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Pacific Northwest Research Station

Pacific Northwest Research Station
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2009 Science Accomplishments Report > Land and Watershed Management Program Accomplishments >

Key Accomplishments of the Land and Watershed Management Program in 2009

Program Mission

The Land and Watershed Management Program mission is to increase understanding of terrestrial, aquatic, and riparian ecosystems and their linkages to inform management and policy options and develop tools to enhance or maintain the production of desired goods and services.

Research Problem Statements

Problem 1: Improve knowledge of terrestrial, aquatic, and riparian ecology and their linkages essential for managing these ecosystems


Problem 2: Develop integrated management alternatives to provide for desired goods and services


Problem 3: Create and refine models, databases, and tools to evaluate management alternatives

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Key Findings

click to expand/collapse.Invasive plants appear less competitive than native plants in more severely burned sites

mechanical thinning followed by prescribed burning reduces crown fire potentialInvasive plants appear less competitive than native plants in more severely burned sites Reestablishing native vegetation after severe fire is an ongoing challenge for land managers. Postfire landscapes have been shown to facilitate establishment of invasive, nonnative plants, yet the role of fire severity on their establishment and growth is unclear. Exposure of soil to intense fire that completely burns large pieces of decaying wood during wildfire greatly reduces soil microbes and nutrients, potentially facilitating invasion by nonnative plant species. Such severely burned soils show a distinctive color change where the top layer of mineral soil changes to various shades of red owing to oxidation of soil nutrients.

Scientists found that nonnative plants grew more rapidly than native plants in both the severely burned red and less severely burned black soil. Despite this rapid growth, nonnative plant biomass was significantly lower in red soil, whereas native plant biomass did not differ between red and black soils. These findings suggest that some native species may outperform invasive species in severely burned areas. Knowledge of the impact of severe surface burning on soil nutrients, soil microbial communities, and postfire plant recolonization is critical to forest recovery projects.

These findings provide a scientific basis for developing rehabilitation plans, particularly to support the use of native plants and to take advantage of postfire conditions where native plants may out-compete nonnative species.

Contact: Jane E. Smith,, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partners: Oregon State University, USDA Forest Service Deschutes National Forest


click to expand/collapse.Plant-microbe associations release key nutrients from rocks

It has long been observed that chemical elements in soil such as potassium, calcium, and nitrogen, essential to plant growth, are lost at different rates after disturbance, and similarly, build back in the soil at different rates. Some of the drivers behind the reacquisition processes, however, are not well known.

Through a series of laboratory and field experiments, researchers determined that pioneer plant-microbe associations play a key role in acquiring nutrients directly from rock particles rather than simply through free-moving soil water. Interactions between photosynthesizing green plants and fungi and bacteria associated with plant roots produce organic acids that dissolve the rock surface, making the minerals trapped inside accessible. The so-called "biofilms" and other structures create spaces where microbes and plant roots are in intimate contact with mineral surfaces, and released elements are not lost through the soil water. This process likely increases plant productivity and carbon sequestration in plants and soils.

Researchers found that fungi and bacteria alone also can chemically weather rocks, but experiments using pine seedlings suggest that plants and microbes work together to speed the weathering process. Managing a disturbed landscape to assure the presence of important plant-microbe associations may lead to a more rapid recovery of critical ecosystem processes, soil productivity, and enhanced carbon sequestration.

Contact: Bernard Bormann,, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partner: Washington State University


Managing for single condition may not be best fit for dynamic aquatic ecosystem

High-quality fish habitat and strong, diverse populations of wild salmon and trout are often considered synonymous with old-growth forests (forests dominated by trees more than 200 years old) in the Pacific Northwest. The attributes of streams that run through these forests are used as standards to assess the impact of management actions and for setting restoration goals, such as those of the Northwest Forest Plan. Streams in oldgrowth forests, however, represent a limited set of conditions. A synthesis of studies done since 1995 questions the efficacy of this approach.

The scientists conclude that efforts to restore aquatic ecosystems to old-growth conditions will not produce the complexity of habitats needed to maintain strong populations of salmon and other resident fish. A landscape containing a mixture of successional stages may be a more appropriate setting for robust salmon populations. The shift in perspective may require managers, regulators, and policymakers to consider tradeoffs between old-growth-dependent species, such as the northern spotted owl, and those that require a mixture of successional types.

Contact: Gordon Reeves,, Land and Watershed Management Program


Topography determines streamflow sources and seasonal runoff

Researchers hike to study sites in the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest in MontanaWhere does the water in a stream come from? The answers to this fundamental question are critical for society's well-being. Understanding the connections between streamflow and the surrounding landscape is necessary for forecasting flood behavior and for understanding how land use affects water quality and quantity. Most research on streamflow generation and routing focuses on storms and peak flow responses. This study, however, focused on connections between hillslopes and streams across the full range of hydrological conditions. Researchers found that in most locations, hillslopes are only hydrologically connected to the stream during major storms or during spring snowmelt. In the few locations where hillslope drainage converges from large hillslope hollows, hillslopes remain hydrologically connected to the stream over most of the year. These patterns of connectivity explain the seasonal patterns of runoff observed across watersheds of different shapes and sizes.

