Employee forecast forest health
By Marco Andrade
Similar to how meteorologists forecast change and warn of hazardous conditions, such as hurricanes, by analyzing patterns in the weather; forest researchers can forecast the future health of our trees and air quality by studying forest soil samples.
Last year, five Ecosystem Monitoring plots were set up in the Green Mountain National Forest that will essentially focus on wilderness areas, mostly undisturbed by humans. Data, such as samples of ground soil gathered from the plots, will be grouped and compared with those of other forests in New England to provide a snapshot of forest health and predictions of future conditions.
“One of the things we hope to find is improved soils with less acid deposition, due to improved air quality from stricter air quality regulation,” said Nancy Burt, Soil Scientist for the Green Mountain National Forest. These plots are similar to other plots throughout the northeast, but these are in some of the least disturbed communities and have unique qualities because they are in older, more mature stands of trees. This is a somewhat novel approach to monitoring and gathering important information.
“Other long-term monitoring projects in the state are focusing on sites that will be logged sometime in the future to compare the before-and-after ecosystem; in contrast, this Long-Term Ecosystem Monitoring Project focuses on sites that have no direct human disturbance, like mining or logging, but are affected by global and regional human disturbances like pollution and climate change,” said Mary Beth Dewey, Biological Technician for the Green Mountain National Forest.
The designated plots for the Ecosystem Monitoring project are circular and approximately 400 feet in diameter. Dewey monitors and surveys lichens, which are fungi and algae compositions that often grow on tree branches and rocks. Lichens offer information on air quality and biodiversity.
“Some lichens are very sensitive to air pollution,” said Dewey.
They are also monitoring down woody material - important for long-term forest health. As they decompose, fallen branches and trees provide crucial nutrients to the soil.
“When forests are healthy, they are better able to provide other products and services such as scenic beauty, clean water, viable wildlife populations, and recreation opportunities,” said Nancy Burt.
Scientists will monitor these plots for a minimum of 50 years. The Green Mountain National Forest is in partnership with the Northern Research Station on management of the project. Other collaborators include the State of Vermont, and the Vermont Monitoring Cooperative. A soil scientist from the Natural Resource Conservation Service describes the soil horizons revealed in the soil pits, and a crew from the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps will be assisting with pit digging during the 2009 sampling.
Marco Andrade, a student at Miami Dade College, is currently working as a public affairs intern for the Forest this summer.