5 Capacity of Forestry-Research Organizations to Meet Future Research Needs
Four factors are important in enabling a research organization to perform useful research and meet future research needs. They are:
- Continuity through time allowing for adequate and consistent resources to maintain and improve operations,
- Availability of up-to-date facilities and equipment,
- Access to skilled and competent scientists, managers, and staff, and
- Focus on high-priority goals and needs.
Our nation's forestry-research engine has made substantial progress over the last several decades, but it appears to be struggling at some level with respect to all four factors listed above. It is difficult to address those factors separately, because they are integral to each other. For example, without adequate and consistent human and financial resources over time, it is impossible to maintain quality researchers, programs, facilities, and equipment. The declines and trends described in Chapters 3 and 4 in scientific, educational, and fiscal resources that make up the U.S. forestry-research enterprise are cause for concern. This chapter summarizes the concern and presents information in the context of the capacity of forestry-research organizations to meet future research needs.
CONTINUITY THROUGH TIME: RESOURCES TO MAINTAIN OPERATIONS
The forest industry's contribution to the domestic gross national product and the number of people employed directly and indirectly by forestry are large, and forestry research efforts and support should be large to maintain them. When the National Forest system. Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service are considered, an even stronger case is made for the importance of forestry research to our nation. Given the high cost of modern research in biotechnology, genomics, and ecosystems, the need for adequate support of forestry research is even greater.
Chapters 2, 3, and 4 of this report provide recommendations for addressing deficiencies in scientific and fiscal resources needed to secure our nation's future forestry-research capacity. The recommendations encompass university, government, and industry. Implementing some of the recommendations might require new federal funding, which is often difficult to obtain. The search for new funding will continue, but lasting change might occur best through reshaping and development of important new models and systems to generate the dollars for research. Federal, state, and local law and regulatory changes could be made to encourage investment in forest research.
Models such as cooperative university, industry, and federal research appear to be functioning well and should be considered ( Box 5–1). For any such models to function three things conditions are necessary: stakeholders must agree that there is a need, there must be an equitable system to secure the required funds; and there must be a defined process to set priorities and allocate the funds.
Box 5–1 Northwest Stand Management Cooperative(SMC)
The mission of the Northwest Stand Management Cooperative (SMC) is to provide a continuing source of high quality information on the long-term effects of silvicultural treatments on stand and tree growth and development and on wood and product quality. The SMC is composed of 19 forest industry members; six state, provincial, and federal agencies; three suppliers; and four universities. The Policy Committee, composed of dues-paying members, controls policy and establishes goals with the aid of the Technical Advisory Committee in silviculture, nutrition, wood quality, and modeling.
The SMC annual budget over the last five years has ranged from $0.9 to $1.1 million; 60 percent comes from member dues, 20 percent from grants and contracts, and 20 percent from institutional members in the form of salaries, facilities, and administrative support. The SMC database represents 435 installations containing 4427 plots, with data on a quarter-million trees in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. SMC is headquartered at the College of Forest Resources, University of Washington, which provides administration and staffing.
The university system is struggling to find the resources to maintain high-quality forest research and in general is falling further behind. Facilities and equipment for the most part are out-of-date (National Science Foundation, 1996). This makes it difficult to draw good students into forest research and to provide the training required for science. Many faculty also find themselves operating mostly on soft money, which can make it difficult to maintain a focus on specific priorities.
Current administrative structures and funding mechanisms do not provide the “critical mass”, appropriate organization, and focus to meet many of the nation's needs in forestry research. To implement the research priorities outlined in this report, centers of excellence in forestry are proposed. These would provide a new mechanism for focusing substantial effort directly on specific research needs for practical applications and basic science in forestry ( Box 5-2). The value and efficiencies of focusing many scattered research facilities by establishing “centers of emphasis” has been reported previously (University of Idaho, 1983; National Research Council 1990; National Research Council, 1995).