Contact: Steve Wondzell,, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partners: Montana State University, Pennsylvania State University, U.S. Geological Survey


Providing habitat links across ridgelines lets headwater species traverse watersheds

linked buffers, provide dispersal corridors for salamandersFragmented habitat prevents species from moving across the landscape. In managed forest landscapes, riparian buffers provide key habitat for aquatic and terrestrial species. These buffers are generally limited to the streamside and thus do not meet the habitat needs of amphibians and other species that tend to also use the upland forest. To remedy this, station scientists developed criteria for linking headwater habitat to provide overland connectivity for headwater amphibians and other biota that benefit from intact forest habitat conditions that allow terrestrial dispersal among watersheds.

Habitat links can take into account target species locations, existing protections, land ownership patterns, climate change predictions (e.g., retaining habitats along north-south or altitudinal gradients), and the natural disturbance regime such as landslide-prone areas. Creating habitat links may be especially critical among watersheds with no aquatic connections. At the stand scale, forest management activities that extend and connect stream buffers can create habitat links.

This design creates a web of connectivity across a forest landscape, reducing forest fragmentation and providing dispersal corridors for a host of species. It is a tool for consideration in forest management planning at the stand to landscape scale.

Contact: Deanna H. Olson,, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partner: USDI Bureau of Land Management


Local conditions influence salmon demographics

Climate, geology, and regional species pools define ecoregions. In the Wenatchee subbasin of the Columbia River, association with a relatively dry ecoregion led to higher abundance of salmon and trout compared to a relatively wet ecoregion of the subbasin. Demographic parameters such as growth and emigration also were locally influenced. Population density of fish in headwaters was correlated with fish density in corresponding main tributaries of individual watersheds. By contrast, temporal variation of density in headwaters and main tributaries did not correspond beyond the timescale of a single season. Thus, large-scale influence (ecoregions, watersheds) was limited to overall density differences, whereas population dynamics are under local control with limited input from ecoregions. The observed difference in emigration rates between ecoregions could be due to different physical habitat characteristics or behavioral differences between the dominant salmonid species in each ecoregion.

Salmon are critical to the ecology of the Pacific Northwest and have high economic and cultural values. These findings support efforts to enhance fish habitat and production. Strategies to manage for salmon production may benefit from an ecoregional context because local conditions appear to control salmon population dynamics, and ecoregions appear to define the range of variation in metrics related to population dynamics.

Contact: Karl M. Polivka,, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partners: Bonneville Power Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


Wetlands are sources of downstream productivity

Jack Creek, Deschutes National Forest, OregonDissolved organic matter, including carbon and associated nutrients, is a critical component in stream ecosystems. As a food source for stream micro-organisms, it supports the productivity of the entire food web. In southeast Alaska, the downstream transfer of dissolved organic matter from wetlands to estuaries and the Gulf of Alaska stimulates food webs that support important sport and commercial fisheries. In ongoing research on the biogeochemistry of wetlands and streams, researchers found that soil type and hydrologic pathways control the amount and biodegradability of dissolved organic matter exported by rain-forest streams. They also found that the quantity and quality of the organic matter transferred downstream to estuaries was greatest during storms, and that the amount and form of carbon in the organic matter changes seasonally.

Understanding the controls on organic matter transfers to marine ecosystems is a first step in predicting the impact of climate-induced changes in stream hydrology and soil processes.

Contact: Rick Edwards,, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partners: University of Alaska Southeast; U.S. Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service Program



New hypothesis for yellowcedar decline links calcium accumulation to nitrogen cycles and rooting depth

Yellow-cedar and western redcedar are two valuable tree species of Pacific Northwest forests. They grow well in wet soils with limited nitrogen—areas where many other species don't. Station scientists formulated a new hypothesis that explains how cedar trees survive in marginal conditions, yet have roots that are susceptible to freezing injury—an occurrence that has killed more than 500,000 acres of yellowcedar in southeast Alaska. The hypothesis proposes a mechanism whereby cedar trees assimilate nitrogen as nitrate, but must accumulate a counter-ion to nitrate, such as calcium, to control their internal cell pH and provide electrochemical balance. The simultaneous acquisition of calcium and nitrate requires the trees to maintain shallow roots to acquire nitrate, as nitrification does not occur in the deeper, acidic soils. This may lead to a greater predominance of superficial fine roots of yellow-cedar relative to redcedar, which makes yellow-cedar more susceptible to freezing injury.

