Connecticut Sea Grant is joining with the Avalonia Land Conservancy and UConn CLEAR in presenting, “Finding the Right Trees for the Right Time,” a series of four talks about planning and planting for a resilient coastal forest in southeastern Connecticut. The series begins March 10, culminating in a June 9 presentation by Juliana Barrett, coastal habitat specialist for CT Sea Grant, titled, “Brave New Worlds for Trees: Assisted Migration and the Study of Hoffman Preserve.”
Stonington– Battered by coastal storms and infestations of wooly adelgids, gypsy moth, winter moth and emerald ash borer, sections of the 200-acre Hoffman Evergreen Preserve will now serve as a living lab and demonstration site for how land managers can help forests adapt to climate change.
“We want to increase the resilience of the forest and maintain the water quality filtration services it provides to Long Island Sound,” said Juliana Barrett, coastal habitat specialist for Connecticut Sea Grant. “We’re trying to plant the right trees for the right time.”
Owned by the Avalonia Land Conservancy and popular with hikers and bird watchers, sections of the forest became unsafe over the last decade due to large numbers of diseased and storm-damaged trees. That prompted the land trust to contract with Hull Forest Products to do selective logging in 2019 that left open areas that will now be the subject of a joint project between Avalonia and CT Sea Grant.
“This is about helping to restore a healthy forest,” said Beth Sullivan, Stonington chairperson for Avalonia. “It’s something we’ve been working towards for the last five to six years.”
A grant of $57,144 from the Long Island Sound Futures Fund, announced last week, will provide funds for the development of a unique forward-looking forest management plan for the cleared areas, along with a series of public education programs. Barrett said the project is one of the first of its kind in Connecticut that incorporates climate change projections and assisted migration techniques for plants better adapted to future conditions. Some seedlings and seeds will be planted as part of the yearlong project, chosen both for their ability to regenerate under future climate conditions and their value as food sources for wildlife. Robert Ricard, a forester and senior extension educator with UConn, will help develop the plan and planting list, and provide guidance on the best locations for particular species.
“We’re going to try some species at the edge of their limits in Connecticut that, based on climate change projections, we think will do well,” Barrett said.
Instead of replanting the same species of hemlocks, oaks and ash shown to be vulnerable to the pests and weather disruptions brought by climate change, the plan will identify tree and shrub species likely to be more resilient in warmer temperatures. These could include loblolly pine, tulip poplar, sweetgum and others more common in the mid-Atlantic region. About a dozen loblolly pine seedlings planted last spring, in fact, have already become well established despite last summer’s drought, Sullivan said.
The preserve, located at the north end of town several miles from the shoreline, nonetheless provides important services to Long Island Sound by absorbing runoff and filtering pollutants that would end up in the estuary, Barrett noted.
The public education component was developed with Avalonia project collaborator Sharon Lynch, George Washington University professor emerita in the School of Education and Human Development. An expert in science teacher education, Lynch currently works on education initiatives with the National Science Foundation. The education component will consist of a series of four webinars on topics relevant to the project, including the history of New England forests and the carbon sequestration services they provide. The series is intended for municipal officials, land trust officials, forest landowners and the general public. In addition, a two-day workshop on guiding principles for coastal forest resilience in the Long Island Sound region will be offered specifically for municipal officials, resource managers, land trust officials, forest landowners and students. An accompanying fact sheet will be developed and published.
Nancy Balcom, CT Sea Grant associate director of CT Sea Grant, said she hopes the project will provide valuable information for land managers throughout the region.
“Given the devastation our local forests have suffered which threatens their ability to provide critical ecosystem and recreational services, it’s important to not only test the ability of new species to survive and thrive in our changing climate but to also share the progress and results widely so other land trusts and organizations can pursue similar paths,” she said.
Barrett said the lessons learned at the Hoffman preserve will be shared with other land trusts and land managers, and hopes that tours of the site can be offered in the future to show how different plant species are adapting. The project, she said, will be an opportunity “to educate and engage land trust stewards, resource managers, municipal officials and neighbors in understanding coastal forest ecosystem services, impacts of climate change on these systems and guiding principles for management under changing conditions.”
