In the News


Research Bridges Forest Stream Crossing Structures and Benefits to Water Quality

Wood bridgemat at a stream crossingIn many situations, the adage “Dirt doesn’t hurt” is generally true. One important exception is when soil erosion and runoff deliver excessive sediment to streams, impacting water quality as well as aquatic insects, fishes, or other stream inhabitants. Forest managers use Best Management Practices (BMPs), such as the installation of strategically placed bridgemats and culverts, to safeguard stream health during forestry operations. In North Carolina, previous studies have determined the effectiveness of these structures in protecting forest streams of the mountains and coastal plain, but data from the region in between—the Piedmont—have been lacking. Eastern Threat Center biological scientist Johnny Boggs recently led a study to address this data gap. With Center researchers Ge Sun and Steve McNulty, he measured Total Suspended Sediment (TSS)—that is, sediment floating in the water column and not settled on the bottom of the streambed—at stream crossing sites in six Piedmont forests before, during, and after harvesting operations. Results, recently published in the Journal of Forestry, indicate the TSS concentrations were similar upstream and downstream of the crossing sites, providing assurance that BMPs applied at stream crossings are part of sustainable operations that can provide forest products while simultaneously protecting forest ecosystems. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: A wood bridgemat is installed at a skid trail crossing in Duke Forest, Durham, NC. Photo by Johnny Boggs, U.S. Forest Service.


Center Scientist Joins the Ranks of Distinguished Landscape Ecologists

Bill Hargrove accepts the US-IALE Distinguished Landscape Ecologist AwardThe U.S. International Association for Landscape Ecology (US-IALE) has named Eastern Threat Center research ecologist Bill Hargrove its Distinguished Landscape Ecologist for 2017, the organization's most prestigious award. Hargrove's is the 25th such award, which recognizes scholars whose thinking, writing, and long-term scientific endeavors have shaped the field of landscape ecology. Upon accepting the award on April 18 during a ceremony at the US-IALE annual meeting held in Baltimore, MD, Hargrove told his colleagues, "This group shares a unique belief -- that the most interesting and exciting science comes from intersecting overlaps in the Venn Diagram. You've given me something that I'll never forget." Hargrove is the fourth U.S. Forest Service scientist to have received the US-IALE Distinguished Landscape Ecologist Award. He served as chair of the organizing committee for the 2016 US-IALE annual meeting held in Asheville, NC.

Pictured: Bill Hargrove accepts the Distinguished Landscape Ecologist Award from US-IALE President Ross Meentemeyer. Photo by Jeffrey Hepinstall-Cymerman, University of Georgia.


BPR News: "WNC Community Contemplates Upcoming Wildfire Season, Seeks Solutions"

Boteler_Fire_Inciweb.jpgMore than 100 western North Carolina residents, seeking to better understand the epic 2016 fall wildfire season and prepare for future fires, attended a panel discussion themed "Before We Burn Again" on April 3 in Asheville, NC. Research ecologists Steve Norman (Eastern Threat Center) and Katie Greenberg (Southern Research Station) were among the panel experts who discussed aspects of fire ecology, weather, management, and planning. "Drought is a recurring phenomenon here. We need to be ready for it,” said Norman, who has studied the occurrence of drought and its importance to fall fire seasons on federal lands in the Southern Appalachians. Though cycles of drought are not surprising, the federal land area burned in fall 2016 is: Norman found that more area burned in 2016 than in the prior 45 years combined, with human causes largely responsible for the ignitions. Blue Ridge Public Radio (BPR) covered the "Before We Burn Again" event, which was sponsored by Mountain True and the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Pictured: The Boteler Fire burns on the Nantahala National Forest in November 2016. Photo courtesy of Inciweb.


Civil Eats: "Can We Eat Our Ramps and Have Them Too?"

