Photo of Kurt Riitters

Kurt Riitters

Research Ecologist
P.O. Box 12254
3041 Cornwallis Road
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709-2254
Phone: 919-549-4015

Current Research

  • Develop new approaches to measure, evaluate and predict landscape and forest spatial patterns and their implications for resource management. Current research focuses on multi-scale approaches from image processing and mathematical morphology.
  • Conduct regional-to-global scale assessments of landscape patterns including forest fragmentation in support of United States commitments to national and international environmental reporting. Current research supports the United States Resource Planning Act (RPA), the international Montreal Process (MPCI), and various other governmental and non-governmental assessment processes.
  • Develop approaches to harmonize landscape pattern assessment and management across disciplinary, legal, and scale boundaries. Current research focuses on national and international harmonization of status and trends indicators for forest, range, agriculture, and urban systems estimated from satellite imagery and land-cover maps.
  • Research Interests

    Landscape ecology.

    Spatial pattern analysis.

    Quantitative ecology.

    Past Research

    Kurt Riitters is a research ecologist and member of the Forest Health Monitoring Team within the Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center, as well as Adjunct Professor of Forestry at North Carolina State University. He joined the USDA Forest Service Forest Health Monitoring Program in 2000 after fifteen years of research in  quantitative forest ecology and management, monitoring, and assessment with three Federal Agencies and in forest industry. He has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles (22 with more than 100 citations each) along with many Forest Service and other agency reports and book chapters, and has received awards for pioneering research in landscape ecology. His current research focus is on national- to global-scale assessments of landscape patterns from remotely sensed land-cover maps, and his work has appeared in many environmental reports including the Millennium Assessment, the Official Atlas of the United States, and the State of the Nation's Ecosystems. He is the USDA Forest Service national leader of landscape pattern and forest fragmentation research for the Resource Planning Act (RPA) and Sustainability (Montreal Process) assessments. He serves on the editorial board of the journal Landscape Ecology. He is past President of the United States Chapter of the International Association for Landscape Ecology, and past Deputy Chairman for North America for the Landscape Ecology Working Group of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations. He received the Distinguished Landscape Ecologist award from the United States Chapter of the International Association for Landscape Ecology.

    Why This Research is Important

    The assessments produced by this research satisfy legislated and agency requirements for national and international monitoring and reporting of the status and trends of forest conditions nationwide.

    The tools and techniques developed by this research permit satisfying the above goal in a timely and efficient manner. Furthermore, the deployment of developed software in freely-available applications and on cloud-based computing platforms has allowed everyone to use the same research and assessment methods.

    The basic research in quantitative landscape ecology develops insights to prioritize particular tools and techniques for development.


    Ph.D. in Forest Science (Silviculture), 1986
    Oregon State University
    M.F. in Forest Management, 1978
    University of Minnesota
    B.E.S. in Elected Studies, 1976
    University of Minnesota

    Professional Experience

    Various, Various

    Kurt Riitters' research experience has been with four Federal Agencies and private industry.

    Featured Publications and Products


    Research Highlights

    Do roads drive forest plant invasions? (2018)
    SRS-2018-44 Roads provide a means for moving people and products, but they can also allow hitchhiking organisms to spread. Some exotic invasive plants thrive on the disturbance created by road construction that displaces native plants, but researchers found that the presence of a road may be less important than the presence of farms and other human activities nearby. These research findings were awarded an“editors’ choice” award from the journal Diversity and Distributions in March 2018.

    Evaluating the Health of the Nation’s Forests (2015)
    SRS-2015-231 “So, how are the trees doing?” For more than a decade, forest monitoring professionals have been answering that question in an informative series of national reports on forest health. An ongoing cooperative arrangement enables the production of annual reports that analyze data from a variety of sources to provide an overview of forest health at regional to national reporting scales.

    Family forests are the ties that bind the landscape (2018)
    SRS-2018-62 Family forests have an enormous capacity to provide ecosystem services such as clean air and water, timber and nontimber forest products, wildlife habitat, and scenic beauty and recreation— benefits that stretch far beyond property lines. Research demonstrates that sustaining these services depends on not only the condition of individual family forests but also the characteristics of bordering lands.

    Forest Service software goes global (2017)
    SRS-2017-147 Originally intended to foster and support U.S.-European harmonization of forest assessments required for the Montreal Process and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, a research collaboration has become the vehicle to transfer Forest Service technology to an underserved global community of forest resource analysts.

    Landscape Pattern Analysis Reveals Global Loss of Interior Forest (2016)
    SRS-2016-191 Between 2000 and 2012, the world lost more forest area than it gained, according to researchers who estimated a global net loss of more than 660 million square miles of forest, an area about two and a half times the size of Texas. Furthermore, when researchers analyzed patterns of remaining forest, they found a much larger global loss of interior forest: core areas that, when intact, maintain critical habitat and ecological functions.