In the News

2020

Forest Service research partnerships with Native American communities ramp up

SweetgrassA recent article in the Southern Research Station's CompassLive blog highlights the wide variety of ongoing Forest Service research partnerships with Native American tribes in the eastern US. The sustainable use and management of plant species of special importance to indigenous communities is a thread running through these management partnerships and research projects. For example, Threat Center scientist Michelle Baumflek works with Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) Forest Resource Specialist Tommy Cabe, along with Forest Service collaborator James Chamberlain, on a sustainable harvest project for ramps, a wild onion that is an important spring edible. This project integrates EBCI traditional ecological knowledge to help advance sustainability. The article discusses other ongoing research by Baumflek, tribal partners, and Forest Service colleagues studying rivercane, sweetgrass, and other culturally important plants in the eastern US. 

Read the CompassLive article...

Pictured: Sweetgrass harvested during a participatory research project in Acadia National Park, Maine. Photo by Michelle Baumflek, USFS.

 

Effect of fire on water supplies gets renewed attention

Wildland fire GTR coverWith the western United States facing its most severe wildfire season on record, research on the wide-ranging impacts of wildland fire has never been more relevant. Forest Service science studying how large, severe fires can affect water quality and quantity is in the news again, covered recently in a story from the North Carolina State University College of Natural Resources News. The story highlights research by NC State scientist and Threat Center collaborator Dennis Hallema, and Threat Center scientist Ge Sun, to help understand potential consequences of recent fire activity. Hallema and Sun discuss how drinking water can be directly impacted, as well as wide-ranging economic and ecological consequences of changing water quality, streamflow, and sediment loads. The news story draws attention to research by Hallema, Sun, and other Forest Service colleagues investigating how forest fires impact river flows and affect water availability.

Read the article...

Pictured: Large wildland fires can change the quantity and seasonality of river flows and water supplies. Photo USDA Forest Service.

 

Southern Research Station's network of Experimental Forests gets a new addition

The Southern Research Station maintains 19 Experimental Forests across the South, providing unique opportunities for Forest Service scientists and partners to conduct experimental studies designed to assist land managers with practical questions. But the Southern US includes incredible forest type diversity, and having experimental forests in the different ecological landscapes of the southeast is essential. In 2020, The Southern Research Station and the North Carolina State University College of Natural Resources signed an agreement adding NC State’s Hill Demonstration Forest to the Experimental Forest Network. Hill Forest, more than 2,600 acres of varied forest types in the Carolina Slate Belt, will be the first cooperating experimental forest in the network. Experimental Forest co-lead Stephanie Laseter, and EFETAC scientist and Experimental Forest co-lead Johnny Boggs, helped lead the effort to create the agreement.

Stream weir at Hill Demonstration Forest

Hill Forests' status as a cooperating experimental forest preserves its current ownership and management while recognizing its vital contributions to the USFS Network. For twelve years, USFS and NC State scientists have conducted forest management experiments and collected hydrology data on the Forest to better understand forest and water processes in the Piedmont region. The new agreement creates additional research opportunities and helps to create a more cohesive Network. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: A weir at the Hill Forest monitors forest streamflow. Photo by Johnny Boggs, USFS.

 

Forest Health Monitoring program assesses forests across all 50 US states

Every year, the USDA Forest Service Forest Health Monitoring (FHM) program tracks changing forest conditions, including national assessments as well as focused regional analysis. The resulting report is the only national summary of forest health undertaken on an annual basis. The goal of the 2019 FHM report is to identify ecological resources whose condition is deteriorating, potentially in subtle ways, across large regions. This requires consistent long-term monitoring of forest health indicators, which is not possible without the participation of multiple federal, state, academic, and private partners. Scientists from across the Forest Service as well as university researchers, state partners, and many other experts contributed to the 2019 report, which is available as a General Technical Report titled Forest Health Monitoring: National Status, Trends, and Analysis 2019. 

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Kevin Potter, a North Carolina State University scientist supported by the Southern Research Station and an EFETAC collaborating scientist, edited the 2019 report with fellow NCSU scientist Barbara Conkling. Other EFETAC scientists including Frank Koch, Steve Norman, and Bill Christie contributed to the 2019 report. Individual report chapters are available for download, along with the full series of FHM annual reports since 2001. Users can search reports and chapters by year or topic. Potter, Conkling, and other authors have completed a draft of the next FHM report in the series, the 2020 report, and expect to publish it by the summer of 2021. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: The most recent FHM report includes a new, satellite-based measure of forest disturbance. Decline in vegetation greenness related to drought in 2018 can be seen in the Southwest. USFS image.

 

Satellite Mapping of Forest Disturbances Helps When Field Efforts Are Restricted

HiForm tornado track mapA large number of tornadoes struck the Southeast in the spring of 2020. Ordinarily, aerial surveillance and field crews would assess forest damage after windstorms and other disturbances, but the COVID-19 pandemic has limited those operations. USDA Forest Service scientists are showing that, with recent technological advances, disturbance impacts can nonetheless be rapidly mapped at surprisingly high resolution and shared with eastern forest managers. “After a tornado passes through a forest, managers need a way to assess impacts as soon as possible. Detailed disturbance maps are crucial, because they can direct forest managers to heavily impacted areas quickly,” says Steve Norman, a research ecologist with the Southern Research Station. “These maps also give managers insights into the dynamics of their forests for longer-term monitoring and planning.” While satellite imagery has been successfully used for forest disturbance monitoring for decades, past technology has usually been limited by coarse resolution, infrequent satellite flyovers, high costs, or the need for specialized analysts. Researchers at the Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center (EFETAC) developed a workflow using newly available satellites and cloud computing to reveal likely forest impacts across large areas at high resolution. The result has been the High-Resolution Forest Mapping, or HiForm, project – a cooperative effort between EFETAC scientists and the National Environmental Monitoring and Analysis Center (NEMAC) at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: This HiForm forest change map was produced after tornadoes swept through Mississippi in April. The colors denote a relative scale of severity of likely forest disturbance. USFS image.

