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USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station 2018 Research Highlights

Our 2018 Research Highlights web presentation introduces our 'best of the best' research from the past year.

  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations

Northern Research Station

Tony Ferguson, Director Hello, I’m Tony Ferguson, Director of the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station. Once again, I am proud to showcase our leading edge science that supports land management decisions across all lands.

For almost 3 years, it has been my privilege to serve as Director of the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station. As I have met with our many stakeholders, I have heard their need for science they can use to improve the health and resilience of forests and grasslands to ensure that these lands continue to produce clean water, clean the air, and give people a place to enjoy forest-based recreation. Increasingly, the Station is working with all of our stakeholders on research that fosters rural prosperity and economic development.

This past year, we hosted ‘Town Hall Meetings’ and invited our partners and collaborators to tell us about their research needs and land management challenges. We listened. We responded. We are using this information to position the Northern Research Station to address the conservation issues not only of today, but into the future.

Going forward, I’m personally committed to providing safe and vibrant work environments where every employee feels valued and respected. The delivery of our mission and the productivity of our entire team depends on an environment free of harassment and discrimination.

To learn more about the Northern Research Station, visit our website at You can keep up with our research by following us on Twitter at @usfs_nrs.

Northern Research Station Locations

NRS at a Glance

Research Work Units: 13
 Research Locations: 25
 Experimental Forests: 22
Research Scientists: 120
Employees: 400
NRS Territory
National Forests

Sharing Stewardship

Northern Research Station scientists work collaboratively with a diversity of land managers and landowners to co-produce the knowledge needed to better manage our forest resources and maximize benefits to landowners and neighboring communities.

In this planned community in North Dakota, eight-row windbreaks provide privacy and maximum protection. photo by Dacia Meneguzzo, USDA Forest Service

Farms and Forests: Quantifying the Tree Resource in the Great Plains

Between 1935 and 1942, the Prairie States Forestry Project orchestrated the planting of more than 220 million trees in 33,000 windbreaks totaling more than 18,000 miles in a swath stretching from North Dakota to Texas. Today, scientists with the Northern Research Station’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program are helping establish the extent and location of windbreaks in the Great Plains.

Tree cover change in urban areas by state photo by Eric Greenfield, USDA Forest Service

Declining U.S. Urban Tree Cover

Urban forests in the United States conservatively provide over $18 billion in annual benefits. Between 2009 and 2014, tree cover in urban areas dropped from 40.4 percent to 39.4 percent with 44 states showing a decline in tree cover. Total net loss of benefits is estimated at $96 million per year.

Before, during and after vacant lot greening intervention photo by Keith Green, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

Greening Vacant Lots Reduces Crime, Increases Use

A study by a Northern Research Station (NRS) scientist and partners found that residents living near vacant lots that were cleaned and greened reported significantly reduced fear of crime and improved use of outdoor space; they also found that crime significantly decreased in comparison to control areas.

Participants at a Women’s Chainsaw Safety Class   photo by Barb Spears, Minnesota Women’s Woodland Network

Study Finds Differences in How Men and Women Manage Family Forests

Although women are the primary decision-makers for more than 44 million acres of forest land in the United States and influence the land management decisions on many more acres, little is known about whether or how their management attitudes, behaviors, and intentions may differ from those of their male counterparts. Recognizing differences between male and female forest landowners is important for understanding constraints and barriers and should be considered in the design of forestry programs and outreach.

Brown Swiss cows in Vermont photo by Marshall Webb, Shelbourne Farms

Forest and Agricultural Vulnerabilities in the Northeast

Under changing climate conditions, farmers and forest landowners in the Northeast face new challenges, but there are a variety of actions they can take to lessen the impact of—or even take advantage of—these climate trends.

An elementary school within the Chicago Public School system   photo by Sonya Sachdeva, USDA Forest Service

Tree Cover Boosts Academic Performance in Chicago Public Schools

An analysis of academic achievement within Chicago Public Schools suggests that a higher proportion of tree cover, relative to grass and other vegetation, on school yards is associated with higher math and reading scores.

Customized options for kitchen cabinet doors including species, style, and finish photo by Matt Bumgardner, USDA Forest Service

Building a Stronger Hardwood Economy with Customized Products

Demand for individually customized products, where customers are enabled to choose their own design features, is increasing in the broader U.S. economy. USDA Forest Service research analyzed this trend and found that it offers opportunities for the hardwood industry to enhance its global competitiveness if the associated manufacturing and supply chain challenges can be overcome.

