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US Forest Service Research & Development
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  • US Forest Service Research & Development
  • 1400 Independence Ave., SW
  • Washington, D.C. 20250-0003
  • 800-832-1355
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Melissa Thomas-Van Gundy

Melissa Thomas-Van Gundy

Research Forester
P.O. Box 404
Parsons
West Virginia
United States
26287

Phone: 304-478-2000 x114
Contact Melissa Thomas-Van Gundy


Current Research

  • Fire regimes of the central Appalachians
  • Central Appalachian silviculture
  • Fire as a silvicultural tool
  • Historical records as ecological data
  • Red spruce recovery and restoration

Research Interests

Melissa's research includes stand- and landscape-level projects at both long- and short-term time scales. Most of this work is focused on the restoration and sustainable management of forested ecosystems in the eastern United States. Successful restoration of an ecological system requires that a series of important questions be addressed: 1) what are the restoration goals, 2) what techniques or actions will meet these goals, and 3) how is success measured. Restoration includes reestablishing patterns, processes, and species often in the context of a given space and time frame. To establish and accomplish ecological restoration goals, land managers need information about historical conditions.

Why This Research is Important

As with any forest management, managers need to know what actions accomplish the goals of restoring patterns and processes and need to be able to predict the results of those actions. To help answer these questions, Melissa's work includes stand-level studies involving prescribed fire, browse control, and a variety of silvicultural practices. Some of these studies are long-term studies started on the Fernow Experimental Forest to answer more traditional growth and yield questions but also can be used to provide information on long-term stand dynamics.

Red spruce-dominated ecosystems are considered critically imperiled in the central and southern Appalachians. These generally high-elevation sites are the focus of restoration efforts by federal, state, and private land managers. These forests are considered to be in recovery from the exploitative harvests of the past, but they are slow to recover and are now subject to current threats from climate change, nonnative invasive insects, large deer populations, and changes in land use. To explore the efficacy of active management for restoration at a landscape-scale, spatial models are used to track forest development under different management scenarios. The resulting modeled forest conditions can be compared to either stated restoration goals or investigated for support of assumptions and goals of management.

To address the lack of knowledge about European settlement-era forests in the central Appalachian region, Melissa has developed a GIS-based dataset of witness trees from the Monongahela National Forest. With this dataset, land managers and researchers can discern the relationships of pre-settlement forest composition with environmental variables, compare past species composition to the present, and provide a model that will guide ecosystem restoration efforts in mixed-oak and high-elevation red spruce forests in the Appalachians. This work has expanded to include witness trees on the Allegheny, Finger Lakes, Green Mountain, and White Mountain National Forests, township-level data for New England, and the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. As more data are uncovered or made digital, this work may be expanded further into Ohio and Virginia.

As a research forester assigned to NRS-01, Melissa is involved in on-going, long-term silvicultural and forest management research. This long-term research involves developing silvicultural systems for sustaining forest products, wildlife benefits, species diversity, and for restoring forest ecosystems. This research specifically relates to forest management, in particular studying the many silvicultural tools available to sustainably manage forests for a variety of outcomes. Such guidelines and models are sought after by federal, state, and private land managers. Current studies include artificial regeneration; precommercial thinning; crop-tree release; prescribed fire; herbicide use; and even-aged, two-age, and uneven-aged management.

Education

  • West Virginia University, Ph.D. Forest Resources Sciences 2011
  • State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, M.S. Resource Management/Silviculture 1992
  • Davis and Elkins College, B.S. Pre-forestry 1989

Professional Organizations

  • Society of American Foresters, West Virginia Chapter (2011 - Current)
    I have served as vice-chair and chair of the chapter and currently serve on the executive committee

Featured Publications & Products

Publications

Citations of non US Forest Service Publications

  • https://www.fs.usda.gov/rds/archive/Product/RDS-2014-0022/

Research Highlights

HighlightTitleYear


NRS-2015-157
A Landscape Model for Planning Red Spruce Restoration in West Virginia

A Forest Service scientist developed a model to answer specific questions about meeting restoration goals for red spruce while protecting habita ...

2015


NRS-2017-51
Collaboration makes fire science available and useful to land managers

Forest Service researchers and foresters are partnering to document the effects of landscape-scale prescribed fire on the George Washington and ...

2017


NRS-2017-53
Forest management demonstration area highlights working forest

New research published in 2017 describes the results of a 60-year forest management demonstration area on the Fernow Experimental Forest and the ...

2017


NRS-2015-158
Investigating the Roles of Fire, Browse, and Canopy Gaps in the Understory of an Oak-dominated Forest

Current forests developed under conditions different from original forests, with more deer, less fire, and smaller canopy gaps. This has resulte ...

2015


NRS-2016-100
Restoration of a Forest Giant

The blight resistance of a variety of families of hybrid American chestnuts is under study on the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. ...

2016


NRS-2014-041
Roles of Fire, Browse, and Canopy Gaps in the Understory of an Oak-dominated Forest

Current forests developed under conditions different from original forests, with more deer, less fire, and smaller canopy gaps. The difference r ...

2014


NRS-2014-032
Using a Landscape Model for Planning Red Spruce Restoration in West Virginia

A new Forest Service model was developed to answer specific questions about meeting restoration goals for red spruce while protecting habitat fo ...

2014


NRS-2013-057
Witness Trees Reveal Where to Restore Fire

To help land managers make decisions and plan for restoration of oak-dominated forests, witness trees from early surveys were used by a Forest S ...

2013


NRS-2016-102
Witness Trees as Indicators of Past Fire

In ecosystem restoration, the question “What was the forest like back then?” is often difficult to answer. Understanding and mapping forest ...

2016


NRS-2015-152
“Witness Trees” as Indicators of Past Fire

In ecosystem restoration, the question of “What was it like back then?” is often difficult to answer. Understanding and mapping forest compo ...

2015


Last updated on : 11/01/2019