Developing a Network of the South’s Experimental Forests

New project on road drainage structures to link multiple resources

Many of the sites of present-day experimental forests started out as demonstrations on how to reforest a South where land lay in waste from overuse. Photo by Ewing Galloway, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Many of the sites of present-day experimental forests started out as demonstrations on how to reforest a South where land lay in waste from overuse. Photo by Ewing Galloway, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For decades, scientists on the 19 experimental forests of the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) have investigated research questions that are as diverse as the experimental forests themselves. Research topics include forest management and regeneration; restoration of wildlife and plant populations; watershed management; and the effects of pollution, climate change, and timber harvest.

Linking the experimental forests into a network could help answer new questions, and SRS scientists at the Center for Integrated Forest Science recently organized a meeting to discuss opportunities for shared research across multiple forests. For the first time ever, 30 SRS scientists from 12 different experimental forests met to discuss these opportunities.  Along with SRS were colleagues from Northern Research Station, Forest Service National Forests (Region 8), Forest Inventory and Analysis, and the Agricultural Research Service’s Long-term Agroecosystem Research Network (LTAR).

“A functional network of experimental forests is critical for addressing natural resource challenges in the 21st century,” says Stephanie Laseter. Laseter is a biological scientist at SRS, and is also the Experimental Forest Network lead.

“This network will link sites strategically across geographic domains and environmental gradients,” says Laseter. “Forest Service experimental forests, university forests, and state forests represent a wide range of forest types and management regimes and, through a network, can answer larger scale questions.” A network can also facilitate collaborations and increase efficiency.

Erosion – which can dump sediment into streams, and harm aquatic ecosystems – was among the topics discussed at the meeting. Many experimental forests, as well as national forests, are crisscrossed by gravel roads containing culverts and other drainage structures. Some culverts may be overdue for maintenance, while others may be too small for extreme rainfall events.

SRS scientists have begun a research project that will assess the capacity of these drainage structures, as well as their vulnerability to extreme precipitation, on multiple experimental forests. Although the project is in the early stages, it has already led to collaboration with the Department of Transportation and National Forest System engineers.

“A successful network requires collaboration,” says Laseter. “We are developing new partnerships, and also expanding on our existing partnerships.” For example, Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, and SRS have partnered since 1967, but as a result of the Experimental Forest Network, are working together to create a new demonstration forest on campus. The demonstration forest will provide research opportunities while engaging private landowners on best management practices for managing their forests.

“Over the coming months, we will continue to engage with new partners to describe the initiative and discuss approaches for building a network across the Southeast,” says Laseter.

For more information, email Stephanie Laseter at slaseter@fs.fed.us.

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