6 Summary and Conclusions
Forestry education and research may be classified in various ways, and new disciplines evolve slowly but distinctly over time. The committee used input from a public workshop on forestry research capacity and a review of available forestry strategic planning documents to develop a broad list of important foundation and emerging research needs and disciplines. Those important foundation forestry research needs are biology, ecology, and silviculture; forest genetics; forest management, economics, and policy; and wood and materials science. The important emerging research disciplines are human and natural resource interactions; ecosystem function, health, and management; forest systems at various scales of space and time; forest monitoring, analysis and adaptive management; and forest biotechnology. To some extent, these broad priority areas for forestry research and education reflect those identified in Forestry Research: A Mandate for Change (National Research Council, 1990). But their implications and applications go much further given the dramatic changes we have seen in Sustainable Forest Management, certification, biotechnology, social change, and other factors that affected forestry in the 1990s.
The identified broad priority areas for forest science education and research suggest that we need continued focus on foundation or traditional areas of forestry research, as well as new foci on emerging areas of research. The term foundation suggests that we cannot just jump to emerging areas, or neglect traditional areas, because new disciplines have enduring needs that are based on evolving knowledge about biology, ecology, forest management, measurements, policy, and other forestry research and education disciplines. For example, complex forest health monitoring issues still revolve around basic information about tree physiology, response to nutrients or pathogens in the atmosphere and soil, pest/host interactions, and climate. These foundation areas require continued focus, people, and funds for scientists to improve their
understanding of basic biophysical processes, and to make sound recommendations for forest management and protection.
The emerging research and education disciplines identified in this report are evolutionary, not revolutionary, extensions of the foundation research areas. On one hand, forest biotechnology is the extension of the focus on trees or plants at the cellular level to the level of DNA and genetic properties and markers. These efforts promise to revolutionize production of trees with desirable characteristics for commercial purposes, and precise identification and preservation of biodiversity at the most basic level. On the other hand, tree, plant, wildlife, water, and soil taxonomy and interactions at the stand level are being extended to examine ecosystems, human interactions, landscape effects, and adaptive management. These broad views of integrative natural resource and human resource management and impacts are closely reflected in the recent development of Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management and in industry and environmental forest certification approaches.
The scientific capacity in forestry research and education in the United States is at risk. This report identifies many encouraging facts regarding the extent and diversity of forestry research capacity. But the status quo of incremental changes in vision, funding, cooperation, and staffing will lead to diminished, not enhanced, research, education, and practice. The effects of reduced research and education capacity have been the largest with the USDA Forest Service research branch, but extend to the forest products sector and most state forestry research organizations as well.
Universities have maintained core strength in terms of the number of forestry professors, and have added many long-term temporary Ph.D. level professors and professionals as well, which are not recorded in the available data. In addition, many broader ecological and social faculty and programs in broader natural resources departments and colleges now contribute in part to forestry research and education. Recent budget cuts in all states in the 2000s, however, suggest that stable academic research and education support is likely to be at risk as well now. New research funds such as those from DOE (pre-competitive, productivity), USDA (NRI basic biology), NASA (remote sensing and GIS), and EPA (water and air quality, pollutants, and mitigation) have contributed the largest increases in funds and scope of forestry research in the last decade.
This mix of reductions in the research and education capacity of traditional Forest Service and forest industry organizations, stable levels (but dynamic fluctuations) in universities, and growth in new areas of forestry research makes universal generalizations difficult. The new research areas provide an example of enhanced prospects for forestry research capacity, but are neither comprehensive nor adequate by themselves. Systematic, broad-based, and thoughtfully planned programs as well as strengthened resources are required if forestry research capacity will meet rapidly increasing demands for a wealth of goods and services.
In order to revitalize our forestry research and education capacity, especially in the traditional agencies and organizations, this report makes eleven principal recommendations. They are discussed again briefly below in order of presentation in the report.
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.
