Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

New GIS-based tool will help improve condition of forests, grasslands

OHIO — USDA Forest Service scientists and managers have developed a new computer tool that is helping address the lack of oak regeneration in the mid-Atlantic and central or western Appalachian region of the United States.

Map: Project area outlined on map showing different forest types: dry oak forest, dry-mesic mixed oak hardwood forest, or rolling bottom land mixed hardwood forest.
In the Wayne National Forest Bailey Project area, the GIS-based tool was recently used to identify the dry oak land type, which is most suitable for investing into treatments geared to regenerate oaks and hickories. Northern Research Station image.

This GIS-based tool creates a spatial analysis of the terrain underlying the forest, and is complementary to a decision-support system called SILVAH-oak (Silviculture of Allegheny Hardwoods) that recommends silvicultural treatments based on the current vegetation condition.

“The terrain model identifies three forest classes on the landscape; one very conducive to growing oak, one moderately conducive and one not. Stand inventory shows where oak is present in the over story, under story or both, and the decision support system recommends what kind of treatments are needed,” said Dr. Louis R. Iverson, a landscape ecologist with the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station.

SILVAH also contains a wildlife attributes report and forest stand growth simulator, as well as provides the ability to test alternative cuts, and enables development of a forest-wide inventory database.

In Ohio, the Interagency Forestry Team, established by the USDA Forest Service, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, is using the terrain model in concert with SILVAH in their quest to sustain oak forest in southeast Ohio.

“The oak terrain model along with SILVAH will help us determine where to invest limited resources for maximum impact in support of oak management on public and private lands, including the Wayne National Forest,” said Jarel Bartig, Ohio interagency liaison.

This conservation effort covers a 17-county area in the unglaciated Allegheny Plateau ecoregion of southeast Ohio. It coordinates the management of oak-hickory forests to create habitat for wildlife. Over the project area, 77 percent of the land is privately owned with most of the remaining divided between state (18.5 percent) and federal (4.5 percent) ownerships.

Forest inventory data for Ohio shows a decline of oak timber from 38 percent in 1968 to 22 percent today. White oak, the most common oak species in Ohio, is being harvested at a rate that exceeds its growth. 

On the Wayne National Forest, the land types identified by the terrain model, in concert with SILVAH inventories and prescriptions, are being used to establish priorities for even-aged management treatments. The Ohio Interagency Forestry Team plans to apply the land types across its project area, aligning government incentive programs and authorities with family forest landowner communities of interest to manage for oak across the region.

Learn more about SILVAH by downloading SIILVAH-7.