About the Project

The northwest Michigan Assisted Tree Range Expansion Project (ATREP) is a citizen science project designed to involve private landowners and community groups in reforestation and afforestation using tree species whose native ranges reach their upper limits in southern to mid-Michigan.

Simply defined, 

assisted range expansion is “the human-assisted movement of species to areas just outside their established range in response to climate change, facilitating or mimicking natural range expansion” (Dumroese et al. 2015). The central concept behind this project is that by establishing species that are predicted to thrive and reproduce in our changing climate, we can increase ecosystem diversity, offset widespread tree die-offs, and ultimately improve the resilience of our future forests. 

Image source: United States Forest Service Climate Change Resource Center


The Assisted Tree Range Expansion Project (ATREP) is a response to the ongoing and impending impacts of climate change felt in northwest Michigan, and the exacerbation of forest stressors that come as a result of these impacts. Research out of the USDA North Central Research Station supports that our region is experiencing and will continue to experience a shift to warmer average seasonal temperatures, higher levels of precipitation, and more frequent and intense severe weather events. Taken in tandem with the increasing number of native and non-native pests and pathogens that are currently devastating our forest and shoreline ecosystems, and it becomes clear that we have an obligation to take action as citizens and caretakers of this land.

Who?

Regional Conservation Districts, the Michigan Forestry Assistance Program, private land and business owners, community groups, townships and county parks, schools, and regional land conservancies. Anyone can be involved! This project is being organized by Madeline Baroli, a young forester who worked with the Leelanau Conservation District this past summer.

What?

A citizen science project focused on planting trees from southern and mid-Michigan in northwest Michigan and tracking their survival and growth. Participants will order trees and tree protection supplies from the Leelanau Conservation District, register their newly planted tree’s species and location on our website, and report simple annual measurements themselves or with the help of our District Forester. We recommend that individual private landowners plant anywhere from 1-10 trees, depending on their resource availability. Community groups, schools, township parks, and homeowner associations may decide to scale up the size of their project.

Why?

Because citizen science is FUN! And you get to enjoy some beautiful new trees. Additionally:

 

  • Climate change— Research out of the USDA North Central Research Station supports that our region is experiencing and will continue to experience a shift to warmer average seasonal temperatures, higher levels of precipitation, and more frequent and intense severe weather events. These changes all have implications for our forest ecosystems, and assisted range expansion may be a promising forest management tool in the face of these changes. This project explores that.

  • Disease and pest threats— Forest ecosystems in Northwest lower Michigan have sustained high levels of tree loss due to the Emerald Ash Borer, Beech Bark Disease, and Oak Wilt. Hemlock-wooly adelgid has been steadily moving up the western coast of Michigan, and Asian-Long Horned Beetle outbreaks border Michigan in Ohio and Illinois. We need resilient forests to mitigate the damage of these outbreaks.

  • Outdoor recreation based culture & economy— Forests are an integral part of what makes this region so special to its residents, attractive to its tourists, and economically successful.  

  • Research perks— Citizen science effectively spreads out your 'sample size.' Landscape level experimentation allows for more nuanced data and results, and in this case citizens get to learn about forest conservation and restoration throughout the process.

  • Private land ownership— Private landowners are responsible for 54% of Michigan’s forested land. That means within 54% of forested areas in our state, management decisions are made by citizens like you and me, not the State or Federal governments. This project aims to make citizens more informed and active stewards of their land.

When?

Now! Participants can coordinate with the District Forester this fall/winter to choose the best suited trees for their land and place their orders this winter/spring. Pick-up for tree and shrub orders from the Conservation Districts is in late April. Mapping and data collection will occur throughout the summer, and will continue annually (ideally with increasing levels of participation).

Where?

Northwest Lower Michigan. Grand Traverse, Leelanau, and Benzie Counties. Your backyard, abandoned field, or woodlot!

Selected Species

There are 35+ tree species that are present in Southern or mid-Michigan, but not Northwest Michigan, making them eligible based on the goals of the project. The tree species below were ultimately selected based on the following criteria:

  • Projected new habitat or projected increase >20% in habitat in Northern Michigan based on predictions by Handler et al. (2014).

  • Not a preferred deer browse species.

  • Not a preferred Asian Longhorn Beetle species.

  • Provides landowners with a good distribution of options for trees that are suited for either sun or shade, dry or moist habitats, forest or open-field succession.

  • Provides distinct wildlife benefits.

Shagbark hickory

Carya ovata

  • Large deciduous tree known for its distinctive bark, long lifespan and delicious edible nuts.

  • Intermediate shade tolerance― will often grow slowly in the forest understory and then rapidly respond to a gap opening and sunlight. 

  • Supports a wide variety of wildlife― fox, squirrel, rabbit and bear feed on the nuts and bats often take shelter under the loose bark.

  • Commonly associates with: oak, maple, basswood, red bud, tupelo.

Tulip tree

Liriodendron tulipifera

  • Very large deciduous tree known for its beautiful spring blooms and fast growth rate.

  • Shade intolerant― great as an ornamental yard tree, forest edge or open field planting.

  • Larval host to many pollinators including the Swallowtail butterfly, Promethea moth, Baltimore oriole, Scarlet tanager, and hummingbirds and bees.

  • Commonly associates with: tupelo, white pine, oak, beech.

Sassafras

Sassafras albidum

  • Medium-sized deciduous tree known for its unique leaf shapes and aromatic oils historically used to flavor root beer.

  • Intermediate shade tolerance― does very in the forest understory as a spreading shrub but grows into a mid-sized tree in full sun.

  • Larval host to many pollinators including the Spicebush butterfly, Tiger swallow-tail, Pale Swallowtail, Palamedes butterfly and bees.

  • Commonly associates with: dogwood, beech, maple, oak, ash, tulip tree.

Black tupelo

Nyssa sylvatica

  • Medium-sized deciduous tree known for its scarlet autumn leaves and attractive drooping branch structure.

  • Shade and flood tolerant― grows to be an intermediate canopy tree in wet, lowland sites. 

  • Fruits are an important food source for migrating birds in the autumn, and bees love the flower's nectar (producing the popular tupelo honey).

  • Commonly associates with: ironwood, black cherry, dogwood, oak, hickory. 

Hackberry

Celtis occidentalis

  • Medium-sized deciduous tree known for its distinctive corky bark and persistent edible drupes.

  • Shade tolerant― capable of growing in deep shade with good soils, but also a very common ornamental tree that can withstand poor soils.

  • Small red drupes persist into the winter, providing difficult to come by sustenance for turkey, pheasant, quail, grouse, and songbirds. Larval host to Mourning Cloak and Question Mark butterflies. 

  • Commonly associates with: maple, cottonwood, willow, aspen.

Swamp white oak

Quercus alba

  • Medium-sized deciduous tree known for its lustrous leaves and moss-like acorn caps.

  • Intermediate shade tolerance― will grow in light shade but requires more sun as it ages.

  • Acorns are an important food source for squirrels, mice, deer, beaver, black bear, ducks and turkey. Humans can cook them up too!

  • Commonly associates with: white oak, ash, cottonwood, tamarack.

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