Increasing Climate Resilience in the Wabanaki Forest

Since 2017, Community Forests International has been working to understand the effects of climate change on the Wabanaki Forest, a unique forest type that grows in the Maritime Provinces, and to develop tools to help forest professionals and landowners adapt to climate change.

The Wabanaki forest, also called the Acadian forest, roughly spans the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and parts of New England. This unique forest type is an eco-region transition zone, boasting tree species found in both the boreal forest to the north and the hardwood forest to the south, and supports a rich diversity of life and livelihoods. However, this forest is vulnerable to changes in the climate, as some species are at their range limits and are growing as far north or south as they can tolerate.

Many of the region’s forests suffer from historic and severe degradation as a result of decades of intensive management of timber. Repeated interventions and follow-up treatments have facilitated the regeneration of certain softwood species prized for timber, which are primarily cold-tolerant species affiliated with the boreal forest. Management that has enabled the growth and expansion of these species has come mainly at the expense of longer-lived, shade-tolerant species, many of which are common to more southern climates. This compromises the ability of the forest ecosystem to withstand the effects of a warming climate.

Community Forests International is encouraging forest professionals and landowners in the region to manage forests for greater carbon storage and resilience to climate change. They have created a series of tools and resources to support forest management that adapts to the rapidly changing climate and prioritizes resilience and long-term carbon storage in our forests.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The Wabanaki forest has been extensively degraded through centuries of intensive land use and forestry practices. Research shows that the Wabanaki forest is losing its unique composition and undergoing a ” Borealization ” due to widespread intensive forest management favouring single-aged, softwood-dominated forests. Decades, if not centuries, of such forest management, have yielded a forested landscape that is patchy, relatively young, and suffers from a lack of diversity and complex habitats.

Forests are a tool that society can use to sequester carbon on a large scale and mitigate the effects of climate change. A degraded forest, however, cannot securely sequester significant amounts of carbon. Unhealthy forests and forests that lack diversity often act as a source of carbon emissions; they are more vulnerable to insect attacks, drought stress, and other disturbances that cause them to degrade even more rapidly, releasing their stored carbon back into the atmosphere.

A degraded forest’s lack of complexity and diversity reduces its ability to adapt to a changing climate. As the climate in the Wabanaki forest region generally becomes warmer and wetter, so do growing conditions for tree species. Eventually, many cold-tolerant boreal species will no longer find this region hospitable. As climate conditions shift further away from the vulnerable forest species’ historic range of tolerance, they are likely to decline and dissapear. This leaves entire forested ecosystems at risk of converstion and collapse, in addition to risk of a negative feedback loop for carbon emissions and reduced capacity for sequestration and storage.

For additional climate information, look at the Resources section of this example (below). 

Identifying Actions

Community Forests International is attempting to answer the following questions: how can the Wabanaki Forest be managed to support climate change-resilient species and composition and be made to store more carbon, with biodiversity co-benefits and timber as a by-product? To answer these questions, Community Forests International has partnered with forest professionals and landowner organizations like the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners and the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association to synthesize peer-reviewed research, create applied research tools, and offer trainings for forest managers and landowners.

A focus of these efforts was developing climate-adaptive silviculture prescriptions. Silviculture prescriptions help guide forest management by offering a series of treatments designed to alter the composition of a forest or its stand structure based on a management goal. Climate-adaptive silviculture prescriptions help landowners nurture a forest condition that reduces vulnerability to climate change. Specifically, in the Wabanaki forest, this means undertaking various interventions at the stand level to favour the survival and proliferation of temperate species that are predicted to be resilient to climate change.


Building on the important work of research at the Canadian Forest Service, the University of New Brunswick and other research institutions focused on the climate change adaptability and resilience of local tree species, Community Forests International collaborated with staff at the Maritime College of Forest Technology and the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners to turn this research into a useable silvicultural guide to train forestry professionals on managing forests to prioritize climate-resilient forests. This guide, in the form of a decision tree that can be used in the field by forestry practitioners, will help grow forests that are better able to migrate as a result of climate change, better sequester carbon over the long term, and support greater habitat diversity.

Community Forests International is now partnering with groups across New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to deliver trainings with forest professionals and landowners using the guide. They have also distributed paper and digital versions of the silviculture guide directly to landowners and forestry professionals.

Outcomes and Monitoring Impacts

  • Climate Change Adaptive Silviculture Guide
  • 85 forest professionals trained in climate-adaptive silviculture
  • “Our Changing Forest” educational video series, produced with the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners.

For more information and links to the above guides, see the resource section below.

Next Steps

Science will continue to offer new insights into the effects of climate change. Community Forests International will monitor research on the climate change resilience projections of the Wabanaki forest tree species and the effects of silviculture interventions for increasing carbon storage and climate change resilience.