Forests are major components of the earth's natural resources and they are increasingly critical to the welfare of the U.S. economy, environment, and population. Desires to improve forest management and productivity, preserve biodiversity, maintain ecologic integrity, and provide societal services, such as recreation and tourism, necessitate a strong forestry-research base.
Given the clear importance of forestry research in sustaining forests for the future, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service asked the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources of the National Academies to undertake a study of the nation's capacity in forestry research. The Committee on National Capacity in Forestry Research was appointed to carry out the study, which was conducted to review the current expertise and status of forestry research and to examine the approaches of natural resources education and forestry-research organizations to meet future needs. The committee was charged with the tasks of assessing
The knowledge base necessary for forestry experts and other professionals to address research and management issues successfully in a complex social, political, and technical environment.
The capacity of research organizations that employ those professionals to perform research that will provide the basis of scientific management and protection of the nation's forest resources.
The basic curriculum elements and level of instruction necessary to develop a core competence, requisite to the desired knowledge base, that will produce suitably trained, socially aware, and technically proficient researchers and managers.
The means by which focused education and interdisciplinary systems thinking and communication skills can be developed and applied by a wide array of professionals to forest-landscape problems.
The adequacy and capacity of available university-level programs to meet near future needs.
Our analysis and recommendations place special emphasis on the nation's largest forestry research entity, the USDA Forest Service, but they also address its larger operating
environment, including other public and private research and educational institutions that supply forestry-research capacity.
A major source of input for this study was a workshop that took place on July 15– 16, 1999, at the National Academies in Washington, D.C. In addition to the workshop and associated public comments and letters, the committee communicated with professionals in relevant forestry research and education organizations and consulted numerous other sources, including recent surveys and studies of trends in forestry education, to obtain relevant information for analysis.
DEFINING FORESTRY-RESEARCH CAPACITY
Assessing national capacity in forestry research requires definitions of the general scientific concepts of forestry and of the notion of research capacity. An understanding of return on investment in forestry research is also needed.
For purposes of this study, a modified definition of forestry is adopted from definitions published by several sources.
Forestry is the science, art, and practice of creating, managing, using, and conserving forests and associated resources in a sustainable manner, engaging broad and specialized scientific disciplines to meet desired goals, needs, and values.
A comprehensive definition of research capacity is difficult to capture because it has no fixed boundaries. Capacity encompasses human resources, institutions, infrastructure, and financial support.
Research capacity is the magnitude of the ability to develop, advance, and disseminate science and technology.
THE VALUE OF FORESTRY RESEARCH
The estimated return on investment in wood-product and timber-management research has been reported to be as high as 40 to 86 percent per year. Forest products and use research conducted by the Forest Service, for example, has contributed to the development of knowledge and technology that have tripled the amount of fiber available for use from trees within the last 100 years, greatly extending forest resources. Research on recycling of wood-based products has increased paper-recovery rates from 25 percent to 45 percent of fiber. A specific example is the scientific advance in recycling of 33 billion stamps produced each year by the U.S. Postal Service as a result of research on pressure-sensitive adhesives, which had presented substantial problems in recycling. Other research advances include the development of composite products and improvement in housing constructions. Similarly, research conducted by universities, industry, and government on forest health, genetics, management (intensive, extensive,
and alternative), and fire has contributed to improved planting stock, tree growth and quality, and forest sustainability.
The value of forestry research has been measured by the gains that have increased the efficiency of wood use and timber management, but these measures do not address the gains attributed to productivity research or the benefits derived outside the marketplace, such as those related to environmental protection and social welfare. Although it is not remembered well, the Forest Service was established to protect watersheds and maintain the nation's supply of fresh drinking water, and watershed research has retained high priority. Research contributions include assessing effects of National Forest and other owners' land-management activities on drinking-water source quality; these assessments are required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine the risk of contamination of drinking-water sources and to enable science-based decision-making. Human dimensions of natural resources management go beyond health to encompass social aspects. Research by social scientists on how human behavior, social institutions, demographic needs, and values affect the availability, demand, and use of forests is increasingly important to sustainability of these lands.
