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August 2014: Forest Fragmentation

The Northern United States, encompassing the 20-state area from Maine to Minnesota and Missouri to Maryland, is the most densely forested area of the country with 42 percent of the land being forested.  This region is also the most densely populated region of the country.  Maybe not surprisingly, forest fragmentation – the conversion of forest land to other uses such as residential development and farming – is one of the most significant issues facing these forests.   Conversion of forests to other uses not only removes tree cover but also has a cascading effect on wildlife habitat and sustainability, water quality and quantity, and susceptibility to invasive plants and insects.  This month we feature a scientist, research, a product and partnership all related to forest fragmentation. 

Environmental Education Link

The Forest Service’s Planning for Growth and Open Space Conservation Webinar Series connects land managers, land use planners, private land owners and others to the latest science and information on conservation in the face of forest fragmentation.

Visit: Planning for Growth and Open Space Conservation Webinar Series web page

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Be a citizen scientist. Cornell University’s Citizen Science Central website allows you to search active citizen science projects and get involved!

Visit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology Citizen Science Central website

Featured Scientist

Robert Haight

Paula PijutA proud native of northern California, Research Forester Bob Haight’s interest in forestry and resource management was sparked during his years as an undergraduate at the University of California Berkeley.  Later experiences as a logger for a large forest products company and as a silviculturist on the Plumas National Forest in California reinforced his interest in public resource management policy and economics.

Today, Haight is particularly engrossed in the allocation of scarce resources for the protection of open space and endangered species.  How does a manager decide what parcel of land to protect?  How big does the parcel need to be?  What are the costs and benefits of choosing one alternative over another?  

Haight’s approach to these questions is to build models of resource management problems and use simulation and optimization methods to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative choices.

In a recent study, Haight developed a model to help identify which land parcels on Lopez Island off the coast of Washington state are best suited for conservation of the Myotis bat.  Lopez Island is heavily forested but increasing residential development is reducing bat habitat.  By loading information on potential roosting sites, foraging areas, availability of insects and bat preferences for forest openings into his model, he was able to identify land parcels on the island that best met bat habitat criteria.  The information generated will help conservation planners protect areas that are optimal for bats at minimal costs – a win-win situation.

More information on Myotis bat conservation >>

More information on Haight’s open-space conservation research >>

Haight is part of the “People and their Environments” research work unit, which studies the human component of natural resource management and policy. 

More Information on Bob Haight >>

Featured Product

LANDIS II

Wind damage such as this blowdown on the Chippewa National Forest can be modeled with LANDIS-II to predict how disturbances interact with forest succession to cause patterns of forest fragmentation. Photo by Eric Gustafson, US Forest Service.The factors contributing to forest fragmentation and change are many and varied and include fire, insect damage, land use change, drought and timber harvesting.  Understanding and predicting the impacts of these factors over a long period of time is difficult because the factors interact with each other in complicated ways.  The development of the landscape scale forest ecosystem model, LANDIS II, has been a tremendous step forward in making these predictions. 

LANDIS II, which was developed by Forest Service scientists in collaboration with university researchers, reduces the uncertainty of predictions about forest ecosystem changes in the future.  Running the LANDIS II model produces a time-series of maps showing changes in forest characteristics under specific management and climate scenarios.  Model output maps enable researchers to help forest managers and policy makers evaluate management alternatives and select the one that has the greatest chance of achieving the desired outcome.

LANDIS II is an open source model, which means that the computer code is readily available on the internet for other scientists to use and improve.  As scientists continue to learn more about ecosystem processes and the impacts of environmental changes and human actions on forests, this new knowledge can be added to LANDIS II to improve its ability to represent the forests of the future.   

More Information >>

Featured Research

Oil and Gas Development

Energy producers extracting natural gas from deep Marcellus shale can concentrate multiple wells on a single large pad.  Photo by Susan Stout, US Forest Service.As energy prices continue to rise, efforts to tap domestic energy reserves have increased dramatically in the last several years.  New drilling technologies have opened the door for exploring previously unreachable oil and gas reserves within the deep Marcellus shale.  Exploration for more traditional shallow oil and gas resources continues.  These explorations add to the disturbances forests are already experiencing due to climate change, invasive insects, and atmospheric deposition.  

Several years ago, the Northern Research Station partnered with Penn State University to convene scientists, managers, and industry representatives to share knowledge on this issue.  An outcome of the meeting was an identification of what research is most needed to understand potential impacts of increased oil and gas development. 

Since that meeting, the Station has developed a new line of science on the impacts of increased oil and gas development, has made targeted investments in new research, and has established partnerships with national and regional stakeholders to bring broader expertise to the issue.

Although we are still in the early stages of exploring the impacts of new techniques in oil and natural gas extraction, results of initial research have already enhanced our understanding of possible impacts on water quality, stream health, wildlife populations and forest productivity. 

More Information >>

Featured Partnership

Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project

Congressional delegation and partner respresentatives gather at restoration site.

The southern Missouri Ozarks were once covered by 6 million acres of old growth shortleaf pine woodland.  Historic land records describe the area as an open, park-like landscape of shortleaf pine with a dense herbaceous ground cover. 

Following a long history of logging, grazing and disruption in the historic fire regime, a dense mixture of oaks, hickories and other hardwoods has replaced the pine in this region.  Today, shortleaf pine occurs on only 600,000 acres of its former range.  Conservation of shortleaf pine natural communities is a top priority of the Mark Twain National Forest and other land management agencies in Missouri.  The shortleaf pine and oak bluestem woodland has been identified as a globally endangered landscape.

The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program was established by Congress in 2009 to encourage science-based restoration on priority landscapes.  Each year since 2009, $40,000,000 has been available for up to 10 projects per year.  In 2012, the Pine-Oak Woodlands Restoration Project in the southern Missouri Ozarks was one of the projects selected for funding. 

The restoration project includes 115,860 acres and is funded for 10 years at a level averaging over $1 million per year.  The main goal is to restore shortleaf pine and other natural communities over the project landscape through a partnership of private and public interest groups including the U.S. Forest Service’s Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri Department of Conservation, the National Park Service, the Nature Conservancy, private land owners, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and L-A-D Foundation.  Northern Research Station scientists in Columbia, MO have close links with many of the land managing organizations and are working closely with them in these efforts.  The Pine-Oak Woodlands Restoration Project truly exemplifies the “all lands approach to forest restoration.”

More Information >>