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Researchers study forest ecology, homeland security and forest stewardship|
By Lee Carpenter
| An interdisciplinary team of Penn State scientists from the Environment Institute in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and the Environmental Resources Research Institute will develop land management practices that will serve to maintain and regenerate forested and open training areas for the Pennsylvania National Guard at Fort Indiantown Gap, with support from a $560,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.|
Researchers from the College of Agricultural Sciences School of Forest Resources, Department of Entomology and the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and the Environment Institute are conducting a series of interrelated projects, including fire and soil histories and analyses, studies of deer density and the impacts on forest regeneration, and bird and insect assessment and monitoring. Data collected in these and related studies will be analyzed using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), with resulting databases and systems designed to enable data-sharing across the projects. Results will have important implications for state ecology, homeland security and forest stewardship and land management in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The overall goal is to identify ways to sustain training activities at Fort Indiantown Gap and on Department of Military and Veterans Affairs lands by combining preventive and corrective land rehabilitation, repair and/or maintenance practices into the installations day-to-day activities. The GIS application will make the collected data user-friendly and compatible with other relevant databases. Study results may have implications for training area redesign and/or reconfiguration to meet training requirements.
The Environment Institute is coordinating this multidisciplinary research effort with experts in forest ecology and resources, geographic information systems and entomology.
Fire and soil studies will focus on the development of fire histories based on tree scars and soil tests to determine the frequency of fire in the area and the role fire plays in creating certain habitats, primarily Regal butterfly habitat. Information gathered in this work will help military training centers retain some of the butterfly habitat and reduce the current restrictions on training activities that may cause fires by prescribing burn programs.
Currently, military training using tracer rounds, pyrotechnics and smoke grenades is limited when the fire hazard rating is high or extreme. Dr. Marc D. Abrams, Steimer Professor of Forest Ecology, and Dr. William E. Sharpe, professor of forest hydrology, School of Forest Resources, are leading research teams in this effort.
Studies of deer density and forest regeneration seek to determine optimal deer density at Fort Indiantown Gap and the impacts of limited forest regeneration on tactical concealment and forest health. A higher-than-normal deer population in this area adversely affects the future sustainability of training environments and creates safety hazards, including vehicle collisions and transmittal of Lyme disease. Dr. Duane R. Diefenbach, adjunct assistant professor of wildlife ecology and assistant leader of the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Penn State, is conducting these studies.
Biodiversity assessments and monitoring will reveal valuable information about the impacts of military training areas on local insect, bird and fish populations and habitats. Researchers will monitor each of these groups in relation to military training activities as part of training area management practices. Installations at Fort Drum, Camp Ripley, West Point and Fort A. P. Hill currently use similar studies of birds and insects as part of their management program. Dr. Margaret Brittingham, associate professor of wildlife resources, School of Forest Resources; Dr. Ke Chung Kim, professor of entomology and director of the Center for BioDiversity Research; and Sharpe will conduct biodiversity studies.
Data from this series of interrelated studies will be placed into a comprehensive GIS database of the installation. GIS experts from the Environment Institute will assist in the development of a system for sharing data across functional and organizational lines with other federal, state and local governments and nongovernmental organizations and federal laws. Brian Bills, Environment Institute, is coordinating the geographic information systems development.
An outreach program of the Environment Institute, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences,