Native plant community information and silviculture strategies to guide stand prescriptions

group of foreseters standing in a forest clearing

The Division of Forestry has established native plant community (NPC) ecological information and silviculture strategies to support sustainable forest management in Minnesota. Key elements for each NPC class contain information on the following:

  • Vegetation, structure, and composition
  • Landscape setting and soils
  • Tree suitability
  • Tree response to climate change
  • Tree establishment and recruitment
  • Stand dynamics and growth stages
  • 2-page silvicultural strategies for each major natural disturbance agent
What is a Native Plant Community?

A group of native plants that interact with each other and with their environment. NPCs are classified and described by hydrology, landforms, soils, and natural disturbance regime (e.g., wildfire, windstorm, insect and disease outbreak). For more information how classification hierarchy is determined visit the NPC Community Classification. The NPC class (e.g., WFn55) is the recognized operational level for classification and forest management in the Division of Forestry. NPC type and subtypes are used for refined management of rare NPCs and are not described for all NPCs in the statewide database layer. DNR foresters have a basic understanding of vegetation, structure, composition, soils, and landscape settings for making forest management decisions. However, "managing for an NPC", is not an appropriate or desired end goal. NPC information and silviculture strategies are tools used for helping create ecologically defensible silvicultural prescriptions that meet forest plan goals.

chart showing how to understand class


The rationale for applying NPC information and silviculture strategies to stand level prescriptions includes the following:

  1. Information is organized by native plant communities.
    The reason we use native plant community (NPC) information is that potential forest composition and tree behavior can differ significantly across moisture/nutrient gradients. Silvicultural opportunities that place desired tree species at a competitive advantage will differ depending on the inherent environment of a particular NPC. This is a departure from the traditional species-organized silviculture guides where all trees within a species are assumed to behave equally across the habitat range and any departures from "normal" tree species behavior is attributed to local site index, soil variation, or climate as a surrogate for an ecological classification system (ECS).
  2. Soil, nutrient, and hydrologic site limitations are based upon understanding of the ecology of native plant communities.
    The reason we advocate for these observations is because limiting conditions for forest management are not always evident or uniformly distributed across forest sites. Plants and soils indicate spatial and temporal site conditions that are often not observable in a single onsite field visit. While SSURGO and other soil atlas information is valuable for general site data that can affect a silvicultural prescription, taking a soil bore or digging a pit is the best way to determine soil and hydrologic site limitations.
  3. Current stand conditions and NPC growth stage are the basic field observations that direct foresters to a set of sustainable management opportunities and limitations. Strategies that use the natural momentum of a stand usually meet multiple objectives and are often cheaper to implement. These strategies involve management actions that require the least amount of silvicultural assistance and investment to achieve a desired future condition. This supports an adaptive silviculture approach based upon site assessment and evaluation of all management options prior to timber appraisal and sale design
  4. Leave trees (and associated biological legacies) are documented and considered for all regeneration prescriptions.
    The reason for a thoughtful retention strategy is to focus on future stand conditions and potential silvicultural activities beyond commercial timber harvest. In addition to the importance for maintaining wildlife habitat and ecological function, biological legacies provide a future seed source in the regenerating area, serve as an important source for pollination and contribute to biological and genetic diversity at multiple scales.  Under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certificate, existing "Legacy Trees" on lands managed by the DNR must also be identified and protected from timber harvest.
How to use this information

Refer to the following guide, "Using Native Plant Community Information and Silviculture Strategies to Guide Stand Prescriptions" for application in forest management.

Forested and Woodland Native Plant Communities

Acid Peatland Forest System
Fire-Dependent Forest System
Flood Plain Forest System
Forested Rich Peatland System
Mesic Hardwood Forest System
Wet Forest System


We welcome suggestions for improvement or additions to the material. Contact the ECS or Silviculture Program staff for more information.