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Contact information
If you have questions, contact:
Kristen Tomaszewski
608-266-5202

Statewide Forest Action Plan Part 1: AssessmentCriterion 3: Maintenance of forest health and vitality

Major conclusions

The area of the Assessment focusing on forest health and vitality draws four major conclusions based on the data.

1) Invasive plants and disease on rural and urban lands are a concern

Tracking non-native and invasive plants consistently across boundaries and communicating across ownerships is a challenge.

  • Exotic and invasive pests such as the emerald ash borer, hemlock woolly adelgid and beech bark disease are posing a significant threat to the health of ash, hemlock and beech and the forest ecosystems they inhabit. Combinations of invasive insects could have a potentially devastating impact, especially on northern forests and southeastern cities.
  • A focused effort on management activities that reduces the forest's susceptibility to invasive pests is needed.
  • Aggressive non-native plants are negatively impacting forest regeneration across the state and potentially harmful species continue to arrive. The lack of consistency and accuracy of invasive plant data and the methods used to collect the data makes analyzing the extent and condition of invasive species difficult.
  • Wisconsin's urban forests are generally healthy and vigorous, yet specific stressors could have significant impact on future urban tree mortality. Emerald ash borer poses a mortal risk to 20 percent of urban trees. The predominance of a limited number of other urban tree species increases the risk of susceptibility to new invasive species that have not yet arrived in Wisconsin. For example, Asian long horned beetle could decimate the even higher percentage of maple trees in our urban areas.

2) The challenges presented by wildland fires are changing, and adjustments in how managers respond will be needed to continue to effectively address the threat caused by wildland fires

  • The principle causes of wildfires have changed over time. Because of technological improvements, railroads are causing fewer fires. The number one cause of wildland fires is debris burning of various kinds. A new automated burning permit system is intended to reduce the number of fires caused by debris burning.
  • Due to successful wildland fire suppression and additional tree mortality from invasive pests, fuel loads are increasing risk of severe fires requiring more resources and changing tactics to suppress.
  • Changing weather patterns are increasing the extremes of fire conditions and behavior. Gathering enhanced weather information would improve the capacity to forecast fire conditions and understand the extent and impact of climate change.
  • Development between wildlands and urban areas, called the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), is increasing exposure of improvements to wildland fire.

3) Fire dependent community types are seldom being renewed with prescribed fire due to cost, risk and air quality concerns

The scarcity of fire will affect biological diversity and habitat for specific species.

  • Additional research on the timing, intensity and effectiveness of different types of controlled burn activities could help land managers use this tool more effectively.
  • The DNR's goals for maintaining biological diversity--especially for native prairie, oak savanna and barrens species--will be difficult to attain without more emphasis on prescribed burning.
  • Non-burning alternatives to prescribed fire such as fuel removal through biomass harvests, mechanical site preparation, improved artificial tree regeneration and herbicide use may be necessary to improve biological diversity and achieve forest management goals in some vegetative types.

4) Long-term climate-related changes in temperature and precipitation will directly and indirectly impact the health and vitality of Wisconsin's forests

Based on observed and modeled climate change, Wisconsin will become warmer in the decades to come. Affects could be most dramatic in the northern half of the state.

  • Wisconsin's forests occupy a unique position in the Great Lakes region because many of its tree species exist on the edge of their natural ranges. Transitions are likely as temperature and precipitation change. Some species could be pushed outside of their genetic limits and others afforded a more favorable growing environment.
  • Spread and persistence of invasive and exotic species are likely to increase if climate change results in additional stress on Wisconsin's native vegetation.
  • Increased winter temperatures and frequencies of extreme precipitation events will likely result in additional tree stress and increases in the amount and frequency of forest disease and pest infestations in Wisconsin.
  • The combination of higher temperatures and land-use changes could increase the fuel loads in Wisconsin's forest, increasing the likelihood of wildfire and the need for the strategic use of prescribed fires and other fuel reduction management activities.
  • Air quality restrictions related to human health concerns could increase under warmer climatic conditions and restrict the extent and timing of prescribed fire.
  • Wisconsin's cities experience an urban heat island effect, and climate changes could exacerbate the problem. The urban tree canopy will be important in helping mitigate this effect.
Last revised: Wednesday September 23 2015