The cedar-nitrate hypothesis provides a means to design focused experiments to test this hypothesis and understand the possible successional pathways of cedars related to soil nutrient cycles. The interaction of cedars with soil nutrient cycles expands the potential interactions that must be considered in understanding yellow-cedar decline, as well as the ecology of cedars in general.

Contact: David D'Amore, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partners: USDA Forest Service Forest Health Protection, Northern Research Station, and State and Private Forestry; University of Vermont


New genome sequencing method reveals a species' evolutionary history

New genome sequencing method reveals a species' evolutionary history Organelle genomes from plants, animals, and fungi are used as genetic markers to track maternal diversity, historical migration, and maternally inherited fitness traits in wild populations. These genomes, which range in size from 15,000 to 1,000,000 base pairs, can now be efficiently sequenced in large numbers using "multiplexed massively parallel sequencing" (MMPS), a technique developed at the PNW Research Station. Analyses of complete organelle genomes from conifers (pine chloroplast genomes) and carnivores (fisher mitochondrial genomes) obtained using MMPS show that genetic parameters estimated from complete genomes are not accurately predicted by single organelle genes (a common sampling unit in conservation genetics). This finding highlights the importance of using whole organelle genome sequences when conservation decisions are based on molecular information.

The new method for genome sequencing is being used by geneticists at the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain Research Stations to re-address estimates of population distinctiveness for fisher and wolverine in the Pacific Northwest. Results will help guide proposed reintroduction efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Contact: Richard Cronn,, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partners: Linfield College, Oregon State University, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Santa Clara University


New methods quantify fluxes of carbon from terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in southeast Alaska

researchers plant treesMitigating increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide by increasing forest sequestration of carbon is a high priority for forest managers. Assessing management impacts on carbon in aboveground vegetation is straightforward, but accounting for fluxes from belowground storage pools is challenging. Projected Sherri Johnson changes in temperature and moisture over the next 80 years could dramatically increase the release of carbon currently stored in soil. In a rain forest like the Tongass National Forest where terrestrial and aquatic systems are closely linked, increases in the amount of carbon and associated nutrients exported to coastal estuaries could have far-reaching impacts on estuarine productivity and fish habitat. Changes in freshwater fish habitat quality stemming from increased mobilization of dissolved organic matter, increased water temperature, and higher stream respiration could affect survival of salmon during egg development and early juvenile stages.

Scientists in southeast Alaska have established methods for quantifying fluxes of carbon from terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems across a gradient of forest structures. This research, coupled with adaptive management, will provide information on the magnitude of the carbon sink or source on the Tongass National Forest. It provides a powerful approach to understanding short- and long-term aspects of carbon sequestration on the forest, which can then be applied to regional and national carbon sequestration goals.

Contact: Rick Edwards,, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partners: University of Alaska Southeast; USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service Program


Map resolution influences analysis

Siuslaw National ForestDigital maps of rivers and lakes are often used in research, planning, and monitoring for freshwater conservation across large areas. Such maps are publicly available, for example from the U.S. Geological Survey, or can be produced at different spatial accuracies and resolutions. Before this study, the influence of differences in map accuracy and resolution on broad-scale assessments of the quality and quantity of freshwater resources had not been well quantified. Researchers compared maps from the Oregon Coast Range and determined that differences in accuracy among examined maps were not large enough to appreciably affect landscape characterizations, such as the amount of old-growth forest estimated in streamside buffers. However, differences in resolution among maps caused the length of represented streams to differ by as much as 1,250 percent, yielding substantial discrepancies in the estimated quality and quantity of riparian and salmon habitats. These differences affected interpretation about small, intermittently flowing headwater streams and larger, perennially flowing streams.

These findings are helping researchers and managers understand the advantages and disadvantages of different stream maps in specific applications. This knowledge also facilitates comparison among studies and better communication.

Contact: Kelly M. Burnett,, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partners: Oregon State University, USDA Forest Service Natural Resources Inventory System


Scientists propose new focus for salmon habitat recovery strategies

Olympic Experimental State ForestA common tactic for restoring freshwater habitat for Pacific salmon has been to maintain or engineer a desired set of habitat conditions through time. Station scientists proposed a new approach for habitat recovery that focuses on the importance of natural variability in habitat resilience.

They identified three factors that support the productivity of salmon in freshwater ecosystems: (1) capacity of habitat to recover after disturbance, (2) diversity of habitats necessary to meet the salmon needs during different phases of life, and (3) ecological connectivity. They identified three steps to developing such management strategies: (1) Establish environmental targets that are compatible with natural disturbance and recovery processes. (2) Assess the current and potential threats to reestablishing complex natural habitats. (3) Determine if the planning area is sufficiently large to achieve the three criteria for habitat resilience and when and where it will be necessary to apply restoration techniques to help promote them.

