Study takes indepth look at forestlands and resource-dependent communities

Written by Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer June 15, 2011 09:43 pm

OSU EXTENSION SERVICE FORESTER PAUL OESTER (left) and University of New Hampshire graduate students Mickey Campbell and Dan Maynard collect data on forest structure. OSU is cooperating with the University of New Hampshire in a study on forest health and community outlooks in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest ecosystem. Research tools in the study include geographic information systems, satellite imagery and a survey of local landowners to be conducted in August and September.
OSU EXTENSION SERVICE FORESTER PAUL OESTER (left) and University of New Hampshire graduate students Mickey Campbell and Dan Maynard collect data on forest structure. OSU is cooperating with the University of New Hampshire in a study on forest health and community outlooks in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest ecosystem. Research tools in the study include geographic information systems, satellite imagery and a survey of local landowners to be conducted in August and September.
 

The challenges, hopes and fears of a rural area economically dependent on forests are the subjects of a study under way by the University of New Hampshire in cooperation with the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and other agencies.

A grant-funded project called “Community and Forest: Linked Human-Ecosystem Responses to Natural Disturbances in Oregon” is under way, looking at ecological, social and economic conditions in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest ecosystem.

The study, which will include a survey of landowners in August and September, is focused on conditions in Union, Wallowa and Baker counties, said Joel Hartter, an assistant professor of geography at the University of New Hampshire.

“We’re interested in the relationship of people to forests, and how the forests are reacting to people,” Hartter said. “We’re taking an independent look at what forests have done ecologically, and how people respond.”

Hartter, who holds a master’s degree in forest engineering from Oregon State University and a doctorate from the University of Florida, said his research team began looking at the Wallowa County ecosystem in a pilot project in 2008.

This year, the project, which uses a variety of investigative tools including satellite imagery and geographic information system technology, expands to Union and Baker counties.

“We’re establishing what’s going on with vegetation,” Hartter said. “We’re identifying different species of trees, where they are and their sensitivity to wildfire and insects. We can use ground data to calibrate satellite imagery. We can look at county level changes.”

Hartter said the Wallowa-Whitman ecosystem exemplifies the dynamics and challenges of the forest-dependent communities in the West.

But the study, which is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will not be limited to forest conditions. With the survey, it will take into account the views of local tree farmers and agricultural producers.

“The research will show how changing socio-ecological conditions in historically resource-dependent impact livelihoods, the environment and human safety,” said Hartter.

Larry Hamilton, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire, said 1,500 survey participants will be selected at random. The telephone survey will include 35 questions and take about 15 minutes to complete.

“It will be a mix of questions,” Hamilton said. “We’ll be asking whether people think it’s more important to use the resources now for jobs, or save them for future generations. We’ll also be asking about issues like wind power, wolves, wildfire, sub-division of forest lands.”

Hartter said that some initial project findings indicate that local landowners are concerned about threats of wildfire and insect outbreaks, and also have worries about changes in timber markets.

“Because timber markets are down, private timberland owners are managing differently,” he said.

Hamilton said the survey will take about a month to complete and will become a part of a published report that anyone can access.

“I expect some of the stakeholders we’ve been working with will be very interested,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said the survey will be confidential.

“We will publish statistics, but not the names of the people who take part,” he said.

The Oregon State University Forestry Extension program is cooperating with the University of New Hampshire in the project. Other agencies involved include the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and the Oregon Department of Forestry.

The research team — which includes four University of New Hampshire faculty members and three graduate students — is also working closely with Wallowa Resources in Wallowa County.

The project is funded through a $400,000 grant from the Disaster Resilience for Rural Communities Program, a part of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.