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ISSN: 0022-1201

Don C. Bragg

Current Issue

Volume 113, Number 5, September 2015
  • brief communication
    education & communication

    Engaging Stakeholders on Forest Health: A Model for Integrating Climatic, Ecological, and Societal Indicators at the Watershed Scale


    Climate change and a growing wildland-urban interface create new challenges for forest managers and restoration practitioners. In this shifting environment, effective public communication of scientific understanding of forest ecosystems and their changing state can be crucial. As a potential tool to help meet this communication need, we present a model for an index of forest health piloted in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The index presents ratings of forest health through the lens of public goals, using selected climatic, ecological, and socioeconomic data. A set of indicators combined with judgment about the metrics of health and how to weight them yields a quantitative rating system with a score for each indicator. Coproduced via a partnership between nongovernmental organizations, managers, and researchers, the result is a still evolving prototype of an educational resource with potential to also act as a decision support tool for tracking forest health and gauging management strategies.


    Management policy is often determined by a subjective set of goals and objectives informed by data and based on forest use or preservation intent. The ability to achieve these goals, however, does not happen exclusively within forest management. Public opinion, laws, policies, and stakeholder commitment all play a role in whether or not a management policy is well received or even funded. The Forest Health Index described in this article is intended to act as a working model to spur thought about the societal values that go into the creation of a management objective and offer an example of how the term "health" and a quantitative approximation of it can be used to communicate concepts key to the management of forest ecosystems and the relevance of these concepts for the local community.

  • research articles
    entomology & pathology

    Southern Pine Beetle Infestations in Relation to Forest Stand Conditions, Previous Thinning, and Prescribed Burning: Evaluation of the Southern Pine Beetle Prevention Program


    Since 2003, the Southern Pine Beetle Prevention Program (SPBPP) (a joint effort of the USDA Forest Service and Southern Group of State Foresters) has encouraged and provided cost-share assistance for silvicultural treatments to reduce stand/forest susceptibility to the southern pine beetle (SPB) (Dendroctonus frontalis Zimmermann) in the southeastern United States. Until now, stand- and landscape-level tests of this program's efficacy were nonexistent. In 2012, SPB outbreaks occurred in the Homochitto and Bienville National Forests (NFs) in Mississippi. Parts of each NF were treated (thinned) using SPBPP management recommendations, whereas other areas were untreated (unthinned). In the Homochitto NF, 99.7% of SPB spots occurred in unthinned stands, whereas all SPB spots occurred in unthinned stands in the Bienville NF. Unthinned stands in both NFs had higher basal area, higher stocking, and lower growth rates over the last decade. Burning also resulted in a lower incidence of SPB infestation. Our retrospective study results validate the effectiveness of SPBPP treatments for reducing stand- and landscape-level susceptibility to SPB, which encourages proper silvicultural methods that increase tree spacing, growth, and vitality, while effectively altering the in-stand atmosphere enough to interfere with SPB pheromone communication, thus reducing susceptibility to SPB spot initiation and spread.


    This study shows that thinning and prescribed fire can protect stands on a landscape scale from low to high levels of southern pine beetle (SPB) infestations. Thinning is a recommended practice for reducing SPB impacts, and this study validates that recommendation. Prescribed burning to reduce understory competition has been allowed under the Southern Pine Beetle Protection Program (SPBPP) but is considered by some forest health specialists and forest managers to have at least short-term negative impacts on tree susceptibility to SPB. In this retrospective study, stands with more recent and more frequent prescribed fire had a significantly lower incidence of SPB infestation. This result, while unexpected, confirms that stands with frequent low-intensity fire, lower basal area, and more open growing conditions are more resilient to forest disturbance factors such as SPB. Based on these results, there will be an increased focus on burning through the SPBPP to reduce dense understory competition and promote open stand conditions, especially in conjunction with thinning to reduce stand basal area. The SPBPP is now in its 12th year of working with state forestry agencies, private landowners, and national forests to improve the resiliency of southern forests through an "all lands approach" on more than 1.2 million acres of forestland.

    forest ecology

    Regeneration Dynamics of White Spruce, Trembling Aspen, and Balsam Poplar in Response to Disturbance, Climatic, and Edaphic Factors in the Cold, Dry Boreal Forests of the Southwest Yukon, Canada


    The southwestern region of the Yukon Territory of Canada has experienced an unprecedented spruce bark beetle outbreak (Dendroctonus rufipennis) and an increase in the frequency of forest fires that extend beyond historical trends and that have caused significant impacts on forest structure and composition. A Strategic Forest Management Plan (SFMP) for the Champagne and Aishihik Traditional Territory located in the southwest Yukon was implemented in 2004 in response to the spruce bark beetle (D. rufipennis) infestation and increased fire risk. The plan has recommended salvage harvesting of beetle-killed stands as a strategy to facilitate the development of a timber industry in the region and reduce the fire risk around communities. One of the objectives of the SFMP is to maintain, restore, or enhance forest regeneration, which requires an understanding of regeneration dynamics in the region. In this study, we investigated the regeneration of white spruce (Picea glauca), trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides), and balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) and the relationship with climatic, disturbance, and edaphic factors within the region. Multivariate canonical correlation analysis was used to assess the weighted relationship between regeneration presence/absence and environmental factors, and negative binomial regression analysis was used to model regeneration abundance of white spruce, trembling aspen, and balsam poplar. We found that although regeneration of all three species responded positively to disturbance, the broadleaved species occupied disturbed plots at higher ratios than white spruce. Regeneration of broadleaved species was higher in open sites with exposed aspects, indicating a preference for warmer sites with higher solar radiation inputs. These findings support the hypothesis that if fire increased in the region with the warmer climate predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, then the region will probably experience an increase in broadleaved species, leading to a more heterogeneous landscape.


