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Back to Basics

January 2016

January, a month when a wool blanket and a warm cup of cocoa can feel like nirvana, is a good time to reconnect with the basics. At its most basic, the goal of Northern Research Station science is to contribute to sustaining the Nation’s forests and grasslands. This month, we feature a scientist, research, a product and a partnership that reflect the science and service that are at the heart of everything we do. 

Environmental Education Link

Every Kid in a Park logoCalling all fourth graders!

Every Kid in a Park gives every fourth grader and their family free access to hundreds of parks, lands and water for an entire year.

Visit Every Kid in a Park website for details.


The mission of the Northern Research Station Environmental Literacy Program is to integrate Forest Service Research results and sound scientific practices into local, regional, and national environmental literacy efforts.

Featured Scientist

Dan Dey

Dan Dey.  Photo by Cabe Dey.

Growing up in Wisconsin, research forester Dan Dey, did not have early aspirations of becoming a scientist.  But he knew he liked being outdoors.  “When I was a kid I would mow the grass without being told.  I shoveled the snow without being told.  I think I just started with a genetic propensity for being outdoors,” he said.  In high school, Dey enrolled in an elective course titled “Conservation,” in which the teacher took students out in the field and taught them about birds, fish, vegetation and water through hands on learning.   

When he started college, Dey chose forestry as an undergraduate major and then went on for a master’s degree.   After graduation, he got a job with the USDA Forest Service as a forester and spent the next 9 years working on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska and the Nez Perce National Forest in Idaho.  But, after 9 years as a land manager Dey felt something was missing.  It was then that he had a fortuitous conversation with one of his former professors about getting a PhD.  “It was like the planets were lining up.  This is where my science career started,” Dey said.

Restoring and sustaining oak forests, which includes forests, woodlands and savannas, is the focus of most of Dey’s research.  “Basically this involves finding out how to get oaks to regenerate and get seedlings to grow up and become big trees. In oak forests one of the major problems is not enough light in the understory.  Seedlings need light to build a strong root system that drives their growth after release from the understory.  For oak regeneration in savanna and woodlands there are other problems, especially related to fire, and using it to achieve the desired composition and structure,” Dey describes.  

Dey strongly believes in the importance of technology transfer as a part of the cycle of science.  “To get information into managers’ hands you need to give it to them in different forms such as through webinars, in-person field site visits, talks at conferences and other types of publications besides journal articles,” he said.  “My job isn’t done until I’ve presented the information in the best way I can to managers so that they are interested in it, they understand it, and they might even implement some of the ideas on the land they manage.” 

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Featured Product

New York Forests, 2012

Ampersand Mountain in New York.

New York Forests, 2012” gives public and private land managers information that is vital to managing New York’s 19 million acres of forests, and it debuts a new format for Northern Research Station science delivery: an e-book.

“New York Forests, 2012” was selected to be the Station’s first e-book because New York foresters were interested in a document with more portability, navigation, and search features than traditional pdf documents allow. Susan Wright, Production Services Team Leader at the Northern Research Station, saw the New York Report as an opportunity to create a prototype that could be used more broadly. “Tables and figures are essential in scientific literature, and making them readable is a challenge for electronic publishing,” Wright said. “The New York Report gave us an opportunity to solve design challenges that are common to everything the Northern Research Station publishes and create a blueprint for making publications functional and easy to navigate in the future.”

Sixty-three percent of New York is forested, most of those forests are large-diameter, mature trees, and most are privately owned (75 percent). Generally, having both public and private ownerships enhances the benefits and ecological services provided by New York’s forests. These diverse ownerships create private market opportunities while protecting critical areas and providing for public recreation. Richard Widmann, lead FIA analyst for New York and the report’s lead author, suggests that the extent of the area covered by New York forests may be nearing a peak as forest conversion to developed uses continues and farm land reversion to forest slows. The potential loss of forest land and continued fragmentation of forest land into smaller parcels is a growing threat to wildlife habitats and other services provided by New York’s forests. Two damaging forest pests, the emerald ash borer and hemlock wooly adelgid, could also change the state’s landscape over the next two decades.

