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Erin Sills


Jordan Hall 3119

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B.A. Princeton University (1990)
M.A. Duke University (1996)
Ph.D. Duke University (1998)

Research Interests

Markets and payments for non-timber forest benefits; Forest-based livelihoods and economic development (including current project on community forestry in Nepal ); Deforestation and land use in the tropics (including current project on sociohydrology of the Brazilian Amazon); Impact evaluation (including current project on energy poverty in southern Africa).


FOR 414 – World Forestry

NR 595 – Survey Methods

ES200 – Climate Change and Sustainability

Area(s) of Expertise

Economic Development, International Forestry, Impact Evaluation


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Date: 01/01/22 - 12/31/25
Amount: $648,004.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Agriculture - National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA)

The United States (U.S.) South, 13 southeastern states from Virginia to Texas, has approximately 245 million acres of forestland, covering about 46% of the total land use. Forestry operations, logging, and wood-based manufacturing industries are vital to the rural economy, as the forest product industry is one of the top employers among all manufacturing industries in rural counties. Since early 2020, every sector of the economy throughout the world has grappled with the global COVID-19 Pandemic, and forestry and forest product industry are no exception. The overall goal of this project is to evaluate the impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on forestry and forest product industry in the U.S. South, and identify, develop, and disseminate the strategies to revitalize the southern forest-based rural economy in the post-pandemic era. The specific objectives are to: 1) evaluate the impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on roundwood markets, forest landowners, and forest management in the U.S. South; 2) examine the impacts of the pandemic on forest-based employment and workforce involved in the forestry supply chain in rural southern states; 3) investigate the pandemic impacts on the forest product industry including their corporate social responsibility contribution during the pandemic; and 4) develop and deliver an Extension program in the post-pandemic forest management strategies and rural economic development to promote rural prosperity in forested counties in the U.S. South. Understanding the Pandemic impacts on the forest sector and exploring the possible forest management strategies in the post-pandemic era could help develop public policies and revitalize the forest-based rural county economies in the southern states.

Date: 01/01/21 - 12/31/24
Amount: $335,997.00
Funding Agencies: Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)

Environment for Development is committed to increasing attention to gender in the environmental agenda, particularly at the interface with economic development. Under the umbrella of the WinEED collaborative, they are taking a three-pronged approach: (1) building the pipeline and supporting the success of women environmental economists in the Global South, (2) building capacity and increasing attention to gender analysis in environment and development economics including in EfD centers and their home institutions, and (3) drawing attention to gender issues in intergovernmental deliberations and the environmental agenda of UN agencies, including through dissemination of EfD research. All three prongs require support from an environmental economist with insight and training in gender analysis and familiarity with the structural barriers and opportunities for women economists in the Global South. This project will fund a post-doctoral scholar at NC State to provide this support, in collaboration with EfD and with their affiliates in UN agencies and civil society organizations.

Date: 09/01/18 - 8/31/24
Amount: $195,622.00
Funding Agencies: National Science Foundation (NSF)

The hydro-climatic system in the Amazon is affected by and affects land use in agricultural colonization settlements. We assess whether this is a reinforcing or balancing feedback loop operating through availability of green (soil moisture) and/or blue (surface water) water. Specifically, we test how spatio-temporal variation in green and blue water affects choices about farm production systems including land use intensity, and how the aggregation of those choices in turn affects the hydro-climatic system. We employ models that account for the effects of climate change on the hydro-climatic system, and for interactions among farmers and processors in the evolution of land use. We draw on panel data that allow us to model the dynamics of choices about production systems. Our two endpoints are the availability of green and blue water, and the welfare of farm households in the Amazon.

Date: 06/04/19 - 5/31/24
Amount: $257,711.00
Funding Agencies: US Forest Service

Existing expertise in disturbances in forests has improved our understanding, modeling, and forecasting of the future conditions and use of both US and global forests. These disturbances vary by region across the US, and by ecoregion globally, and include wildfire, harvesting, land use change, insect and disease outbreaks, and others. We focus on the first two of these disturbances because of the synergies known to exist between harvesting and wildfire in both the U.S. and Brazil. This will require cooperation of investigators from NCSU (Dr. Erin Sills and a postdoctoral scholar) and USFS Research and Development (Drs. Karen Abt and Jeffrey Prestemon). This research will focus on (1) the impact of harvesting and wildfires on forest conditions, and the relationships between markets for timber and responses to forest disturbances, and (2) how climate and policy influence the expenditures made to prepare for and respond to forest disturbances, focusing on wildfire.