As previously recommended, centers of excellence might be a means of accomplishing interorganizational research cooperation. The centers could help to institutionalize cooperation among organizations using existing scientists or hiring new staff that would administer joint programs. The centers usually are housed at particular organizations, but seek cooperation among many partners and funding from outside sources. Centers could add another layer of supervision for scientists, so careful thought needs to be given to administrative responsibilities associated with the centers.
Box 5-2 Centers of Excellence in Forestry
The complexity of contemporary forest-resources research issues requires a diversity of expertise that is seldom found in any single institution or organization. The concept of a center of excellence in forestry is that researchers from different organizations could interact effectively, by using modern communication technology, to address complex highpriority research issues without being in the same location.
A center could involve any combination of university, industry, and government participation. Centers could be coordinated by existing personnel or by the funding of new administrative positions; in either case, the organizations involved would need to provide administration and leadership in securing funding, coordinating research activities, and disseminating new information.
This concept calls for something similar to research foundations at most universities and to research centers established by foundations, but the centers of excellence would be more focused. A center would be a variation of the existing National Science Foundation science and technology centers. The major advantages of the new concept are the creation of an entity possessing the diversity of expertise required to solve complex contemporary research problems, enhanced cooperation among scientists in different organizations, use of the best scientific expertise, ability' to attract sufficient resources to address large-scale research issues, and flexibility.
“Virtual centers” might be a means to achieve new cooperation among various partners without much added administration. The centers could continue to rely on existing scientists and programs but try to seek synergies and fill gaps at participating institutions to achieve well-defined research goals. These cross-institutional centers would need new funding to provide an incentive for collaboration but might offer the promise of more focused cooperation without greater administrative overhead. If virtual centers remain modest in size or scope, they might be administered by management teams in existing organizations. If large external funding is received and numerous projects initiated, a formal center director and administrative structure will probably be needed.
Munson (1999) concurred that research problems in the future will usually need to be addressed in teams rather than in the classical single-investigator model. Research initiatives will often be organized at the regional level with cross-organizational structures. No single institution could or should dominate the research agenda. Intellectual property rights will be more highly valued by research sponsors and researchers, and business arrangements to protect those resources will be developed. Last, fixed-term research agreements focused on cooperative arrangements will be increasingly important, and long-term permanent projects will decrease in importance.
It is expected that centers of excellence would have a large education and training component associated with the research focus. Such centers could be virtual centers with a limited funding period. Projects would be periodically reviewed and targeted to specific research objectives. Funding would be competitive, and projects would be focused on critical needs in forestry and forest sciences. Substantial involvement would be expected from industry, government, universities, and forestry-related NGOs for review of proposals and management of projects. Two examples of virtual centers at work are the cooperative ecosystem studies units and the Valuation of Wildland Resource Benefits project ( Box 5–3).
Competitive funding remains an excellent approach to ensure that research expenditures are used for high-priority needs (National Research Council, 2000). Funding for new competitive grants is difficult to obtain, but the case must be made on the basis of the importance of the collective needs of resource production and protection.
Competitive funding has many desirable attributes but has a downside that any scientist working on soft money knows well. Accessing the competitive grant pools requires considerable time for proposal preparation and submission, which often fail to result in funding. Generally, less than 10 to 25 percent of proposals submitted to NSF, NRI, and Agenda 2020 have been funded. This has a great effect on the quantity of research that can be accomplished by organizations that depend heavily on competitive grant money. The present process increases the quality of science performed, but the value of spending so many scientist-years in securing the resources to carry out research should be weighed against other models that accomplish a similar outcome. For example, reducing by one-third the time spent on proposal development and winning grant applications could effectively free up the equivalent of many scientists per year for research without adding costs.
