FIA Starts Third Inventory of U.S. Virgin Island Forests

by Zoё Hoyle, SRS Science Delivery Group
The FIA crew collecting data on down woody material during the training session on St. John. From front to back: Ivan Vicens, Joey Williamson, Angie Rowe, Luis Ortiz, and Terry Riley.

The FIA crew collecting data on down woody material during the training session on St. John. From front to back: Ivan Vicens, Joey Williamson, Angie Rowe, Luis Ortiz, and Terry Riley.

Last week, the U.S. Forest Service started the process of revisiting permanent monitoring plots established in 2004 in the forests of St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix as part of a recurring effort to measure and monitor the public and private forest land of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Led by Luis Ortiz-López from the Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) unit, an expert team of biological scientists will take the inventory,  including Iván Vicéns-Jiménez from the Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF)  and Joey Robert Williamson, an entomologist from the University of the Virgin Islands working for IITF.

Information from the inventory is used on a continuing basis to assess the sustainability of forest management practices, evaluate wildlife habitat, chart the effects of hurricanes and other disturbances, and support forest planning and decision-making.

Researchers expect the inventory of Virgin Island forests to take from six to eight months. FIA and collaborators began the inventory of Virgin Island forests in 2004 and completed a second assessment in 2009. Scientists re-measure the monitoring plots every five years to track changes in forest cover, land use patterns, biological diversity, and hurricane damage and recovery. The U.S. Virgin Islands forest inventory is part of the larger 85-year effort by FIA to collect, analyze, and report information on the status and trends of America’s forests.

The National Park Service (NPS), which plays an instrumental role in forest management in the U.S. Virgin Islands, provided logistics in the training for those taking the inventory on St. John at the Virgin Islands National Park from August 19 – 21. The training was led by FIA supervisory forester Angie Rowe and included the participation of FIA forester Terry Riley as part of the data quality assurance and quality control team.

The training session included classroom presentations, field practices within monitoring plots, and assessments on data collection skills. These are used on a regular basis by the FIA program as tools for the review of consistent field data collection procedures and to ensure that the highest standards of field data quality are met.

“Recurring forest inventories with permanent field plots are especially important for the Caribbean, where there’s a high reliance on ecosystem services and pressing needs for anticipating the potential impacts of climate change,” said Humfredo Marcano-Vega, FIA research biologist and resource analyst for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “The forest inventory brings together information on the current situation and recent trends that managers and others can use to support collaborative and participatory approaches to managing the forests of the Virgin Islands under future conditions.”

After the forest surveys are completed, FIA will release the information in a report published by the Southern Research Station in 2016 and available then online through TreeSearch. The information will also be available at the FIA website by September 2015.

Reports on the previous inventories:

U.S. Virgin Islands’ Forests, 2009

The Status of U.S. Virgin Islands’ Forests, 2004

For more information, email Humfredo Marcano-Vega at

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Posted in Forest Inventory & Analysis

Restoring the Forest Before Gypsy Moths Invade

by Sarah Farmer, Science Delivery Group
Lead SRS forestry technician Ryan Sisk assesses a recently thinned stand of trees on the Daniel Boone National Forest. Photo by Callie Schweitzer.

Lead SRS forestry technician Ryan Sisk assesses a recently thinned stand of trees on the Daniel Boone National Forest. Photo by Callie Schweitzer.

Keeping forests healthy is better than trying to restore them after droughts or insect outbreaks have already killed trees, but identifying future threats is sometimes a challenge. Not so in the Daniel Boone National Forest in the Cumberland Plateau area of Kentucky. Oaks dominate the area, but they are under stress and susceptible to decline, while invasive gypsy moths expand their range every year and will probably reach the Forest within the next several decades. The moth larvae eat the leaves of trees and shrubs, and defoliation could interact with oak decline to kill many trees in the Cumberland Plateau.

“The potential risks led to a proactive partnership among managers, stakeholders, and researchers on the Daniel Boone National Forest,” says U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) scientist Callie Schweitzer. The partnership included four Forest Service Research Work Units (including the Northern and Southern Research Stations), three universities, two natural resource state agencies, private logging contractors, an electrical utility, and many National Forest system personnel from all levels of the organization.

