In the News


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.  


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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