 

New Zones Delineate Seed Source Regions

Eastern seed zones_Pike2020Plant seeds are the crucial starting point for innumerable conservation projects, from backyard butterfly gardens to large reforestation projects. For the USDA Forest Service and its many partners, seeds and seedlings are needed in large numbers for forest restoration and land management work. The Eastern Seed Zone Forum (ESZF) is a network of US Forest Service scientists and university partners that works with stakeholders across the eastern U.S. to provide new tools for sourcing seeds for restoration projects, forest management, and other uses. The ESZF has produced a new seed-collection zone map, and the process used to create it was recently published in the Journal of Forestry. Co-authors include a team of Forest Service and university geneticists and botanists, including Kevin Potter, a North Carolina State University scientist and Eastern Threat Center collaborator. The ESZF has also made a draft version of the map available to the public. The map lets users identify the seed collection zone for individual counties of interest. One of the most promising applications of the new zones is the ability to source seeds appropriately for expected future climate conditions. Assisted migration is a strategy to help conservation and restoration projects succeed by using seeds adapted to expected future climate at the project location. This may mean using a combination of seeds from the local seed-collection zone and from other zones with appropriate climate profiles. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: The Eastern Seed Zone Forum developed 245 seed-collection zones for 37 states in the Eastern US. Seed collectors and nurseries can use the new zones to describe the origin of plant seeds and seedlings. USFS map image.

 

Climate change fact sheets get an update

Ouachita NF pinesClimate change fact sheets, created by the USDA Southeast Climate Hub and Threat Center natural resource specialists, serve as a resource for understanding the implications of climate change for natural resource management and sustainability in the South. Several years after their original publication, these easy-to-read syntheses have now been updated with the latest climate change science. The series of fact sheets for National Forests in the Southern Region were originally developed using the Template for Assessing Climate Change Impacts and Management Options (TACCIMO). The information presented in the fact sheets is summarized from peer-reviewed research results built into the TACCIMO tool. As research examining the impacts of climate change has grown dramatically in recent years, TACCIMO has provided a way to synthesize this growing body of knowledge. Casey Johnson, a research assistant with the Threat Center and the Southeast Climate Hub, used TACCIMO to bring the new National Forest fact sheets up to date with the latest climate change science. Access the climate change fact sheets for Southern Region National Forests and the TACCIMO project.

Pictured: Open pine forest in Ouachita National Forest, AR.

 

A national tool for understanding the importance of forests for drinking water gets a major overhaul

Forests play a crucial role in protecting and enhancing the nation's drinking water supply. Since 2011, the US Forest Service's Forest to Faucets program has provided a unique tool for understanding and mapping this forest ecosystem service and threats posed by multiple stressors. Now, State and Private Forestry's Chesapeake Watershed Forestry Program has partnered with the Southern Research Station's Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center in a major effort to update this important source of national information. Forest to Faucets 2.0 expands on the original assessment with updated data and considers additional threats to watersheds important to surface drinking water. The website went live to the public in April 2020. The assessment uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to help users understand, through intuitive online visual mapping tools, how important small watersheds are for surface drinking water across the country. The vital role forests play in protecting source water is embedded in the data, which measure the extent to which forests are threatened by development, insects and disease, wildland fire, and climate change. Visit the Forest to Faucets site to learn more about the assessment and to access the interactive map viewer.  

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Pictured: The Forest to Faucets program estimates importance of watersheds for surface drinking water across more than 83,000 US watersheds. Those shown in darker blue have higher yield and are serving more people on public water systems drawn from surface water.

 

European Forest Genetic Resources Programme highlights the relevance of Project CAPTURE for conserving vulnerable tree species

Carolina hemlockA key step in conserving forests is to identify tree species that are most vulnerable to current and future threats. Project CAPTURE (Conservation Assessment and Prioritization of Forest Trees Under Risk of Extirpation) is a USDA Forest Service-funded tool for doing just this, and for prioritizing conservation approaches. Kevin Potter, a North Carolina State University researcher and EFETAC collaborating scientist, has coordinated the development of Project CAPTURE and its application in the US.

Now, a European organization has begun to explore the use of Project CAPTURE for prioritizing European tree species for conservation. The European Forest Genetic Resources Programme (EUFORGEN) is an organization of 27 countries that promotes the conservation and sustainable use of forest genetic resources as a part of sustainable forest management across Europe.

EUFORGEN recently published an article describing how Project CAPTURE has been used in the US, and how it could become a useful tool in Europe for conserving the continent's forest genetic resources. Read the article here. Potter and colleagues have also recently published an article detailing the science behind Project CAPTURE, available here.

Pictured: Carolina hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana) tree at Linville Gorge, North Carolina. Carolina hemlock rates as one of the most vulnerable native tree species in the US. Photo by Kevin Potter.

 

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