Stand By Me
Partnerships are a cornerstone to success when it comes to science-based forest management. Working together, researchers and managers can achieve outcomes that neither could accomplish alone. In September, our stories about a scientist, research and a partnership highlight ecological research Station scientists are doing in collaboration with National Forests.
Many National Forests partner with school districts and others in their area to provide place-based education and service learning opportunities.
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In 2018, fresh from a 2-year position with the Sierra National Forest as a Presidential Management Fellow, Lauren Pile began her career as a research ecologist with the Northern Research Station with work in prairie restoration. “I had to spend some time learning a whole new community of plants, but other than that the mission was the same,” Pile said. “Whether I am in a forest or a prairie, developing research that land managers can use to solve ecological issues is exactly where I want to be.”
Pile’s love of the outdoors began with the 20 acres of hardwood forest surrounding her grandparents’ home in western Maryland. “The oak and maple forests where my brother and I played were the places where I felt free and I felt like I was home,” Pile said. “Everything I do now stems from this sense of place.”
On the Prairie Fork Conservation Area in Missouri, Pile is exploring how to control an invasive plant called “sericea lespedeza” in a prairie restoration area. On the Mark Twain National Forest, she is looking at using goats to control understory growth in a woodland restoration area. Aside from her excursion into prairie restoration, Pile’s work as a research ecologist most often involves working with forest managers on problems facing central hardwoods forests. “This is my dream job,” Pile said. “The opportunity to care for the land and serve people is something that I do not take for granted.”
Pile describes her career path as non-traditional, and she shares her story to inspire others to not give up on their own dream job. Limited resources and support led her to quit college after one year. Over the next few years, Pile worked multiple jobs in retail, eventually advancing into management positions, but along the way she discovered that she cared deeply about the environment and had a strong interest in science. She began taking college classes whenever she had the time and the money to do so; she completed her degree nine years after finishing high school. And she kept going, earning a graduate degree and then completing her Ph.D. Pile was one of just a handful of people selected as a Presidential Management Fellow, a program dedicated to preparing people for leadership in government.
“In high school, nobody would have anticipated that I could be a scientist, including me,” Pile said. “It made a difference in my life to find people who believed in me. I want to be the same kind of positive voice for my profession and for the people I encounter throughout my career.”
More about Lauren Pile >>
Stream Simulation Design
Culverts are a ubiquitous piece of infrastructure that may escape the notice of National Forest visitors looking for glimpses of wildlife and scenic vistas. It is a different story for National Forest managers looking to support both the movement of people over streams and aquatic organism passage through culverts. Sue Eggert, a research aquatic ecologist with the Northern Research Station in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, has worked with the Eastern Region of the National Forest System for almost a decade to document the effectiveness of stream simulation design, a new approach to culvert design for preserving the ecological function of streams as they pass under roadways.
Old-school culverts have one purpose: pipe streams under roadways to prevent roads from washing out. The old design allows water in culverts to wash out the leaves and wood that provide food for aquatic invertebrates, which in turn are food for fish. Without cobbles and boulders to create eddies and still water where they can rest, some fish and other aquatic organisms may be unable to swim upstream through the pipe, disrupting the food web and migration for some species.
Stream simulation culverts are designed to handle large storm flows, positioned to be in line with the stream flow, sloped to match the stream’s gradient, and constructed with substrate matching a stream’s natural substrate. In some cases, boulders are used to create “mammal crossings” that allow small terrestrial animals like mink to follow the stream through the culvert. “The idea is to create such a seamless transition from one side of the road to the other that a fish or mammal wouldn’t even know it is going through a culvert,” Eggert describes.
Initially, after the Eastern Region began incorporating stream simulation design as it replaced old culverts, the Region enlisted a team that included Eggert, Anne Timm, an NRS research aquatic ecologist now based in Baltimore, and academic partners from Michigan Technological University to quantify the effectiveness of stream simulation design on habitat critical to stream food webs. Since that first effort, Eggert has continued the research. Her work suggests that compared to traditional culverts, stream simulation design is contributing to higher levels of food resources and more abundant and diverse aquatic invertebrate species, both of which are ecological benefits not previously anticipated.
“Culverts have the potential to either connect species and habitat or fragment it,” Eggert said. “With more than 75,000 stream crossings occurring in Wisconsin alone, culvert design is not a trivial issue for forests and water quality.”
More information on Effectiveness of Culvert Design for Improved Water Quality and Habitat >>
Allegheny Forest Health Collaborative
In 2017, the Allegheny Forest Health Collaborative (AFHC) was formed to address forest health challenges, restoration and management opportunities, and research and monitoring needs across public and private lands on the Allegheny Plateau. Partnerships are a cornerstone of the Collaborative’s success.
The Allegheny Plateau stretches across northwest Pennsylvania and western New York and encompasses the entirety of the Allegheny National Forest. Non-native forest pests, pathogens, invasive plants and changing environmental factors such as increased droughts and windstorm events threaten forest health and sustainability. The intermingled nature of forest land ownership across the region adds to the complexity of managing these forests.
In response to the challenges, a broad diversity of partners, including USFS staff, representatives of conservation organizations, academic institutions, local, state, Federal agencies and private and public stakeholders came together to address these forest health concerns. Today, over 60 organizations, companies, and agencies, including the Northern Research Station, are committed to working together.
“The Allegheny Forest Health Collaborative is focused on identifying and prioritizing the most critical threats to ecosystem services and values,” said Andrea Hille, Ecosystem Team Lead with the Allegheny National Forest. “With this information in hand, we are then able to co-develop integrated restoration and collaborative adaptive management strategies.”
One such collaborative management strategy underway is the Treatment Priority Index, co-developed by partners in the Collaborative to ensure stands with the most urgent need for regeneration treatments – irrespective of ownership –are identified. The open, continuous communication and knowledge sharing made possible through the collaborative helped participating land management agencies and industries recognize that each group had developed a separate process for prioritizing forest stands needing regeneration treatments.This same group is working on developing new silvicultural guides for forested stands in a region with rapidly changing stand regeneration dynamics.
The AFHC is guided by a formal working agreement that outlines equal influence and involvement by all participants. “This approach fosters a commitment to shared stewardship, collaborative learning, and joint decision making,” said Hille. “It is our hope that this model will lead to increased efficiencies and the ability to scale up the work needed to be done to ensure the Allegheny Plateau remains healthy and vibrant for current and future generations.”