Photo of Steven McNulty

Steven McNulty

Director, USDA Southeast Regional Climate Hub
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726-2366

Current Research

I focus on two types of research: Basic; and Applied.  Both forms of research are important. Basic research provides important information about the structure and function of an ecosystem, and how ecosystems respond to different environmental stresses such as climate change and air pollution. Applied research takes our understanding of ecosystem structure and function from basic research and uses this information to develop adaptive management strategies to ecosystem risk and improve ecosystem function.

My basic research includes understanding how nitrogen and sulfur deposition along with climate change can impact high elevation spruce fir forests, nutrient and water use and yield from forest it watersheds, and understanding ecosystem risk at the regional to continental scale through field experiments and ecosystem modeling.

By applied research includes developing that can assess ecosystem stress and provide land managers with options for correcting reducing or preventing negative impacts stress to their forest, agricultural, range land environments.

Research Interests

Adaptative management strategies for increasing ecosystem and working land resilience to climage change and variabilty.

Why This Research is Important

This research is designed to be useful for management of forest and range lands given the increasing variability of climate in both the short and long-term. Future working land sustainability depends to the choices that land managers are making today, and these studies will give the tools and information needed to make informed decisions.


Ph.D. in Natural Resources, 1991
University of New Hampshire, Durham
M.S. in Forestry, 1987
University of Wisconsin, Madison
B.S. in Natural Resources, 1985
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Professional Experience

Director, USDA Southeast Climate Hub

The objective of the USDA Southeast Climate Hub is to develop and distribute tools, information and resources that will increase the resiliency of working lands (i.e., agriculture, forestry, and range) to disturbance (e.g., drought, insect, disease, frost, flood, hurricane) associated with climate variability and change, to improve the long-term sustainability and productivity of these lands.

Research Ecologist, USDA Forest Service

Since 1991 I have been a research ecologist with a specialty of climate variability and change impacts and interactions with forests. Some of my areas of study include landscape to regional scale nitrogen, water, insect outbreak, and carbon modeling. Increasing our ability to predict non-antecedent forest disturbances is another area of study. This work is done in conjunction with my role as director of the USDA Southeast Climate Hub.

Research Assistant, University of New Hampshire, Durham

As a research assistant, I conducted a regional soil and foliar sampling of 164 red spruce (Picea rubens) plots across a nitrogen deposition gradient from New York to Maine. Additionally, in 1988 I established a long-term (1988 to present) set of field plots in the spruce zone of Mt. Ascutney Vermont to examine the impacts of low dose nitrogen additions on forest health. These experiments demonstrated that low doses of nitrogen could induce nitrogen saturation and that after 30+ years, climate change is impacting the regeneration, productivity, carbon and nitrogen cycling of New England spruce forests.

Research Assistant , University of Wisconsin, Madison

Studied forest water, carbon, and nitrogen cycling at the UW Arboretum and on the UW Blackhawk Island research site. Results from this work were used in some of the earliest hyperspectral remote sensing research.

Professional Organizations

  • IUFRO Working Group 7.01.06 (Risk Assessment), Deputy Coordinator (2015—Current)

