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Forests and Water

February 2013

Forest health on surrounding lands is vital to the integrity of water-supply systems. Rainfall that passes through forests is cleaner than rainfall that drains from roads or disturbed lands. Groundwater that has passed through forested buffers is cleaner than water running directly off farm fields. Learn more.

Featured Scientist

Pamela Edwards

Research scientist, Chris SwanstonForest hydrology combines two of Pam Edwards’ favorite things – chemistry and physics. As a research hydrologist in Parsons, WV, she works to understand and solve complex issues related to forest water quality.

Nationwide and worldwide, sediment is the single most important pollutant in streams and rivers. Over the past several years, Edwards’ research has focused on studying best management practices, or BMPs, and their effectiveness in reducing stream sedimentation. She recently led the team that developed the Agency’s National BMP Monitoring Program, which provides a consistent national approach for monitoring BMP implementation and effectiveness on Forest Service lands for activities ranging from roads to recreation to mining and grazing. 

Find out more on Pamela's scientist profile

Featured Product

Mean Water SupplyForests of the Northern United States, NRS-GTR-90, 2012, “Current Conditions in Soil and Water Conservation” – Part of the Northern Forest Futures Project, Forests of the Northern United States describes current conditions in key aspects of forest health, including water and soils. The document underscores the importance of forested watersheds in terms of water purification, mitigation of floods and droughts, soil retention, and habitat maintenance. The quality and abundance of fresh water in lakes, wetlands, streams, and rivers determine aquatic and terrestrial species biodiversity.

Featured Research

Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairies

In the Upper Midwest, rowcrops and prairie have long been considered incompatible, both environmentally and economically.

Working with partners from Iowa State University, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others, Forest Service scientist Randy Kolka is demonstrating that integrating perennial plant communities into row crops can enhance both environmental quality and socioeconomic vitality.

Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairies, or STRIPs, began in 2008 with 14 small watersheds at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Des Moines, Iowa. The research team is studying how prairie strips reduce soil erosion, decrease nitrate and phosphorus movement and provide other vital ecosystem services. 

Results so far indicate that integrating prairie plants into rowcrops benefits grassland bird and insect populations, improves water quality and reduces erosion.

Featured Partnership

Partners in Education

Watershed ecology, and forestry/water quality connections are a central themes of the Northern Research Station’s 2013 More Kids in the Woods partnership with Morris Arboretum in the Philadelphia area. This partnership, called Partners in Education, pairs Station scientists and Arboretum staff with underserved Philadelphia schools to develop year-long programs that integrate the environment into the academic curriculum. Each partnership is tailored to the needs of the participating schools, teachers and students.

At the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (photo), for example, Sarah Low is teaching students about wetland benefits, invasive and native plants, and ways vegetation changes throughout the seasons. Low, a watershed ecologist and coordinator of the Philadelphia Field Station, will meet with these students twice a month to visit the wetland and see how it changes over time.

Other schools we are working with include W. B. Saul High School, Wissahickon Charter School, and Mercy High School. In the fall, 375 students and 18 teachers visited the Arboretum as part of this program.

Find out more about our More Kids in the Woods partnerships on the NRS Environmental Literacy website.