Box 5–3 Virtual Center Concept at Work
Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units
The federal and university partnerships formed through cooperative ecosystem studies units (CESUs) are a relatively new way to provide research, education, and technical assistance for the benefit of both agencies and universities. CESUs bring together managers, scientists, and educators in a national network overseen by a national coordinating committee and regional CESU committees. Ten regional CESUs cover the Chesapeake Watershed, Colorado Plateau, Desert Southwest, Great Basin, Great Plains, North Atlantic Coast, Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, South Florida and the Carribean, and the Souther Appalachian Mountains.
regions. These units are designed to identify programs that should be pursued, to enable the sharing of resources and funds without a lot of red tape, and to facilitate crossing institutional boundaries. The Rocky Mountain CESU is managed by the University of Montana with participation of the University of Idaho, Montana State University, Salish Kootenai College, Utah State University, and Washington State University and with, as federal partners, the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, USDA Forest Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey-Biological Resources Division. An Executive Committee of all partners oversees the management of the unit, and a Manager's Committee provides advice on programmatic themes and directions.
Valuation of Wildland Resource Benefits
An example of successful management and brokering of collaborative research activities is the long-standing policy of the Forest Service's Valuation of Wildland Resource Benefits project (Rocky Mountain Research Station) to facilitate the work of many university scientists studying recreation and other amenity resource valuation issues. This project routinely facilitates the work of university scientists coast to coast, overseeing many studies that fit together as pieces for understanding valuation of wildland resources.
Another method of increasing resources focused on forest research would be to create innovative risk and reward processes that encourage reallocation of existing resources in allied areas and organizations (for example, wildlife, hydrology, genomics, and geographic information systems or GIS). If a new model can be developed and implemented that allows research scientists to come together and focus on high-priority subjects while minimizing proposal preparation, it should be possible to increase scientist productivity. The challenge in defining such a system will be to keep it simple.
As discussed in Chapters 3 and 4, forestry research needs to be better integrated with development and extension to ensure dissemination of research results. University cooperative extension programs offer the promise of achieving that objective, but for various reasons they have not realized their potential. Much of the failure can be attributed to modest funding. With only about $20 million for all federal and state contributions, forestry efforts pale in comparison with agricultural. In addition to direct funding, financial incentives are needed to draw researchers and technology-transfer
experts together in designing research programs and distributing their results (National Research Council, 1998).
Interdisciplinary and interinstitutional efforts mean that scientists not only must be trained in a technical skill, but also must be trained in skills that allow them to work in complex teams focused on common goals. Many scientists find that difficult. Reward systems at individual universities—such as tenure, promotion, and pay—must encourage cooperation and extend across institutions. Present reward systems tend to work against a cooperative model, instead favoring and rewarding individuals. A system that encourages both without stifling individual creativity is desired.
The private sector has been unable to maintain continuity of funding. When inflation is taken into consideration, even companies with large forest research organizations have become smaller with periodic budget cuts and redesigns. Industry funding for sustainable forestry research totaled $68 million in 1999, up from $60 million in 1996 (see Table 3–9), but most of this spending occurred in only four companies, and one of the challenges for the industry is to engage the majority of the industry.
Ellefson and Ek (1996) estimated that private, forest products research in the United States amounted to almost $900 million. Private forestry R&D expenditures were about $60 to 70 million. The balance of $830 to 840 million of private research was focused mostly on proprietary forest products and paper science R&D. In 1991, forest products R&D expenditures amounted to less than 1 percent of industry's domestic sales—0.8 percent for paper and allied products and 0.7 percent for lumber, wood products, and furniture. One might expect that forestry R&D expenditures are even less, given their small proportion of total forest products R&D expenditures. The proportion of forest products expenditures for R&D was much less than the average for all industries, which was 4.7 percent of domestic sales, and only one-tenth as much as that of computer science.
Industrial research has tended to focus on projects that have near-term effects rather than longer-term projects that pay off in the future. Ellefson and Ek (1996) found that only 8 percent of the wood-based industry's R&D were aimed at developing fundamentally new knowledge. There are notable exceptions in biotechnology, in which major investments were made by several of the major forest products companies.
