Forest ThreatNet

Volume 1, Issue 3 - Spring/Summer 2008

CRAFTing Tools for Forest Managers

Scientist Encourages Comprehensive Approach to Forest Management

By Bridget O'Hara, NEMAC and Karin Lichtenstein, NEMAC

A popular spot for picking blueberries in Western North Carolina is Graveyard Fields on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is hard to imagine how this place got its name. Rolling hills with small deciduous trees and blueberry bushes have replaced what has become one of the most imperiled forest types in the southeast--the spruce-fir forest. In the early 1900's, a raging fire burned the stumps and fallen logs that gave the 'graveyard' appearance, scorching the soil organic matter and creating a perfect environment for blueberries. This may be good for those who like blueberries, but EFETAC ecologist Steve Norman says such changes present real problems for forest managers. As a vegetation ecologist, he is interested in why forests change and how natural environmental variation and management affect long-term outcomes.

Steve Norman"For me, you can't say 'forest' without implying change. Forests are all about change--trees establish, grow, and die, species compete, and the environmental backdrop also changes," says Norman. "Climate variability has always affected the system as have disturbances, and in many forests humans have also been important. A forest is in constant flux."

He has been working on a decision process for predicting outcomes to account for uncertainties, called the Comparative Risk Assessment Framework and Tools (CRAFT). Norman has worked with Pacific Southwest Research Station (PSW) research forester Jeff Borchers, PSW wildlife biologist Sandy Jacobson, EFETAC Director Danny Lee, and UNC Asheville's National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center project manager Karin Lichtenstein to use probability models called Bayesian Belief Networks (BBNs). He sees BBNs as an effective means to quantify consequences of actions and non-actions across a landscape, portray conditional risk, and create geospatial visualizations of outcomes that will provide a powerful interpretation and communication tool for forest managers.

Above: EFETAC ecologist Steve Norman is helping to develop a Comparative Risk Assessment Framework and Tools (CRAFT) that helps managers improve land management decisions.

CRAFTBuilding on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) framework for managing public lands, CRAFT approaches forest issues comprehensively. CRAFT allows managers to consider ways an ecosystem will change if left completely alone, or if managed in a certain way at a certain time given the likelihood of disturbance. By providing forest managers with scenarios for possible choices, Norman hopes the tool will improve their ability to account for complexity while making tradeoffs more transparent.

"CRAFT," Norman says, "can be applied to the broadest, regional questions, such as climate change and land use change, or stand-level questions public or private land owners may have. With CRAFT, forest planning that incorporates the science of uncertainty will become increasingly possible."

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