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Creating climate-ready woodlands

Quick facts

  • Climate change will cause stress on the trees, plants and animals in Minnesota’s forests.
  • Woodland stewards will need to employ climate-adaptation management strategies in order to keep their forests healthy.
  • Our lists of climate-ready trees and plants can help landowners make informed planting decisions to help our whole forest ecosystems adapt.

As Minnesota’s climate changes, forests will face pressures from tree diseases and pests, heavier and more frequent rainfalls, warmer temperatures and prolonged drought. You can foster a healthy, resilient woodland by adding species that are predicted to adapt well to these changes.

Helping forests adapt to a changing climate

Climate change will impact various tree and plant species differently. Many trees, plants and wildlife in southern Minnesota have native ranges much further south, and therefore may be naturally more resilient to a warmer ecosystem. But the northern conifer forests are at the very southern edge of their native range, which extends far into Canada. As Minnesota gets warmer those forests will continue to creep north and out of Minnesota.

To ensure a healthy and productive forest, we’ll need to use strategies for climate adaptation. These will likely include a combination of management actions to help forests stay resilient to climate stress, such as: 

  • Adding species that are new to the forest to increase diversity.
  • Prioritizing native trees and plants that are predicted to do well.
  • Nurturing targeted areas to persist much as they are today.
  • Removing invasive plants and thinning forests to reduce competition.

Climate-ready woodlands

Trees live a long time, and we want to plant trees that will thrive not just this year, but 50 to 100 years from now. Our lists can help landowners make informed decisions to help whole forest ecosystems adapt. Learn more about how we developed our recommended tree lists.

We’ve also included lists of native plant species for each region for people interested in rewilding their forest understory. These plants are integral members of the forest ecosystem, providing benefits such as habitat and food for insects, birds, and small mammals. While many of the plants on these lists are available at nurseries that specialize in native plants, you may also be able to find them already growing in your woods!

All recommended tree and plant species on these lists meet the following criteria:

  • Native to Minnesota or nearby in the Eastern Deciduous Forest.
  • Low risk of mortality from pests and disease.
  • Beneficial to wildlife, specifically charismatic microfaunae such as butterflies, bees, fireflies, birds and bats.
  • Climate-ready, with response data indicating they are well-suited for the area’s projected climate.

Why we recommend working with a forester

Many species on these lists are indicated as having migration potential. This means that they are not currently found in the region for which they are being recommended, but are predicted to do well in that area’s future climate. These new species will increase forest diversity, which can help create a resilient ecosystem and fill important ecological niches.

As with any forestry decision, we recommend consulting a local natural resource professional before undertaking any significant planting. This may be especially important if you’re considering species that are not currently found in your region.

Watch Climate Ready Woodlands: Rewilding your backyard woods (Webinar; 53:46). Extension Educator Anna Stockstad talks about the climate-ready woodlands project.

Authors: Emily Dombeck, Angela Gupta and Anna Stockstad, Extension forestry
Contributors: Jeff Jackson, Eli Sagor and Gary Wyatt, Extension forestry

Research contributions provided by Climate Impact Corps member Jerry Goodrich. Special thanks to UMN Extension Southeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Climate Impact Corps for making Jerry’s service on this project possible.

Reviewed in 2023

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