The Crossett Experimental Forest

Eddy flux tower installed in 2011 at the Crossett Experimental Forest. Photo by USDA Forest Service.

Since it was established in 1934, the Crossett Experimental Forest has served as the repository of silvicultural alternatives to the intensive plantation methods that dominate industrial forestry on the Coastal Plain. The not-so-hidden secret of southern forestry is that naturally regenerated Coastal Plain loblolly-shortleaf pine is one of the Nation’s most pliable forest types, able to be sustainably managed using an entire spectrum of even-aged and uneven-aged silvicultural systems. Methods other than clearcutting often  find considerable interest on private family forest as well as public lands. There’s no better place in the South to see this variety of successful practices than at the Crossett Experimental Forest, which is rightly venerated for its role as a field laboratory and demonstration site for good forest management.

The Crossett Lumber Company, later acquired by Georgia-Pacific, originally deeded the land for the experimental forest to the Southern Forest Experiment Station (now the Southern Research Station) in 1934 with a 50-year agreement that committed the Station to return an amount of timber equal to what was present on the deeded land at the time of the agreement. In short order, founding Station scientist Russ Reynolds succeeded in delivering on this commitment and leaving the forest better stocked than it was at the time of the takeover.

With the rise of interest in plantation forestry in the 1960s, the work at the Crossett Experimental Forest was thought for a while to be out of date. But time has shown the wisdom behind the silvicultural tactics put to work there: they still provide foresters with a diversity of viable management tools needed to meet the range of forest ownership goals in the 21st century.

Since those early days, the Crossett Experimental Forest has had few peers as a research and demonstration forest. Over the decades, thousands of foresters, landowners, scientists, students, and teachers have visited the Farm Forestry Demonstration Areas to learn about selection methods in southern pines, studying stands managed with that technique for 75 years. These outreach efforts have also been instrumental in helping national forests in the South move away from intensive plantations and toward management that relies on natural regeneration and that maintains continuous forest cover.

Station scientists also continue to develop tools to help create and manage old-growth-like stands, as well as understanding the impacts of not treating forests. The 80-acre Reynolds Research Natural Area is used to study the ecology of stand development in the absence of management. Recent studies have used both old and new research on the Crossett Experimental Forest to better understand patterns of biomass accumulation and the role of naturally regenerated, managed southern pine stands in the provision of ecosystems services.

In 2011, a new scientific instrument was  added to the experimental forest—a 120-foot eddy flux tower designed to monitor changing levels of carbon dioxide through and above the canopy of pines in a managed working forest. Established in cooperation with the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, which also supports one of these cutting-edge science towers in western North Carolina, the Crossett tower is part of a national network within the Forest Service helping scientists better understand the importance of carbon sequestration and carbon dynamics in different forest types across the Nation.

The Crossett Experimental Forest is the hub of the Station’s premier science delivery and technology transfer program in the ecology and management of southern pines. The experimental forest staff periodically sponsors a Forestry Field Day to help foresters and private landowners learn about cutting-edge research and technological developments designed to improve low-cost natural stand management. University forestry programs from across the Nation frequently bring their forestry students to the Crossett to learn about naturally regenerated southern pine forests.

Additional Resources

Bragg, Don C.; Shelton, Michael G. 2011. Lessons from 72 years of monitoring a once-cut pine-hardwood stand on the Crossett Experimental Forest, Arkansas, U.S.A. Forest Ecology and Management. 261:911-922.

Guldin, James M. 2009. The Crossett Experimental Forest–72 years of science delivery in the silviculture of southern pines. Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-116. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station: 203-209.

Guldin, James M., and Baker, James B. 1998. Uneven-aged silviculture-southern style. Journal of Forestry 96(7): 22-26.

Reynolds, R.R. 1980. The Crossett story: the beginning of forestry in southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana. Gen. Tech. Rep. SO−32.New Orleans:U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service,Southern Forest Experiment Station. 40 p.

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