The analysis of national research capacity in this report is focused on major forestry-research organizations that are the key players in terms of capacity. Those organizations include the Forest Service and several other federal agencies that conduct forestry-related natural resources research (for example, the Department of Energy, DOE; EPA; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA; the Department of Interior, DOI; and the National Science Foundation, NSF), nongovernment organizations, professional forestry schools and colleges, other university departments and research units, and the private forest industry. Our analyses and recommendations to enhance the nation's forestry-research capacity are related to those players.
KNOWLEDGE BASE AND PRIORITIES
Assessing the knowledge base in forest sciences and the nation's research capacity in forestry involves the identification of current knowledge gaps. Forecasting future research needs and capacity for improved forest management, protection, and production requires the identification of education and research priorities to fill the gaps and to support current endeavors. Traditional areas of science provide the foundation for all work in forestry. These foundation fields of science education and research include biology, ecology, and silviculture; genetics; forest management, economics, and policy; and wood and materials science. Numerous gaps in knowledge related to various specific scientific aspects of forestry have been identified, but there is general agreement among forest researchers that basic biologic knowledge is limited and that our understanding of forest health, systems, and management and wood science is deficient. Because of new
and evolving roles of forests in our society and because of changing emphasis in and goals of forest management and protection, several subjects of education and research will be increasingly important in the future; these emerging subjects include human-natural resource interactions; ecosystem function, health, and management; forest systems in various scales of space and time; and forest monitoring, analysis, and adaptive management, and forest biotechnology.
To achieve an adequate knowledge base, forestry and natural-resource education and research programs in government and academia should dedicate resources to the foundation fields of forestry science while engaging in efforts to develop emerging education and research priority areas.
ASSESSING THE STATUS OF FORESTRY RESEARCH
In obtaining information for this report, we were challenged by the limited availability of systematic budgetary, expenditure, and programmatic data on the diverse forestry and natural resources programs from the different agencies and organizations responsible for or involved in research. The Forest Service has taken the lead in systematically compiling and tracking that type of information. Although the Forest Service maintains pertinent information related to its research activities, there is a lack of comprehensive information on forestry research in the United States.
In 1997, the National Science and Technology Council recommended a framework for integrating the nation's environmental monitoring and research networks and programs, noting that new developments in science and technology provide new opportunities for collecting and organizing data. With current fiscal limitations facing all levels of government, cooperation and efficiency among agencies is essential to the long-term success of individual programs. Following on the need for an integrated environmental and monitoring network, an integrated research-information system is needed for tracking forestry research activities. The initial challenge will be to build on, enhance, and integrate existing databases.
The Forest Service should enhance its current research-information system and tracking efforts by establishing an improved and integrated interagency system that includes relevant information on forestry research activities, workforce, funding, and accomplishments in all agencies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, other relevant federal agencies, and associated organizations as appropriate.
Integrating information on forestry research from the Forest Service with information from other agencies in USDA and for example, from DOE, EPA, DOI, NSF, and NASA will provide a stronger foundation on which to base decisions. Developing better information on the status of forestry research will require settling on the types of data to include in such a system; determining funding and staffing levels of federal, state, university, and nongovernment organizations that perform forestry research; noting research priorities; and tracking quantitative and qualitative research accomplishments. Such a strategy is essential to monitoring the nation's research capacity and to differentiate between actual and perceived advances in forestry research.
ENHANCING FORESTRY-RESEARCH PERSONNEL, FACILITIES, AND INFRASTRUCTURE
Scientific discovery and productivity can depend as much on advances in specific scientific disciplines as on the personnel, facilities, and infrastructure through which they are founded. Concerns expressed by members of the scientific-research community concentrate on the decreasing number of researchers and waning attention to research facilities and infrastructure. Indeed, the USDA Forest Service, the world's largest forestry-research organization, has experienced a 46 percent decrease in number of scientists in the last 15 years, from 985 in 1985 to 537 in 1999. It is clear that Forest Service research capacity has decreased dramatically in terms of numbers of scientists. Despite apparent and measured increases in efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity, the Forest Service research base has dwindled as population demands on our forest resources have increased.