Ramps in a research plotWith ramps making their annual appearances at spring festivals, farmers' markets, and restaurants, the inevitable question arises: are they at risk due to unsustainable harvesting? Skyrocketing demand for these pungent wild leeks has led Jim Chamberlain, a research forest products technologist with the Southern Research Station, to track ramp harvests destined for Southern Appalachian festivals for nearly 20 years. Since 2016, Chamberlain and Eastern Threat Center research biologist Michelle Baumflek have teamed up with the Traverse City, MI-based Institute for Sustainable Foraging to study the effects of commercial harvesting on wild ramps in Michigan. Ramps take several years to mature and reproduce, Baumflek explained to Civil Eats, a daily news source on the American food system, in an article published April 12. “If you’re holding one in your hand, the fat stem you’re holding could be seven years old," she said. Read the full Civil Eats article to learn more about the work of Chamberlain and Baumflek and others working to sustain ramp populations and the cultural traditions they inspire.

Pictured: Ramps in a research plot. Photo by Michelle Baumflek, U.S. Forest Service.


Researchers Identify Priority Seed Collection Locations to Aid Future Hemlock Restoration

Prioritized_hemlock_populations_NewForests2017.jpgEastern and Carolina hemlock trees in more than 400 counties across 19 states are dead, dying, or threatened by infestation of the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid. As the aphid-like pest continues to spread throughout the ranges of these economically and ecologically important trees, scientists, managers, and other specialists from North Carolina State University’s (NCSU) Camcore program are racing to collect and store seeds with support from the U.S. Forest Service. To identify priority seed collection locations across the entire range of both hemlock species, NCSU and Eastern Threat Center scientists combined information on density of seed collection to date, climate data, measures of hemlock abundance and population isolation, and four genetic diversity measures. Then, for each cell on maps depicting where eastern and Carolina hemlock occur, the combined information was compared and ranked. Their results, recently published in New Forests, include new maps that can help conservationists prioritize locations for seed collection, necessary for off-site plantings and breeding programs designed to restore hemlocks in the future. Kevin Potter, an NCSU scientist cooperating with the Eastern Threat Center, and Center research ecologist Frank Koch coauthored the study. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: Maps show prioritized locations for seed collection from eastern (left) and Carolina hemlock populations. Red indicates the highest priority. Click to enlarge.


Visitors Get a "Taste" of SRS Science at North Carolina Arbor Day Celebration

Jeff Prestemon and Jennifer Moore Myers at the exhibit tableTo draw people in at a public event, bring cookies! In this case, the event was the North Carolina Arbor Day celebration held at North Carolina State University on March 18. And the cookies were not edible, but crowd pleasers nonetheless. Eastern Threat Center scientists Michael Gavazzi, Qinfeng Guo, Jennifer Moore Myers, and Ge Sun and Southern Research Station (SRS) project leader Jeff Prestemon staffed an exhibit table featuring loblolly pine tree “cookies” to demonstrate how counting tree growth rings can provide an estimate of tree age and insight into growing conditions. The group also shared handouts and other products with local citizens and visitors of all ages interested in SRS research and technology that support the purpose of North Carolina’s Arbor Day observance: to beautify and conserve the state’s trees.

Pictured: Jeff Prestemon and Jennifer Moore Myers staff the exhibit table featuring informational materials and loblolly "cookies" at the North Carolina Arbor Day celebration. Photo by Qinfeng Guo, U.S. Forest Service.


SRS Research Team Receives Source Water Protection Award

SRS research team accepts the Source Water Protection AwardHealthy forests = clean water. It’s a simple idea about forests’ critical role in capturing, filtering, and delivering more than half of the water supply in the United States. But how does one know it’s true? The answer: research from the U.S. Forest Service. Southern Research Station (SRS) scientists and their predecessors have been conducting research on the connections among forest watersheds, management practices, and water quantity and quality and communicating their results for more than 75 years. The NC Source Water Collaborative recently honored SRS’s leadership and contributions to a vast body of knowledge with a Source Water Protection Award in the category of Education for “Defining and Understanding How Forests Protect Watersheds and Source Water.” Eastern Threat Center research hydrologist Ge Sun, SRS research hydrologist Pete Caldwell, and SRS project leader Jim Vose accepted the award at a ceremony on March 15 during the Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI) of the University of North Carolina System’s annual conference in Raleigh, NC. Additional scientists honored with the award include Center research ecologist Steve McNulty; SRS research ecologist Kitty Elliott and project leader Chelcy Miniat with Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory; and SRS project leader Dave Wear with the Center for Integrated Forest Science. “The theme of the 2017 WRRI annual conference was ‘solutions through dialogue and cooperation,’” says Sun. “It’s great that North Carolina recognizes SRS contributions to water research and education through close collaboration over the years.”