Hybrid poplars planted to reduce runoff and filter subsurface water flow from a landfill in southeastern Wisconsin, USA.   photo by Ron Zalesny, USDA Forest Service

In the Great Lakes Basin, Trees Are Improving Water and Ecosystem Health

A project funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is greatly enhancing the knowledge-base about watershed-level benefits of phytoremediation, including projecting and measuring the volume of untreated urban runoff captured or treated at these sites. Northern Research Station scientists and partners are integrating phytoremediation potential of existing vegetation with strategically-planted phyto buffers in Great Lakes watersheds. In addition to improving water quality, the team is developing a green tool to stabilize stream banks, increase forest cover, and restore ecosystems, thereby enhancing nearshore health in the Great Lakes Basin.

  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations
  • photo of Northern Research Station personnel and locations

Improving Forest Conditions

Each of our scientific discoveries provides greater insight into improving the condition of forests and grasslands, and ultimately improving people’s lives. Recent breakthroughs in Forest Service science and technology are providing new tools for understanding and improving forest sustainability.

Alexandra Kosiba collecting a wood increment core from a red spruce tree to assess growth. photo by Luke Ingram, University of Vermont

Recovery of Red Spruce Linked to Decreased Acid Deposition and Higher Temperatures

Red spruce was once a valued timber species but was threatened by acid deposition, which reduced its growth and increased mortality for this sensitive species. A Northern Research Station (NRS) scientist and partners set out to establish whether red spruce is rebounding 20 years after Clean Air Act mandates, and if so, why?

An Acadian flycatcher sitting on its nest photo by Andrew Cox, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

A Warmer Midwest Could Lead to a Common Bird Becoming Less Common

A warmer future may lead to a common midwestern songbird becoming considerably less common because nesting success is predicted to decline with warmer temperatures. Scientists discovered that climate warming can affect species through complex effects on their population ecology and not simply by causing species to move north.

These maps depict change in an index of drought severity for the period 2070-2099 under multiple climate scenarios. The maps show a large variationin potential drought throughout much of the conterminous US, mostly because of high uncertainty in future precipitation. photo by Matthew Peters, USDA Forest Service

Mapping U.S. Drought Projections Helps Foresters Plan for Sustainability

Droughts are natural disturbances that can cause negative effects on natural ecosystems and also have important social and economic consequences. Researchers are helping land managers prepare for changing climate conditions by developing projections of how drought may change in the future.

Young, dense jack pine forests used for nesting by Kirtland''s Warblers photo by Phil Huber, USDA Forest Service

A Warbler Recovers from Near Extinction, but Will its Habitat Survive?

More than three decades of work on restoration of its nesting habitat has resulted in the recovery of Kirtland’s warbler, a bird that flew close to extinction. Can these gains in nesting habitat be maintained under future climate conditions? Model results suggest most jack pine forests within the core breeding range will remain resilient to changing climate, but jack pine distribution will contract elsewhere in the Lake States.

Core samples were analyzed to determine the lead and mercury content of peat photo by Sebestyen; Sebestyen; Louis Mielke (University of Minnesota seasonal employee supported via NRS RJVA), USDA Forest Service

Legacy Lead vs. Newer Mercury: Atmospheric Pollutants Linger in Streams

Trace metal pollutants from the atmosphere may affect water resources on vastly different timescales. Lead from before the 1980s still leaches from peatlands, while mercury appears to largely originate from recent deposition.

Close-up view of hands surrounding a freshly-planted pine tree seedling photo by USDA Forest Service, USDA Forest Service

Another Benefit of Reforestation: Soil Carbon Sequestration

The rate of carbon sequestration in forests is projected to decline in the decades ahead, largely because more forest land will be developed and today’s aging forests sequester less carbon. In a first-of-its-kind analysis, Northern Research Station scientists and University of Michigan partners have found that forest soils can potentially sequester two billion tons of carbon this century with increased reforestation efforts.

Water in a stream on the Fernow Experimental Forest. photo by Mary Beth Adams, USDA Forest Service

New Methods, Old Studies Reveal Source of Carbon in Lakes and Streams

Over recent decades, dissolved organic carbon concentrations (DOC) in lakes and streams have increased through the northern hemisphere, leading to concerns about changes in drinking water quality and about productivity of these aquatic ecosystems. Scientists paired a novel technique and long-term studies to explore this phenomenon and develop insight that can be used to improve water quality.