The Forest Service should substantially strengthen its research workforce over the next five years to address current and impending shortfalls, specifically recruiting and retaining researchers trained in disciplines identified as foundation and critical emerging fields of scientific education and research.
Strengthening the Forest Service's ability to respond to short- and long-term research needs is essential. In an attempt to account for recent shortages of research scientists in specific fields, the Forest Service has routinely supplemented its workforce with temporary employees to work on critical issues. However this approach does not lend itself to continuity or the ability to adequately address research priorities. Employing additional full-time permanent researchers, rather than supplementing with temporary employees and post-doctoral students in fields that are required to address traditional and emerging issues, will improve Forest Service continuity and effectiveness in research efforts, especially long-term projects. Deficiencies in the forestry research workforce should be addressed as soon as possible, because trends to date indicate that the situation may worsen. In the past 8 years the Forest Service lost more than 9000 total employees
and during the past 15 years has lost approximately 45% of its scientists. Currently 35% of its workforce is eligible to retire in the next five years and the average age of employees is 55 years. The cost associated with strengthening and retaining the Forest Service research workforce is nominal compared with the costs associated with operating under current and projected deficiencies.
As part of the increase in research personnel capacity and resources, the Forest Service should enhance cooperative relations with forestry schools and colleges.
The National Science and Technology Council states that partnerships between the federal government and the nation's universities have proven exceptionally productive, successfully promoting discovery of knowledge, stimulating technologic innovations, improving quality of life, educating and training the next generation of scientists and engineers, and contributing to America's prosperity. However, cooperative research allocations as a proportion of the Forest Service research budget have decreased markedly from about 15 percent to 9 percent in the last seven years (see Table 3–1). Given an environment of decreasing budgets and fiscal constraints, the Forest Service should consider allocating a larger portion of its total research budget to the station or research work unit level for extramural research grants that are inter-organizational and cooperative, requiring active involvement, cooperation, and integration of Forest Service, university, and other research partners. Two important rationales exist for federal investment in university-based research: (1) the benefits derived from training a new generation of scientists and (2) continuous mutual scientific and financial enrichment that is derived from the relationship.
LEADERSHIP AND STRATEGIC PLANNING
The forestry-research sector consists of a broad group of public and private organizations. As the largest forestry-research organization in the world, the USDA Forest Service must provide research leadership. Strong leadership is accomplished by defining a clear vision for research and communicating effectively with research interest groups. Successful strategic planning is accomplished by setting goals and measuring progress toward them.
The current scarcity of resources calls for improved collaboration, communication, and oversight of forestry research. A central organizing body is needed to help set research priorities, oversee monitoring of research accomplishments, and facilitate cooperation among research organizations. Creation of new federal or state organizations is not necessary, but the roles of existing forestry-research oversight bodies should be refined and improved.
The USDA Forest Research Advisory Committee should focus its efforts in two primary areas: (1) work with USDA research leaders in the Forest Service and other agencies to set research priorities and monitor accomplishments, and (2) coordinate with USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service and other agencies to help guide research priorities of McIntire-Stennis, Renewable Resources Extension Act, National Research Initiative, and other grant programs.
Currently, the Forest Research Advisory Council is tasked to provide advice to the Secretary of Agriculture on forestry issues and accomplishing the purposes of the McIntire-Stennis Act. Its membership is currently drawn from state and federal government (USDA and EPA), university, industry, and nongovernmental organizations. Staff support to the group is 0.3 staff year equivalent and the group meets at least once per year. To be effective, the advisory body should include professionals in several other government agencies, a broader spectrum of universities, and relevant organizations as regular or exofficio members. A full-time dedicated professional USDA senior-level director would facilitate operations, serve as communication liaison, collect and monitor data on forestry-research accomplishments, and coordinate site reviews and visits. The advisory body and staff would also monitor forestry-research quality and accountability by renewing and expanding the periodic-review process, including reviews of McIntire-Stennis projects and Forest Service research accomplishments. Reasonable intervals for site visits are 10 years for McIntire-Stennis institutions and 5 years for Forest Service research stations.
