Three position opportunities to support the Strategic Conservation Assessment of Gulf Coast Landscapes (SCA) project are still accepting applications. The Restore Council approved the SCA project as one among a suite of projects in the 2015 initial Funded Priorities List. This project will coalesce existing conservation and socioeconomic priorities into conservation planning decision support tools to aid the Restore Council and their stakeholders in identifying high priority lands for voluntary conservation efforts. The SCA project is being led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Gulf Restoration Team and administered through a cooperative agreement with Mississippi State University, with support from the four Gulf Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.
1) Seeking Postdoctoral Associate in Ecological Modeling
The SCA project team is seeking a Postdoctoral Associate in Ecological Modeling to be based out of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Mississippi State University. The Postdoctoral Associate must hold a Ph.D. in biological or environmental engineering, geography, geosciences, ecology, environmental science/management, or other related fields. ABD candidates will also be considered. The ideal candidate will have some combination of the following skills: spatially explicit ecological modeling, landscape conservation, MCDA, programming (especially Python), and web-based app development. Expertise with geographic information systems (GIS) and other related software applications and technologies is also required. Additional information and detailed submission instructions can be found in the link to the Post Doc Position Description (PostDoc_Position_Description_SCA.pdf). Review of applicants will begin June 7, 2017. If you have any questions, are interested in submitting an application, or have a suggested candidate, please contact Anna Linhoss (email@example.com) . Applicants must complete an application through the MSU HRM website (http://explore.msujobs.msstate.edu/cw/en-us/job/495521/postdoctoral-associate-eng) to be considered, but should also email a copy of the cover letter and resume/CV directly to firstname.lastname@example.org
2) Seeking Research Associate – Geospatial Analyst
The SCA project team is seeking a Geospatial Analyst Research Associate to be based out of the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Aquaculture at Mississippi State University. The applicant must hold minimally a B.S. in a relevant field (e.g., geography, geosciences, ecology, environmental science/management, coastal or marine ecology, wildlife and fisheries science) and a minimum of 3 years of relevant; or a M.S. degree and minimum of 1 year of relevant experience and demonstrated competency. A strong background and expertise with geographic information systems (GIS) and other related software applications and technologies is required. The ideal candidate will also have some combination of experience developing web-enabled geospatial data applications, expertise in other GIS software applications and html programming applications, as well as experience working in Gulf Coast landscape conservation, large-scale data applications, spatially explicit ecological modeling, multi-criteria decision analysis, and interacting with stakeholders. Additional information and detailed submission instructions can be found in the linked GIS Analyst Position Description (GISAnalyst_ResearchAssociate_SCAproject_Description.pdf). Review of applicants will begin June 7, 2017. If you have any questions, are interested in submitting an application, or have a suggested candidate, please contact Kristine Evans (email@example.com). Applicants must complete an application through the MSU HRM website (http://explore.msujobs.msstate.edu/cw/en-us/job/495589/research-associate) to be considered, but should also email a copy of the cover letter and resume/CV directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.
3) Seeking Ph.D. Student in Coastal Ecological Modeling and Geospatial Application Development
The SCA project team is seeking a Ph.D. student to be based out of either the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering or the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Aquaculture at Mississippi State University. The student will work with SCA staff to develop a suite of ecological models and associated geospatial applications predicting ecosystem, species, and/or socioeconomic response to potential Gulf Coast system stressors and planned coastal restoration activities. The Ph.D. student must hold a Master’s degree in geography, geosciences, ecology, environmental science/management, biological/environmental engineering, coastal or marine ecology, wildlife and fisheries science, or other related fields with competitive GPA and GRE scores. Research experience with predictive ecological modeling and geographic information systems (GIS), and a demonstrated publication record are preferred. Additional information and detailed submission instructions can be found in the linked Ph.D. student Position Description (PhDPosition_Description_SCAproject.pdf). Review of applicants will begin June 7, 2017. If you have any questions, are interested in submitting an application, or have a suggested candidate, please contact Kristine Evans (email@example.com) (Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture) or Anna Linhoss (firstname.lastname@example.org) (Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering) at Mississippi State University.