Contact: Pete Bisson,, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partner: U.S. Geological Survey Forest


Commonly used fuel-reduction treatments yield different outcomes

burn on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National ForestScientists synthesized outcomes from the national Fire and Fire Surrogates project, evaluating the consequences of commonly used fuelreduction treatments. They found that the mechanical treatments to reduce fuel and prescribed fires produced different outcomes. In the short term, mechanical treatments were effective at reducing overstory tree density and basal area and at increasing tree diameter. Prescribed fire treatments were more effective at creating snags, killing seedlings, elevating the height to live crown ratio, and reducing surface woody fuels. Mechanical treatments followed by prescribed fire were the most effective treatment for reducing crown fire potential and predicted tree mortality. Findings indicated that if the management goal is to quickly shift stands toward conditions with fewer and larger diameter trees, less surface fuel mass, and more herbaceous species, the mechanical plus burn treatment is a reasonable alternative.

Forest managers throughout the United States had asked for side-by-side comparisons of treatments to better understand the ecological and economic considerations for applying fuel-reduction and forest restoration treatments. Managers who are confronted with uncertainties in selecting from a set of fuel-reduction treatments in fire-prone ecosystems now have quantified and documented results upon which to base their decisions.

Contact: Andrew Youngblood,, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partners: Oregon State University; Texas Tech University; University of California-Berkeley; University of Montana; USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Southern Research Station, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forest; U.S. Geological Survey


Study tests viability of assisted migration in response to climate change

Field crew planting a Douglas-fir seedlingSuccessful reforestation and subsequent productivity of Douglas-fir forests require that trees are adapted to their planting site. Seed zones and breeding zones are used to ensure adapted planting stock by specifying relatively local seed sources. Local seed sources, however, may not be adapted to future climates given climate change projections. A possible solution is assisted migration, where seed sources are moved north or up in elevation in response to predicted climate warming.

To test the viability of assisted migration, researchers planted seedlings from locations throughout western Oregon and Washington and northern California at nine sites in western Oregon and Washington. Responses of the different seed sources will be evaluated relative to test site environments and the environments of the seed sources.

These tests will contribute significantly to our understanding of the responses of different Douglas-fir seed sources to climate, and provide guidelines for choosing seed sources that will be adapted to current and future climates.

Contacts: Brad St. Clair,, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partners: Agenda 2020 Program; Cascade Timber Consulting; Giustina Land and Timber; Hancock Forest Resources; Lone Rock Timber Co.; Port Blakely Tree Farms; Puget Sound Tree Improvement Cooperative; Roseburg Resources; Starker Forests; USDA Forest Service, J. Herbert Stone Nursery; Washington Cascade Tree Improvement Cooperative; Washington Department of Natural Resources


Large-scale, operational experiments link scientist with managers to inform decisions

In the past 15 years, the station has established numerous large-scale operational silviculture experiments on U.S. federal and state lands by using interdisciplinary approaches that address a broad range of ecological and social objectives. A number of findings have emerged from these studies.

  • Silviculture operations such as selective harvest and thinning can increase variation in stand structure, moving stands from uniform, even-age conditions toward the development of more complex structural characteristics associated with older, mixed-age stands.
  • Retaining 15 percent or more of live trees in a stand may be needed to protect residual trees, retain sensitive species, and gain public acceptance.
  • Retaining and recruiting down wood in managed stands benefits grounddwelling organisms.
  • Buffers on headwater streams provide amphibian habitat, mitigate upslope harvest effects on microclimate, and provide connectivity across the landscape.
  • New technology for characterizing and mapping forest structure and the underlying terrain has been validated.

Contact: Paul Anderson,, Land and Watershed Management Program

Partners: USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region, and Gifford Pinchot, Umpqua, Olympia, Siuslaw, and Willamette National Forests; USDI Bureau of Land Management; Washington Department of Natural Resources





Description: NetMap is a community-based watershed science system comprising a digital watershed database for the Pacific Northwest, analysis tools, and user forums. The state-of-the-art, desk-top GIS analysis tool contains about 50 functions and 60 parameters that address watershed attributes and processes such as fluvial geomorphology, fish habitat, erosion, watershed disturbance, road networks, wildfire, hydrology, and large woody debris, among other issues. NetMap is designed to integrate with ESRI ArcMap® 9.2.

Use: NetMap allows watershed analyses to be done at a fraction of the cost of current methods. The Willamette National Forest is using NetMap to prioritize road restoration and removal projects, and the Oregon Department of Forestry is using it to plan timber management.

How to get it:

Contact: Gordon Reeves,, Land and Watershed Management Program


US Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station
Last Modified: Tuesday,26July2016 at16:45:03CDT

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