A more focused advisory committee would help to ensure that research agencies and organizations are pursuing appropriate strategic directions and implementing them with sound operational programs. Implementing or renewing forestry-research oversight reviews would correspond with the mandates for performance evaluation under the Government Performance Results Act (GPRA). External peer reviews and funding competition would encourage increased consistency and higher quality of formula-funded research. All these steps would foster better communication about programs and support for their missions.
Traditional programs to support forestry research and education will be better served by focused guidance. Those programs include the McIntire-Stennis program and the Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA).
Universities and state institutions should increase the use of competitive mechanisms for allocating McIntire-Stennis and Renewable Resources Extension Act funds within these institutions, and in doing so, encourage team approaches to solving forestry and natural resource problems as well as integrated research and extension proposals or interinstitutional cooperation.
With goals consistent to the respective Congressional Acts, universities can allocate McIntire-Stennis and Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA) funding via a merit-based competitive process. Scientific excellence is recognized to be promoted when investments are guided by merit review that rewards quality and productivity in research and accommodates for endeavors that might be high-risk but have potential for high gain.
Clearly, formula-funds such as McIntire-Stennis are critical for diffusing research throughout the nation, for pursuit of long-term research goals and multidisciplinary research, and for supporting a system in which university faculty appointments are split among some combination of research, extension and teaching. There is a need to preserve the advantages offered by formula funding, particularly their facilitation of linked research, extension, and teaching programs. However, if more competitive approaches were used by universities and state institutions for allocation of formula-based McIntire-Stennis funds, the opportunities for improving the quality and accountability of research funded will be greater. A stronger commitment to addressing the quality and accountability of formula-based research might garner greater support for funding the critical McIntire-Stennis program at a level closer to that at which it was authorized. The current funding level of McIntire-Stennis is only approximately $21 million, which is less than half its authorized level. In light of this limited funding, institutions should concentrate research capital in specific (and perhaps limited) fields of forestry research where they operate best or have some recognized institutional advantage.
In addition to research oversight and mechanisms, technology transfer should be improved. We have made continuous strides in many fields of basic and applied research, but real resources directed to extension and cooperative efforts have steadily declined. A stronger delivery system must be developed.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, together with universities, should develop means to more effectively communicate existing and new knowledge to users, managers, and planners in forestry.
The United States has almost 10 million nonindustrial private forest landowners, who own 49 percent of the nation's forest land and 58 percent of the nation's commercial timberland. Forestry and natural-resources extension programs provide direct support for disseminating research findings to research users, such as nonindustrial private forest landowners, urban residents, production and environmental interest groups, natural-resource professionals, state and federal agencies, local governments, and policy-makers.
The USDA maintains a unique position to communicate research results to everyday users through its extension programs. That capacity does not all need to be housed at or be used by the Forest Service research branch, as suggested in a related study by the Strategic Planning Task Force on USDA Research Facilities. Without effective
mechanisms for technology transfer and adoption, forestry-research findings become a mere collection of observations and data. Forestry and natural resources extension programs have played a major role in communicating research results to users. To strengthen that role and ensure continuity in technology transfer, universities, government, and private organizations should actively participate in training forestry researchers to communicate research results to forest managers and to be receptive to their needs.
CREATING INTELLECTUAL AND SCIENTIFIC-RESEARCH CAPITAL
Despite constraints on growth in the forest sciences, colleges and universities must develop the next generation of scientific leadership. That requires depth and breadth of undergraduate and graduate education and experiences. Undergraduate programs should educate students in the basic forest sciences, and opportunities for specialization or diversification should be encouraged at the graduate level.
