About Us

Welcome to the Southern Research Station’s Forest Operations Research Work Unit website. Our unit conducts basic and applied research and transfers these results to the public through scientific publications, technical consultations, demonstrations, and public presentations. Our stakeholders include forest industry, the National Forest System, other government agencies, private landowners, contractors, equipment manufacturers, and university researchers. Many of the unit's studies are conducted in cooperation with universities, forest industry, and independent producers.

Understanding the range of responses will enable land managers to better predict changes in forest structure, composition, tree regeneration, productivity, and habitat quality and to develop scientifically-based methods to meet their management and restoration goals.

Our Mission

The mission of the Forest Operations Research Work Unit is to provide the science and technology integrating ecological and engineering disciplines to achieve economically and ecologically viable forest operations that are necessary for sustainable and socially acceptable forest resource management. The work we do to fulfill this mission falls into three problem areas:

  1. Forest Operations Technology
  2. Ecological Effects of Forest Operations
  3. Forest Operations Management Systems

The mission of the Forest Operations Research Work Unit is defined in the Research Work Unit Charter, which is updated and renewed every five years. View our current charter (PDF; 85 KB) →

Learn more about our mission and research areas →

Introduction to Forest Operations

A researcher records video of a forwarder for use in time-and-motion analysis.

A researcher records video of a forwarder for use in time-and-motion analysis. Photo by US Forest Service.

Forest operations are the critical connection between the forest management plan and the realization of desired future conditions. Forest operations are the physical actions which change the forest, altering structure, composition, condition, or value in order to meet society’s needs for clean air and water, forest products, wildlife, recreation, and other benefits. On every type of forest ownership, the forest operation is the tool selected by the land manager to shape the future and provide value and benefits in the present. Forest operations are the source of both the benefits of management and the negative impacts. Forest operations generate value for society through improved forest conditions and product outputs. They also impact ecological processes and leave an imprint on the landscape.

The basic challenge facing resource managers is matching the requirements of the management plan to the capabilities of the forest operation. Modern resource management involves the consideration of a wide variety of factors and often seeks to optimize the attainment of multiple objectives. Protecting water quality while enhancing carbon sequestration and producing economically-competitive forest products might serve as an example. There is not adequate information available for resource managers to make rational selections of forest operations in new prescriptions. In some cases, technology has not yet been developed to meet the functional requirements of management prescriptions within economic and social constraints. In other cases, even basic scientific knowledge about the interactions among modern forest operations systems and ecological processes is inadequate to define technology and development needs.


In 1962, the USDA Forest Service, in cooperation with Auburn University, established the engineering research unit at Auburn, Alabama that is now known as the Forest Operations Research Work Unit. The Forest Operations unit is one of sixteen Research Work Units within the Southern Research Station, which operates research laboratories and experimental forests throughout the southern United States. The Southern Research Station headquarters are located in Ashville, North Carolina.


We are located in the George W. Andrews Forestry Sciences Laboratory in the Auburn Research Park in Auburn, Alabama.

G. W. Andrews Forestry Sciences Laboratory building

Our facilities include:

  • Laboratories equipped for soil, water, and biomass analysis
  • Machine shop for fabrication and modification of equipment
  • Wood shop
  • Sample, equipment, and machine storage spaces
  • Offices
  • Conference room
  • Library

We share the research complex with researchers from Auburn University Biosystems Engineering, Forest Inventory and Analysis (SRS-4801), Insects, Diseases, and Invasive Plants (SRS-4552), and Restoring and Managing Longleaf Pine Ecosystems (SRS-4158).

Location and Directions

Our facility is located at 521 Devall Drive in Auburn, Alabama. From I-85 take Exit 51 and travel north on S. College St to S. Donahue Drive. Turn left onto S. Donahue and then left onto Devall Drive. Visitor parking is available in the circle in the front of the building.

View our location on a map

Our Scientists and Staff

The Forest Operations Research Work Unit employs research scientists, engineers, technicians, and support staff.

Name Title Email Phone Location
Mitchell, Dana Project Leader dana.mitchell@usda.gov 334-826-8700 Ext. 123 Auburn, AL
Smidt, Mathew Research Forester/Engineer mathew.smidt@usda.gov 334-826-8700 Ext. 122 Auburn, AL
Thompson, Jason D. General Engineer jason.d.thompson@usda.gov 334-826-8700 Ext. 137 Auburn, AL