Pictured: Ge Sun, Jim Vose, and Pete Caldwell accept the Source Water Protection Award from Rebecca Sadosky from the NC Source Water Collaborative. Photo by Diana Hackenburg, North Carolina Sea Grant.


Study Examines Biomass Production Impacts on Water Yield for Department of Energy Report

Chapter_7_BillionTon_Report_Volume_2.jpgBy 2040, one billion tons or more of biomass could be produced each year in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2016 Billion-Ton Report. Whole trees or materials left behind after logging operations, agricultural crops and crop residue, algae, and even municipal solid waste are sources of biomass that can be used for fuel, energy, heating, and chemicals. But what are the potential effects on environmental sustainability? Federal, academic, and industry scientists followed up with modeling studies examining impacts on soil, water, air quality, biodiversity, and climate and recently published their results in a Volume 2 report that can inform decision making to improve environmental outcomes around biomass production and uses. Eastern Threat Center research hydrologist Ge Sun, postdoctoral researchers Liangxia Zhang and Kai Duan, and Southern Research Station research ecologist Benjamin Rau contributed a chapter on water yield impacts. The researchers used the Water Supply Stress Index model to estimate the effects of potential forest clearcutting and thinning on seasonal and annual total water yields at the watershed and county scales. “Our study suggests that projected biomass removal levels are rather low and may not cause concerns or large benefits to water quantity and supplies at the county level, but the impacts can be significant if biomass harvesting activities are concentrated within a watershed in a county. In such a case, stormflow volume could increase, potentially causing water quality concerns,” says Sun. “Best management practices such as implementing forest riparian buffers may be effective to mitigate negative harvesting effects on stream hydrology and water quality.” Read Volume 2 of the 2016 Billion-Ton Report and related fact sheets, and stay tuned for more news and learning opportunities.

Pictured: Ge Sun was the lead author of Chapter 7, "Impacts of Forest Biomass Removal on Water Yield Across the United States," in Volume 2 of the U.S. Department of Energy's 2016 Billion-Ton Report.


International Collaborators Estimate Ecosystem Water Use with Common Agricultural Method

Eddy_flux_sites_HESS.jpgThe "crop coefficient method," widely used in agriculture to estimate how much water crops will need, describes the difference between the actual amount of water lost to the atmosphere and the amount of water that could be lost if there was unlimited water available. Eastern Threat Center scientists and colleagues working together through the U.S.-China Carbon Consortium (USCCC) are among the first to apply it to forests. Results from a recently published study, coauthored by Ge Sun and Steve McNulty, could help land managers deal with prolonged or severe drought conditions or evaluate trade-offs between managing for water supply or carbon storage across seven forest cover types—including broadleaf, evergreen, and mixed forests. “The study offers practical ways for estimating the seasonal dynamics of ecosystem water use and stress,” says Sun. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: A map shows the network of eddy flux towers that provided data on flow of water vapor, carbon dioxide, and other gases above the forest canopy for this study. The USCCC allows scientists to share data across the U.S. and China. Click to enlarge.


