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Forest Service Research Work Units like this one organize their activity around several “problem areas” and use these Problem Area descriptions to guide the design of study plans. The current Problem Areas for SRS-4804 were established in 2014 and are, as follows:

  1. Economics of Forest Disturbances

    Develop joint economic-ecological knowledge of forest disturbance processes (wildfires, insect outbreaks, severe storms) across multiple temporal and spatial scales and understand how policy and management interventions affect economic outcomes under current and changing climatic conditions.

    The economics of forest disturbances links the science of disturbance ecology and economic models of human behavior with the goal of minimizing the social costs and losses associated with disturbance events. Natural disturbance processes are regulated by biotic and abiotic factors which can be influenced, to some degree, by forest policy and management interventions. Knowledge of the complex relationships between the cost of interventions and the resulting economic benefits is essential to the development of efficient and effective programs. Although many natural disturbances are triggered by natural processes (such as lightning-caused wildfires), other disturbances are caused by human actions (either unintentional or intentional), thus providing control options, or interventions, that can be implemented by managers, landowners, policy makers, or other societal institutions. Better scientific understanding of the dynamic relationships between short-term and long-term disturbance process and human behavior will improve the capability of decision-makers to develop forest programs that protect and enhance the market and non-market economic values provided by forests for current and future generations.

  2. Forest Policies, Programs and Taxes

    Evaluate policies, programs and taxes that influence forests, forest landowners, forest management, and forest ecosystem services.

    Governments employ a wide variety of policies, programs, and taxes to promote forest management and assist forest landowners or communities. Government interventions can be coercive (i.e., laws and taxes) or voluntary (i.e., subsidies or tax credits). Interventions can be made at all levels of government—local, state and federal—and through international agreements. Interventions can be designed to specifically influence forests or forest management, or they may be designed for other purposes. Many of these interventions also have unintended consequences. These policies can take the form of subsidies, trade regulations, international climate agreements, international standards for certification or sustainable forests, and many others.

  3. Forest Products Markets and Trade

    Develop fundamental economic knowledge on the supply and demand conditions for forest products across multiple scales and understand how international trade affects timber product markets in the U.S.

    Changes in domestic and international economic output and growth, the emergence of new trade policies and programs, the development of new technologies, changes in the severity and frequency of forest-based disturbances, and an evolving regulatory and policy environment affect the supply and demand for forest products. Production and consumption of these products, in turn, lead to changes in the extent and quality of global forest cover, with implications for the quantities and values of ecosystem goods and services. Markets have wide-ranging effects that require continual analyses. The forest sector of the South is inextricably linked to changes in global supply and demand conditions in ways that are often difficult to detect and quantify. Yet, a keen understanding of markets is essential for accurately characterizing the implications of changes in economic and biophysical factors on the decisions of forest landowners and the future of forests at home and abroad.

  4. Forest Ecosystem Services Economics and Policy

    Develop fundamental economic knowledge of the supply and demand of market and non-market ecosystem services provided by forests to assist in the development of policies at the local, regional and national levels.

    Despite the rapidly growing literature on ecosystem services, large knowledge gaps exist on the value of ecosystem services provided by public and private forests, defining economic supply and demand of those services, and identifying optimal policies for developing functional ecosystem service markets. Research is needed to develop information and methods that will define and quantify the value the ecosystem services and how property rights might be assigned to those services. Studies are also needed that can compare the efficiency of different mechanisms for linking buyers and sellers of ecosystem services. An aspect of the latter is identifying alternative strategies for promoting transfer of ownership and financing and predicting the impacts that market-based transfer solutions have on the ability to carry out land management activities.

For a more in-depth look at these Problem Areas, you can view our Unit Charter document here (Microsoft Word; 74.7 KB), or browse all the Research Work Unit Charters on this page.