Focused education in basic science-including field biology, population genetics, plant systematics, and plant taxonomy is fundamental to understanding any biologic system. Declines in fundamental disciplines—such as genetics, physiology, pathology, and entomology—have been observed in faculty and support staff of universities and natural resources agencies. Demands for social-science knowledge have increased greatly, but scientific staff in this area remains at historically low levels. The intellectual capital in many of these fundamental areas is dangerously low, and this lack of capacity will affect the nation's ability to implement new programs of research and development. The challenge is to find the means by which truly focused education and interdisciplinary systems thinking and communication skills can be developed and applied by forestry professionals.
University programs should assume a renewed commitment to the fundamental areas of scholarship and research in forest sciences that have diminished in recent years, and adopt an enhanced, broad, integrative, and interdisciplinary programmatic approach to curricula at the graduate level
The next generation of forestry researchers will require skills in oral and written communication, interpersonal relations, and problem-solving; fundamental and specialized knowledge in a scientific discipline; the ability to operate in a team setting; and the ability to address complex forestry and natural resources research challenges.
In addition to formal “systems” courses, such as ecology, “systems thinking” should be embodied in teaching and learning through the use of examples in which the
description and integration of systems components are demonstrated. The systems approach can be enhanced if all future researchers have a core foundation in scientific method and discipline and have a specialization in which they have a competent depth and an appreciation of a wide range of other disciplines, including the ability to communicate effectively with scientists in other disciplines. Breadth and depth are both essential in graduate programs.
Managers of academic programs must be aware of the time and resources necessary to support synthesis and cooperative efforts by faculty and students. Promoting and achieving disciplinary integration is difficult but not impossible. Creative approaches involve the study of natural resource issues and the use of core and capstone courses that blend biological and social sciences.
In interdisciplinary and interinstitutional efforts, scientists must be trained not only in a technical skill, but also in skills that allow them to work in complex teams focused on common goals. The present reward systems tend to work against cooperative models by favoring and rewarding individuals. A system that encourages both individuals and teams without stifling individual creativity should be developed.
Universities should develop joint programming in geographic regions to ensure a “critical mass” of faculty and mentoring expertise in fields where expertise might be dispersed among the universities.
Because there is a wide variety of subfields in forestry and natural resources and few institutions can produce doctoral graduates in many subfields, regional cooperation might be viewed as a way to expand capacity by pooling resources in important areas. Building of regional coalitions among universities for the purpose of graduate education could enhance the education of students and lead to cost-effective expansion of the capacity to develop forestry and natural resources scientists.
INCREASING STRENGTH, COLLABORATION, AND DIVERSIFICATION IN FORESTRY RESEARCH
Most persons agree that the forestry research enterprise must do more research with fewer resources, collaborate more on projects of mutual interests, and take a broader perspective in research conducted. The nation's current research structures were based on decades of incremental improvement, and recommendations provided here do not suggest casting these structures aside as much as modifying them.
Current research organizations have merits, but we need to move toward new systems appropriate for new social and political environments. Existing resource management organizations must cooperate better, and partnerships that improve on unilateral research possible by single organizations must be formed. Research
cooperatives and research consortia are one evolving means of developing research synergies. Research cooperatives and consortia provide a means for cooperation among partners—universities, industry, and states, federal, and nongovernment organizations.
Universities, government, industry, and private groups can partner to a much greater extent than in the past to ensure that the entire spectrum of forestry research and development interests is addressed and to ensure that limited resources are utilized to best advantage. Creation of centers focused on specific research emphasis that involve many players is an increasing need as forestry research continues to broaden and demands continue to expand.
Several successful examples of federal programs represent innovative approaches to education and research and foster collaboration and diversification (see Chapter 5). Those programs are examples of programs that could be implemented by USDA to improve disciplinary and multidisciplinary forestry education and research. One example is the National Science Foundation (NSF) Long Term Ecological Research Network.
Centers of excellence in forestry, should be established and administered by USDA. These programs and awarded projects should (1) support interdisciplinary and interorganizational activities, (2) focus on increasing underrepresented student participation in education and research, (3) clearly justify how new forestry research approaches and capacity will be enhanced, and (4) undergo initial and periodic review.
Establishing centers of excellence in forestry for fields related to forestry research and education will require investment. The magnitude of investment will depend on the type of centers established. As noted by the National Research Council in 1990, centers need not be “bricks and mortar.” Options for “virtual” centers described in the current report address the need to work within the existing structure and fiscal constraints. Regardless of the type of center established, focusing research efforts and increasing efficiency of existing resources through centers will result in enhanced research and education. The goals of centers of excellence in would include: (1) working closely with government agencies and other organizations to develop new research and education collaborations and partnerships; (2) encouraging and providing opportunities for university faculty and government researchers to conduct integrated interinstitutional research; (3) providing incentives for minority group students to enter and remain in forestry research; (4) establishing measurable program goals and objectives; and (5) developing and implementing evaluations to assess the effectiveness and outcomes of programs and financial performance.
Effective recruitment and outreach by universities and governments are essential for reaching all sectors of society. However, forestry education and research have been largely ineffective in those respects over the last several decades. Minority-group participation in science education, graduate-level training, and forestry teaching, research, and development is inadequate. Recruitment and outreach need greater attention and
resources. Although they should enhance minority-group participation in forestry research, a portion of it should also be targeted specifically at topics identified in Chapter 2where there is considerable need. Achieving a more ethnically and racially diverse group of forestry scientists will require extraordinary efforts to recruit and encourage minority-groups students to pursue science careers in forestry and natural resources.
Supporting such students through awards and provided through centers of excellence in forestry is one key factor in ensuring a better prepared and more diverse workforce in the future.
Clear federal research facility mandates—such as long-term ecological research sites, experimental forest and natural resource areas, and watershed monitoring facilities—should receive priority for retention and enhancement, and a system of periodic review of all facilities should be implemented and maintained.
Possibilities for co-locating, virtual research centers, centers of excellence in forestry, or other collaborative research centers should be pursued for future federal forestry-research projects. Funding for future research centers should require clear justification based on the criteria of the three classes for federal research facilities (uniquely federal, appropriately federal, and not uniquely or appropriately federal). Current funding levels for facility maintenance and operation should increase at the rate of inflation to ensure a sound infrastructure.
The Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998 states: “The Secretary shall continue to review periodically each operating agricultural research facility constructed in whole or in part with federal funds, and each planned agricultural research facility proposed to be constructed in whole or in part with federal funds, pursuant to criteria established by the Secretary to ensure that a comprehensive research capacity is maintained.” Review is the only means of ensuring that objectives are being met. As previously recommended by several expert panels, the Forest Service, universities, and other forestry-research partners should review research facilities and determine how to optimize research infrastructure.
Taking into account budget limitations and the need for clearly focused programs, the recommendations offered in this report suggest areas for improvement. To ensure enhanced forestry-research capacity, we must implement principles for strategic planning to accomplish research goals, establish tracking and accounting as management and decision-making tools in research and development programs, develop innovative and contemporary models for education and research programs and infrastructure, and increase collaboration and diversification. Focusing on improvements along those lines
and implementing the specific recommendations will improve existing research and education efforts, direct resources to critical needs, and provide for a healthy and vigorous forestry-research base to address future challenges.
The next step for progress to be made will require implementation of detailed suggestions contained in this report. It will take a cooperative effort of university, federal, state, and private research interest groups to actively pursue the means to implement these recommendations. The analyses summarized here and the concomitant recommendations will enhance the nation's forestry-research capacity. Follow through is required to ensure interorganizational cooperation, adequate funding, administrative tracking, educational excellence, and, most important, strong research capacity. The future of forests and of their capacity to play their accustomed roles in natural resources and social landscapes throughout the world will depend on national ability to: develop better knowledge; use that knowledge to address issues of economic, environmental, and social importance; deliver the knowledge to forest landowners and managers; and measure and monitor our progress toward achieving our universal goals.