Deliver Benefits to the Public
Forests are beautiful, but they are also hard-working landscapes. People benefit from forests in many ways, including through abundant and clean water, cleaner air, and shade that reduces energy use in urban areas. USDA Forest Service scientists deliver research and tools that help land managers protect these resources for present and future generations of Americans. This month’s featured scientist, research, product and partnership stories show how Forest Service science contributes to forest sustainability, which in turn contributes to the U.S. economy and human health.
The Natural Inquirer Social Science Sampler Pack showcases a variety of ways Forest Service R&D benefits the public. Order yours free!
From the early days of his career with the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program to his current role as a project leader, Chris Woodall has believed that the goal of Forest Service science is to generate knowledge and tools that forest managers can use to ensure healthy and productive forests now and long into the future.
“Forest science is critical in this era,” Woodall said. “Bringing people together and working across many jurisdictions to get answers to managers’ questions is essential, it’s all about working efficiently.”
After more than a decade with the Forest Service’s FIA program, Woodall now has the opportunity to facilitate science partnerships and cooperation as project leader for a research unit focused on ecosystem change in Durham, New Hampshire.
Bringing people together is the heart of one of Woodall’s recent research endeavors. As part of a national research program called Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change, Woodall is coordinating a federal/state/private partnership to investigate ways that future forest managers can help forests to adapt to changing conditions, whether climate or invasive species. “In northern New Hampshire, we are evaluating the planting of tree species more common in the southern part of the state to discover whether such a management technique might figure more prominently in the north as conditions change,” Woodall said.
While he grew up in South Carolina, hiking and forest research have left him grounded in ecosystems extending from the loblolly pine forests of the Southeast to Ponderosa pine forests of Montana, the Lake States’ aspen forests and the Northern hardwood forests of New England. It is familiar territory. In his teens, Woodall hiked frequently with his father; by the time he was 19, he had hiked the entire 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail, including climbing several New England peaks. “I never thought I would be back here working,” Woodall said.
While his career stems from his affinity for forests and an aptitude for science, Woodall believes that understanding how forests work and how they fail to work is vital. “Forest resources were important to founding this nation, and they remain important to the economy and human health as we go forward,” he said.
Our Most Popular Reports
The Northern Research Station’s five most popular publications of its first 12 years demonstrate the breadth of Station science and its focus on producing science that people can use to understand the landscape and manage for healthy trees, regardless of whether those trees are in National Forests or community forests.
Take for example Restorative Commons, a collection of 18 articles inspired by the Meristem 2007 Forum, "Restorative Commons for Community Health." A total of 4,800 copies of the publication were distributed and are used to improve human health, well-being, and potential within the urban environment.
“A Guide to nonnative invasive plants inventoried in the north by Forest Inventory and Analysis” identifies 44 invasive plant species in the Northern Research Station’s 24-state forest inventory region (Maine south to Delaware west to Kansas and north to North Dakota). The handbook delivers distribution maps, short descriptions, space for notes, and numerous pictures of each plant , making it a handy resource for both natural resource managers and interested citizens who want to be familiar with invasive plants. A total of 5,600 copies were printed, and it is still available in print.
Originally published in 2012, “Forest Adaptation Resources: climate change tools and approaches for land managers” was developed by the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS), a partnership of the USDA Forest Service, the Michigan Technological University, the University of Minnesota and several others. The handbook has been used in hundreds of adaptation workshops over the years and was revised in a second edition published in 2016.
Also in 2012, Station scientists developed a resource for forest managers in Appalachia called “Manual herbicide application methods for managing vegetation in Appalachian hardwood forests.” The handbook describes stem injection, basal spray, cut-stump, and foliar spray techniques, all of which can be used to control interfering vegetation and promote the development of desirable reproduction and valuable crop trees in hardwood forests.
