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Increasing Forest Resiliency

Principal Investigator/Project Leader: 
Co-Principal Investigator/Co-Project Leader: 
Department of Project: 
Environmental Conservation Dept.
Project Description: 

Forest resiliency is not just an ecological challenge. To increase forest resiliency, we must inform the decisions of those that own and control the forests. Family forest owners (FFOs) control 263 million acres (or 35%) of U.S. forests. In the eastern U.S, FFOs own 43% of the forest and in Massachusetts they control more than 70% of the forests (Butler, 2008). Landscapes  dominated by small, private non-industrial forest ownership provide a vast array of important ecosystem services and public benefits, including clean water, wood products, carbon sequestration and storage, biodiversity, and rural tourism. The averageage of FFOs is over 60 years old. It is estimated that over 75% of family forestland nationwide is owned by people over the age of 55 and nearly 50% is owned by people over the age of 65 (Butler, et al. 2016). In the coming years, nearly 3.8 million FFOswill be deciding the future of their land. We are, in fact, in the midst of the largest intergenerational shift of land our country hasever experienced. The decisions FFOs make about the future ownership and stewardship of their land will be the biggestdrivers of landscape change in the eastern United States and will shape the future benefits those forests provide (or fail toprovide!).The natural and human systems that determine resiliency in Massachusetts' forests necessitate increasing both our socialunderstanding of FFO decisions as well as ecological impacts of forest stressors and the strategies to address them. Thenatural system work will help inform the on-the-ground strategies necessary to address the conservation challenges and noveldisturbances that our forests now face. The human system work must be understood in order to conserve enough forestsremain as forests to ensure a sustainable future. To date, efforts to increase forest resiliency are too often isolated to only oneof these systems. Without understanding both systems, a comprehensive approach to forest resiliency cannot be developed.The goal of this proposal is to address the factors influencing forest resiliency through a multi-disciplinary approach toinvestigate both the human and natural systems.The human system research will focus on landowner decisions regarding the future of their forestland. We will use both mail surveys and interviews to better understand these decisions and ways in which we can help family forest owners make informed decisions about the future of their land.The natural system research will involve establishing field plots to measure forest changes to challenges such as invasive plants and insects, deer herbivory, and climate change. With a better understanding of how the forest is being changed by these challenges, we will propose silvicultural strategies to address the challenges, minimizing their impacts and helping ensure a continuous flow of essential benefits.

Environmental Conservation topics: 
Forest and Forest Conservation