The grant for the Hoffman Preserve, which will be matched with $33,600 in in-kind services from Avalonia volunteers, is one of 38 awarded in this year’sLong Island Sound Futures Fundprogram. The 15-year-old program combines funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to support projects that improve the water quality and restore habitat in the Long Island Sound watershed. This year, $3.8 million in funding will support 15 projects in Connecticut, 14 in New York, three in Massachusetts, three in Vermont, one in New Hampshire and two in multiple states.
“It is heartwarming to see innovation at work, people and organizations getting together, planning and acting now for what the world will look like in decades,” said Sylvain De Guise, director of CT Sea Grant. “At the same time, it is encouraging that grant programs are open enough to recognize and fund innovation, even if riskier than sticking with old habits.
“I think we are heading in the right direction,” he concluded.
Judy Bensonis the communications coordinator for Connecticut Sea Grant.
It’s deliberately stepping back to make a better future.
“Retreat is very difficult, but it’s going to happen,” said A.R. Siders, assistant professor in the Biden School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Delaware. “Wouldn’t it be better to have a managed process? It can be an opportunity to do something more exciting than elevating a few houses, and there are resources available.”
A national expert and keynote speaker at the “Managed Retreat in the Age of Climate Change” virtual workshop on Nov. 13, Siders challenged the audience of about 130 municipal and state land-use officials and others to rethink notions of what’s possible. Rising seas and more frequent flooding of coastal and riverine areas means getting people out of harm’s way is necessary, she said. But can also be a chance to improve our waterfronts for everyone.
Siders said she began focusing on how retreat can be done in an orderly, methodical way—rather than as a haphazard reaction to a disaster—after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. It’s the better alternative to the other options: avoidance, fortifying shorelines with concrete or accommodating rising seas by elevating properties, she said.
To begin the hard conversation with communities, Siders urged land use professionals to pose it as challenge to realize a positive vision for the future: “What do you want your city or community or coast to look like in 30 years? 100 years?
“I don’t want to see a coast that’s armored with sea walls, but I would love to see open beaches all the way from Maine to Texas, so everyone can access them. It won’t happen if we don’t plan for retreat,” she said.
The workshop was the latest in a series hosted by the Climate Adaptation Academy, a partnership of Connecticut Sea Grant and The Center for Land Use Education & Research (UConn CLEAR). Juliana Barrett, CT Sea Grant coastal habitat specialist, and fellow organizer Bruce Hyde, extension educator with CLEAR, emphasized that this workshop is considered the first in a series on managed retreat that will delve into this complex and important issue.
“We see this as just getting the conversation going,” said Barrett.
Hyde set the stage for the presentations with a story and slides from Connecticut’s past. After the 1938 hurricane destroyed a beachfront community in New London, the city acquired the property, razed what remained of the homes and turned it into a large public beach. Today Ocean Beach Park is one of the city’s jewels.
“This is an example of using managed retreat 60 years ago and it has been very successful,” he said.
Siders also noted that there have been more recent examples of successful managed retreat projects across the country, including 12 in Connecticut. Most of these have been small scale, however. At the same time, though, new homes are still being built in vulnerable areas. In Connecticut alone, she said, 478 new homes were built from 2010 to 2017 in a 10-year flood plain.
In the second half of her talk, Siders outlined the multiple issues that arise and kinds of expertise needed to carry out managed retreat. Planners must be mindful of income equity issues—not favoring high income over low income properties, for example—the layers of regulatory and financial considerations/ Also critical, she said, is keeping the process transparent and communication lines open between residents and government. Offering financial incentives, help with finding new homes and working through nonprofit groups to build trust are some of the strategies that might be used, she said.
After Siders, Attorney Marjorie Shansky addressed the legal issues of managed retreat. “Can we adapt policies and regulations to promote managed retreat?” she asked.
These could include mechanisms that favor living shorelines over shoreline hardening, enacting stricter coastal setbacks and buffers and limiting and prohibiting coastal development altogether. She noted that the Florida Keys will no longer issue new building permits after 2023.
Starting the discussion about reimaging a local coastline where people aren’t constantly in a futile fight with rising waters is a good first step, she said. But communities need to start doing more.