The forest industry has led in the creation of the Agenda 2020 program. That effort is developing a new model to focus new and old money on high-priority research needs of the forest products industry. The model requires the industry to provide a minimum of 25 percent of the funds for the research and is aimed at pre-competitive research; thus it tends to focus on longer-term projects. It encourages cross-agency and cross-organizational participation and has developed a total portfolio of $13 million for sustainable forestry projects in its three years of operation. Both the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Forest Service are active partners in the program. In addition to forestry, the program has many grants related to forest products and pulp and paper processing.
The industry also encourages and participates in consortia and research cooperatives with universities, state and federal agencies, and nongovernmental organizations. For example, the Forest Biology Research Cooperative and the Biotechnology Consortium were formed, in 1996 and 1997 respectively, with the University of Florida School of Forest Resources and Conservation, industry, and the U.S. Forest Service. A cooperative is usually centered at one university and has industrial, other university, and often state and federal forestry organizations as members. The cooperatives usually have narrowly focused purposes, such as tree improvement, growth and yield, or vegetation management, and they follow study plans determined annually by their members. North Carolina State University maintains several cooperative research programs with forest-based industries that address research designed to maximize the productivity of commercial timberland, maximize economic efficiency and protect the environment. Most co-ops have had fixed dues for all members, regardless of company size. Overall, forest management cooperatives have expanded slowly over the last five decades, and have had excellent success at targeting specific research needs. Forest and related industries now contribute about $10 million to cooperatives in the United States.
Consortia tend to have broader purposes and more loosely organized structures. The western Stand Management Cooperative—which examined growth and yield, silviculture, and wood quality—typifies such consortia. This cooperative effort has members and studies at universities and organizations throughout the West. A similar approach, the Southern Forest Resource Assessment Consortium (SOFAC), was formed to study timber supply issues in 1994. SOFAC has had about 15 forest industry, consulting, and state member organizations that pay annual dues and has had several USDA Forest Service research work unit contributors. The consortium is administered through the Southern Research Station and has funded timber supply research and modeling projects at seven southern universities.
Clearly, the trend in industry is to do more targeted outsourcing of its research needs via cooperatives, universities, or other research organizations and to spend less internally. In this age of consolidation among forest products companies, many of these cooperatives might find it difficult to fund their programs with the same fixed dues for all members as the number of member companies declines. This suggests that the method of assessing membership fees might need revision.
USDA Forest Service
The USDA Forest Service has experienced fluctuating budget levels and budget erosion because of inflation. Despite increases in Forest Service forest management research funding, the forest industry perception is that attrition and retirement have dramatically reduced the skills and competencies that are critical to intensive forest management while skill areas aimed at ecosystems have increased. Present budgets cover salaries, fixed operating costs, and overhead but leave little for new equipment, the variable costs of carrying out research, and cooperative research. Recall that Table 3–3presents trends in research skills and staffing in the Forest Service.
Continuity through time, facilities, scientific and managerial talent, and strategic directions are the key determinants of Forest Service research success, as in all organizations. Despite substantial reductions in scientific staff over the last two decades, the Forest Service research team remains exceptionally strong. That is evidenced by its thousands of publications each year; leadership in major regional and national studies; active involvement in local, national, and international professional societies; and a host of other criteria. No other forest research organization in the world can focus more resources on important problems or have such a large resource management organization that can be directed to examine major social issues.
FACILITIES AND EQUIPMENT TO PERFORM HIGH-QUALITY RESEARCH
The ability to carry out high quality, productive research requires an up-to-date physical plant and equipment. Forestry Research: A Mandate for Change (NRC, 1990) stated that the physical plant and equipment at many forestry research stations and forestry colleges were inadequate. Since its publication in 1990, funding has been even less adequate to keep pace with changing technology. With the exception of a few forest products companies, industrial research laboratories also have not kept pace with technology needs. Industry consolidation continues to play a role in reducing the number of research laboratories and researchers focused on sustainable forestry targets. The same can be said for the university system: most institutions are underequipped, understaffed, and underfunded.