Mississippi State University is an equal opportunity employer, and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, ethnicity, sex (including pregnancy and gender identity), national origin, disability status, age, sexual orientation, genetic information, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law. We always welcome nominations and applications from women, members of any minority group, and others who share our passion for building a diverse community that reflects the diversity in our student population.
We would greatly appreciate it if you could forward this email among your networks and to anyone you feel may be interested.
“In baseball, you don’t know nothing.” Yogi Berra
If you haven’t heard the news, LCC’s are targeted for elimination in the Trump Administration’s FY18 federal budget, which was submitted to Congress a few weeks ago, and would (theoretically) begin October 1, 2017. From a federal budgeting perspective, it’s like the opening pitch in a 9-inning baseball game, and Congress is up to bat next. Ultimately, Congress has the responsibility of passing a federal budget and submitting it to the President for his signature. So, there are still quite a few innings to go before we will know the final outcome of this ball game. Even so, the opening play is not a great place to start for LCC’s.
In the meantime, as the budgeting drama plays out, I have been thinking more deeply on what the landscape conservation community would look like without LCC’s. A question that we sometimes ask ourselves is “If not for LCC’s, ……….. (fill in the blank)”. Here are a couple thoughts on that question:
- If not for the GCPO LCC, our partners would not have the knowledge and tools they need to address the effects of climate change on fish and wildlife. For me personally, this has always been the most compelling reason for the existence of LCC’s, to help our partners better understand how climate change is affecting the fish and wildlife resources they are charged to protect and sustain. The tools and geospatial products that our LCC produces are all aimed at helping our partners better understand the effects of future change, and climate is one of the biggest factors influencing future change impacts on fish and wildlife. Our tools also facilitate better decisions on actions that our partners can take to mitigate those impacts, or to help fish and wildlife to adapt to changes.
Over the years, I have been told more than once by various partners how glad they are that the LCC is worrying about climate change, because within their own organizations they often don’t have the capacity to address the issue, or they lack the political support to take it on. The GCPO LCC has worked with many of our partners to facilitate climate-smart thinking and conservation planning. A great example of this work is the Gulf Coast Vulnerability Assessment, a multi-LCC effort that was awarded the inaugural Sam D. Hamilton Award for Transformational Conservation Science in 2015. Those of us who were fortunate enough to work with Sam Hamilton during our careers, know how passionate he was about the issue of climate change.
- If not for the GCPO LCC, our partners would not have access to dozens of new geospatial data products that provide new and better understanding of the 180-million acre landscapes that encompass the GCPO geography. From the longleaf and shortleaf pine systems, to the tidal marshes of the Gulf Coast, to the big river systems, to the forests and streams of the Ozarks, your GCPO LCC staff have worked diligently to compile, analyze, and synthesize existing and new datasets into landscape-scale assessments of ecological function. These datasets in turn have been integrated into a Conservation Blueprint for the GCPO, which provides a first ever vision of conservation priority based on ecological functionality and conservation opportunity. All these datasets are available to our partners through our web-based Conservation Planning Atlas. Over the next few months, our LCC science team will be finalizing a first-ever State of the GCPO report, which will summarize all this geospatial data and information into one, easy to read and understand document.
At this juncture, there are more questions than answers as to the future of LCCs, including the GCPO LCC. My crystal ball is definitely hazy right now, but as I noted in the beginning of this blog, we are in the early stages of the budgeting process for FY18, and it really is anybody’s guess as to when and how Congress will take up the budgeting issue. Nevertheless, there are already changes afoot within the Dept. of Interior and Fish & Wildlife Service, which will also have important implications for LCCs. In the Southeast, FWS Regional Director Cindy Dohner is being re-assigned to Assistant Director of International Affairs. I’ve had the privilege of working with Cindy over the years in my position of GCPO LCC Coordinator, and she has been a consistent champion and advocate for LCCs, the Service’s Science Applications program, and the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy. Her leadership and unwavering support will be sorely missed.
In closing, it’s worth noting that the LCC program, since its inception in 2009, has already established an important legacy in landscape conservation. When the National Academy of Sciences, at the request of Congress, completed its review of LCCs in 2015, they noted that the nation “needs to take a landscape approach to conservation and that the U.S. Department of the Interior is justified in addressing this need with the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.” They further recognized that “the LCC Network is unique in that no other federal program is designed to address landscape conservation needs at a national scale, for all natural and cultural resources, in a way that bridges research and management efforts.” With that in mind, the GCPO LCC staff plans to spend the next few months working hard to complete some important projects we had already initiated, cataloguing various databases, documents and reports to ensure their continued availability to our partners, and engaging with our partners to ensure that a solid foundation for landscape conservation can endure into the future. And, we’ll keep trying to answer that question, “If not for the LCC, …………...”.
If you are trying to build a nest egg, you need to know two things: how to eliminate losses in your portfolio and the predicted rate of return on your investments. This is not unlike planning for the future of Southern forests. We need to know both how to slow down the rate at which forests are being lost from the landscape as well as where and how much protected forest acreage is likely to be added in coming decades. The latter issue is the focus of the GCPO LCC’s latest project, “Mapping the South's Protected Forests of the Future.”
This project is different from most LCC projects, however, in that the GCPO LCC is working in close partnership with Mississippi State University (MSU) under a grant co-sponsored by the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The grantors liked the original proposal so much that they requested the focal area be expanded to include the entire Southeast region encompassed within the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS).
The U.S. Endowment is an 11-year-old public charity created to benefit the North American forest industry. The organization focuses on three areas:
The USFS, of course, is the nation’s agency that manages more than 193 million acres of national forest lands. The State and Private Forestry program of the USFS also cooperates closely with state forestry agencies to deliver numerous forestry programs aimed at over 5 million private forestland landowners.
History of the thought process behind mapping “future forests”
Peter Stangel, Senior Vice President for the U.S. Endowment, explained that about a decade ago, the Endowment, USFS, and the Department of Defense (DOD) recognized vast changes occurring on the southern landscape, as traditional forest products companies were divesting their forestland, transferring ownership in many cases to Timber Investment Management Organizations (TIMOs) and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs).
“Many folks interested in forests (feds, universities, conservation groups) didn’t understand TIMOs and REITs or their priorities,” explained Stangel. “So we created a forum to bring together people with interests in forests to help them get to know one another and learn how to work together. In particular, the group focused on how to retain large contiguous blocks of working forest land in the South, which have great economic, cultural and environmental values.”
This Partnership for Southern Forestland Conservation, as it was called, eventually evolved into the U.S. Forest Service program known as “Keeping Forests as Forests.” Daniel McInnis, an Environmental Issues and Policy Analyst with the USFS State & Private Forestry program in the Southern region, is helping coordinate this program along with several diverse partners. McInnis is also liaison to the Southern Group of State Foresters Water Resources Committee, as well as the EPA Region 4 Regional Office. Through funding and grants to state forestry agencies, his program leverages state and local resources for a variety of purposes related to forest health and sustainability.
A lot of information is now available on how economic and climatic trends will affect southern forests, most notably through the USFS Southern Forest Futures Project. “The missing piece of information has been future projected conservation,” said McInnis.
Dr. Kristine Evans, formerly the GCPO LCC’s Geomatics Coordinator, is the MSU principal investigator in the College of Forest Resources, and Rachel Greene, who previously led LCC-sponsored research on open pine benefits for wildlife, will be Project Coordinator. Evans said she felt a deciding factor in the grant award was “the capacity to build on over a million dollars of previous work by the SECAS Landscape Conservation Cooperatives in compiling and prioritizing spatial information on the best areas for forest retention and conservation in the Southeast.”
This project ties together the efforts of the U.S. Forest Service to predict the extent of the South’s future forests and the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy in identifying areas across the entire Southeast U.S. landscape that maximize ecosystem integrity. It will be guided by a steering committee of representatives from state and federal agencies, forest products companies or trusts, and non-profit conservation organizations.
The where and why of tracking forest expansion
The Southern Forest Futures Report predicts up to 23 million acres of forest could be lost in the Southern U.S. by 2060. Loss will be driven primarily by four interacting factors: population growth, climate change, timber markets, and invasive species.
However, a variety of entities also have plans to expand protected forest areas in the future, for example:
- The DOD’s Army Compatible Use Buffer Program seeks to reduce noncompatible uses at the edges of military installations; it recognizes that keeping working forests is best for the military.
