University studies forest, people

<p>University of New Hampshire students taking tree measurements in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest as part of a three-year study in the local forest.</p>

A group of scientists, professors and students from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) are conducting a three-year study looking at the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and the ecological, social and economic impacts due to changes in forest management over the past 30 years. 

The study will focus on the interaction between the forest and the people who live in Wallowa, Baker and Union counties.

“The proposed research will show how changing socio-ecological conditions in historically resource-dependent communities impact livelihoods, the environment, and human safety. The Wallowa-Whitman ecosystem provides a good example to examine communities in rural America confronting the challenges of declining timber production and the new economies… Communities face declining forest health, increased vulnerability to wildfire and insects, and stresses on their cultural identities,” said UNH geography professor Joel Hartter.

“We’ll look at how the people in the region perceive the risks and spread of wildfire, insects and disease. And, social issues such as how people are impacted by land use decisions,” Hartter said.

Four university scientists, three graduate students and two instructors — a professor of geography and a professor of sociology — are carrying out the study.  

 

Funding for the project comes from a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture National Science Foundation grant for $400,000. The university received the funding last September and began a pilot study in Wallowa County with plans to expand to Baker and Union counties during the next several months.

The pilot study began with an overview of general forest information including a comparison of various types of landowners in the county and different management practices, missions and objectives of the landowner groups.

“We’re targeting amenity landowner groups versus the old-timers who were historically dependent on the natural resources,” Hartter said. “We’re also looking at the differences in timber harvest amounts and related ecological changes such as the spread of fire, insects and disease.”

During part of the study, sociology professor Lawrence Hamilton plans to conduct a survey to measure local people’s perception of impacts associated with the changes in forest management. The survey begins this September and will include responses from 1,500 residents in the three counties. The local survey is related to a larger one on natural resources with responses from 20,000 individuals from the Gulf Coast to Alaska, according to Hamilton.

Some of the questions specific to the local survey focus on residents’ views on the wolf, wind issues and changes in forest management, said Hamilton.

“There is no political or environmental agenda associated with our study and survey. We’re an independent group, talking to different types of people,” Hartter said.

UNH is partnering during the study with the U.S. Forest Service, Wallowa Resources, Oregon Dept. of Forestry and Oregon State University Forestry Extension.

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