Without an adequate physical plant and up-to-date equipment, it will not be possible to do the research required to address society's forest research needs. It will be difficult or impossible for our university system to train and educate new scientists with the necessary skills. The disparity between highly capitalized and efficient private sector research and often “shoestring” public facilities is widening. Investments in forestry-research equipment and physical plants are less than in agriculture, information technology, pharmaceuticals, or medicine. These shortcomings of facilities and equipment handicap our ability to perform research and solve pressing forestry and natural resource problems (National Science and Technology Council, 1999).
The issue of facilities and equipment involves how research is performed and who should be responsible. A recent report by the Strategic Planning Task Force on Research Facilities (USDA, 1999) examined “current and planned agriculture research facilities, funded in whole or part by federal monies, to ensure that a comprehensive research capacity is maintained.” The task force that prepared the report came up with many findings and included Forest Service research facilities. Its recommendations have a bearing on our study. In its executive summary, the task force stated (P. v):
Underpinning the Task Force's vision are four basic propositions. First, the bedrock philosophy for creating research capacity is quality scientists who are well educated and well trained. Second, investments in research infrastructure are driven by a philosophy of maximum flexibility and
collaborative use of laboratories and equipment. Third, the laboratories in the broadly defined food, agriculture, and forestry-research systems are appropriately connected and, to the extent possible, create linkages resulting in improved productivity—a major change from earlier emphasis on physical structures. Fourth, the public at large has timely and equal access to research results produced by this system.
The task force determined that research facilities should be classified into three types of responsibility:
- Uniquely federal—responsibilities singularly proper for the federal sector,
- Appropriately federal—responsibilities suitable for the federal sector and shared with other sectors (universities, other research organizations, and private sector),
- Not uniquely or appropriately federal—responsibilities not fitting the federal sector.
As the research propositions and classifications suggest, the Strategic Planning Task Force on Research Facilities espoused a careful examination of research facilities and infrastructure with the intention of maximizing returns to federal investments via integrated, interconnected research facilities. The task force (USDA 1999) concluded that much of federal research objectives could actually be accomplished with fewer facilities but through cooperation with external partners (P. 9):
The Task Force urges the intramural agencies to concentrate their efforts on facilitation, and, if appropriate, funding of major mission-oriented research and development programs with specific output expectations wherever those programs can be best accomplished within the vast extramural research capacity. The Department of Agriculture should not focus on carrying work only in federally owned facilities. Instead, the focus should be on funding the work and ensuring that results come from the best sources available at universities, private institutions, and industry—thus establishing virtual facilities. This approach should not be interpreted to mean that intramural research agencies will lose control of the funding, face reduced budgets, or be restricted in the influence they exert over research. To the contrary, this approach presents an opportunity for the intramural research agencies to manage their resources in whichever ways support the largest number of first-rate scientists and produce the most meaningful outcomes and outputs.
Resources could be concentrated in such collaborative or virtual research facilities, which could be supported by new modern communication technology. Despite their limitations, the Forest Service facilities and equipment are still much better than those of many universities. Only a few forest-products firms and universities have made
substantial forestry-research facility investments that are not matched by the Forest Service. Funds and scientists—from federal agencies and from other public and private partners—could be used more effectively where the federal role is not unique. That would allow a greater “critical mass” of scientists from multiple disciplines, collaboration among laboratories in the federal and non-federal research sectors, and co-location of federal laboratories with other laboratories or universities, where practical, to be most effective. The task force vision applied explicitly to Forest Service research facilities and has broader implications than for facilities.
ACCESS TO PEOPLE WITH APPROPRIATE SKILLS AND COMPETENCIES
As the report by the Strategic Planning Task Force on Research Facilities (USDA 1999) stated, high-quality scientists who are well educated and well trained are the bedrock of creative research capacity. Chapter 4 of the present report summarized the status of the education of our future researchers and called for improvements in education. This section of this chapter focuses on the ability of scientists to perform the required forestry research in the public or private sector.