    Maximizing regeneration success plays an influential role in the selection of an appropriate silvicultural system to apply to a forest. Trees, like all plants, are most sensitive to environmental cues in the regeneration phase, making it the most critical stage for survival. Understanding the role of environmental variability on the regeneration dynamics of tree species is therefore critical for selecting the appropriate sites and silvicultural systems that can facilitate successful regeneration. This is of particular importance when natural regeneration is being relied on. Emulating natural disturbance patterns is one approach advocated in the selection of silvicultural systems, so an understanding of regeneration dynamics after perturbation can provide important insights into the selection of appropriate practices. We found that abundance of regeneration for all species exhibited a multivariate response to climate and site factors in interaction with disturbance. Local forest managers concerned about the future risks of climate change, wildfire, and bark beetle infestations could use this understanding to develop a mixture of spruce, broadleaved, and mixed spruce-broadleaved stands, on ecologically suitable sites, to increase landscape heterogeneity and maintain, restore, or enhance regeneration through the application of appropriate silvicultural practices that emulate natural disturbance patterns in the region.


    Disentangling Forest Change from Forest Inventory Change: A Case Study from the US Interior West


    Long-term trends in forest attributes are typically assessed using strategic inventories such as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service's Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program. The implicit assumption of any trend analysis is that data are comparable over time. The 1998 Farm Bill tasked FIA with implementing nationally consistent protocols, including a spatially and temporally balanced sample design, whereas previous inventory methods varied spatially and temporally. To disentangle the artifacts of changing inventory designs from real forest change, this study assessed trends at plots that were measured both before and after implementation of the new inventory design in eight western states. Changes in live and dead tree volume, growth, and mortality were evaluated using only colocated plots and then compared with changes observed across entire inventories. The results sometimes differ in magnitude or are even contradictory, demonstrating that historical forest inventories may provide an incomplete picture of reference conditions in some western states.


    Forest managers and policymakers often rely on forest inventory data collected and compiled by the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program to provide information about changes in forest attributes such as forestland area and forest volume. FIA's historical data include detailed plot-level measurements rather than broad-scale paper maps, so it is tempting to analyze change in greater detail than is sometimes appropriate. Use of FIA data from different time periods assumes that inventory methods were consistent over time, yet in the US Interior West, this assumption is not always realistic. After FIA began implementation of its annual inventory protocol in 2000, the definitions, sample designs, field protocols, and estimation procedures differed from those of the previous periodic inventories. Therefore, FIA cautions users against making comparisons between periodic and annual inventory estimates without accounting for differences in protocol. An example of an appropriate comparison is to evaluate forest attributes per unit area, as measured only on plots that were surveyed during both the periodic and annual inventories. In contrast, comparisons based on entire inventories may show changes in volume, growth, and mortality that differ in magnitude and sometimes in direction (gain or loss) from comparisons based only on plots surveyed at both time periods. These discrepancies illustrate that FIA's periodic inventory data may not provide an accurate historical baseline for detecting future forest change across broad scales. Use of periodic data sets to analyze change is worthwhile only if appropriate care is taken as outlined in this study, along with the caveat that some forest types or other subpopulations may be underrepresented or missing. With the assumption that FIA protocols remain consistent, the current annual inventory design should allow analysis of change in considerably more detail once sufficient repeated measurements are available, which in most western states will be between 2015 and 2020.

  • practice of forestry
    education & communication

    Providing the Essential Foundation through an Experiential Learning Approach: An Intensive Field Course on Forest Ecosystems for Undergraduate Students


    Increasingly, the focus for many natural resources professionals is on the forest ecosystem, defined both spatially and temporally to include all of the interacting organisms and their physical environment. The ecological interrelationships among their major components (climate, vegetation, soil, and physiography) must be understood to effectively manage the forest for diverse values and products. Over the past 16 years, I have developed an intensive field-based course using an experiential learning approach. During the autumn semester, the students participate in weekly half-day lab opportunities to collect and quantitatively analyze data from local (meso-scale) forest ecosystem types. Student teams communicate their results in both written lab reports and by sharing and reflecting on them during class discussions that contrast the distinct characteristics of each forest ecosystem type. We have experimented with a variety of student evaluation strategies, e.g., personal course notebooks, to determine the foundational knowledge attained by students. Through many different experiences as part of a learning cycle, students develop indispensable field skills and demonstrate competence by individually performing forest ecosystem assessments. Overall, students in the course have commented that they have appreciated and benefited from these essential experiences and acquired critical sampling, analytical, and evaluation skills and knowledge that they will use in their careers.


