WASHINGTON DC — Science is the main generator of knowledge that promotes prosperity for humankind. Wherever you look today, you will find a product of basic and applied research. However, most of the time we do not realize the effort that scientists make to develop the solutions that improve our everyday lives. The USDA Forest Service is celebrating scientific breakthroughs and new technologies throughout the month of March.
America’s forests and grasslands are national strategic assets that provide economic, social, and ecological benefits. The Forest Service Research and Development mission area provides science-based management tools to realize those benefits and support rural prosperity through the sustainable long-term management of these resources. Our research guides the on-the-ground decisions that enhance forest ecosystems, expand uses and markets for wood products, and create jobs that provide for economic wellbeing across the United States.
From preventing and managing wildland fires, extending wood use, containing destructive invasive pests and pathogens, and protecting water, R&D explores innovative ways to conserve and manage the natural resources that affect people’s lives.
Each year an average of 73,000 wildfires burns about seven million acres of public and private land. Our scientists have developed cutting-edge technologies that help protect firefighters, communities and natural resources. Our Wildland Fire Decision Support System, which integrates data about weather, changing fire predictions, smoke management and the economic values of at-risk resources, is now the primary system used for making strategic decisions on fire incidents. By advancing our understanding of fire, we are able to increase the safety and effectiveness of fire, fuel, and smoke management to help protect people’s lives, homes, resources, and values at risk.
We know that thinning overgrown forests with high fuel loads decreases wildfire risk. With that in mind, we are studying new applications for forest products, especially those products currently lacking market value. Our researchers are developing wood-based nanotechnology — renewable, biodegradable material that can be used to make computer chips, flexible computer displays, car panels and even replacement tendons for humans.
R&D is also helping to pioneer the development of cross laminated timber made from crisscrossed layers of wood held together by fire-resistant glue. As strong as steel, CLT is earthquake- and fire-resistant and can be assembled more quickly than traditional construction materials. Scientists at the Forest Products Laboratory have developed a new, easy-to-assemble CLT-based Tornado Safe Room that can withstand a tornado with winds above 200 miles per hour.
Our national forests provide clean, reliable drinking water, but the supply is at risk due to growing human populations, continued conversion of forests to other land uses and a changing climate. In the face of these threats, R&D provides the science to calculate how much drinking water originates in forests, what populations are served by that water, and which best management practices will ensure its continued availability. And as partners in the NASA-sponsored research project SnowEx, Forest Service researchers have developed ground-breaking methods for measuring how much snow is on the ground and how much water that snow contains.
Reseearchers are also leading the way by pioneering technology related to invasive species called eDNA, co-leading a genetic study about white-nose syndrome, and using LIDAR to determine habitat preferences of the spotted owl across California’s Sierra Nevada
As a world leader in forestry research, R&D directly supports the entire Forest Service, other national and international land management agencies, and all forest land owners. By improving land management practices, research helps to ensure that public and private forests continue to produce essential goods and services for current and future generations. To learn more about R&D research, visit Treesearch, our online library of more than 50,000 peer-reviewed publications by Forest Service researchers and subscribe to R&D’s newsletter, which is posted on R&D’S website.