Nearly 80-year-old experimental forest an outdoor lab for Forest Service scientists

Jim Guldin
Southern Research Station, U.S. Forest Service
October 17th, 2013 at 4:15PM

Since it was established in 1934, the Crossett Experimental Forest has served as the repository of silvicultural alternatives to the intensive plantation methods that dominate industrial forestry on the Coastal Plain. 

The not-so-hidden secret of southern forestry is that naturally regenerated Coastal Plain loblolly-shortleaf pine is one of the nation’s most pliable forest types, able to be sustainably managed using an entire spectrum of even-aged and uneven-aged silvicultural systems.

Methods other than clear cutting often find considerable interest on private family forests and public lands. There’s no better place in the South to see this variety of successful practices than at the Crossett Experimental Forest, which is rightly venerated for its role as a field laboratory and demonstration site for good forest management.

In 1934, the Crossett Lumber Company, later acquired by Georgia-Pacific, deeded the land for the experimental forest to the Southern Forest Experiment Station (now the Southern Research Station) with a 50-year agreement that committed the station to returning an amount of timber equal to what was present on the deeded land at the time of the agreement.  Founding station scientist Russ Reynolds succeeded in delivering on this commitment and leaving the forest better stocked than it was at the time of the takeover. 

Since those early days, the Crossett Experimental Forest has had few peers as a research and demonstration forest. Over the decades, thousands of foresters, landowners, scientists, students and teachers have visited the Farm Forestry Demonstration areas to learn about selection methods in southern pines, studying stands managed with that technique for 75 years. These outreach efforts have also been instrumental in helping national forests in the South move away from intensive plantations and toward management that relies on natural regeneration to maintain continuous forest cover.


Station scientists also continue to develop tools to help create and manage old-growth-like stands, as well as understand the impacts of not treating forests. The 80-acre Reynolds Research Natural Area is used to study the ecology of stand development in the absence of management. Recent studies have used both old and new research on the Crossett Experimental Forest to better understand patterns of biomass accumulation and the role of naturally regenerated, managed southern pine stands in the provision of ecosystems services.

The Crossett Experimental Forest is the hub of the Station’s premier science delivery and technology transfer program in the ecology and management of naturally-regenerated southern pines. The experimental forest staff periodically sponsors a Forestry Field Day to help foresters and private landowners learn about cutting-edge research and technological developments designed to improve low-cost natural stand management. University forestry programs from across the nation frequently bring their forestry students to the Crossett to learn about naturally regenerated southern pine forests.