The Station’s most popular publication ever was developed to make a walk in Lake States forests a little more interesting: “Field guide to common macrofungi in eastern forests and their ecosystem functions.” A total of 12,500 printed copies have been distributed since the guide was published in 2011, and an updated version was developed as an e-book.
“It is gratifying to see so much demand for publications, and it is especially gratifying to see that publications related to such different aspects of Northern Research Station science have been well-received,” said Susan Wright, Publications Team Leader for the Northern Research Station.
The Station continues to publish a variety of Station publications, but fewer of them are printed. “As we go forward, we are seeing online demand for publications increase and requests for printed copies diminish,” Wright said.
Urban Trees Save Billions of Dollars Through Reduced Energy Costs
Trees are a vital component in the fabric of urban and community landscapes, providing beauty, shade, and homes for wildlife. Perhaps a lesser known benefit is the role of trees in reducing residential energy use. In a recent study, scientists found that trees growing in urban and community areas across the conterminous United States reduce residential energy use by an average of 7.2 percent, which equates to a national savings of $7.8 billion per year.
Lead study author, Dave Nowak, with the Northern Research Station, and co-authors estimate that U.S. urban and community forests reduce electricity use by 38.8 million megawatt hours per year (one megawatt-hour is equivalent to the energy provided by about 27 gallons of gasoline). Heating cost savings equate to 246 trillion British Thermal Units (BTU) per year (one million BTU is equivalent to the energy provided by about 8 gallons of gasoline). By decreasing energy use, tree canopy also reduces thousands of tons of pollutant emissions from power plants, which is valued at an additional $3.9 billion per year.
Researchers found that states with the greatest annual energy cost savings from trees are Florida ($643 million), Texas ($601 million), and California ($410 million). States with the lowest annual energy cost savings are North Dakota ($13.3 million), Wyoming ($14.2 million), and Vermont ($18.2 million).“By understanding the benefits provided by urban forests, better urban forest management decisions and plans can be made to sustain healthy and functional urban forests, and more sustainable cities now and into the future” said Nowak.
To Preserve Chesapeake Bay Watershed Health
A fortuitous meeting of Northern Research Station scientists and scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at a scientific poster session several years ago ultimately led to a partnership focused on planning for the future sustainability of Pine Creek Watershed, which drains to the Chesapeake Bay.
Northern Research Station scientists had been conducting a study using GIS to assess the ecological role of hemlock in hydrological processes affecting the Chesapeake Bay. Eastern hemlock is a long-lived evergreen tree that creates forest conditions fostering healthy streams and acting as a green filter for water entering watersheds. The invasive insect, hemlock wooly adelgid, has taken a toll on hemlock forests, which in turn impacts watershed health.
Meanwhile, USGS scientists were conducting an assessment of three high-quality headwater streams in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Through water sampling they sought to establish baseline data on water quality prior to establishment of Marcellus Shale gas wells, which could impact stream health. The two studies had one watershed in common, the Pine Creek watershed.
A conversation between scientists at the poster session led to a collaboration. “We decided to expand our GIS study so that we could take a closer look at the hemlock resource threatened by hemlock woolly adelgid that was contained in this sub-watershed,” said Mary Ann Fajvan, research forester with the Northern Research Station in Morgantown, WV.
Using field reconnaissance and inventory data from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, scientists found there was sufficient hemlock resource threatened by hemlock wooly adelgid to be concerned about how hemlock mortality could have a significant effect on the quality of the watershed. Ultimately, Fajvan and colleagues consulted with members of the Pine Creek Headwaters Hemlock Summit Council and the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry to develop options for protecting the cold water resources in the Pine Creek Watershed from the impacts of hemlock woolly adelgid. This included monitoring forest health, hydrological processes and hemlock wooly adelgid populations, and targeting areas with high hemlock concentrations for supplemental planting of native conifers.“My satisfaction with this project stems from the way it leverages mutual in-kind resources in an era of budget cutbacks and provides funding for long-term research that is critical to understanding ecological processes,” said Fajvan.