined with recurring cycles of drought and extreme weather — have devastated oak trees in the Hillsdale Preserve. The restoration project will salvage oaks where possible while interplanting seeds and trees of native species to be reintroduced, such as the American chestnut, and southern acclimated tree species including chinkapin oaks, shellbark hickories, and southern pines. (Exact species to be planted will depend on available nursery stock.) Harvesting some live trees will be necessary to create openings in the canopy to encourage regrowth and improve the overall growing stock. The ASCC models require some harvesting of live trees. Low, dense shrubs and snags (standing dead trees) will remain to enhance wildlife habitat and promote healthy forest regrowth. DEM, which manages 40,000 acres of state-owned rural forestland, is overseeing the work. Tree harvesting will be performed by Rhode Island-registered wood operators who have bid on the project.

Since 2015, DEM has harvested a total of 750 acres of state forestland, mostly to remove dead standing trees due to spongy moth and other insect infestations. This area represents less than 2% of the total forestlands that DEM manages. For more information on DEM’s forest stewardship projects, click here.

For more information on DEM programs and initiatives, visit Follow DEM on Facebook, Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM), or Instagram (@rhodeisland.dem) for timely updates.

Map of forest health project in Richmond. The orange oval indicates where the work will take place.
The orange oval indicates where the work will take place.