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The Nature Conservancy

We are pleased to introduce this new column that will highlight various organizations, agencies, and enterprises and the nature of their “partnership” with the School of Forest Resources.

As this idea was suggested by Dylan Jenkins, formerly with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), it was only fitting that TNC is featured in this first entry. We hope you enjoy this report prepared by TNC’s Scott Bearer, senior scientist, and Nels Johnson, deputy state secretary. They can be reached, respectively, and sbearer@tnc.org and njohnson@tnc.org.

Natural Collaborators: the Penn State School of Forest Resources and The Nature Conservancy Team up to Benefit Penn’s Woods

The Nature Conservancy and the Penn State School of Forest Resources are natural collaborators, working together on cooperative research and outreach projects to answer many current questions about the ecological and economic health of Pennsylvania’s forests.

In recent years, we’ve investigated the effects of prescribed fire on barrens communities and the effects of herbicides on understory vegetation. We’ve developed analytic models together and have supported each other in pursuing research funding.

These are a few examples of how our natural shared vision nurtures effective research and conservation across the state of Pennsylvania (more details are below). There are ample opportunities to expand these cooperative efforts to better understand the significant emerging issues occurring throughout Pennsylvania and the northeastern U.S. forests. As threats to private forestland from energy development/climate change/pests/pathogens/others increase, the Conservancy invites the university community to consider opportunities for additional collaboration.

Here, we discuss some of the current collaborative efforts between the School of Forest Resources and The Nature Conservancy and outline areas with future possibilities. Specifically, we emphasize the subjects of research, teaching and outreach/extension.

The Nature Conservancy is the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. As part of this mission, the Conservancy conducts research through its forest conservation and science staff, among others.

RESEARCH
The following list highlights ongoing collaborative research efforts between the Conservancy and Penn State University:

1. Since 2007, the Conservancy has been developing the Forest Restoration (FoRest) Decision Tool, a habitat decision tool for restoring ecological values to working forests. TNC’s Dr. Scott Bearer is teaming with SFR’s Drs. Laura Leites and Marc McDill to incorporate the FoRest Tool into new climate change models to predict effects on PA forest types. In the future, collaboration may include mammalogist/ornithologist input to improve the Multi-species Habitat Profiles or silvicultural input to improve the silvicultural modeling component of the Tool.

2. In 2009, the Conservancy helped to pass the prescribed fire legislation (House Bill 262). Penn State’s Earth and Environmental Systems Institute faculty member Dr. Alan Taylor, Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Conservancy are collaborating on an investigation into the effects of prescribed fire on barrens communities.

3. Penn State’s Cooperative Extension researcher Dave Jackson is conducting a study in collaboration with the Conservancy’s forest conservation staff, comparing various tree shelter configurations and also conducting an herbicide study to control understory vegetation.

4. The Conservancy has written a letter of support for the School of Forest Resources’ work, specifically Dr. Marc McDill’s collaborative wood biomass fuels grant.

5. In November 2010, TNC released the results of a collaborative energy impacts assessment focused on Marcellus Shale natural gas and wind energy (www.nature.org/paenergy) and will release a second assessment of wood biomass and energy transmission infrastructure this spring. SFR associate professor Charles Ray played a critical role in developing models and reviewing the results of TNC’s biomass work.

Additional opportunities for collaborative research between SFR and TNC could include:

1. Research and field demonstration of methods for accelerating late-successional/old-growth forest characteristics in the Central Appalachian and High Allegheny Plateau forests.

2. Research and monitoring on fire ecology and vegetation responses to prescribed fire and wildfire.

3. Refining and testing TNC’s FoRest Decision Tool and Key Ecological Attribute Report Cards to optimize integration of forest and wildlife management to benefit ecological forest values.

4. Modeling and monitoring freshwater quality/nutrient loading of various forest management regimes to ultimately help private forest landowners to benefit from public funding and private trading mechanisms to protect water quality.

5. Researching landowner motivation and decision-making to participate in conservation and sustainable management programs such as FSC and the Conservancy’s Working Woodlands program.

