New England and Northern New York Forest Ecosystem Vulnerability Assessment and Synthesis: A Report from the New England Climate Change Response Framework Project

Led by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS)’s Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, this assessment evaluates the climate change vulnerability of forested ecosystems in the New England region (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, northern New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont). The report summarizes the current state of forests in the region including threats and management trends, describes climate impacts as they would progress under projected future climate scenarios, and relays the results of an extensive vulnerability assessment of the region’s forests. 

The potential climate impacts on forests were analyzed by incorporating future climate projections into three forest impact models (DISTRIB, LINKAGES, and LANDIS PRO). Downscaled climate change projections on temperature and precipitation for the region are detailed in Chapter 3. This chapter also includes summaries of other climate-related trends that have been projected for the assessment area and the Northeast region, such as extreme weather, flooding, drought, wildfire, and invasive species.

The USFS Climate Change Tree Atlas also was used to evaluate potential changes in suitable habitat for tree species within the assessment area.

Vulnerability was estimated for eight forest communities in the assessment area, in terms of the potential impacts and the adaptive capacity for an individual community, through the year 2100.  Synthesis statements for the New England forests describing general trends, and vulnerability outcomes are provided for the eight major forest systems:

  • Central hardwood-pine
  • Low-elevation spruce-fir
  • Lowland and riparian hardwood
  • Lowland mixed conifer
  • Montane spruce-fir
  • Northern hardwood
  • Pitch pine-scrub oak
  • Transition hardwood

The vulnerability assessment results focus on shifts in dominant species, system drivers, and stressors. The assessment finds that montane spruce-fir, low-elevation spruce-fir, and lowland mixed conifer forests are the most vulnerable communities. Central hardwoods, transition hardwoods, and pitch pine-scrub oak forests appear to have lower vulnerability to projected changes in climate.

The adaptive capacity of forest systems was also analyzed, where higher adaptive capacity tends to reduce vulnerability to climate change, and lower adaptive capacity tends to increase vulnerability. Among others, adaptive capacity findings include that low-diversity systems are at greater risk; and species or systems that are limited to particular environments will have less opportunity to migrate in response to climate change.

A final chapter outlines the effects of these climate impacts and vulnerabilities on forest management across the region in terms of: Natural Resource Management Planning, Habitat Management, Wilderness Management, Land Conservation, Forest Products, Forest Harvest Operations, Infrastructure on Forest Land, Non-Timber Forest Products, Fire and Fuels, Carbon Sequestration, Recreation, Archaeological and Historic Resources, Forest-Associated Town and Cities, Urban Forests and Human Health.

This assessment was completed as a part of the USFS Climate Change Response Framework project. The Framework is a collaborative of scientists, managers, and landowners addressing climate change and natural resource management. It provides an integrated set of tools, partnerships, and actions to support climate-informed conservation and forest management.

An interactive ESRI story map represents many case studies from the report. See ESRI’s Climate Change and Adaptation - New England and Northern New York Forests map here:


Publication Date: January 2018

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Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment

States Affected:


  • Air temperature
  • Drought
  • Flooding
  • Invasive species and pests
  • Precipitation changes
  • Wildfires

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