    There are certain competencies, as well as knowledge, that forestry and natural resources professionals should possess. It is incumbent on our accredited institutions to instill these essential concepts and skills in students graduating from their undergraduate educational programs. In many situations, a forester must comprehend the basic biological and ecological relationships among the major components of forest ecosystems that they have the responsibility for restoring and managing. They must be able to identify plant species and relate them to critical environmental factors (e.g., soil moisture and landform). While a student, an individual needs to learn these concepts and principles, through both instruction and personal observation and study. Ultimately individuals must know how to apply their knowledge and conduct ecological assessments of forest ecosystems, including sampling and quantifying their compositions and structures. We have found that an experiential learning approach, including a sequence of multiple field experiences, is one of the best ways for students to begin acquiring a foundation on which to build. They must master the techniques of field data collection and analysis, then build confidence through reflection and sharing their ideas, and ultimately apply their knowledge to other forests. As the local (meso-scale) ecosystem increasingly becomes the focus for professionals, foresters with a strong foundation of knowledge and skills will be best able to practice successful stewardship of our forests for the long-term benefit of society.

  • review article
    social science

    An Evidence-Based Review of Timber Harvesting Behavior among Private Woodland Owners


    Understanding private woodland owner (PWO) timber harvesting behavior is essential for predicting potential timber supply, as PWOs could be an increasingly important source. This evidence-based review synthesizes more than 100 peer-reviewed articles, government reports, and dissertations from 1970 to 2014 from North America and Europe. Our broad research question was "To what extent is actual PWO timber harvesting behavior understood?" Our objectives were to (1) identify how past research analyzed actual harvesting behavior, (2) describe the evolution of these methods, (3) determine the extent to which previous research linked landowners' stated intentions to actual harvesting behavior, and (4) evaluate the significant predictors of PWO timber harvesting. This evidence-based review found that parcel size, harvest price, and distance from residence were the most common significant predictors of harvesting intention. Many studies purportedly studied behavior, but most measure stated attitudes without measuring observable harvesting behaviors. A better understanding of PWO behavior will inform timber supply prediction and support forest management outreach.


    We present a review of private woodland owner (PWO) timber harvesting behavior that suggests that the PWO decision to harvest timber is not yet well understood. PWOs are an important part of the timber base, particularly in the eastern United States, and their management decisions will have a significant impact on forest ecosystems and the forest products industry. The most reliable predictors of harvesting intention include characteristics such as outreach activity participation and harvest price. Many studies categorized PWOs into typologies, and all studies found that there was a "production-oriented" landowner category. However, only five peer-reviewed studies (6% of the studies examined) that measured actual harvesting behavior were identified. Although many PWOs intend to harvest and those intentions can be measured and used to predict production-oriented individuals, managers are advised to rely on high evidence studies that measure actual behavior to strengthen outreach services and understanding of the true PWO timber availability. Furthermore, state-level policymakers should orient their outreach and incentive programs using actual behavioral studies. State-level forest managers should use behavioral studies in concert with data on volume and age-class distributions to estimate sustainable timber removal levels.


    The Evolution of Forest Genetics and Tree Improvement Research in the United States


    Forest genetics (FG) research in the United States began more than 100 years ago with racial (seed source) trials of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Douglas ex C. Lawson) and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii [Mirb.] Franco) and over the ensuing four decades gradually emerged as a distinct and important discipline of study within the forestry research community. Coupled with the allied field of tree improvement (TI), the discipline enjoyed rapid and expansive growth for more than 30 years beginning in the early 1950s. The subsequent 30 years witnessed an equally dramatic contraction and transformation of the FG/TI community. We review the economic, social, and policy factors that contributed to the decline of FG/TI and the transformation to a discipline that now includes a strong ecosystem management component. Cautionary lessons are coupled with a call for enhanced funding of traditional and genomic FG/TI efforts in the face of growing forest health and climate change threats that are having profound effects in the nation's forests.


    We propose that a balanced and broad-based model should be used to fund and support future FG/TI/EM research in the United States. Three essential elements should be included in the model: long- and short-term funding, a coordinating board to guide funding, and education. A balance of long-term support for applied tree improvement research in support of forest and ecosystem health and short-term support for biotechnology, genomic, and ecosystem management research is needed for maximum benefits. We advocate formation of a national coordinating board, akin to the National Plant Board, which would work in a strategic manner with stakeholders, Congress, and grant funding programs at the National Science Foundation, US Department of Agriculture, and Department of Energy so that the investments made by long-term and short-term funders are made in a balanced and coordinated manner, addressing key forest health threats. There is precedent for the policy role of such interagency or interinstitutional committees in many areas of science that have not been applied to forestry and specifically forest genetics research. Emphasis on education of the American public, specifically grades K through 12, is key to alerting the nation to the importance of ecosystem health challenges and natural resources management issues. More tree geneticists with breeding experience are required to meet the long-term needs.

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  • books
  • commentary
  • departments

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