Air Pollution Could Worsen Water Shortages in a Changing Climate

changes_in_runoff_ClimaticChange_Jan2017.jpgOver the past 40 years since the passage of the Clean Air Act, air pollution from automobiles, factories, and power plants has substantially decreased, leading to better human and environmental health. But air pollution and its impacts on people and ecosystems remain a concern amid growing demands for transportation, energy, and manufactured goods. University and U.S. Forest Service researchers believe air pollution could also be a hidden driver of important changes in the nation’s watersheds following a recent study published in the January issue of the journal Climatic Change. Kai Duan, a North Carolina State University postdoctoral researcher working with the Eastern Threat Center and the study’s lead author, worked with a team of researchers to combine a series of models, including a global climate model, a regional climate model, and the Water Supply Stress Index (WaSSI) model. The scientists ran the models with and without accounting for the impacts of air pollution on climate in order to assess the individual and combined impacts of climate change and air pollution on water availability and ecosystem productivity. Study results indicate that, while aerosols in air pollution could partially offset higher temperatures, greenhouse gases will continue to drive higher temperatures and associated increases in ecosystem water use. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: Reds, oranges, and yellows show potential decreases in water supplies by the middle of the 21st century based on stable (a. and b.) and rising (c. and d.) atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. Maps b. and d. take air pollution into account; maps a. and c. do not. Click to enlarge.


Drought Workshop Addresses Impacts and Opportunities for Management

John_Stanturf_drought_workshop_2017_MLong.jpgThe U.S. Forest Service recently sponsored a two-day workshop in Atlanta, GA, to identify and assess drought adaptation strategies for national forests across the Southeast. In attendance were more than 30 regional experts from the Eastern Threat Center-hosted USDA Southeast Regional Climate Hub (SERCH); the Forest Service Southern Research Station, Southern Region, and Office of Sustainability and Climate Change; and state and federal climate offices who discussed how drought impacts the many benefits derived from forest lands, including species habitat and survival, clean water supply, and recreational activities. Attendees formed working groups to examine management opportunities for improving resilience when coping with drought in the Southeast and to develop a white paper to inform regional and national drought adaptation policies. "This was a well-attended and important workshop, especially when we consider the frequent nature and wide-ranging impacts of droughts across the region and potential for increased drought severity and occurrence in the future," says acting SERCH Coordinator Michael Gavazzi. "The workshop was an important step toward providing land managers with the tools, strategies, and information they’ll need to successfully manage ecosystems for drought adaptation."

Pictured: John Stanturf, Southern Research Station Senior Scientist, discusses the challenges of managing natural resources under the threat of drought and wildfire. Photo by Mary Long, U.S. Forest Service.


Southern Research Station Director Honors Center Scientists

Sun_and_Gavazzi.jpgResearch hydrologist Ge Sun and biological scientist Michael Gavazzi are among the recipients of the 2016 Southern Research Station (SRS) Director's awards. Sun, who has co-authored about 220 papers since his U.S. Forest Service career began in 1997, received the Distinguished Scientist Award "for sustained productivity and leadership in forest hydrology research including the development and application of hydrological models and tools for global natural resource management under a changing environment." Gavazzi, who has served as the Collateral Duty Safety Officer at the Center's Raleigh office for 15 years, received the Safety and Occupational Health Award "in recognition of continued excellence in cultivating a safe and healthful work environment where all employees feel enabled to openly discuss issues and expect timely resolution to their concerns." SRS Director Rob Doudrick will honor Sun, Gavazzi, and recipients of five other awards at a reception in April.

Pictured: Ge Sun (left) and Michael Gavazzi are recipients of 2016 Southern Research Station Director's Awards.


Climate Change Resource Center Delivers New Education Module

Screenshot from CCRC education moduleWith so many challenges and options to consider, forest managers wondering, “What is the right way to respond to current and future climate change?” may need to reframe the question. “There is no single ‘right’ way to respond to climate change,” explains the narrator in a new U.S. Forest Service Climate Change Resource Center (CCRC) education module, “and many different actions will be needed to address the challenges.” The module, “Responses to Climate Change: What You Need to Know,” provides a brief overview of resistance, resilience, and transition—approaches that can help forests adapt to climate change—and ways to incorporate these ideas into natural resource planning and activities. Interactive features allow users to control their learning experience, with plenty of opportunities to explore additional information and examples of managers adapting to climate change in a variety of forests. The main material is followed by a regionally-specific activity: creation of an adaptation plan based on real-world examples. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: The CCRC “Responses to Climate Change” education module can help users understand how to incorporate resistance, resilience, and transition into natural resource planning and activities.


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