Biodiversity Education through the Pennsylvania Forest Stewardship Program
1. Develop procedures for assessing biodiversity on farm and private woodlots.
2. Establish a demonstration site for biodiversity management.
3. Expand the state’s capacity to develop and deliver educational programs on biodiversity.
Biodiversity Education workshops designed to introduce the assessments protocol and analysis program to private forest landowners were held on May 31-June 1, 1996 and September 20 and 21, 1996. Several teachers and nearly 50 VIP/Coverts volunteers participated in the Habitat Assessment Model (HAM) workshop. VIP/Coverts volunteers are private forest landowners who, after application to the Pennsylvania Forest Stewardship Program, complete 40 hours of intensive training in forest resource issues and management. The training carries with it an obligation to provide 40 hours of service, including outreach to peers and support of the Forest Stewardship Program. Some VIP/Coverts volunteers choose to participate in additional training such as an introduction to the methodology developed in this grant.
On March 13, 1996 an invited paper entitled “Assessing Wildlife Habitat: Working at the Stand Level”: was given at “Maintaining Biodiversity: The Essence of Intelligent Tinkering Conference” held at Shippensburg State University. More than 70 people, primarily teachers, attended the presentation, and several of them subsequently enrolled in the aforementioned two-day workshops. Their hope was to use HAM in middle and senior high school curricula.
The US Forest Service Northeast Forest Experiment Station (NEFES) has completed a second season of field work validating HAM by comparing predicted species to census data on 18 study areas. Likewise, the Proctor and Gamble Corporation and Audubon partnership completed an additional 14 assessments this past season. Their hope isto use HAM to work with private landowners and timber harvesters, showing them the changes in habitat caused by their harvesting decisions. Their intent obviously is to support forest stewardship on private forest lands.
The NEFES has decided that the HAM protocol and decision matrix used in the HAM model will become part of the NED Planning Guide and NEWild. These are computer programs developed by the NEFES to assist landowners in defining their land ownership objectives. HAM uses data originally published by NEFES; however, until HAM they lacked a simple protocol for describing habitat components. The NED Planning Guided and NEWild when complete will be used directly by landowners and by resource professionals working with them.
Two articles were developed from the research and submitted to the Northern Journal of Applied Forestry. Both are back from review and are being for resubmission.
The largest potential impact of this project remains its incorporation in the NED Planning Guide and NEWild. These computer programs provide user-friendly interfaces for understanding land use objectives and potential impacts of management decisions. Until HAM, the NEFES lacked a process for incorporating biodiversity concepts into their model.
Areas Needed for Additional Study
Two problems arise when taking inventory of herbaceous species. Most natural resource professionals can only identify a fraction of the 2000 species in Pennsylvania’s forests. A pocket guide of uncommon and rare plants and one on identifying herbaceous species by their leaf structure instead of the flowering body should be created for field use. In addition, workshops on using existing herbaceous plant identification should be conducted.
Second, herbaceous plans change in species composition and percent cover throughout the season. Any species list acquired through the inventory will only consist of a portion of the actual composition on the site. It is also difficult to estimate percent cover in the ground layer during winter, since most of the vegetation decays rapidly or is covered by snow.
One way to address the problem of ephemeral vegetation is to create an assessment matrix similar to the habitat-biodiversity model. This vegetation assessment model would use a site’s physical and geographic characteristics to estimate potential herbaceous species’ presence. Thus, managers could record permanent site data (e.g., soil type, slope, drainage class, physiographic province) one time, and use that information to learn about the vegetation which might grow there at any time during the year.
A proposal to address these ideas was submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency this past year. Unfortunately, it was not funded. After addressing reviewer comments, we had planned to resubmit it during this funding cycle but will delay that until next year.
Reported December 1996.