- The State of Georgia’s Gopher Tortoise Initiative seeks to avoid the listing of this species as endangered to prevent regulatory impacts on private landowners. Their initiative is seeking to protect upwards of 132,000 acres of pine forest.
- The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Working Lands for Wildlife initiative seeks to promote voluntary conservation on private lands, focusing on gopher tortoise (open pine) habitat in the South.
- Many other entities and watershed protection efforts are also focusing on forest protection.
“Our primary purpose in developing this future protected forest data layer is to help visualize what the Southeast landscape will look like if conservation groups are successful,” explained Stangel. “We can not only identify gaps in protection, but also look at potential centers of sustainable forestry, priority habitat for at-risk species, important recreation areas, and many other key values.”
McInnis agreed, adding “As we move Keeping Forests as Forests toward our goal of conserving 70% of historic forestland cover across the region, all the data layers at our disposal - including those underlying the LCC Conservation Blueprints - will be important. I do envision that this product, combined with the SECAS Blueprint and other work that’s been done, will help inform decisions on where to focus our efforts and where points of leverage exist. This particular future protected forest layer will be critical because we could potentially leverage USFS authorities and Keeping Forests as Forests partners’ intersecting priorities alongside these areas slated for protection.”
Both Stangel and McInnis anticipate the added potential for identifying areas throughout the Southeast that may not currently be planned for protection but could be priority candidates for some form of conservation. “We will get the LCC to produce preliminary maps, have our committee of expert advisors evaluate these maps and recommend changes if necessary, and see what we can we do from there,” said McInnis.
The GCPO LCC science staff have been working toward a comprehensive State of the GCPO report, which uses the most current and comprehensive data available to assess conditions in each of the LCC’s 9 priority ecosystems. As part of this process an Ecological Assessment report has been developed for each system that uses GCPO-wide geospatial data products to assess habitat endpoints identified in the LCC’s Draft Integrated Science Agenda. Each of these individual reports are being compiled into the larger State of the GCPO to be released Fall 2017. We are pleased to announce that the first draft of the assessment of upland hardwoods systems is now available for review.
The LCC’s Integrated Science Agenda defines a desired state for upland hardwood systems to consist of large hardwood forest and woodland patches, found in heavily forested landscapes, and in an appropriate distribution of successional stages. Desired upland hardwood woodlands are characterized by moderate levels of canopy cover and tree density, such that herbaceous ground cover is stimulated. Desired upland hardwood forests are characterized by nearly closed-canopy conditions, with shade-tolerant subcanopy layers. Through the ecological assessment of upland hardwoods we used comprehensive remote-sensing and imputed plot-level data and a dichotomous decision-based approach to assess specifically targeted landscape endpoints related to forest configuration, canopy cover, basal area, tree diameter and density, midstory density, density of snags and dead/downed wood, forest succession and fire disturbance data. We used geospatial data to derive a Condition Index Value for each 250 m pixel across the GCPO landscape, based on the number of configuration and condition endpoints that were met.
We found about 2.6 million acres of upland hardwood woodlands, and 2 million acres of upland hardwood forests in the Ozark Highlands were found in large forest patches in heavily forested landscapes and met at least one forest condition endpoint, however there were limited areas on the landscape where all or nearly all forest conditions were met. Woodlands approaching desired conditions were found in distinct areas throughout the Ozarks and Ouachita’s in Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, western Tennessee, and other areas. Closed-canopy forests nearing desired conditions were also found in distinct patches in the eastern Ozarks (St. Francois Mountains) in Missouri, as well as in the Boston Mountains and Ouachita’s in Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. However there is also prevalence of what appear to be good condition upland hardwood forest patches along the Mississippi Valley Loess Hills.
The draft comprehensive Ecological Assessment of Upland Hardwood systems report can be found here GCPO_UplandHardwoodsAssessment_Draft1_20June2017.pdf and is open for review through the end of July. Please contact Toby Gray (email@example.com) for more information on this report and the forthcoming State of the GCPO.
[Figure (right) - Condition index values based on decision-criteria for upland hardwood woodlands (above) and forest (below) ranging from a value of 1 indicating potential hardwoods to values of 29-36 indicating existing hardwoods meet most of the measurable endpoints and are approaching the desired ecological state.]