Reporting inventory results to states is at the core of FIA’s mission. As the nation’s forest census, Forest Inventory & Analysis researchers follow a reporting schedule that includes annual inventory updates, more in-depth analytical reports, such as “New York Forests, 2012,” every 5 years, and special issue papers, all of which provide foresters and land managers across the Station’s 24-state forest inventory region with the information needed to make today’s decisions and tomorrow’s plans.

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Featured Research

Fernow Experimental Forest Hydrological Research – Basics of Long Term Data Sets

Physical scientist Cheryl Smith analyzes stream samples from the Fernow Experimental Forest watersheds for inclusion in the long-term (40+ years) chemistry data set.  Photo by US Forest Service.Watersheds on the Fernow Experimental Forest in West Virginia have been studied by scientists for more than 65 years.  Beginning in 1948, when a Forest Service research unit was established at the site, scientists began applying different harvesting treatments and installing weirs so they could begin answering questions about water use by forests, effects of forest management on watersheds, and the effectiveness of best management practices.   

Watershed research on the Fernow has evolved over time due to advances in technology and the nature of questions being addressed.  Studies involving water chemistry became more important in the 1970s as more sophisticated analytical techniques became available.  The Fernow water quality laboratory was officially established during this time.  In the 1980s, when the laboratory became more automated, scientists broadened the types of chemical analyses completed on the water samples collected.  These measurements included water acidity to examine air pollution and acid rain effects, nitrate content to study fertilizer runoff, and sulfur and nitrogen trends through time to understand biogeochemical cycling.

Today, 10 watersheds on the Fernow are instrumented to enable data collection of stream flow; data have been generated from five of these since 1951 and two others since 1956.  These long term studies of stream flow from treated and untreated (control) watersheds have continued through generations of scientists.  According to Frederica (Freddie) Wood, database manager for the Fernow since 1986: “Good database management is especially important for long-term studies because staff changes over time can affect data quality if consistent and rigorous data collection and data management are not maintained throughout the study.  Also, when procedures change or new technologies are implemented the old and new must be compared and documented.”

The long-term hydrological research on the Fernow is an excellent example of the yin and yang of old and new.  Long-term studies not only serve as basis to document trends over time, but also as a jumping off point for new studies that address emerging issues, such as climate change. 

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Featured Partnership

The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy is a longtime partner in bringing back the American elm.

Partnerships are an integral part of research. Case in point: in New England, a partnership between The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Northern Research Station, and now the Manton Foundation is giving an iconic tree a new beginning.

The American elm hasn’t disappeared from forests, but nearly eight decades after Dutch Elm Disease (DED) arrived in the U.S., mature American elm trees are rare. For the past 6 years, Station and TNC scientists have collaborated on finding “survivor” elms, old elm trees that are near enough to trees that were killed by DED to have been exposed but that have not succumbed to the disease. “With each passing year, it becomes more likely that these trees are not just lucky,” said Jim Slavicek, a Project Leader and research biologist with the Station’s lab in Delaware, Ohio.

Slavicek, in collaboration with Kim Lutz, Director of TNC’s Connecticut River Program, and Christian Marks, a floodplain ecologist with TNC, and Kathleen Knight and Leila Pinchot of the NRS, propagate new trees from the branches of survivor trees, and then cross them with established varieties of DED-tolerant elm such as Princeton and Valley Forge to create new strains and, ultimately, develop sufficient genetic variation in DED-tolerant trees for them to survive and regenerate throughout the tree’s native range.

The TNC has been critical to finding survivor elms in New England and collecting branches for Slavicek and his team. In New England, TNC staff members have planted more than 3,000 of the new American elms crosses, giving Slavicek opportunities to study and evaluate how they tolerate DED as well as other attributes, such as cold-hardiness. A new grant from the Manton Foundation will enable Forest Service and TNC scientists to accelerate existing research and to perform additional work that will provide an opportunity to restore the American elm, including work led by Northern Research Station scientist Paul Schaberg on cold hardiness and genetic analysis of the number of genes that contribute to DED-tolerance by Keith Woeste of the Northern Research Station.

“We are grateful for this critical support from the Manton Foundation allowing us to realize our vision of restoring wild populations of this iconic species,” Lutz said.

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