Delivering the science, east to west.
Since the 1920s, the Forest Service has maintained a system of experimental forests to test hypotheses and collect long-term data about the ecological effects of fire, grazing, insect infestations, air pollution, and other disturbances. In the South, researchers from Federal agencies and universities use 15 active experimental forests for studies ranging from the practices needed to maintain healthy forests, to the water filtration functions of forests, to habitat restoration for endangered species.
Experimental forests are some of the few places in the United States where long-term data are collected about forests and how they change over time. These living laboratories also serve as demonstration sites where cooperators and landowners can see the results of different forest management options.
School in the Woods
Julia Murphy is a busy woman. As forestry technician and certified interpretive guide for the SRS upland hardwoods unit, she works full time on science delivery at the Bent Creek Experimental Forest in Asheville, NC, leading tours, setting up workshops and training sessions, and teaching in both the classroom and the field. The experimental forest consists of over 6,300 acres and includes a demonstration forest, where side-byside silvicultural treatments are set up to show visitors the results of research on upland hardwood ecosystems. Murphy also takes visitors to research sites dedicated to oak regeneration, invasive plants, wildlife habitat, fire, or other natural and human-caused disturbances. As a project for her master's in forestry from Clemson University, Murphy produced a 15- minute film used to welcome visitors to Bent Creek.
Although much of Murphy's work is with forestry professionals and college students, she likes to focus on younger students. She enjoys teaching them forestry techniques like measuring and boring trees, and talking about the importance of forestry management in producing healthy, productive forests to enhance air and water quality.
"So many kids have not stepped foot in a forest. I try to teach them about local native trees so they can identify them in their backyards," Murphy says. "I hope to spark an interest, to make them aware of their natural surroundings. Tree cookies are always a big favorite, and they give me an opportunity to talk about how big trees grow and the age of forests."
Murphy helps the North Carolina Forestry Association teach a 4-day environmental camp for 250 middle school students at Lake Julian in south Asheville. Working with the North Carolina Forestry Association, she leads a Bent Creek tour for 40 K-12 teachers who visit Federal, State, and private forests.
Summer brings intense use of the experimental forest, including this year's 16th annual upland hardwood silviculture training, geared for State foresters. Course instructors include Forest Service scientists from the Southern and Northern Research Stations and the Southern Region's Forest Health Protection unit. Forest Service professionals from the National Forests in North Carolina provide valuable on-the-ground perspective. Craig Harper, University of Tennessee, and Jeff Stringer, University of Kentucky, bring science into practical focus through their expertise in Cooperative Extension forestry. Bill Alexander, landscape and forest historian, leads a tour that combines past and active forest management activities at the nearby Biltmore Estate.
The Cumberland Plateau: Partnerships Are the Way to Connect
As a scientist with the upland hardwoods unit, Callie Schweitzer combines her expertise in forest management, her passion for public involvement, and her ability to work with partners who range from academics to forest practitioners. Collaboration is essential in the Cumberland Plateau area, where rapid changes in land ownership are the rule. The ownership of two Jackson County, AL, sites where Schweitzer conducts experiments changed five times in 2 years. To maintain access to her research plots, Schweitzer, who is based in Huntsville, AL, developed a strong partnership with forest industry. Greg Janzen, employed by Stevenson Land Company and formerly with MeadWestvaco, has helped facilitate field tours so Schweitzer can educate representatives from the new owners about why research matters. She developed handouts about avian, reptile, and amphibian habitat; artificial regeneration of red oak and American chestnut (which gets everyone's attention); and insect research. She stresses the importance of a mosaic of habitats across landscapes and the use of different forest management strategies— clearcuts, shelterwoods, artificial regeneration—to maintain forest ecosystems.
Schweitzer's collaboration with Yong Wang, an avian ecologist and biometrician at Alabama A&M University, has provided additional opportunities to connect with partners who might “fear the timber beast,” and to talk about forest management as good for the health of the land and animals as well as for the landowner's pocketbook. “Timber will pay for itself. You can manage for wildlife habitat, medicinal plants, and other forest products, but those things won't pay their way out of the woods,” says Schweitzer. “Our message is that you can use timber management to get to other desired results.”
Schweitzer's focus on upland hardwoods leads her to work frequently with Wayne Clatterbuck at the University of Tennessee and Jeff Stringer, University of Kentucky, both professors of Extension Forestry and leaders in the field of hardwood forest regeneration. She and Stringer are researching silvicultural management alternatives on the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky, collaborating with Paul Finke from the Daniel Boone National Forest. Schweitzer will participate as an instructor for a professional forestry course Stringer is organizing. Schweitzer counts John Hodges, emeritus professor of silviculture from Mississippi State University, as another key collaborator.
When Schweitzer moved to Alabama in 2001, she contacted Gene McGee and Glendon Smalley, scientists with the former Southeastern Forest Experiment Station, which operated a laboratory in Sewanee, TN. Since the Sewanee laboratory closed in 1989, Forest Service research hasn't had a formal presence in the area, although Smalley continues his work as an SRS emeritus scientist. Now Schweitzer and research forester Stacy Clark teach several classes a year at the University of the South in Sewanee for forestry professor Karen Kuer; Sewanee students participate in field tours on SRS research plots, the only access they have to largescale replicated studies. SRS has two research sites on the 10,000-acre Domain owned by the University of the South—one on old-growth dynamics and another on artificial regeneration of oak.
A Walk in the Woods
Five years ago, Schweitzer started the Cumberland Plateau Walk in the Woods in Jackson County, AL, as a way to foster conversations about natural resources, silviculture, and Forest Service research. “During one tour, I noticed all the birders going nuts about the numbers and varieties of birds,” she recalls. “We were in a 3-year-old clearcut with 15-foot vegetation regrowth. So I realized this was a great opportunity to talk about the importance of different habitats for different species. The birds and the bugs really like the open spaces. I wanted them to see that, hey, there might be a role for harvesting. It was a great teachable moment.”—CP
Bent Creek Experimental Forest: http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/bentcreek/