Forestry research and education opportunities can be viewed as a continuum spanning foundation and emerging disciplines. The foundation disciplines are based in the traditional areas of biology and management that have been a focus since forestry began. They remain crucial in determining how forest resources are classified, managed, and protected. Allocation of resources to these traditional programs, which currently appear to be inadequately addressed, is key and renewed student interest is at least one prerequisite for foundation topics to prosper.
It is clear, however, that many basic scientific and educational questions still rest on the foundation disciplines. Thus their principles must be taught even as students and funding migrates toward more contemporary subjects such as ecology, remote sensing and GIS, human dimensions, or biotechnology. Furthermore, these emerging disciplines require resources to support the keen interest demonstrated by current forestry and natural resources students while maintaining efforts to improve our knowledge in the fundamental disciplines.
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.
One persistent challenge in preparing this report was the lack of data on current forestry research personnel, infrastructure, and support. The USDA Forest Service collects data on its scientists, Research Work Units, and budgets. The USDA has compiled statistics on forestry employment at universities periodically, and some data on student trends are collected by the Food and Agriculture Education Information System (FAEIS). Data on forestry research and education support in other agencies are scarce. To continually assess the state of forestry research, better data and coordinated efforts for collecting it are needed. This recommendation parallels the general principles of adaptive management, only extended to social institutions. It also corresponds to general efforts to track research efforts that are required by the SFM Criteria and Indicators, by government performance monitoring, and by forest certification organizations.
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 the disciplines identified as foundation and critical emerging fields of forestry science.
A decrease of 25% in the number of Forest Service scientists over a 10-year period (1978–1988) was reported in 1990. In the subsequent 10 years (1988–1998), Forest Service scientists decreased by another 25%. In total, from 1985 to 1999, the number of Forest Service research scientists declined from 985 to 537, or by almost half. The declines in the Forest Service scientific workforce have had significant adverse impacts on the breadth and depth of the agency's research efforts. Continuation of these declines will dangerously erode the ability of the agency to answer questions in fundamental disciplines, where they once were the leaders in the world. Furthermore, the agency will be less likely to be able to contribute effectively in the emerging disciplines, which often require prompt response as well as long-term focused efforts.
As part of the increase in research personnel capacity and resources, the Forest Service should enhance cooperative relations with forestry schools and colleges.
As described in Chapters 3 and 5 of this report, collaborative efforts among the federal government and universities have provided very successful means of improving research and education. Such efforts allow scientists from the federal government to work closely with those at relevant universities. Cooperation allows more effective use of scarce human, financial, and equipment resources, and better exchange of new ideas to prompt innovation. The ability to cooperate at great distances has increased significantly as electronic communications have become easier. There are many examples of federal cooperative efforts, such as the U.S Geological Survey Fish and Wildlife Service Cooperative Research units, which have been models of how cooperation can be effective.
Forest Service extramural support for university research increased moderately from 1980 to 1995, but has declined precipitously since. By 1998, Forest Service extramural funding was at its lowest level in real dollars since 1980. Many of these grants are earmarked for supporting ongoing contracts and relationships that effectively help extend the agency's workforce, so actual discretionary extramural funds are even less than indicated by the data. In addition, all of the Forest Service extramural funding is allocated through negotiation with individual Research Work Units and collaborating university scientists rather than through some type of open competition. This has tended to concentrate available funds and most cooperation on a rather narrow set of traditional activities and players. The levels of interaction and cooperation between the Forest Service and university researchers must be increased to help both sectors achieve common research goals and interests. More open research grant processes will help enhance broader participation, better science, and more support as well.
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.
Forestry research is a dynamic system that has evolved slowly to encompass a host of fundamental and emerging disciplines. Accompanying this change has been the addition of many new forestry research organizations and funding mechanisms, both within the USDA Forest Service, within USDA, and in other federal, state, or private organizations. At the same time, the scope of forestry research has broadened to encompass many natural resource disciplines, including such subjects as wildlife, biodiversity, water quality, air quality, human dimensions, regional economics, and international issues. Given these trends, better coordination, consultation, and collaboration within USDA and among other forest research entities is needed.