Research projects are increasingly complex and interrelated and that makes cross-functional and interdisciplinary teams necessary. Mechanisms must be put into place to encourage cross-organizational, cross-functional, and cross-geographic interdisciplinary teams to address the increasingly complex issues. Examples of the complexity are seen when we recognize the interactions among physiology, biochemistry, and biotechnology and the multiplicity of interactions between and within ecosystems. Biological complexity requires high quality research to understand why trees and plants respond, as opposed to simply empirically measuring responses. Our capacity to do this type of fundamental research is questionable. However, we will find it harder and harder to understand the nature of the systems we manage unless we address the issue.
We will also find it more and more expensive to do research that addresses those questions only in an empirical way. Teams of scientists with different skills must carry out such research, and it is improbable that a single organization will contain all the skills necessary. Examples abound in the computer industry and the biotechnology industry. Addressing complex outcomes requires cobwebs of interactions, cross licensing, and alliances, joint ventures, and collaborations. In addition to the biological complexity, scientists are increasingly asked to address the socioeconomic impacts of implementing research. That further increases the complexity of their interactions and requires interactions with social and economic researchers.
Federal and university research scientist capacity has declined in the last decade. Despite their large size, Forest Service research support and research capacity have decreased steadily for years. Declines in numbers of scientists and budget allocations have decreased the foundations of research. Forestry faculty numbers have remained fairly stable, in comparison with the Forest Service personnel reductions. Given their existing personnel and infrastructure bases, more financial support to augment existing resources could greatly increase the Forest Service's (and other research organizations')
research capacity and ability to perform and deliver forestry research directed at high-priority needs. Such support, however, must be contingent on better use, cooperation, and collaboration among scientists at least in the public sector, and as appropriate in the private sector.
FOCUS ON HIGH-PRIORITY GOALS AND NEEDS
We will accomplish little if we establish a well-funded research system that is not well guided and focused on national priorities. In industry, focusing on business goals aligns cross-functional organizations. Such a system is described in detail in Third Generation R&D (Little, 1991). The process by which national goals are agreed on and used to align R&D resources is critical.
Identifying and focusing on high-priority research needs is the largest issue regarding the ability of the Forest Service to perform and deliver fundamental and emerging forestry research. The Forest Service has had difficulty in identifying and articulating a strategic vision for forestry research, is challenged to execute a strategy, has earned a reputation among some of its clients for weak communication, and has often become embroiled in political controversies.
Such political controversy has in some cases eroded the ability of the Forest Service to perform high-quality research. Such projects as the spotted owl controversy and the president's plan for the Pacific Northwest are contentious, and no solutions are likely to placate diverse interest groups with inherently different values. The 1999 Committee of Scientists proposal suggesting that Forest Service researchers review and comment on the science base of national forest plans could further dilute the credibility and independence of the agency and as detract from scientists' time for scientific research.
It might be easy to attribute the Forest Service's difficulties in defining vision and direction to external forces, such as its difficult political operating environment. However, the agency itself needs to bear more responsibility for its problems and their fate. Whether because of external forces or internal resistance, Forest Service research at the national level does not appear to have a vision for its future. With the exception of strategic planning at the Station level, the last and very modest national strategic planning exercise for research by the Forest Service occurred in the 1980s (USDA Forest Service 1990). The recommendations and priorities defined in Chapters 3 and 4 of the present report provide a starting point for developing a comprehensive vision to ensure research capacity.
Furthermore, the agency might benefit from increasing communication efforts with partners and clientele. Some interest groups that interact with the Forest Service perceive that their needs are not being met. For example, the environmental community perceives that its concerns are not being addressed adequately. Fish and wildlife and social science researchers perceive that although the Forest Service has some excellent researchers, the agency provides only a token effort in those disciplines. The forest industry often perceives that its requests for research aimed at intensively managed
forests have been ignored. In response to such criticisms, the agency holds meetings and responds with discussion but seldom changes allocation of resources or research work unit missions.