Awards and Recognition

US Embassy Science Fellowship to Palau, 2020
I received this fellowship because my experience with climate change impacts and adaptation from sea-level rise, water resource management, and soil erosion would allow me to assist Palau with these ongoing issues.
2016 NIFA Partnership Award for Mission Integration., 2016
PINEMAP Executive Team. I received this USDA award as the modeling team lead in the $20 million, six-year PINEMAP project.
USDA Forest Service Award for Superior Research Achievement, 2013
Award “for exceptional impact in the community of climate change science and adaptation management
Southern Research Stations Directors Science Delivery Award, 2013
Award for “exemplary service in providing advanced scientific knowledge to land managers through a user-friendly, online information system”
USDA Forest Service Chiefs Excellence in Science and Technology Award, 2013
Award for “Researching and Advancing Global Climate-Related Societal Impacts”
USDA Certificate of Appreciation, 2012
Award for helping to develop the 2012 Sustainable Operations Summit agenda, and for presenting at the workshop
Southern Research Stations Director Distinguished Scientist Award, 2012
Award for over 20 years or sustained, and highly significant research productivity on environmental stress impacts across the southern US
Forest Service Deputy Chief of Research and Development Distinguished Science Award, 2012
Award for sustained research productivity, proactive science technology, innovative leadership, applied forest science, and longtime federal service
SRS Director’s Science Delivery Award, 2011
Award for leading and significantly contributing to several chapters in the Southern Forest Futures Project, and for providing a formal review for most of the chapters
USDA Extra Effort Award, 2010
Award for initiating the First Friday All Climate Change Talks (FFACCTs) that presented news and research results via WebEx for Regions 8 and 9, the northern and southern research stations, and other agencies on the first Friday of every month
USDA Forest Service Region 8 Forest Supervisors Group Award for Technology Transfer, 2010
Award (with six other members of the TACCIMO team) for the development and application of the web-based tool for assessing climate change impacts and management options (TACCIMO) for use in forest planning across National Forest System Region 8. 2011.
North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources Certificate of Appreciation, 2008
Award for my contribution to CAPAG and to three of the working groups which resulted in a report the North Carolina State Legislature on climate change adaptation options for North Carolina.
USDA Extra Effort Award, 2008
Award for my contributions to the organization and application of the 2004 SRS All Scientists Meeting that included the Assistant Secretary of Agriculture and FS Deputy Chief
USDA Extra Effort Award, 2004
Award for authoring Criteria 67, Capacity to conduct and apply research and development aimed at improving forest management and the ability to predict impacts on forests of possible climate change
USDA Certificate of Merit, 2004
Award for my contribution (as co-chair) to the development and operation of the USCCC which is providing some of the first inter-site comparable measurements of carbon sequestration across China.
USDA Certificate of Merit for Superior Research Achievement, 2004
Award for publishing over a dozen papers during a single fiscal year
USDA Extra Effort Award, 2003
Award for serving as the Chair for the 175 papers presented at the October 2002 “Advances in Terrestrial Ecosystem Carbon Inventory, Measurements, and Monitoring” Meeting
SRS Directors Stewardship Award, 2003
Group award in recognition for outstanding ecological achievement in research support of land management. The SGCP was nominated for this award because of leadership in integrating ecosystem modeling with the assessment of critical management issues.
Distinguished Publication Award from East Tennessee Chapter Society Technical Communication, 2001
award along with my co-authors for the following paper. Dale V.H., L. A. Joyce, S.G. McNulty, R.P. Neilson, M.P. Ayres, M.D. Flannigan, P.J. Hanson, L.C. Irland, A.E. Lugo, C.J. Peterson, D. Simberloff, F.J. Swanson, B.J. Stocks, and B. M. Wotton. 2001.
USDA Extra Effort Award, 2001
Award for serving as Acting AD P&A position for six months while the position was vacant
USDA Extra Effort Award, 2001
Award for co-writing and editing the SOFRA chapter pertaining to numerous environmental stresses including ozone, acid rain and climate change impacts on southern forest health and productivity
USDA Extra Effort Award, 2001
Award for serving as the guest co-editor for the 43 papers published in the journal Environmental Pollution which were the result of the October 2000 “Advances in Terrestrial Ecosystem Carbon Inventory, Measurements, and Monitoring” Meeting.
USDA Extra Effort Award, 2000
Award for my development and writing contributions to the Forest Service national strategic plan for climate change research
USDA Extra Effort Award, 2000
this award for my efforts to organize (as meeting chair) the meeting entitled “Advances in Terrestrial Ecosystem Carbon Inventory, Measurements, and Monitoring”. The multi-agency sponsored meeting included over 175 international scientists, policy makers
USDA Extra Effort Award, 2000
Award for organizing (as federal chair of the forest sector) and writing contributions to the development of the US National Assessment on Climate Change Impacts to US Forests
USDA Extra Effort Award, 1999
Award for organizing and hosting the Forest Service national strategic plan for climate change research
USDA Certificate of Appreciation for contribution to a distinguished publication, 1999
Award for my writing contributions to a keystone paper on the impacts of nitrogen deposition on US forests. The paper examines ecosystem response and potential management strategies for minimizing environmental impacts.
Chinese National Soil Conservation Society distinguished paper award, 1998
Award for my paper entitled “The development and use of Best Management Practices in forested watersheds.” McNulty, S.G. and G. Sun. 1998. In: Proceedings of the I
Chinese National Academy of Science Award, 1998
Award for my continuing collaboration with Chinese scientists to reduce the impact of soil erosion on stream water quality across the country.
USDA Forest Service Award for Superior Research Achievement, 1995
Award for innovative research related to the integration of multiple disciplines (including regional scale ecosystem hydrology, productivity, economics, and climate change)

Featured Publications and Products


Research Highlights

Climate Risk Assessment Aids Natural Resource Professionals in the Southeast (2016)
SRS-2016-179 USDA's Climate Hubs deliver science-based, region-specific information and technologies to assist farmers and forest managers with climate-smart decision making. The Southeastern Regional Climate Hub developed an assessment of climate change vulnerability and adaptation and mitigation strategies for natural resource professionals in the southeast.

Fertilized Pines Use Water More Efficiently But May Suffer Worse in Droughts (2015)
SRS-2015-235 Fertilized loblolly pine trees produce more wood than their unfertilized counterparts, even when less water was available, butthis may also indicate that fertilized pine plantations are more vulnerable to severe drought.

High Forest Productivity Often Comes at the Expense of Soil Carbon Storage (2015)
SRS-2015-250 Forest Service scientists and their research partners are studying the role of managed forests in regional carbon, water, and energy exchange to understand how managed forests contribute to land-atmosphere feedbacks and climate dynamics.

Hub Helps Landowners "SERCHing" for Climate Change Answers (2014)
SRS-2014-164 Land managers face new challenges every year from the growing effects of climate change. The regional livelihoods of farmers, foresters, and ranchers depend on the ability of the scientific community to design means of adaptation and effectively communicate those means at management relevant scales. Through a series of webinars and a myriad of other outreach efforts, the USDA Southeast Regional Climate Hub (SERCH) is engaging land managers, extension specialists, and researchers in a mission to understand the climate information needs in the land management community and then translate those needs back into tools and products that help prepare our working lands for future challenges.

Hurricane Preparedness and Recovery Guides for Southeastern Forests, Farms, and Ranch Producers (2020)
SRS-2020-34 A single hurricane can cause more than $1 billion in agricultural and forestry losses, and the intensity of hurricanes is increasing due to climate change. The USDA Southeast Climate Hub developed a series of 23 hurricane preparation and recovery commodity guides for southeastern forests, farms, and ranches. The goal of these guides is to reduce economic loss and increase the reliability of food and fiber supplies from the region.

TACCIMO Development Team Honored with Regional Forester's Honor Award (2011)
SRS-2011-24 The Template for Assessing Climate change Impacts and Management Options (TACCIMO) development team, composed of researchers from the Southern Research Station Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center (EFETAC) and planners from the Southern Region, was honored with the Regional Forester's Technology Transfer Award. TACCIMO is a web-based tool designed to bring the best climate change science to decision makers and planners in a simple and usable format. The award acknowledges the team's sustained dedication to addressing the challenge of delivering climate change science to support land and resource planning and management decisions.