Moquah Barrens, a restored pine barrens ecosystem in Northwest Wisconsin photo by Paul Gobster, USDA Forest Service

Landowner Acceptance of a Pine Barrens Restoration Project

Despite landowners’ uncertainty about long-term outcomes near a pine barrens restoration project on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, they support management actions and trust USDA Forest Service staff.

Mitigating Threats

There is no doubt that the nation’s forest resources face unprecedented challenges. From developing tools to predict dangerous fire weather conditions and better describe the wildland-urban interface to our scientific advancements in understanding invasive species, the Northern Research Station is a leader in providing the science-based tools land managers need to manage forestlands for changing conditions, whether it is drought, extreme precipitation, wildfire, disease, or invasive insects and plants.

Favorable fire behavior in mixed conifer and brush during a burn operation near Jerseydale; Ferguson Fire, Sierra NF, CA, 2018. photo by Kari Greer, USDA Forest Service

Understanding Wind Gusts During Fire can Help Fire and Smoke Managers

Wind fields in the vicinity of wildland fires can be highly variable or turbulent, exhibiting significant gusts that can lead to erratic fire behavior and enhanced mixing of smoke into the atmosphere. Northern Research Station scientists are examining the properties of turbulent circulations in forested wildland fire environments to ultimately improve predictive tools for fire and smoke management.

Housing development adjacent to undeveloped wildlands outside Reno, Nevada photo by Miranda Mockrin, USDA Forest Service

Rapid Wildland-Urban Interface Growth Increases Wildfire Challenges

The wildland-urban interface (WUI), where homes meet or intermingle with undeveloped forests and grasslands, is a critical area for wildfire and natural resource management. Both the number of homes in the WUI and total footprint of the WUI grew rapidly from 1990 to 2010, with broad implications for wildfire management and other natural resource management issues.

A Hot-Dry-Windy (HDW) analysis using historical weather data for the Pagami Creek Fire (Minnesota, 2011) showing very high HDW values for the day when the fire spread was greatest.   photo by Joseph Charney, USDA Forest Service

Fire Weather Prediction Tool Modernizes Science Behind Forecasts

Fire weather forecasters need accurate and proven tools to help them anticipate when weather conditions can make wildfires dangerous for fire managers. USDA Forest Service scientists are expanding the options with the development of the Hot-Dry-Windy Index (HDW), a new fire-weather prediction tool based on the key atmospheric variables that affect wildland fire: temperature, moisture, and wind.

Researcher injecting an ash tree with insecticide. photo by Kyle Costilow, USDA Forest Service

Genetic Information on Ash Informs Treatments for Emerald Ash Borer

Forest managers can use insecticide treatments to protect ash trees from emerald ash borer to conserve the genetic diversity of ash. But which trees should be protected? Research at the Allegheny National Forest is underway to develop new strategies to conserve ash tree diversity.

The risk of dispersal around infested trees in Worcester, MA is shown on the map.  The results of these risk tools provide new information to facilitate the eradication of the Asian longhorned beetle photo by R. Talbot Trotter, USDA Forest Service

Agencies Collaborate on Tools to Manage the Asian Longhorned Beetle

Working across natural resource agencies, researchers have collaborated to build new tools that benefit state and federal agencies in efforts to eradicate the invasive Asian longhorned beetle (ALB).

Researcher inserting temperature probes in oak wilt fungus-colonized oak logs prior to vacuum steam treatment photo by Jennifer Juzwik, USDA Forest Service

Vacuum Steam Heat: A New Method to Kill Oak Wilt Fungus in Logs

International export of oak logs from the United States requires fumigation of the logs with methyl bromide. However, methyl bromide causes severe damage to the Earth’s ozone layer. Scientists recently discovered that using vacuum steam heat to treat oak logs kills the oak wilt fungus and is environmentally friendly.

Little brown bat being checked for signs of white nose syndrome photo by Daniel Lindner, USDA Forest Service

Lethal Fungus that Causes White-nose Syndrome May Have an Achilles' Heel

Since it was discovered in New York State in 2006, white-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats and may have spread as far west as Washington State. But Northern Research Station scientists discovered that the fungus behind white-nose syndrome may have an Achilles' heel: ultraviolet light.