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USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station 2019 Research Highlights

Our 2019 Research Highlights web presentation introduces our 'best of the best' research from the past year.

  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations

Northern Research Station

Tony Ferguson, Director Welcome to our annual presentation of research highlights from the past year! I am Tony Ferguson, Director of the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, and I am delighted to share this presentation showcasing notable scientific achievements from 2019.

Northern Research Station scientists work collaboratively with partners from diverse regions and institutions as well as landowners to co-produce research that is practical, useful, and ultimately improves the health and productivity of our Nation’s forests and associated natural resources. The Northern Research Station continues to deliver timely scientific knowledge and tools that land managers can use to manage natural resources during a time of unprecedented changing conditions.

Our Research Highlights Presentations offers a wonderful snapshot of what Northern Research Stations do. If you want to learn more about our research, I invite you to follow us on Twitter at @usfs_nrs and visit our website at Better yet, give us a call! We’d love to hear about what matters most to you and explore opportunities to work together: 608-231-9318.

Northern Research Station Locations

NRS at a Glance

Research Work Units: 13
 Research Locations: 25
 Experimental Forests: 22
Research Scientists: 105
Employees: 340
NRS Territory
National Forests

Director's Choice Highlights

Selected from a diverse portfolio of research results and innovations, the Director’s Choice highlights showcase the 'best of the best' research from the past year.

A wood frog sitting within decaying black ash leaves in a wetland forest in northern Minnesota on the Chippewa National Forest. Photo by Melissa Youngquist, University of Minnesota

Station Directors ChoiceIn Minnesota, Anticipating the Loss of a Million Acres of Ash Forests—and All that They Do—to Emerald Ash Borer

Black ash is a foundational species in the wetland forests of the northern Great Lakes region affecting nearly all aspects of ecosystem function. A nonnative insect that has killed millions of ash trees in more than 25 states is edging closer to Minnesota’s black ash forests. Scientists have unraveled the complex relationships between black ash and ecosystem functions and how loss of the species from emerald ash borer, and potential replacement by new tree species, will impact these relationships.

Old growth stand of eastern white pine, eastern hemlock, and northern hardwoods in Michigan, USA .  USDA Forest Service photo by Steven Katovich

Station Directors ChoiceThe Economic Value of Carbon Sequestration by Our Nation’s Forests

Forests in the United States sequester 5 to 10 percent of the Nation’s carbon emissions each year. Forest Service researchers working with the USDA Office of the Chief Economist estimate that carbon sequestration by U.S. forests (private and public) will be worth over $100 billion over the next 35 years, making carbon sequestration one of the most valuable ecosystem services that forests provide. The most cost-effective ways to boost carbon sequestration are to invest in the reforestation of chronically understocked public lands in the western United States and to offer afforestation incentives to rural landowners in the eastern United States.

Schematic of the horizon scanning process. Created by Maria Romero.

Station Directors ChoiceScanning the Horizon for the Future of Forestry

The future is all about change. Horizon scanning is a tool for finding signals of change that could affect the future of an organization or field. This project designed and created a horizon scanning system for forestry with the goal of increasing strategic foresight and providing insight into how and why the future could be different than today.

Hemlock woolly adelgid-induced hemlock mortality in Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Photo by Songlin Fei, Purdue University

Station Directors ChoiceNonnative Invasive Insects and Diseases Decreasing Carbon Stored in U.S. Forests

Photosynthesis feeds trees and has a significant benefit for people, too, namely the removal of carbon from the atmosphere and into live tree biomass through a process called “sequestration.” However, USDA Forest Service scientists and a colleague found that increased tree mortality from the impacts of nonnative insects and diseases results in the transfer of carbon stored in live trees into dead material, much of which will eventually return to the atmosphere by decomposition. This threatens the estimated 76 percent of carbon sequestration in North America that comes from forests.

Bay Mills TAM Workshop: Participants at a June 2019 workshop at the Bay Mills Indian Community used Dibaginjigaadeg Anishinaabe Ezhitwaad: A Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu to design and communicate their own climate adaptation project ideas.  Photo by Katy Bresette, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

Station Directors ChoiceDibaginjigaadeg Anishinaabe Ezhitwaad: A Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu

Staff from the Northern Research Station helped create a new resource to help incorporate indigenous perspectives and traditional ecological knowledge into climate change adaptation planning. This resource is already being used to help tribal natural resources professionals develop climate adaptation plans and to help nontribal organizations communicate with tribal communities.