The existing USDA Forest Research Advisory Committee (FRAC) could serve as a means to enhance collaboration among current stakeholders and the Forest Service. The last results of a Forest Service planning exercise were published in 1990, and no formal national research vision or stakeholder consultation has occurred since. Similarly, the specific research activities funded by McIntire-Stennis and USDA NRI have had only modest program reviews. The FRAC committee has been modified in the past and could be modified in composition and in charter to provide some ongoing consultations strategic directions for the Forest Service and other USDA federal forestry or for formula funds. If possible, other federal and nongovernmental forestry research organizations should be invited to participate.
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.
The university forestry research sector benefits substantially from federal formula funds through the McIntire-Stennis program, as have land grant agricultural schools and experiment stations through the Hatch Act. These funds provide base support for forestry (or agriculture) research, supplementing state appropriations and external fund sources. McIntire-Stennis formula funds are distributed among all states, ensuring that even small forestry programs receive some funds and can perform some applied research in their state. This promotes equity among states, which all have some forest resources, as well as broad-based political support.
In the last decade competitive grants have been recognized and widely supported by scientific organizations (National Research Council 1989, 1990, 1994, 1996, 2000).
Most new grants in forestry, such as those provided by NRI, NSF, DOE, and EPA are administered by open, competitive requests for proposals.
Overall, the need for some base support of funding for forestry research and education across all states and disciplines, and the merits of having a mix of funding sources, suggests the importance of McIntire-Stennis funding. In order to enhance the merits of formula funding, its allocation within states or at specific institutions could be enhanced. Possible improvements might be more focus on interdisciplinary research; joint efforts among states or scientists; better integration of extension components into the research and student education functions; and more competition for funds at a given institution.
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.
Enhanced forestry outreach and extension efforts continue to be a key to successful implementation of forestry research and professional education efforts. The cooperative extension program has successfully transferred knowledge about forest productivity and protection for decades, and expanded its mission to include programs in economic development, urban forestry, environmental education, and nontimber forest products. More integrated programs of research, education, and extension must be developed to ensure that the research recommendations suggested here are carried out. Enhanced forestry extension for nonindustrial private forest landowners was one of the priority recommendations in the recent National Research Council report Forested Landscapes in Perspective: Prospects and Opportunities for Sustainable Management of America's Nonfederal Forests (National Research Council, 1998) and remains as salient for achieving enhanced research capacity.
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 should adopt an enhanced, broad, integrative, and interdisciplinary programmatic approach to curricula at the graduate level.
Chapter 5 of this report notes that university graduate degrees must provide students with programs that have depth, breadth, integration, and diversity. The foundation areas of forestry research traditionally provided graduate students with great depth in a particular subject area. Students often have been encouraged to become even more specialized by the reductionist nature of modern research. Specialization is certainly accentuated in fields such as forest biotechnology, but even this smallest scale of research triggers an incredibly complex set of social, moral, and ethical questions that students must be aware of. Many of the emerging fields of research are oriented toward a systems approach to investigation and inference. Thus some disciplines such as ecology and spatial information must by nature be more interdisciplinary. The need to integrate
even narrow research results into a larger research portfolio has become more important. Thus our education system must ensure that graduate students can perform reductionist science as needed to answer fundamental questions, but be able to translate and aggregate such results into the broader biophysical world and social framework. The forestry research and education sector must additionally attract a graduate student population that is more diverse than at present, and keep and promote those individuals once they become forestry research professionals.
Universities should develop joint programming in regions to ensure a “critical mass” of faculty and mentoring expertise in fields where expertise might be dispersed among the universities.
This recommendation stems from new needs driven by increasing fiscal and human resource constraints given increasingly scarce public and private resources for forestry research. Various forestry schools are attempting to develop new models that integrate broad themes, such as sustainable forest management and forest productivity in the South or ecosystem management in the West. The new models have involved programs in which students take courses at different universities—such as Washington State University and the University of Idaho, which are within 10 miles of each other—or development of widely needed courses by the western National Association of Professional Forestry Schools and Colleges (NAPFSC) schools. The University of Georgia and North Carolina State University have proposed development of a “virtual center” that encourages cooperation among universities. The idea is to integrate the strengths of the forestry schools and to do team research focused on high-priority needs.