The Forest Service's deficiencies in strategic directions could be contrasted with what one expects to be the more disparate efforts of the nation's professional forestry schools. Despite their diversity and inherent independence, the schools have led in developing not only an internal strategic planning document and teaching, research, and extension plan (NAPFSC 1998), but also an effort to do the same for nonfederal lands (NAPFSC and CSREES 1999). A vision is needed for the Forest Service, and it should be developed in cooperation with its traditional and new partners. Industry, through its partnership with DOE in Agenda 2020, has produced a focused research agenda. Other agencies, such as EPA and NASA, seem more interested in particular components of forestry questions that are related to their missions and might pursue them purposefully or opportunistically.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Drawing from the continuum suggested by Roussopolous (1999) and described in Chapter 1, what research organizations are appropriate today? The spectrum of forest industry, Forest Service, environmental agency, national science, academic, and nongovernment research organizations seems to cover the gamut of possibilities. However, not all of the variants have been applied in forestry, and creativity in new approaches with existing organizations has merit.
Most agree that we must do more research with fewer resources, we should collaborate more on projects of mutual interests, and we should take a broader perspective in our research. In general, that consensus provides considerable basis for recommendations. However, we note that our current research structures were based on decades of incremental improvement, and we do not recommend casting them aside as much as modifying them. Burkhart (1999) pointed out that some research duplication is not only useful, but also necessary to accelerate and validate progress.
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 consortia provide a means for broader cooperation among more partners—universities, industry, and states, federal, and nongovernment organizations. However, creation of centers focused on specific research emphasis that involve many players is a need that continues to grow as forestry research continues to broaden and demands continue to expand.
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 minority 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 in by the National Research Council in 1990, the 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 run by universities and governments are essential for reaching all sectors of society. However, such programs in forestry education and research have been largely ineffective in increasing minority representation 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. Support is broadly needed to enhance minority group participation in forestry research, but a portion of it should be targeted at topics identified in Chapter 2 as needing particular attention. Achieving an ethnically and racially diverse group of forestry scientists will require extraordinary recruiting efforts. Support of such students through awards provided through centers of excellence in forestry is one key factor in ensuring a better prepared and more diverse research workforce in the future.
Funding of university research is a concern, with limited resources. Competition among universities and public entities encourages better research and faster dissemination of results. It also provides replication of results, greater confidence in results and wider applicability. Furthermore, the competitive grant process is almost universally revered for inducing the best scientific proposals and research. The wide geographic distribution of recipients of competitive grant funds has enhanced political support for increases in federal funding. More competition in forestry research has merit, including in research agencies that now have their own forestry-research portfolios. As described in Chapter 3, we need a mix of competition to generate new ideas and accelerate progress, solid base
funding to support personnel and infrastructure, and collaboration to ensure that scarce research funds are used wisely.
Direct grants programs are another means of advancing forestry research. Grants provide a means to set specific scientific objectives and then seek proposals and projects to accomplish the objectives. That allows a large amount of scientific creativity, although it tends to be somewhat weak in monitoring and modifications or in accomplishing planned results. Traditional requests for proposals (RFPs) have focused on single institutions or even single-investigator research. There already has been a substantial movement to broaden this base, and it needs to continue.
Broad, long-range programs, such as NSF's Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network, provide another means to achieve integrated research projects at a single location but with cooperation among many organizations. They ensure that many partners participate in the research, and they focus research on questions of broad interest more than do individual projects developed across the landscape.
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.
The LTER Network exemplifies one mechanism for enabling valuable research and creating needed capacity, ideas endorsed throughout this report. The LTER network has been successful in: collecting scientific data on ecological phenomena over long temporal and large spatial scales, creating a legacy for such research, facilitating collaborating among researchers from diverse geographic locations, conducting major synthetic projects, and in providing easily accessible data for researchers. These research sites would benefit from periodic external review to ensure that they achieve their original objectives and investigate appropriate new subjects.