6. Testing and evaluating Pennsylvania’s wood biomass harvesting guidelines.

7. There is good collaborative potential for research/publications on:

a. Best methods for restoring degraded forest conditions: TNC has conducted mechanical, chemical, and fire restoration techniques at its West Branch Research Forest; TNC welcomes evaluation of its methods to determine best approaches in forest restoration.

b. Smart Development of Marcellus Gas Resources: TNC has completed an exhaustive energy development analysis (www.nature.org/paenergy) and is currently determining best strategies to minimize impacts in priority biodiversity conservation areas.

c. Bog turtle/climate change interactions: TNC has some of the best bog turtle data in the Northeast (including radio-telemetry and time-series data since the 1980s) though much is unpublished, and there is potential to tie this information to climate change trends.

d. Vernal pools: Vernal pool restoration (using bulldozers and liner materials) occurred in 2010 at TNC’s Forest Pools Preserve, Cumberland County. There is the possibility to conduct research on the response of amphibians in the seven restored pools on this property compared to adjacent vernal pools that were not restored.

e. Barrens/Lepidoptera surveys: TNC is conducting preliminary research on barrens communities by looking at host plant populations and Lepidoperta communities (Moosic Mountain, Lackawanna County).

f. Key Ecological Attributes: TNC has developed a set of 10 forest health performance indicators (forest attributes such as # of live trees > 16” dbh) to measure and evaluate success of its forest conservation and restoration strategies (e.g., Working Woodlands); TNC welcomes scrutiny, testing, and refinement of its methods.

g. Prescribed fire/Tree mortality data: TNC has outstanding collaborative opportunities to conduct research in conjunction with prescribed fire. Extensive data for prescribed fire and tree mortality is available from the Long Pond barrens which have not yet been analyzed.

TEACHING
While teaching is not at the core of The Nature Conservancy’s mission, there could be additional collaboration with SFR faculty in the following areas:

1. The Nature Conservancy (Pennsylvania and national/global) staff speak at the School of Forest Resources a few times per year, generally at graduate seminars. Previous topics have included private forest conservation strategies including private forestland protection mechanisms, ecosystem markets, and forest certification.

2. Continued guest lectures could occur on any and all of the above research and below extension topics. Our strengths include: private woodland owners outreach and policy; private forest conservation strategies and policy (e.g., land protection and certification); forest ecosystem markets; prescribed fire (logistics, collaboration, and ecological effects); ecological modeling; conservation planning; energy development impacts to forest resources; and a wide variety of resource conservation topics from our organization-wide staff.

3. There is a potential for combination of the Conservancy’s Pennsylvania staff to team-teach graduate-level courses on conservation biology methods or some of the above research and below extension topics.

EXTENSION
Because on-the-ground conservation is a key component of TNC’s work, there are natural affinities with SFR and Penn State Cooperative Extension, including:

1. The Conservancy has been collaborating with Penn State Cooperative Extension and the School of Forest Resources to develop and hold deer habitat and management workshops, which have occurred annually since 2004.

2. The School of Forest Resources and Penn State Extension will assist the Conservancy in hosting a wood biomass field workshop for landowners and professionals at the Conservancy’s West Branch Forest, tentatively scheduled for September 2011.

3. There is opportunity to collaborate further on translating any of the above research topics into news landowners can use to better manage their forest lands.

4. There are also opportunities to tailor marketing and messaging to private landowner segments on how to capitalize on land protection, forest certification and ecosystem market opportunities.

5. Finally, there is significant opportunity for further outreach related to forest management planning. More specifically, we could identify what components to include and how best to tailor management plans so they are better utilized by forest landowners and their service providers.

With significant emerging issues occurring throughout Pennsylvania and the northeastern U.S. forests, including increasing threats to private forestland from energy development and climate change, collaborative partnerships will be increasingly important to translating the best science into sustainable practices on public and private lands. While several collaborative efforts are already occurring between the School of Forest Resources and The Nature Conservancy, we see a significant opportunity to advance additional partnerships.

We hope this list of opportunities, while not exhaustive, opens the doors for furthering discussions and exploring new possibilities so we can expand the collaborative tradition of being natural collaborators for the benefit of Penn’s Woods.