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Forest Restoration Research

Forests provide a multitude of services, from clean air and water to food and fiber to places for outdoor recreation and spiritual reflection. However, even as demand for these services grows, forests are being lost and degraded as a result of climate change, fires, invasive pests, diseases, and development. Restoration plays an important role in enhancing and maintaining forest health and providing goods and services, and is closely related to Management & Operations Research.

Although the term restoration often evokes a return to a past set of resource conditions or characteristics, landscapes are dynamic and the pace of that change is accelerating. This presents a challenge for private landowners and public land managers, who seek to improve the economic, ecological, and social capacities of landscapes to serve the needs of a rapidly growing human population in the face of change and a static or declining forest land base. Forest Service Research and Development is enhancing and integrating science capabilities and results across disciplines to inform functional restoration efforts and make them more effective and efficient. Functional restoration emphasizes the restoration of abiotic and biotic processes in degraded ecosystems, through management actions designed to achieve desired functions.

Forest Service research addresses key questions surrounding functional restoration for diverse ecosystems, including grasslands, forests, and watersheds, and in response to disturbances such as fire, pests, and diseases. Forest Service restoration science activities help:

  • Quantify realistic expectations and outcomes for restored systems and evaluating tradeoffs and synergies;
  • Determine what changes in structure, functions, and processes are needed to accomplish the necessary changes;
  • Develop and test management options, systems, practices (e.g., fuels reduction treatments), and products (e.g., bioenergy) for sustainably delivering intended outcomes at the desired spatial and temporal scales;
  • Provide science and landscape-scale decision support tools to help landowners and managers ensure that restoration activities will yield a meaningful return on investment;
  • Develop growing stock that will be adapted for restoration efforts, anticipating for expected environmental conditions, human needs, and pests and diseases; and
  • Work with stakeholders to establish realistic goals that are adapted to future conditions.

Management Tools Supporting Restoration

  • Landscape Treatment Designer (LTD) explores how concepts in spatial ecology and operations research can be used to better prioritize fuel management and restoration projects and design landscape fuel treatment strategies. LTD allows planners to quickly test different strategies in terms of management priorities, tolerance of fire risk or loss, implementation time frames, and budget constraints. The analyses can reveal tradeoffs associated with particular management decisions.
  • NetMap is an easy to use GIS-based tool that features watershed attributes and processes such as fluvial geomorphology, fish habitat, and erosion. NetMap has been used to identify places where restoration efforts will have the greatest benefit in terms of both habitat restoration and other management objectives such as fire resilience, timber management, and transportation.
  • The Landscape Disturbance and Succession Model (LANDIS) simulates forest succession, disturbance (including fire, wind, harvesting, insects, and global change), and seed dispersal across large (>1 million hectare) landscapes.
  • Climate-FVS, or the Climate Extension to the Forest Vegetation Simulator provides forest managers with a tool to consider the effects of climate change on forested ecosystems. The original Forest Vegetation Simulator components predict performance in the absence of climate change. To accommodate the effects of climate change, Climate-FVS modifies these components rather than replacing them with new climate estimators.
  • Seed Zone Mapper is a mapping and planning tool for plant material development, gene conservation, and native plant restoration.

Forest Restoration Publications on Treesearch

Highlighted Publications

Stanturf, John A.; Palik, Brian J.; Dumroese, R. Kasten. 2014. Contemporary forest restoration: A review emphasizing function. Forest Ecology and Management. 331: 292-323.

Stanturf, John A.; Palik, Brian J.; Williams, Mary I.; Dumroese, R. Kasten; Madsen, Palle. 2014. Forest restoration paradigms. Journal of Sustainable Forestry 33: S161-S194.

Restoration Research Contacts

View our restoration research directorypdf to contact our research scientists and program staff directly or to learn more about their research interests.