Photo of Tom Waldrop

Tom Waldrop

Team Leader/Supervisory Research Forester
233 Lehotsky Hall, Clemson University
Clemson, SC 29634
Phone: 864-656-5054
twaldrop@fs.fed.us

Current Research

Tom Waldrop received his Ph.D. in Forest Ecology from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1983. He conducts research in the general areas of understanding disturbances and their effects and managing disturbances and restoring ecosystems. His expertise in fire ecology and applied fire science guides his work to reintroduce fire to the southeastern Piedmont and southern Appalachian Mountains where fire has been excluded for generations. Waldrop is a leader in the National Fire and Fire Surrogate Study which examines the ecological impacts of fuel reduction treatments on vegetation, fuels, soils, mammals, birds, herpetofauna, and forest health in various ecosystems across the United States. Ongoing data analysis will provide information on long-term impacts of disturbance to multiple ecosystem components and help to refine recommendations for ecosystem management. A number of plant species and communities are threatened or endangered in the Piedmont and southern Appalachian regions because of past fire exclusion. Waldrop is working with three National Forests and two state agencies to determine disturbance levels and fire prescriptions needed to restore habitat for Piedmont post oak savannahs, smooth coneflowers (listed as federally endangered), and Appalachian ridgetop pine communities. Many tools needed to apply fire to Appalachian ecosystems have not yet been developed. Waldrop's work is describing fuel loads across topographic positions and learning how productivity and decomposition affect woody fuels and live fuel abundance. Waldrop is the founder and leader of the Consortium of Appalachian Fire Managers and Scientists (CAFMS) which was established in 2009 to facilitate a flow of information about fire science and research needs among managers and scientists in the Appalachian Region. CAFMS includes approximately 450 fire managers along with government and university scientists throughout the region.

Research Interests

Fire Ecology

Applied Fire Science

Silviculture

Past Research

Tom Waldrop began his career with the Forest Service in 1987 when he was assigned to the Pine-Hardwood Research Work Unit at Clemson, SC. He conducted a series of studies to develop guidelines for low-intensity and low-cost regeneration and management of pine-hardwood mixtures. Continuation of two studies is examining how the season of harvest and degree of disturbance affect diversity and early stand dynamics. Early results described regeneration characteristics but the long-term impacts of these treatments to overstory and understory species are unknown. Measurements are continuing as study sites mature (age 20) in each geographic area to learn if low-cost techniques can supply enough volume to make a good investment to the non-industrial private landowners. In early 2012, techniques used in these studies will be applied to a new study of guidelines for intermediate management of oak/Table Mountain pine stands regenerated by stand replacement fire

Why This Research is Important

Past research on prescribed burning has usually focused on a single element of an ecosystem with little consideration to other components. The National Fire and Fire Surrogate Study (FFS) offers an unusual opportunity to examine how over 100 response variables in 7 discipline areas are impacted by the same disturbance and to examine how each component is impacted as changes occur to other components. This complex set of interactions is being studied in diverse ecosystems throughout the United States. At 13 study sites, 8 in the West and 5 in the East, fuel reduction is accomplished by prescribed burning, a mechanical treatment of local design, and burning plus mechanical removal. Basic fuel models are lacking for the hardwood and pine-hardwood forests of the Piedmont and southern Appalachian region. Earlier studies suggested that productive sites produce greater quantities of fuel than do dry, infertile sites but that fuel loads are balanced by increased decomposition rates in the absence of disturbance. As prescribed burning becomes more common in the southern Appalachian Mountains, there is a need to better predict fuel loads that occur at different landscape positions. After several decades of fire suppression, ridgetop pine communities of the southern Appalachians are entering later seral stages and beginning to disappear. They typically have Table Mountain pines and pitch pines in the overstory, which are being replaced by shade-tolerant oaks and mountain laurel. Previous research suggests that high-intensity stand-replacement fires are needed to restore these communities to open the forest canopy and expose mineral soil. However, this work was based on observations made after wildfires and prescribed stand-replacement fires have not been tested.

Education

  • Ph.D. in Ecology, 1983
    The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • M.F. in Forest Protection, 1980
    Clemson University
  • B.S. in Forest Management, 1978
    Clemson University

Professional Experience

Supervisory Research Forester and Team Leader for Fire Science, Center for Forest Disturbance Science (SRS-4156); GS-15; Southern Research Station; Clemson, SC.
2012—Current
Supervisory Research Forester and Team Leader for Fire Science, Center for Forest Disturbance Science (SRS-4156); GS-14; Southern Research Station; Clemson, SC.
2008—2011
Research Forester and Team Leader for Disturbance Ecology of Southern Appalachian and Piedmont Ecosystems, Disturbance and Management of Southern Ecosystems (SRS-4104) GS-14; Southern Research Station; Clemson, SC.
2002—2008
Research Forester, Disturbance and Management of Southern Ecosystems (SRS-4104) GS-14; Southern Research Station; Clemson, SC.
1996—2002
Research Forester, Ecology and Genetics of Southern Pine Ecosystems (SE-4104), GS-13; Southern Research Station; Clemson, SC.
1995—1996
Research Forester, Silviculture and Management of Pine Hardwood Mixtures (SE 4105) GS 13; Southern Research Station; Clemson, S.C.
1992—1995
Research Forester, Silviculture and Management of Pine Hardwood Mixtures in the Piedmont (SE 4105) GS 12; Southeastern Forest Experiment Station; Clemson, S.C.
1989—1992
Research Forester, Silviculture and Management of Pine Hardwood Mixtures in the Piedmont (SE 4105) GS 11; Southeastern Forest Experiment Station; Clemson, S.C.
1987—1989
Post Doctoral Research Associate, Clemson University, Department of Forestry; Charleston, S.C.
1984—1987
Resource Analyst, Tennessee Valley Authority; Norris, TN.
1984—1984

Professional Organizations

  • Consortium Of Appalachian Fire Managers And Scientists, Founder And Leader (2009—Current)
  • The Association for Fire Ecology, Member (2001—Current)
  • South Carolina Forestry Association, Member (1990—Current)
  • Society of American Foresters, Member (1977—Current)
  • Society of American Foresters, Associate Editor (2009—2012)

Awards and Recognition

Deputy Chief of Research Distinguished Science Award, 2012
The award recognizes sustained research productivity, contributions to science and technology, scientific leadership, application and benefits of the research, and professional service.
Southern Research Station Director’s Distinguished Science Award., 2012
The award recognizes sustained research productivity, contributions to science and technology, scientific leadership, application and benefits of the research, and professional service.
Southern Research Station Director’s Award for Natural Resource Leadership, 2006
For leadership in successful restoration of Appalachian fire-dependent communities.
Joint Fire Science Program, Most Prolific Principle Investigator Award, 2002
For productivity in publications, presentations, mentoring, and other forms of science delivery.

Featured Publications and Products

Publications

Research Highlights

Consortium of Appalachian Fire Managers and Scientists (CAFMS) (2011)
The Center for Forest Disturbance Science, SRS-4156 and The Nature Conservancy are among 8 groups from across the country to receive funding from the Joint Fire Science Program to develop a regional consortium for fire science delivery.
National Fire and Fire Surrogate Study (2010)
An SRS scientist summarized research results from the National Fire and Fire Surrogate Study (FFS). Researchers found, among other things, that mechanical treatments do not serve as surrogates for fire for most variables, suggesting that fire should be used for restoration of these ecosystems.