  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations

2019 Research Highlights

From the development of new tools and models to inform management of our Nation’s forests and grasslands to better understanding of the private landowners who manage nearly two-thirds of the Nation’s forested land, the USDA Forest Service and Northern Research Station are connecting people to world-class science and technology that deliver ecological, economic, and social benefits.

Trent Wickman of the Superior National Forest water sampling for mercury analysis. Photo by Superior National Forest, USDA Forest Service

Decade of Research Finds Light to Moderate Fire Not Causing Bioaccumulation of Mercury in Fish

On Superior National Forest, where prescribed fire is being used to manage the threat of wildfire, Forest Service scientists found that light to moderate severity fires do not lead to increased mercury in fish.

Interior Alaska Landscape taken from a helicopter transporting FIA field crews to remote inventory plots. Photo by Pacific Northwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service

Estimating Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removals from Managed Forest Land in Alaska

Alaska forests represent 10 percent of the total managed forest land area in the United States but store 17 percent of the total carbon in forests. These forests also represent a net carbon sink over the last 27 years but there is considerable interannual variability driven, in large part, by wildfire. Emissions from severe fire years in Alaska substantially reduce the contribution of forests in the United States as a carbon sink in those years.

Change over time in the ratio of plots with invasive plant species by land type for clear-cut and mature forests.  Note how the driest land type (300) has switched places with the moderately mesic land type in the last five years for the clear cuts, whereas this same land type is the least invaded of the mature forests. Image by Cynthia D. Huebner, USDA Forest Service

Spread of Nonnative Invasive Plant Species in Mature and Disturbed Forests across Landtypes

Native species could help slow the spread of invasive plants in disturbed forests.

Cover of Research Map 10, USDA Forest Service section, subsection, and landtype descriptions for southeastern Ohio. Image by USDA Forest Service

Defining and Mapping Landtypes to Encourage Shared Stewardship and Oak Management in Southeastern Ohio

Mapping landtypes across public and private landscapes encourages shared stewardship by providing owners or managers consistent tools for delineating forest management units, preparing management plans, managing for oak restoration, defining silvicultural prescriptions, assessing productivity, predicting species assemblages, and designing research and monitoring studies.

Forest Service researcher John Schelhas and landowner Eleanor Cooper Brown discuss her family’s land and forests. Forest Service photo by Sarah Hitchner.

Understanding Small-area Family Forest Ownerships

Sixty percent of family forest ownerships (6.2 million) in the United States are between 1 and 9 acres. These small-area ownerships often do not have the same access to government assistance programs or professional services as larger-area ownerships, yet their forest land is important for providing forest-based benefits to the landowners and society.

A fledgling Cerulean Warbler roosting in dense understory. Forest Service photo by Scott Stoleson.

Conservation of Cerulean Warblers Requires Both Dense and Gappy Forest Habitat

Cerulean warblers, a declining migratory songbird, nest in mature, gappy deciduous forest, and management guidelines have been developed based on those nesting requirements. However, using radio-tracking of recent fledglings, a Northern Research Station scientist and his partners discovered that habitats selected by fledglings varied with age and often differed substantially from nesting habitat; younger, denser areas with abundant saplings were preferred. Conservation of this species must include maintaining these distinct fledgling habitats to be effective.

The Jefferies burn on the Hoosier National Forest in Indiana.  USDA Forest Service photo.

Study Finds Prescribed Fire Has Minor Effect on Timber Quality

Prescribed fire can greatly improve regeneration of native tree species in the Midwest and Northeast, but what are the impacts on residual hardwood timber and wood product recovery? An unprecedented research project across nine counties in Indiana yielded much-needed answers.

Example of forest riparian buffer surrounding a wetland area. Aerial image from the National Agriculture Imagery Program,	USDA Farm Service Agency

Standing Strong: Riparian Forest Buffers of the Great Plains

Water is most likely not the first thing that comes to mind at the mention of the Great Plains. However this region is home to the largest aquifer system in the United States. Concerns over declining water quality exist throughout the region. Runoff from agricultural lands and eroding stream banks are two factors that degrade water quality and are being intensified by sudden and more frequent weather-related events. Riparian forest buffers can help mitigate the negative impacts of these events.

