Researchers Study Dynamics Of Forest Landscape Management

October 23, 1997

HOUGHTON, MI--Researchers from Michigan Technological University and the U.S. Forest Service Forest Science Laboratory at Rhinelander, WI are studying the effects of landscape structure on plant species, habitat, and economic output in public forests.

They hope their findings will help land managers in the Great Lakes region select timber harvesting methods that will ensure the greartest possible biological diversity and economic sustainability.

"Our central hypothesis is that landscape structure directly controls the distribution of plant species, habitat quality, and economic output," says Project Leader Dr. Jiquan Chen of Michigan Tech's School of Forestry and Wood Products. "The dynamics of ecological and economic values and their relationships to various landscape components can in turn be used as feedback for manipulating stand and landscape structure to conserve biological diversity and sustain economic output."

Working with Chen are Paul Desanker of Michigan Tech and Tom Crow and Eric Gustafson of the USDA Forest Science Lab.

Different harvesting methods result in different structural patterns across the landscape. Size and placement of patches, corridors and other features of the landscape are determined in part by the harvesting allocation implemented on an area. However, little information exists on the effects of these large scale patterns on such critical issues as biodiversity, according to Chen.

"We want to know the cumulative effect of different timber cutting methods," explains Chen. "We need to be able to describe conditions from a more comprehensive viewpoint. What we need is more of a birdseye view--or better yet, the view from a Boeing 747. Then we can bring together our data, synthesize it, conceptualize, and put it into a computer mode that will help both students and resource managers."

"With the computer we can simulalte different options," says Chen. "That's something you can't test in real field conditions. For example, if you want to test 10 different landscape management options, you can do it on 10 different sites, but not on the same site. The computer model will enable us to determine which options will give what results. We can then assess these with expected economic returns and accepted social and ecological values."

Chen says wildlife species need different types of forest at different stages of their lives, so it is important to know how the forest is put together over large areas, so managers can make sure they create the right types of habitats in the right time and space. This is sometimes difficult because different owners may have different management objectives.

"The public wants land to be managed in particular ways, he says. "Computer models can help us do that. We'll be able to tell land managers how these values will play out under different management options that address both habitat quality and the economic viability of wood production."

Chen says the project will include a series of workshops to share research results with practicing forest managers, and to get feedback to refine computer models.

The project is supported by a $228,000 grant from the USDA National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program.

Michigan Technological University

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