Experimental Forest Network is Expanding

Experimental Forest Network
From left to right, Bryan Mudder, Chuck Burdine, and Johnny Boggs. Photo by Derrick Fulghum, USFS.

USDA Forest Service scientists, technicians, and professional support will soon be devoting more time, energy, and expertise to the Southern Experimental Forest Network. Beginning in 2015, Stephanie Laseter was tasked with initiating and developing the network, along with Jim Vose and Jim Guldin.

“When we put out the call for detailers, we got an awesome response,” says Laseter. “This has been a grassroots, bottom-up effort from the beginning, and it’s been really fun to see it grow. I could not be more excited to work with this exceptional team. We have big plans for 2020!”

The 19 SRS experimental forests are scattered across 10 southern states. Many of them are separated by hundreds of miles. Two full-time positions will help bridge the great distances between sites: Chuck Burdine will serve as western regional coordinator and Bryan Mudder as eastern regional coordinator.

Laseter and Johnny Boggs will become co-leads. They will facilitate and lead network activities, including data access and archiving.  Johnny will continue in his current position at RTP, while devoting some of his time to the EF&R initiative.

Boggs comes to the network with two decades of experience in designing, managing, and conducting field-based research experiments. “I have a strong interest in improving how we generate, use, and apply data across our experimental forests to manage national forests – and share these findings with industry and private landowners,” says Boggs.

Immense amounts of long-term research data have been generated on the experimental forests. Shawna Reid and Daniel LeDuc are also lending some help with data management for the experimental forests – including an online database that scientists and partners can use to analyze different datasets from one or more of the 19 sites at a number of spatial scales and time periods.

“These long-term datasets are one of our greatest assets,” says Mudder.

In the future, even more data will flow from the experimental forests: the Forest Inventory and Analysis Program is adding about 1,800 new plots to experimental forests. About 20 percent of the plots will be sampled every year.

SRS technicians will serve on the FIA field crews, after eight weeks of intensive training on the FIA sampling protocols. Building on the partnership with FIA adds to the efficiency of the network. Burdine and Mudder plan to take the training too. “We want to be able to work alongside the field crew,” explains Burdine.

Donovan Stone, Edd Watson, and Eric Winters are serving on the eastern field crew. They are nearly finished with training and could begin installing plots as soon as March. Burdine is actively recruiting technicians to assist on the western field crew.

Johnny Grace, the scientist-in-charge of the Chipola EF, has been seeking a weather/meteorological station for some time. Boggs recently connected him with a surplus tower and instruments from another SRS unit and plans to travel to Florida to help set it up – an excellent example of matching needs with resources. Photo by Tyler Pallen, USFS.

All of these new positions are temporary, lasting for one year — with a possibility of an extension or bringing on new detailers.

Boggs, Burdine, and Mudder all bring familiarity with research on national and experimental forests. For years, Burdine has been stationed on the Harrison Experimental Forest, which is in the De Soto National Forest, in Mississippi.

“I was invited to the Eastern Experimental Forest Field Tour in 2018,” says Burdine. One of the stops was the Hitchiti Experimental Forest, which is on the Oconee National Forest. “Mac Callaham is the scientist-in-charge for the Hitchiti EF, and seeing the incredible working relationship he has with Forest Service staff on the Oconee NF was inspiring,” adds Burdine. When he returned to the Harrison EF, Burdine invited Anne Casey, the district ranger to a meeting. He now sits in on the district leadership meetings, the De Soto NF invites SRS employees to join for trainings, and the relationship has been beneficial on all sides.

Boggs has conducted research on fire and nitrogen deposition on the Croatan, Nantahala, and Uwharrie National Forests, and he’s working to incorporate data from his long-running study at the North Carolina State University Hill Forest to a regional analysis of forest management across experimental forests.

Mudder has also worked on public lands from Alabama to Maryland. He has been with SRS for 14 years and has contributed to a wide range of research projects — from American chestnut silvics and longleaf pine ecosystems to the hemlock woolly adelgid and walnut twig beetle.

“We’ve learned a lot, and the world is changing,” says Mudder. “Applying what we’ve learned, getting it used on the ground, that’s critical.”

Mudder and his new colleagues are in agreement: building collaborative relationships will be a priority.

“I’m always looking for ways to match needs with resources,” says Burdine. The expertise each person brings will benefit the entire Network. “For example, some scientists need seasonal field help,” says Mudder. “We can share resources to be more effective.”

“For a long time, I’ve had a goal to manage and coordinate regional scale forest research,” says Boggs. “My past work has led to this broader scale opportunity, and I’m ready for the challenge.”

Initially, Burdine and Mudder will focus on coordinating FIA plot installation with the scientists-in-charge at each of the EFRs. Boggs will be make connections with scientists who need assistance with field data collection on or around the sites. “We want to make the most of this capacity, and that will require that we refine, to some extent, how we as scientists think about and operate with EFRs at a regional scale,” adds Boggs.

The network now has a governance board made up of Laseter, Boggs, Callaham, Don Bragg, Johnny Grace, and KaDonna Randolph. They are finalizing the process for submitting proposals to do research across the EF&R network. As a board, they will review and rank proposals and provide recommendations on projects to implement.

Explore a story map about the experimental forests.

For more information, email Stephanie Laseter at stephanie.laseter@usda.gov.

Access the latest publications by SRS scientists.