“We must move from planning to action,” Shansky said.
Two examples of that kind of action offered inspiration for what can be accomplished. In downtown Meriden, a $13 million project funded by various state and federal agencies has transformed a blighted, flood-prone area into a municipal park. Public Works Director Howard Weissberg, City Engineer Brian Ennis and Assistant Planning Director Paul Dickson took turns describing various aspects of what one of them described as “a flood control site first, a park second, and an economic development parcel third.”
When talking about community response to climate change issues, retreat is the “R” word. But it is already happening in coastal states throughout the country, including here in Connecticut. Is it a good or bad idea? Will we be forced to retreat due to sea level rise in 30 years or 50 years? What does it mean to a community and how do we manage it?
This workshop is intended to begin the discussion about managed retreat in the face of climate change. Dr. AR Siders, a national expert in managed retreat, will provide a national perspective. Attorney Marjorie Shansky will speak on legal issues. Other speakers will focus on issues and examples related to retreat in Connecticut.
We would like to hear what you think and what questions you have about managed retreat.
UConn Professor Beth Lawrence collaborated with two high school teachers to create a salt marsh-climate change teaching module for high school students.
In the “Impacts of Climate Change on Long Island Sound Salt Marshes” module, students learn about the natural and anthropogenic impacts of climate change on salt marshes, delve into how scientists are studying the various impacts on salt marsh habitat, and gain a overview of different techniques for climate change research.
The module is suitable for ninth and tenth-grade biology or general science students as well as upper-level elective courses such as environmental science or marine science.
Connecticut Sea Grant support enabled Lawrence to collaborate with the high school educators to develop the inquiry- and evidence-based instructional materials about local climate issues. Leveraging an ongoing Long Island Sound Study research project, they developed an interactive climate change module for high school students that integrates “Mystery Scientist” activities to highlight different avenues of inquiry and a case study on how sea level rise is altering coastal ecosystems associated with Long Island Sound communities.
The module is aligned with Next Generation Science Standards, providing evidence-based, student-centered instructional materials highlighting how global issues impact local environmental issues. The module is being made broadly available through various platforms to encourage adoption by high school teachers throughout the region.
In the fall of my sophomore year at UConn, I enrolled in EVST 3100 – “Climate Resilience and Adaptation: Municipal Policy and Planning.” This is a course about climate change that allows students to look at real world problems and learn how to solve them in a classroom setting. This course was followed by an independent study for the Climate Corps in the spring. Developing this background and experience with climate change, I was hired for a summer internship with UConn Extension and Connecticut Sea Grant. During the summer of 2019, I worked with Juliana Barrett on a video titled “Rising Waters: Planning for Flooding in Connecticut”. This video explains coastal and inland flooding and the impacts of climate change. Municipal officials and commission members viewing the video can use this information in planning for flooding in their communities. I traveled to sites on and around the Connecticut River as well as locations on the coast of Connecticut, and I visited historical societies in order to create a photobank of past floods as well as vulnerable areas and adaptations that are being made. This project allowed me to apply what I had learned about sea level rise and flooding through the Climate Corps, as well as expand my knowledge on the subject, which I will apply to future projects.
During the summer of 2020, I have been working with Juliana Barrett again, this time to complete a video about climate change, which will also be shown to municipal officials so that they can better convey the subject to their citizens. This summer internship was funded by The Rockfall Foundation and Connecticut Sea Grant. The video explains the science behind climate change. It discusses ways to adapt and mitigate issues associated with climate change as well. I have enjoyed working on this project as it has allowed me to learn more about how the climate emergency is impacting Connecticut, and I am excited to share this information with town officials and citizens within my home state. Throughout this internship, I also visited some sites along the Connecticut River, this time to take pictures of salt marshes, which are valuable, but fragile, ecosystems. The final product of this project is titled “Climate Change in Connecticut”.
