CARLISLE, Pa. (WHTM) – Just steps from a parking lot at Kittatinny Ridge, a conflicting sight awaits: an iconic mature oak tree lacking signs of life.
Trees that stood tall for over a hundred years are struggling to survive in today’s climate.
Oaks are responsible for maintaining one of the most important migration highways in the United States. After the hike, however, it proved even the once-mighty oak is falling victim to disease, new plant species, and climate change.
“When [a lot of people] think about climate change, what they see in the news are raging wildfires, huge floods or seas level rise, but here in Pennsylvania, we are really seeing significant climate change impacts that are manifesting themselves in more subtle, less obvious ways, and so this forest we’re in right now is a good example,” said Gregory Czarnecki, the director of applied climate science at the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Climate change may not be causing all of the stress, but it further compounds the issue and acts as a threat multiplier, amplifying the stress in the form of invasive species, disease, and pests.
Dying trees allow sunlight to reach the forest floor where native seedlings start to fall victim to fast-growing plants such as mile-a-minute, which smother native trees and shrubs.
Those kinds of plants are able to adapt and even thrive in an extreme climate while many native plants and trees can’t.
“One of the keys is diversity. The more species you have that are adaptive to the wider range of conditions, the better chances your forest will be resilient and support wildlife,” Czarnecki said.
The DCNR is responsible for 2.2 million acres of public land with goals to reduce and adapt to climate change. Part of the plan focuses on the trees able to withstand temperatures and precipitation extremes.
Private landowners collectively make up more than 70% of Pennsylvania forests.
DCNR’s mitigation and adaptation plan is a great start for those who plan to continue the legacy of family-owned forests and are mindful of forest health and wildlife habitat.
Even if you’re not a forest landowner, there are ways you can help. You can find more information here and join or like The Nature Conservancy and Tröegs, which are creatively showing their support through Trail Day, a hoppy pale ale, where a portion of the proceeds benefit Kittatinny Ridge.