Nineteen USDA Forest Service experimental forests grace the South. Each was established to solve a specific natural resource problem, and some are nearing a century old. Pressing natural resource problems at that time included naval pitch pine stores and reforesting vast cutover lands.
In 2015, SRS began creating a network for data, ideas, people, and resources to flow across the 19 experimental forests.
Stephanie Laseter, Jim Vose, and Jim Guldin are at the nexus of these efforts. An enthused group of SRS research foresters, ecologists, hydrologists, economists, GIS specialists, and others are also involved. “The success of our efforts has stemmed from a combination of a grassroots participation and sustained leadership support,” says Vose.
On September 17 and 18, a group of about 20 SRS scientists and professional or technical staff gathered at Bent Creek Experimental Forest in North Carolina. The workshop was a follow-up to one in June 2019.
The group is in action mode, moving forward on a number of projects, including several detail opportunities.
Two regional coordinator detail positions will soon be announced, as well as a co-lead for the network. One coordinator will work in the 11 eastern forests and the other in the 8 western forests. The coordinators will cultivate shared technical support and work with the Forest Inventory and Analysis program on the addition of new FIA plots.
“The Experimental Forest Network is a great opportunity for FIA and SRS, the cornerstones of FS R&D. I’m really excited to be part of this,” says FIA program manager Bill Burkman.
Soon, the group hopes to find regional leads for the field crews. FIA will be training crews and hope field sampling can begin in spring 2020. Over the winter, the SRS FIA Program will develop numbering systems for the new plots and build a grid so the location of new plots will be truly random.
Each year, crews would sample a subset of plots – about 20 percent of them. Usually, crews travel great distances between plots, but plots on the same experimental forest would be close to each other, so crews could sample two a day.
Detail outreach for the field crew coordinator and the co-lead for the EFR network will begin soon, and 4 to 6 field crew positions will also be available.
FIA has sampling protocols, database structures, quality assurance and control protocols, a training manual, and online tools to deliver information. “I’m excited about leveraging these resources for the benefit of the greater network,” says Laseter.
In addition, Laseter and Shawna Reid are building a geodatabase with spatial records from all 19 southern experimental forests. Some tabular and spatial data are already available on the Research Data Archive. The archive is easily accessible, and additional datasets are being added to it. New cross-site studies on shortleaf pine restoration and pollinator sampling have also begun. Work on extreme precipitation and road infrastructure continues, and manuscripts are in review.
The group spent the second day of the workshop formalizing some network governance principles. This will help future research proposals move forward. “We want to protect the grassroots approach but also provide a bit more structure,” says Laseter.
The experimental forests vary tremendously. Some of them have lots of resources, research, technical support, and online data, but others do not. As a network, the experimental forests are among the Southern Research Station’s greatest assets.
“Network-wide data collection and sharing are critical for answering broad-scale questions and identifying trends and patterns that generate new questions,” says Vose. “We want to make the SRS experimental forest network a template for doing both new science and current science more effectively.”
For more information, email Stephanie Laseter at firstname.lastname@example.org.