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Forest Sustainability Reporting in the United States
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Indicator 7.60: Development of scientific understanding of forest ecosystems

An indicator for Criterion 7: Legal, Institutional, and Economic Framework for Forest Conservation and Sustainable Management

What is the indicator and why is it important?

Research and development provide the scientific basis for adaptive management of the Nation’s forests. Science improves our understanding of ecological, social, and economic processes in forests, and is fundamental in ensuring that we can meet social goals for those forests. This indicator is a measure of the capacity to understand forest ecosystems processes and components. This understanding is essential to the conservation and sustainable management of forest ecosystems.

What does the indicator show?

Federal, State, and university research and development efforts are authorized by relevant government programs and laws, which prescribe that research programs must provide scientific information for forest resource management and protection. Development of research to improve scientific understanding of forest ecosystem characteristics and functions is a blend of national research and development performed by the Federal Government, universities throughout the country, a few State forestry and natural resource agencies, environmental nongovernmental organizations, and the forest industry and forest landowning firms.

According to the 2003 National Capacity in Forestry Research Report, as of 2002, the Forest Service research program had 723 scientist-years of personnel, with about 500 research scientists, and a budget of $241 million. As of 1993, U.S. universities had 1,459 full time employees, with about one-half of those scientist years of effort being dedicated to research, and the rest to teaching and extension. Forest industry reported $72 million in research funding through its Sustainable Forestry Initiative program efforts in 2001.

Other Federal agencies such as National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the U.S. Department of Agri- culture probably spent $40 to $50 million on forest related research in 2000. Environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also spent millions of dollars on forest related research and development. More recent data are lacking, but in total, the direct forestry expenditures and effort exceed 1,000 research scientists and budgets of more than $500 million per year. Observations suggest that these funds and personnel levels have declined in recent years, at least in terms of real funding after inflation, but current data are lacking. Other private sector research and development for forestry equipment for land and harvesting operations also contributes significantly to the total expenditures on forestry research, but this amount is not known.

The scientific understanding is developed and disseminated through educational, technical assistance, research, and planning efforts. The private sector also participates in these efforts. Forest certification standards, particularly in the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, require demonstration of forest research.

The National Research Council National Capacity in Forestry Research report classified forestry research by MP C&I criteria as well for all sectors as of 2001. The report found that Biological Diversity (Criterion 1) and Productive Capacity (Criterion 2) had the largest share of the U.S. research effort, at 19 and 24 percent, respectively. Ecosystem Health (Criterion 3, 16 percent), Socioeconomics (Criterion 6, 15 percent), and Soil and Water (Criterion 4, 14 percent) were next. The Institutional Framework Criterion 7, 5 percent) and Carbon Cycles (Criterion 5, 7 percent) had the smallest shares of the U.S. research. The Forest Service had proportionately more ecological research; academic institutions somewhat more social and institutional research; and industry more productive capacity research.

Table 60-1: Policy and Governance Classification

What has changed since 2003?

Federal Forest Service forest resource funding has been stable or declined somewhat in the past 6 years in real terms. A range of Federal organizations and research disciplines continue to examine forests in some fashion, however.

The U.S. vertically integrated forest products sector has declined in size from about 40 million acres in 1980 to about 10 million acres in 2009, and its capacity in forest land management research decreased as well, because the major firms sold their lands and ceased research operations. Timber investment management organizations (TIMOs) and real estate investment trusts (REITs) have maintained modest research programs and many are members of university cooperative research programs.

At least a few research branches of former forest products firms have been spun off and started their own forestry research and development organizations in areas such as in biotechnology and management information systems. Despite the shifts in land ownership, in 2008, Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certified companies spent or contributed $89 million to forest research, which was slightly more than the amount reported by large forest products firms as of 2001. Many environmental NGOs also perform research and analysis efforts that contribute scientific knowledge about to ecological, social, and economic components of forest resources.

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Criterion 7 Indicators