As the summer of 2020 comes to a close, I have been contemplating what I can do next. I plan to utilize at least one of the videos I created throughout my internships as I write my honors thesis, which I will complete during the coming spring semester. My goal is to attend various town meetings and show one or both of the videos I created. I will survey the officials before and after viewing the videos, to gauge how understandable and useful the material is, and to find out how city officials plan to respond to climate change and/or sea level rise. I look forward to working on this project and continuing to expand my knowledge on the subject, while also educating others on the effects of climate change.
Tessa Getchis, one of our Connecticut Sea Grant Extension educators, and David Carey of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture look at the challenges that climate change is creating for Connecticut aquaculture producers in this new report available from the USDA Climate Hubs.
Most visitors to Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, Conn., probably drive by the small stand of cedar trees along the main road without noticing the stark differences.
One group presents healthy deep green funnels pointing skyward. Adjacent is another group partially bare of needles. A few feet away is a clump of standing dead wood, spiny gray branches fully exposed.
The contrasting conditions in this short wooded stretch may be easy for beachgoers to overlook, but Mary Schoell has given it countless hours of attention over the past two years. She’s examined nearly every angle of the health and environment of the same stand of trees, using techniques of dendrochronology to measure growth from tree cores, then assessing impacts of water stress, soil types and elevation. With this data she pieces together a story of how encroaching salt water from sea level rise is affecting tree growth. What she learned there helped pave the way for the next phase in her career, as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association digital coast fellow.
“I’ve been trying to understand the pace and the drivers that convert coastal forest into wetlands,” said Schoell, 27, who grew up in East Haddam and earned her undergraduate degree from UConn and her master’s from the Yale School of the Environment this spring. Between the degrees, she worked for three years for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Atlantic Coastal Science Division in Rhode Island as a contractor on a living shoreline project.
Nominated by Connecticut Sea Grant for the digital coast fellowship, Schoell is one of nine candidates nationwide chosen in 2020 for the two-year program.
“The NOAA Digital Coast Fellowship is relatively new and Mary is the first candidate from a Connecticut institution to receive one,” said Syma Ebbin, research coordinator for Connecticut Sea Grant. “We’re excited to see what she can do with this opportunity and how it contributes to her professional development as a coastal scientist.”
Schoell will begin her assignment in August, working out of the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) on Prudence Island in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. There she will work on projects that tap her wetlands expertise to refine and compare different modeling approaches used existing to predict how and where salt marshes will migrate inland as sea level continues to rise. One well recognized model is called SLAMM (Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model). By bringing together modelers from throughout the country, she hopes to assess the potential for a standardized, national mapping tool.
More about me, I am a rising sophomore at the University of Connecticut studying Environmental Science with a keen interest in Urban and Community Development. My love for the outdoors spawned from the beloved stream I regularly paddled around in growing up in the backwoods of Willington, CT. I was able to interact with a plethora of ecosystems right in my backyard and experience the beauty of the environment, that almost appears untouched by human influence.
This love soon turned into a passion when I uncovered the atrocities occurring to our planet, and thus the stream that I grew quite fond of. This was due to human dependence on fossil fuels to supply our ever growing energy demand and also the poor maintenance of our resources through dumping and pollution. I am fascinated by the intersection of social science and natural resources, particularly in the realm of environmental justice, to best curate human experiences founded on sustainable and accessible development. My engagement in organizations that address various local issues emphasize the importance of community-based initiatives, especially in reference to sustainability, hence my excitement to be involved in UConn NRCA. My interests are particularly focused on areas of food and energy production and how they influence the ever-dawning threat of climate change.
While I’m not interning at the office, I can also be found planting and plucking crops at a local farm in Coventry, where I work to better understand the farming practices that support the food we eat. I look forward to further engaging with my local communities at farmers markets to provide fresh grown vegetables, and thus decrease the carbon footprint of families shopping locally. When you’re not looking for a bite to eat, feel free to pop by the beautiful hiking trails of Vernon, where you can find me as a Trail Manager up-keeping the local landscape.
I am so excited for all I have to learn at the “office” this summer through this distance internship, and all the wonderful workshops and community-initiated projects I have the pleasure to engage with. NRCA is a wonderful office, but we also would not be anything with the splendid engagement with local youth, volunteer adults, and professionals that bring great dedication to our programs. So here is to an amazing summer and all we have to learn!