Oak decline is a widespread and long-term forest health issue,” says Schweitzer, research forester with the SRS Upland Hardwood Management and Ecology unit and lead author of an article about the study recently published in the Journal of Forestry. In the Daniel Boone National Forest, as in much of the Cumberland Plateau, oaks are at risk of decline because of multiple interacting factors. The trees are mature, and grow close together, while recent droughts, management histories, and competition between species have already stressed trees. Future stressors include continuing changes in climate and the impending arrival of the gypsy moth.

Improving forest health – especially increasing tree and crown vigor – could prevent oak stands from declining while protecting against future gypsy moth infestations. The researchers tested various silvicultural treatments, including selective harvesting, thinning, and prescribed burning on stands that were either slightly moist (sub-mesic) or slightly dry (sub-xeric). “We also examined changes in species composition and stand structure, regeneration outcomes, and the cost of the mechanized forest operations used to implement the treatments,” says Schweitzer.

Three years after all the harvesting treatments were complete, researchers found that the remaining younger oaks were growing more vigorously. “This should allow for continued growth of these oak trees into large overstory trees,” says Schweitzer. “These trees should also be generally healthier and have lower chance of mortality during oak decline or gypsy moth attacks than under pretreatment conditions.”

The study area is home to several bat species, including Indiana bats, gray bats, Rafinesque’s big-eared bats, Eastern small-footed bats and several others. Protecting these species required not harvesting too many of their roost trees, which often have large cracks in the trunk and peeling bark.

“The characteristics of roost trees for bats are often exactly the opposite of the healthy, vigorous trees we wanted to promote with the silvicultural treatments,” says Schweitzer. “Meeting multiple, sometimes conflicting objectives was challenging.” The complications were also magnified because of the long-term scale of the project.

Although treatments were communicated as part an approved forest management plan, there were some difficulties along the way. “However, partnerships make multidisciplinary research on forest management easier,” says Schweitzer. “The division of objectives and subsequent work follow disciplinary lines, making the research complementary rather than overlapping.”

Read the full text of the article.

For more information, email Callie Schweitzer at

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Posted in Climate Change, Fish & Wildlife, Insects and Diseases, Restoration, Threats, Upland Hardwoods

UNC and SRS Scientists Awarded NSF-USDA Grant to Address Water Scarcity in the Southeast

by Zoё Hoyle, SRS Science Delivery Group
Photo by Roger McLassus, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Roger McLassus, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

University of North Carolina (UNC) and U.S. Forest Service researchers with the Center for Integrated Science (CIFS) recently received a $2.2 million grant from the National Science Foundationand the USDA to design strategies for communities in southeastern U.S. shifting from water abundance to water scarcity due to climate change effects on weather patterns.

Accustomed to abundant water resources, the Southeast experienced acute water shortages in Atlanta, Raleigh, and other municipalities in recent summers. Climate change is expected to exacerbate existing water shortages due to continued population expansion and land use change in the region.

The new project will use the Research Triangle—the area around Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill in North Carolina—to test a simulation-based framework that links models developed by UNC and Forest Service scientists to analyze how climate and land use changes impact regional hydrology with models and approaches from engineering, finance, and behavioral sciences.

Gregory Characklis, director of the UNC Center for Watershed Science and Management, will lead the interdisciplinary project, which will include researchers from the Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) and Cornell University. SRS CIFS project leaders Jim Vose and Dave Wear and supervisory research forester John Coulston from the SRS Forest Inventory and Analysis program will provide their expertise on the funded project, which aims to:

  • Project the impacts of climate and land use change combined with growing population on community vulnerabilities to water shortage in the southeastern U.S.;
  • Assess the ability of current infrastructure and institutions to meet future water demands; and
  • Engage local utilities and governments to help identify regional vulnerabilities as well as preferred development paths and possible tradeoffs.

The ultimate goal of the project is to come up with a framework to simulate robust regional water management strategies that can adapt to changing conditions that can be applied throughout the Southeast and other regions transitioning from water abundance to scarcity.

For more information, email Jim Vose at or Dave Wear at

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Posted in Climate Change, Economics & Policy