Located seven miles west of Nacogdoches, Texas, the 2,560-acre Stephen F. Austin Experimental Forest (Stephen F. Austin) was established by an act of Congress in 1945. For its first 15 years, the experimental forest was primarily used for research that improved methods for growing loblolly and shortleaf pine. In 1949, 40 acres were set aside as a demonstration forest where landowners could learn how to manage small lots for timber production as part of the Forest Service Farm 40 project.
In 1961, scientists at the Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) research unit in Nacogdoches changed the focus of research on the Stephen F. Austin to wildlife, with initial studies focused on game species such as white-tailed deer, which were scarce in east Texas at that time. Over the years, the research program has moved toward nongame species, including threatened, endangered, or sensitive species.
SRS researchers Craig Rudolph and Dan Saenz have conducted life history studies on timber rattlesnakes, amphibians, turtles, and several woodpecker species on the experimental forest, these last led by Richard (Dick) Conner, SRS emeritus researcher. Students from the nearby Stephen F. Austin University (SFA) have added decades of information from projects on birds, reptiles, amphibians, rodents, insects, and arthropods.
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has maintained the East Texas Plant Materials Center on the Stephen F. Austin since 1982. The center was started to develop improved materials for livestock forage and wildlife habitat enhancement, and, through a cooperative arrangement with SRS, can use up to 70 acres of the experimental forest to plant and test various plant materials.
Over the years, the Stephen F. Austin has become increasing attractive as an outdoor classroom for SFA students, for conservation education with the general public, and as a recreation area. In 1990, management objectives for the experimental forest were expanded to include educational and recreational opportunities for the general public. In 1992, then SRS project leader Ron Thill developed a plan to establish an interpretive trail system on the Stephen F. Austin. The Stephen F. Austin Interpretive Trail System, which is wheelchair accessible, was completed in 1997 as a collaborative project among SRS, Region 8 of the National Forest System, the National Forest and Grasslands of Texas, the SFA College of Forestry, and volunteers from local organizations.
The Southern Research Station is currently evaluating the role of our existing experimental forests in providing data and answers to the critical forest management questions identified in assessments such as the Southern Forest Futures Project, towards developing a functional experimental forest network that would also address the needs of our partners and publics. For more information, please visit: http://forests4thefuture.info/research/experimental-forest-network-re-design.