Example wildland (prescribed) fire event within the New Jersey Pine Barrens during which momentum and heat fluxes were measured.. Forest Service photo by Nicholas Skowronski.

Fire Behavior and Smoke Dispersion in Forested Environments: Don't Ignore Turbulent Fluxes of Heat and Momentum

The atmospheric redistribution of heat and momentum in the vicinity of wildland fires is a highly turbulent process, and this redistribution can have a direct and indirect effect on fire behavior and smoke dispersion. Northern Research Station scientists are investigating how fire-induced atmospheric turbulence can impact heat and momentum fluxes in the vicinity of wildland fires in forested environments.

`Ōhi`a logs obtained from rapid `ōhi`a death - killed trees and used in vacuum steam treatment trials in Hilo, Hawai`i. Forest Service photo by Jennifer Juzwik

Vacuum Steam Kills Rapid `Ōhi`a Death Fungi in Naturally-infected Logs

Rapid `ōhi`a death (ROD) is an emerging disease that threatens the health and survival of `ōhi`a (Metrosideros polymorpha), a keystone forest tree species in the Hawaiian archipelago. The disease has also limited the species’ availability for use in building construction and flooring. Scientists recently discovered that vacuum steam heat treatment kills the two fungal pathogens responsible for ROD in logs and renders them safe for off-island export and within island use.

Seedlings of white oak (left) and bitternut hickory (right) planted in a northern Minnesota red pine forest on the Cutfoot Experimental Forest in northern Minnesota. Forest Service photo by Brian Palik.

Transitioning to the Future: Researchers Help Establish Climate Adapted Forests in Northern Minnesota

Northern Minnesota is experiencing climate warming at a rapid pace, with an expectation that iconic tree species in northern forests will be at risk and habitat for new tree species will increase. Scientists have confirmed these predictions through an innovative experiment that assists in the establishment of novel tree species in northern Minnesota pine forests.

Forest Canopy after Emerald ash borer infestation. Bugwood photo by Daniel Herms, The Ohio State University.

Understanding Long-term Impacts of an Invasive, Tree-killing Pest

The emerald ash borer (EAB) has been killing ash trees in the United States for more than two decades. What does that mean for ash populations and the forest ecosystems? Long-term monitoring plot data collected by Northern Research Station scientists and partners are helping us to understand the impacts of this invasive pest and to plan management and conservation strategies.

Longleaf pine stand in southern Georgia that is being sustainably managed by frequent burning and harvesting. Photo by Ben Knapp, University of Missouri.

The State of Forest Regeneration Today and the Case for Forest Management

From western coastal conifer to eastern oak and from southern longleaf pine forests to northern hardwoods, forest managers strive to create conditions for healthy, sustainable, and productive forests. Why is natural forest regeneration not helping the cause?

View of New York City skyline from Freshkills Park. Photo by Richard Hallett, USDA Forest Service

In New York City, the Value of Urban Trees Adds Up

New York City’s urban forest produces cleaner air, lower energy costs, reduced ultraviolet radiation, and less storm water in the city’s sewer system. Northern Research Station scientists and partners analyzed a sample of the city’s 7 million trees and found that they provide services with an annual value of more than $100 million.

Images of (a) interface wildland–urban interface (WUI) (in the 2003 Cedar fire); (b) intermix WUI (in the 2007 Witch fire); (c) urban nonWUI (in the 2017 Tubbs fire); and (d) rural non-WUI (in the 2008 BTU Lightning complex). Images were obtained from Google Earth (Google Inc. 2016) for the year before each fire. Substantial destruction occurred to buildings in each image during the subsequent fire.

Interface Areas Are Critical to Wildfire Losses: Half of All Buildings Lost in These WUI Areas with Relatively Low Fuels

In California and the entire United States, wildfire management has become more complex, costly and dangerous. Research by a Northern Research Station scientist and her partners found that wildfire losses in California are most common in interface areas, which lack dense wildland fuels. Interface WUI, i.e. settled areas with little wildland vegetation that are near large blocks of wildland vegetation, contained over 50% of all buildings lost to wildfire while making up only 2% of all wildfire perimeters by area (fires from 1985-2013).