Benefits of Older Forests

New study highlights resilience to climate change

There’s something special about walking in an older forest. The trees are bigger here. There are more gaps in the canopy, helping to support new growth in the understory. Large logs cover the forest floor. When you walk in an older forest during the spring and summer you will likely hear the songs of Winter Wren, Eastern Wood-Pewee, and Black-throated Blue Warbler, to name a few.

Photo: Northeast Wilderness Trust

It turns out that older forests are not just great places to visit and awaken your senses, they are also a key element of the landscape in a changing climate. According to a new study coming out of the University of Vermont older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity.  Dominik Thom, lead author and postdoctoral researcher in UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and Gund Institute for Environment states “Our finding that essential services are better protected against climate change by older forests is a milestone in the debate on how to prepare our forests for the uncertain environmental conditions ahead.”

Old forests, characterized in the study as over 150 years of age, are likely more climate resilient due to their structural complexity. The majority of Vermont’s forest however are quite a bit younger with many in the 80-100 year range. Does that mean that we need to just wait it out another 50-70 years? Not necessarily. The study’s co-author William Keeton, forestry professor in UVM’s Rubenstein School and Gund Institute, has been exploring how managing younger forests to create the structural features of older forests can achieve some of the same climate resiliency and other co-benefits. Audubon Vermont’s Healthy Forests and Working Lands programs often promote similar structural enhancement of the forest to achieve desirable bird habitat conditions, making very close parallels with managing forests for climate resilience.

To read more about the University of Vermont study on older forests please visit

To learn more about managing younger forests for older forest structure check out

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