2009 Science Accomplishments Report > Focused Science Delivery Program Accomplishments >
Key Accomplishments of the Focused Science Delivery Program in 2009
Our Program mission is to develop and communicate science products that synthesize and integrate existing research knowledge across disciplinary areas and spatial or temporal scales, to proactively inform policy and decisionmaking processes.
Research Problem Statements
Problem 1: Develop conceptual frameworks, methods, and tools needed to compile and display scientific information in ways that support formulation of natural resource management policy and facilitate the use of science in land management decisions.
Problem 2: Conduct analyses, identify key results, and deliver scientific findings related to current and emerging high-priority topics in natural resource management.
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Agency approaches to NEPA differ widely
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) influences all aspects of federal land management. It requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of proposed actions and to offer reasonable alternatives to those actions. Planning related to NEPA can be expensive. It is the Forest Service's second largest area of expenditure after firefighting. Researchers conducted two NEPA-related studies. One examined the different approaches district rangers adopt when managing environmental assessment and disclosure processes under NEPA requirements. They found that district rangers differed greatly in their decisionmaking processes and how they adapt their management style to particular circumstances. Some view NEPA activities as risk factors in the management of other unit processes. They tend to avoid initiating projects where environmental assessments will be needed, or conversely, will commit significant resources to it. Others view NEPA activities as a negotiation process that creates an opportunity to meet the needs and values of a variety of stakeholders. Results from this study are being used to update training for Forest Service line officers. The second study compared the approaches used by the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, and National Park Service. Researchers found little consensus regarding best practices for navigating NEPA processes. Some of the most positively viewed practices included using a dedicated staff writer to orchestrate the completion of NEPA documents, more direct inclusion of U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff on interdisciplinary teams, and early and informal public involvement. The breadth of conflicting ideas about NEPA revealed within this small sample of agency personnel suggests that an even wider range of interpretations of the act and its processes exists. This study highlights pathways of inquiry that could be highly relevant in charting a course for future implementations of NEPA requirements.
Contact: David Seesholtz, email@example.com, Focused Science Delivery Program
Partners: MacGregor-Bates Consultants, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Station leads effort to evaluate thinning treatment to reduce fire hazard
Millions of acres of public forest in the United States have accumulated excess biomass after a century of fire exclusion, making them susceptible to uncharacteristically severe wildfire. Research by station scientists was used by the Southern Research Station to develop the Economics of Biomass Removal 3 (EBR-3) Model. This model answers questions about the costs and benefits of fuel-reduction treatments. The PNW Research Station also coordinated an effort to use this model to evaluate thinning treatments on nonreserved forest land in the Western United States. Researchers found that five Forest Service jobs and six additional jobs would result from every 5,000 acres treated. They also determined it would cost $1.9 billion per year to reduce the number of national forest timberland acres with high fire hazard by 20 percent. A portion of this cost, however, could be recovered through the sale of wood products removed. Over 10 years, these fuel-reduction treatments on western national forests would remove up to 0.15 billion cubic feet of biomass suitable for bioenergy use. The station also contributed to an effort led by the Forest Products Laboratory to develop county-level estimates of biomass removal.
The Forest Service is using these findings to contribute to ongoing discussions about the agency's role in addressing climate change, promoting renewable energy sources, and combating increases in wildfire suppression expenditures.
Contact: Jamie Barbour, firstname.lastname@example.org, Focused Science Delivery Program
Partners: USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station and Forest Products Laboratory
Landscape models connect natural resource impacts and potential development objectives
In terms of housing construction, central Oregon has been the fastest growing region in the state for more than a decade. This change in land use has many implications including reduced wildlife habitat and increased fire risk to property. Scientists modeled potential scenarios for two tracts of private forests in Deschutes County depending on if they were developed for residential use or maintained as working forest. They compared the effects these two uses might have on mule deer wintering habitat, changes in vegetation composition, and wildfire conditions.
They found that maintaining these lands as working forests would likely result in relatively low levels of landscape fuels, provide suitable winter range for mule deer, and generate forest products from sustainable forest management. Researchers also projected housing development in the upper Deschutes area out to 2050, showing the most pressure around existing developed areas such as Bend. The landscape analysis tools used in this study were developed as part of the Interagency Mapping and Assessment Project (IMAP).
The Oregon legislature consulted the maps and analyses stemming from this project and authorized the sale of bonds to buy one of the tracts, which could make it a state forest. It also approved a plan to develop part of the other tract and offer the remainder for sale to the Deschutes Land Trust. The Deschutes Land Trust also referred to the study results when applying for funding under the Forest Legacy Program, a voluntary federal program in partnership with states that supports state efforts to protect working forests.
Contact: Miles Hemstrom, email@example.com, Focused Science Delivery Program
Partner: Oregon Department of Forestry
Understory plants respond dramatically to thinning treatments in Tongass young growth
Dense young stands of naturally regenerated trees have filled in the clearcuts of the 1970s and 1980s on the Tongass National Forest. Lacking light, little understory vegetation is present in these stands, leading to concerns about the quantity and quality of forage for deer. To improve the management of young-growth stands for multiple values, including deer, the station and Tongass National Forest established four operational-scale, widely replicated, adaptive management experiments known as the Tongass-Wide Young- Growth Studies (TWYGS). The fifth-year measurements of two of the experiments have yielded valuable information about responses to thinning in 15- to 25-year-old stands and to pruning combined with thinning in 25- to 35-year-old stands. Researchers found dramatic improvements in abundance and diversity of understory vegetation in the treated stands when compared with untreated controls. Further analysis indicated a demonstrable increase in deer forage owing to active management.
The TWYGS experiments are the primary means for monitoring the effects of young-growth management under the Tongass land and resource management plan. The vegetation response data and outputs from the FRESH-Deer forage model are being used by the Tongass National Forest to develop a new deer habitat model for southeast Alaska. This new model will be used for project- and landscape-level planning.
Contact: Michael McClellan, firstname.lastname@example.org, Focused Science Delivery Program
Partner: USDA Forest Service Tongass National Forest