Forest research in Minnesota

A Minnesota forest with several large red pine trees

Approximately one-third of Minnesota is forested. Forests provide a variety of ecosystem goods and services to the state and region including clean water and air, recreational and aesthetic opportunities, wildlife habitat, and forest products.

University of Minnesota researchers are investigating and preparing for how climate change may impact our forests, protecting our forests from invasive species, and developing management practices that benefit ecosystems, landowners and the public.

Below is a sampling of ongoing MAES research projects related to Minnesota’s forests. This list does not encompass all forestry research at the University of Minnesota.

Responding to Minnesota's forest insect threats in a changing climate
Brian Henry Aukema
Forest insects and diseases present ongoing challenges to forest ecosystems of the Great Lakes region. The templates on which these biotic disturbance agents play out is under constant change from invasive insects and climate change. In Minnesota, for example, eastern larch beetle has decimated more than one third of the remaining tamarack forests in the state in the past decade, and larch casebearer has resurged after five decades of successful biological control. These disturbance patterns from native and invasive insects represent strong deviations from historic norms. This research examines the interactions of these insects and natural enemies with their host trees, which will lead to future mitigation tactics.

Enhancing forest inventory and monitoring: combining remote sensing and forest field observations to improve national, state and stand-level forest inventories
Chad Babcock
This research is developing statistically rigorous strategies to enhance forest inventory at scales ranging from the national to stand level. By augmenting traditional field-based inventories with lidar and optical remote sensing from air and space we can improve forest inventory by increasing estimation precision if we use appropriate methods. Since remote sensing can improve precision, this can lead to a reduction in the number of field plots needed to conduct inventories. We can also generate more precise estimates for smaller forest areas without increasing the number of field plots. These improvements can lead to more useful forest inventories, allowing for better informed forest management and decision making at lower costs.

Identification and assessment of operational opportunities to enhance management and health of forests in Minnesota
Charles Robert Blinn

Approximately one-third of Minnesota is forested, and those forests provide a variety of ecosystem goods and services to the state and region including clean water and air, recreational and aesthetic opportunities, wildlife habitat, and forest products. Active forest management can maintain and improve the health and vigor of forests and make them better able to limit tree mortality associated with a variety of stressors. Given the role active forest management can play in addressing the declining forest health and productivity, this research examines important opportunities and barriers associated with increasing the level of active management on Minnesota's forests. Specifically, work focuses on those opportunities and barriers within Minnesota on both family forest and public lands as well as the role that logging businesses play in controlling the spread of forest invasive plants.

Examining economic and policy strategies for enhancing family forest stewardship

Mike Kilgore
Families are the single largest forest ownership category in the United States. Collectively owned by more than 10 million individuals, families, trusts, and estates, they represent 43% of the nation's forest land area. To encourage the owners of these forests to increase the quantity and quality of economic, environmental, and amenity goods and services, different regulatory measures, financial incentives, tax policies, payments for limited property rights, and market-based incentives are used by governments and to a much lesser extent private and non-profit organizations. This research assesses the effectiveness of these various policy and economic tools. Research is also exploring the potential to use new and innovative tools that have, to date, received limited application in forestry, as well as those used in other countries to promote stewardship of private forests for timber and nontimber outputs.

Mapping and monitoring of Minnesota's forest and wetland resources
Joe Knight
This research focuses on using geospatial science methods such as remote sensing and GIS to understand and quantify the impacts of land use and natural forces on our forest and wetland resources. The improved understanding provided by this research will allow us to more effectively address current challenges such as climate change, deforestation, and loss of wetlands, and to develop and implement sustainable land use practices to avoid future environmental problems. As pressure on Minnesota's forest and water resources increases, impacts on these natural resources and their ability to provide important ecosystem services will likely result. Thus, the overarching goal of this project is to use remote sensing and other geospatial science techniques to map and monitor these resources.

After the disturbance: Evaluating the adaptive capacity of northern temperate forests
Matthew Russell
This research evaluates the resiliency of forest ecosystems in Minnesota and the US Lake States that have been or are projected to be stressed due to large-scale disturbances. Invasive species, including insects, diseases, and plants, have challenged traditional forest management strategies to sustain healthy ecosystems. Large-scale disturbances such as windstorms and invasive species outbreaks may provide an increasing supply of timber in the state but may be met with little demand from forest products industries. Specifically, this work is determining the capacity for Minnesota's forest industries to market and utilize wood from ash trees in response to the advancing emerald ash borer outbreak in Minnesota.

Exploring how stand development can be utilized to explore changing conditions to develop alternative silvicultural practices
Marcella Windmuller Campione
As complex interactions between a changing climate and disturbance regime influence current and future composition, forest managers and researchers are challenged to develop management strategies which build or maintain resistance and/or resilience in forest communities. This research evaluates traditional versus alternative silvicultural systems in two economically and ecologically important forest systems in Minnesota: lowland conifers and pines. Findings will provide important information on how alternative silvicultural strategies and tools may increase ecological and economic resistance and resilience to an uncertain future due to climate change.

Advancing forest wildlife habitat modeling, forest inventory, and growth and yield strategies in Minnesota
John Zobel
What are the impacts of forest management on wildlife habitat? What forestry models are better to use in some situations versus others? How do we best manage forests types that have been historically neglected, but now are recognized for their ecological importance? This research addresses these questions by refining a wildlife habitat model for assessing the impacts of current and proposed forest management in Minnesota and making it publicly available. Researchers are also evaluating the available growth and yield information for important commercial species in Minnesota and the Lake States region and developing inventory strategies and growth and yield information for undermanaged forest types in Minnesota and the Lake States (in particular northern hardwoods).