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Forest Assisted Migration Project

This project's focus and action is on applied forest nucleation for climate change mitigation and adaptation in Northern Minnesota. This is a delicate habitat, being on the southern border of the boreal forest. The forest landscape is rapidly changing due to climate change. Natural regeneration is occurring in some locations, but usually comes with a loss of biodiversity. Typical regeneration planting by humans is done with a plantation style planting scheme, such as when foresters harvest a managed forest and plant rows of trees, usually one species intended for carbon sequestration and lumber production. We don't do that. Rather, we plant in order to create diverse pockets of seed-producing trees for a more natural reforestation.


This is called nucleation, which is all about planting different species of trees in small islands in and around the natural vegetation, effectively tapping into the already existing mycelium network. This allows the natural forest cycles to take place, doesn't hinder natural regeneration, and allows new saplings to be supported by the larger trees. As the trees mature and produce seeds, natural systems take over and seeds spread into places that offer optimal conditions for the specific tree species.  With our work, trees are never cut down in order to plant new trees, but due to insect damage, pockets of forest become open spaces for these human-influenced tree islands. Non invasive tree species are selected from more southerly growing zones so that this new biodiversity will be better suited for climate change adaptation, thus we are assisting the migration of these trees. According to active research in the area, this human intervention is required in order for forests to survive in Northern MN.


In addition to this reforestation planting, we are planting on the edges of where the forests meet wetlands, which are drying and releasing carbon dioxide (they have been storing carbon via peat moss for thousands of years!). Planting the trees in this changing landscape maintains biodiversity, increases the forest size if the wetlands experience drying, and helps the changing wetlands continue to absorb some carbon. To be clear, we never drain or alter the wetlands in any way, but simply place trees in strategic locations so that, if they are allowed by natural conditions, they can take root. It's a complex project, which takes patience and some trial and error. Luckily, our efforts are guided by some excellent researchers. See the resources at the bottom of this page for exciting research on this topic.


Research Resources

Spruce Project

"An experiment to assess the response of northern peatland ecosystems to increases in temperature and exposures to elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations."

Forest Assisted Migration Project

"The Northwoods are experiencing dramatic change, and many northern tree species are dying. Within 50 years, without any intervention, researchers predict that the landscape in northeastern Minnesota will become mostly open grasslands. If this happens, our regional economy, wildlife, culture, and all that depend on the forest will be permanently changed.The Forest Assisted Migration Project (FAMP) is attempting to address these challenges."

Research Articles authored by Dr. Julie Etterson

Article about Dr. Etterson's work

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