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Experimental Forests

July 2013

The Forest Service Experimental Forest and Range Network is a precious resource devoted to long-term research on ecosystem processes, silviculture and forest management options, wildlife habitat, and forest growth and development.  The network consists of 80 Experimental Forests and Ranges across the U.S.  The Northern Research Station is responsible for oversight of 22 Experimental Forests and 2 cooperating Experimental Forests.    Learn more.

Featured Scientist

Randy Kolka

Randy Kolka.

Dr. Randy Kolka is a Research Soil Scientist and Research Team Leader in the Northern Research Station’s (NRS) “Center for Research on Ecosystem Change” research unit.  He works out of the NRS laboratory in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.  Randy’s research is focused on studying the effects of land management on the terrestrial and aquatic cycling of nutrients, carbon, heavy metals (especially mercury), and water.   Many of the research projects he conducts take place on or near the Marcell Experimental Forest located about 25 miles north of Grand Rapids. 

In 2009, Randy led the Forest Service effort in partnering with the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory to plan for and initiate the “Spruce and Peatland Response Under Climatic and Environmental Change” (SPRUCE) Experiment on the Marcell Experimental Forest.  The SPRUCE Experiment is designed to assess the response of northern peatland ecosystems to increases in temperature and exposures to elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations associated with climate change.    

The Marcell Experimental Forest, at the southern margin of the boreal peatland forest, is an ecosystem considered especially vulnerable and anticipated to be near its tipping point with respect to climate change.  Responses to warming and interactions with elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration are anticipated to have important feedbacks on the atmosphere and climate, because of the high carbon stocks harbored by such ecosystems.  Randy’s work as part of this experiment will focus on  the carbon response as well as the effect on mercury and other biogeochemical cycles.

The SPRUCE Experiment will be fully operational in 2014 and is expected to run for 10 years.  The experiment promises to provide important data on ecosystem response to climate and atmospheric change that will feed into both ecosystem and global climate models that will assist policy makers and the public plan for the future.

Find out more on Randy's scientist profile

Featured Product

The Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) is a long-term and in-depth look at the many factors that affect urban environments in Baltimore and how they change over time.  The BES is funded by the National Science Foundation through their Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network.  

The Northern Research Station brings important contributions to the overall science mission of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study.  These include long-term data collection and analysis efforts, skill at bridging the social and bio-geophysical sciences, and experience and commitment to delivering science results to a wide array of audiences, including to students, to Baltimore residents, and to environmental managers and policy-makers.  In 2013, the BES began its sixteenth year of operations, which translates to 16 years of data collection and publications that serve as an incredible resource for understanding the complexity of Baltimore’s urban ecology. BES scientists have reached back in time, studying sediment cores and pollen records of plants 300 hundred years ago, census data from the 1790s, household insurance maps from the 1870s, and archival records such as the State Forester’s first vegetation maps for the area from 1916.

The research NRS scientists conduct in Baltimore on vegetation, demographics, watersheds, parks and environmental justice issues has led the Station to designate Baltimore as a Cooperating Experimental Forest, one of 24 Experimental Forests overseen by the Station.  

Find out more information about the Baltimore Ecosystem Study.

Featured Research

Nick Grant works on an automated rain gauge on the HBEF.Combine the priceless resource of the Forest Service Experimental Forests Network with technological breakthroughs, such as wireless sensors, and you have the makings of an incredible opportunity to advance our understanding of how ecological systems function and respond to change.  And you have it at your fingertips and in real time. 

The Forest Service is making significant investments in cyber technology at its network of Experimental Forests and Rangelands that spans the continental U.S. plus Hawaii and Puerto Rico.  The new technology, deployed at a subset of the Smart Forest Experimental Forests and Ranges (EFRs), will enable collection of a broad spectrum of data including air temperature, precipitation, soil moisture, air pollution, water quality, and bird and animal movements.  The Smart Forests network could also serve as an early warning system for fire, floods and drought.  In addition to the many data collection, data quality, and data accessibility benefits, the Smart Forests network will also give us the ability to quickly address novel and cutting edge science questions such as those related to climate change and extreme fire and weather events.

Five of the 80 existing Experimental Forests (EF) have been selected to be part of the initial Northern Research Station Smart Forests network: the Bartlett EF in New Hampshire, the Fernow EF in West Virginia, the Hubbard Brook EF in New Hampshire, the Marcell EF in Minnesota, and the Sinkin EF in Missouri. 

For more information on Smart Forests go to:


Featured Partnership

Hubbard Brook Research Foundation

The Hubbard Brook Research Foundation (HBRF) is a non-profit organization that supports work on the long-term Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study conducted on the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in central New Hampshire.  The HBRF is also one of the Northern Research Station’s primary partnerships in the area of environmental literacy.   The HBRF mission is to promote understanding and stewardship of ecosystems through scientific research, long term monitoring and education. 

The Northern Research Station and Northeastern Area State & Private Forestry are lead partners with the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation in efforts throughout New Hampshire to strengthen science inquiry skills to middle and high school students.  This is achieved through development of classroom resources, teacher training and school partnerships.  

Accomplishments of the partnership between the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation and the USDA Forest Service include the following:

  • Reaching 300 teachers in person since 2007 through workshops, institutes and the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program.
  • Sustaining partnerships with 10 local schools, reaching approximately 200 students per year with their environmental literacy program, and
  • Developing, in partnership with teachers, over 40 educational resources including modules, lessons, and slideshows for grades 7-12, available to all on the HBRF website.


Find more information about the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation Environmental Literacy Program.