Site: Andrews Forest LTER
Andrews scientist Fred Swanson explains the Blue River Management Plan to a tour group
Dan Sobota

A partnership between research and management at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest LTER has helped transform forest management and policy in the Pacific Northwest and the U.S.A. (Luoma 2006, Steel et al. 2004). This partnership has spawned new practices and policies for ecosystem management, conservation of old-growth forests, protection of forest streams, and management of dead wood in streams and forests. The collaboration is a balanced, two-way street: scientists bring emerging science ideas/thinking to managers and policymakers, and managers and policy makers challenge scientists with complex, real-world problems.

This intersection of science, management, and policy associated with Andrews Forest did not happen overnight—it is the product of decades of collaboration that began in the 1950’s with traditional, applied forestry research on how to log old-growth forests in mountainous terrain. The question of today is more challenging: how do we evaluate vulnerability and resilience of forest ecosystems to climate change in complex mountain topography? The path of learning has not been linear or necessarily comfortable for all parties. For example, during the 1960s and 1970s fisheries scientists called on forest managers to keep logging debris and other dead wood out of streams to protect water quality and passage for anadromous fish. However, ecosystem research at Andrews Forest and a few other places revealed the critical role of dead wood in streams for habitat and structure that contributes to stream productivity. Consequently, management practices now include retaining natural wood loading in channels, keeping slash out of streams during logging, and managing riparian forests to supply wood for streams in the future.

The role of Andrew’s scientists in federal forest policy formulation reached a peak in the early 1990s when then-President Clinton asked a team of scientists, including many from the Andrews Forest LTER program, to develop alternative strategies to protect old-growth forests, watersheds, and species, while providing timber and other values for local communities in the Pacific Northwest. The efforts of these scientists lead to the Northwest Forest Plan, which covers 10 million ha of federal forest land in Washington, Oregon, and California. Basic, long-term ecosystem research at the Andrews Forest contributed substantially to the firm scientific foundation for the plan.

NSF support is essential to the strength and breadth of management and policy connections in for three reasons:

  • Having the full research-development-application spectrum of activities produces new management approaches with both science and management credibility
  • The long-term studies and collaborations make it possible to identify and tackle emerging issues on the basis of experience and personal relationships
  • The science findings are highly credible based on the reputation of NSF

The lessons and experiences of more than 60 years of research-management-policy interactions have created a mature, but constantly changing partnership characterized by support from research and management institutions for a continuing dialog and collaborative projects. This dialog continues around issues such as climate change adaptation strategies for federal forests (Spies et al. 2010) and ecosystem services.