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.
A committee of the National Research Council called for the establishment of “centers of emphasis” for forestry research in 1990, and this concept remains relevant today. The committee concluded that there must be at least one center for each of five research subject areas they described. They also made the point that a center of excellence need not be bricks and mortar but instead could be a corporate mechanism that allows scientists to interact in a manner that enhances their productivity. Similarly, the current report discusses the value of “virtual” centers.
For existing or expanded forestry research to be more effective, means must be found to reshape organizational structures and cooperative efforts to capitalize on the creativity of independent research and the accomplishments of mission-oriented research. It must be kept in mind that current organizations reflect the purposeful selection and
adaptation of forestry research to prior needs. Modifications must reflect a similar consensus about today's issues in foundation and emerging forestry research.
Ideas like the centers of excellence in forestry proposed in Chapter 4 will be required, given financial limitations that dictate that we cannot have redundancy across our university system. If “sister universities” with different strengths work together, greater capacity in education and research can be created. That will allow multiple skills to be brought together to address the complex questions in such fields as ecosystem forestry, biotechnology, and intensive forest management.
In short, no single administrative structure or organization can guarantee that the appropriate forestry-research goals are defined and that research is carried out creatively and effectively. Foundation research has traditionally been performed in forestry in the classical single-scientist or at least single-institutional approach. However, breakthroughs in basic physiology, biology, and biotechnology have required large teams of scientists, and are moving toward cooperation across institutions. Emerging research in ecosystem science and social science require broad interdisciplinary and interinstitutional teams. Identifying the mechanism and the organizational structure—as well as the funding—is essential for these new fields of research to be successful. Overall, we should examine the various kinds of research we need and the types of organizations we have. Then we should try to match the research needs with existing organizations and funding and modify the organizations, cooperation among organizations, and funding to achieve the best forestry research possible with the resources available.
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.
Establishing forestry research management collaborations at large spatial scales with an environmental perspective was identified as a priority by the National Research Council Committee on Forestry Research in 1990, and this concept also remains salient today. In fact, many long-term ecological (LTER) sites funded by NSF have proven successful, and several Forest Service research station strategic plans have identified the importance of long-term research and monitoring as part of their priorities. In the past, Forest Service research and monitoring sites tended to be narrowly focused on only a few components, such as silviculture or hydrology. Modern LTER sites have involved much broader multidisciplinary activities on large tracts of land. This report concurs with the merits of the long-term research sites and funding, with the added component of regular, periodic review.
Forestry research capacity is indeed at a crossroads, and perhaps even at risk. The same observations might be made for the forestry profession as well. There is unprecedented public pressure and demands on a declining forest resource base, at a time when public expenditures are decreasing for forestry research, professional education, public extension, forest management, and natural resource protection. Our ability to manage forests to produce more goods, provide more developed and undeveloped services, harbor great biodiversity, support community development, and protect the natural environment depends on interdisciplinary and integrative research, education, and outreach efforts.
The common mantra for responding to these conflicting pressures is that forestry professionals must work smarter, harder, and more efficiently. While this is true, it is insufficient. Success will require clear technical cooperation in performing research, which provides evidence that the forestry sector is performing research efficiently. What is necessary is a concerted, permanent cooperative effort among many stakeholders, which includes joint strategic planning and monitoring; continued support of existing organizations and fundamental and emerging research; a larger and open cooperative grants programs from the Forest Service; broader training for forestry graduate students; and an integrated research, education, and extension enterprise.
Enhancing the nation's forestry-research capacity must deal with the tangible matters of substance—funding, facilities and equipment, and personnel—and with intangible matters of perception and values—priorities, organizations, structures, and leadership. This current review of programs and accomplishments, together with input from various groups, provides some guidance in many of these areas, which enables this committee to make recommendations for securing the nation's strength and capacity in forestry research.