Touring National Forest Science

August 2022

August is a prime month for a road trip, so this month we selected web features from our archive that take you to a few of the National Forests where Northern Research Station scientists are working to answer questions important to National Forest managers. We visit the Allegheny National Forest, where Station scientists are part of a forest health collaborative; we see how the Eastern Region is using well-designed stream culverts to support movement of aquatic species (and terrestrial critters too), and we wind up on the Mark Twain National Forest, where the Northern Research Station contributed to a forest restoration project that is leading to reintroduction of a native bird that vanished decades ago.

Environmental Education

US Forest Servicve Junior Forest Ranger bannerThe Junior Forest Ranger program is an exciting way for young people to explore their national forests and grasslands. The JFR program uses Forest Service science and practices to encourage children 7 through 13 to enjoy and appreciate nature. JFR motivates children to explore the natural and cultural world, and embrace their responsibility to it.

Allegheny National Forest

The Allegheny Forest Health Collaborative

Partners touring active forest management sites as part of the Allegheny Forest Health Collaborative. Photo by Andrea Hille, USDA Forest Service.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 Forest Service 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 of 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.”

More information >>

Culverts

Stream Simulation Design for Eastern Region National Forests

Undersized culvert.  USDA Forest Service photo by Sue Eggert.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 and academic partners from Michigan Technological University to quantify the effectiveness of stream simulation design on habitat critical to stream food webs. Eggert’s 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 >>

Brown-headed Nuthatch Habitat Restoration

Pine-oak Woodlands Restoration Benefits Bird Species of Concern

Pine-oak woodland.In August of 2020, the brown-headed nuthatch will return to Missouri. This tiny bird, that zig zags up and down southern pine trees in search of insects to eat, prefers woodland habitat, the open, park-like pine and pine-oak forests that dominated the landscape before European settlement. Intensive logging at the turn of the 20th century, and decades of wildfire suppression, led to widespread conversion of woodland habitat to mature forest habitat, a concern for managers of the diverse wildlife communities supported by more open woodland conditions.

The nuthatch can return because a broad coalition of land managers and scientists across southern Missouri are nearing the tenth year of a collaborative forest restoration project to return pine and pine-oak woodlands, which occur on less than 10 percent of their original footprint, to nearly 100,000 acres of the Missouri Ozarks region. “We brought in the Northern Research Station from the beginning,” said Mark Twain National Forest Botanist Brian Davidson. Birds are a key monitoring group for assessing success of this effort. Northern Research Station Research Wildlife Biologist Frank Thompson studies the effects of land management on forest songbirds. With University of Missouri graduate student Melissa Roach and others, Thompson’s work shows restoration practices such as thinning and prescribed fire benefit both abundance and reproductive success of early-successional and generalist bird species. Additional research is helping the forest identify areas to create connectivity in habitats across the landscape.

Restoration isn’t only helping wildlife. The work also helps fund recreation programs on the forest and diversifies the markets for wood products. Recreation and wood products economies associated with the Mark Twain National Forest contribute approximately $300 million dollars to Missouri’s economy each year, according to Cody Norris, the public affairs officer on the forest.

More information about how scientists and managers resolved conflicts, and the ecological and economic impacts of restoration >>

Last updated: 07/29/2022