Date: 01/01/18 - 9/30/23
Amount: $934,979.00
Funding Agencies: National Science Foundation (NSF)

Overview Sub-Saharan Africa is the epicenter of the global challenge of energy poverty, with the absolute number of energy poor projected to increase through 2030. Energy poverty has implications for climate, environmental sustainability, human health, and well-being, with negative impacts realized at individual and collective-scales, and in local, regional, and global contexts. The complex socio-environmental challenge of energy poverty requires contributions from the basic, applied, and social sciences, and integration of evidence and learning using robust interdisciplinary frameworks. We will partner with and facilitate the networking of academic, practitioner, and policy communities in the US and Southern Africa to fill critical gaps in the theoretical and empirical evidence base regarding mitigating energy poverty. International partnership is critical to the identification of important and representative energy poverty innovations to study, to creating a network of institutions using common frameworks, research design, and empirical strategies, and to cultivating long-term interdisciplinary energy poverty research capacity in the Southern Africa region. Intellectual Merit Our aim is to build an interdisciplinary evidence base and network focused on energy poverty in Southern Africa, building capacity for transformative change. We center our research and capacity building around three themes: technology and incentives; space and place; and population and environment dynamics. We will measure the air quality, land use, and human welfare impacts of a representative set of technology and behavioral interventions designed to mitigate energy poverty. Based upon knowledge generated, we test new approaches for using and integrating appropriate technology and incentives to address energy poverty. In the second theme, we will investigate the spatial dimension of energy poverty by analyzing neighborhood effects as determinants of energy poverty, and consider the question of optimal scale of implementation of energy poverty interventions for maximizing environmental benefits and social welfare outcomes. Finally, we will investigate sustainable wood energy systems as a potential strategy for coping with the challenge of population and environment dynamics in the region, and analyze the associated environmental and economic synergies and trade-offs. This PIRE is innovative for several reasons. First, we use rigorous quantitative interdisciplinary impact evaluation as the anchor for our research and training program. We seek to study what works, why it works, and over what spatial and temporal scale. Second, the study of energy poverty is highly fragmented across a large number of disciplines with very little cross-fertilization or engagement with interdisciplinary frameworks including complex socio-ecological systems and population and environment dynamics. We use these important theoretical lenses to shed new light on this highly intractable problem, and to guide a coherent body of empirical research. Third, despite facing a looming crisis, energy poverty in Southern Africa is dramatically understudied. Broader Impacts Research findings from this study will provide new theoretical and empirical knowledge on energy poverty in sub-Saharan Africa to academics, practitioners, and policy makers. We will build new networks and promote collaborative research and exchange among over 50 scientists, graduate, and undergraduate students across the US and Southern Africa, with the aim of creating a robust interdisciplinary network of scholars. To facilitate this, we will coordinate a series of regional training workshops focused on interdisciplinary energy poverty research. A central component of the PIRE is continuous engagement with policy makers and practitioners. We will organize a series of regional policy workshops that will take place at regular intervals during the life of the Energy Poverty PIRE. We propose several innovations in teaching and scholarship that will benefit the academic community including: development of a

Date: 08/15/21 - 7/31/23
Amount: $185,964.00
Funding Agencies: National Science Foundation (NSF)

The overarching goal of the project is to understand how Community Forestry (CF) influenced the dynamics of the integrated Socio-Environmental System (iSES) in which CF is a vital part. To achieve this goal, the following major research questions will be addressed: (1) How does community forest governance influence the community social capital and livelihoods of participating households? (2) How does CF interact with rural out-migration? (3) How does CF feedback to land use decision? (4) How COVID-19 influenced the rural people’s livelihoods and CF? (5) How has CF influenced on the goods and services the environmental systems provide? The research will be carried out in the Middle Mountains of Nepal, where CF originated. With help from local collaborators and assistants, we will conduct comprehensive community and household surveys in the study area and use remote sensing and ecological models to address these questions. In the final stage of the project, an Integrated Modeling System (IMS) will be developed and used to examine the dynamics of the iSES.

Date: 05/01/21 - 7/31/22
Amount: $85,000.00
Funding Agencies: National Science Foundation (NSF)

Forest trees are the most abundant biomass on the terrestrial biosphere and sequester 315 gigatons of carbon (representing 57% of all the biomass on earth). There are tremendous opportunities for woody biomass to provide clean, sustainable, and renewable fiber and other biomaterials to replace petroleum-based products and fuels. However, genomic tools and technologies needed for the development of novel and improved forest trees with economically important traits lag far behind most other agricultural crops. Lack of genomic tools has been a serious limitation for the genetic improvement of ecologically and economically-relevant tree species such as loblolly pine. Biotechnology-enabled genetic/genomic research and breeding programs would greatly accelerate the development of new durable and high-value trees. TreeCo aims to edit the genome of loblolly pine, the most abundant plantation forest species in the US, and bring new transformative frontiers of efficient and sustainable production of fiber products to the US bioeconomy.

Date: 01/01/17 - 6/01/22
Amount: $371,697.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Interior (DOI)

We will: 1. Assess Game Land use in NC by estimating user days for key groups including: a. White-tailed deer hunters b. Black bear hunters c. Turkey hunters d. Small game hunters e. Hikers/walkers f. Birders g. Other recreationists (e.g., boaters, bicyclists) 2. Determine the economic contribution of Game Lands to the counties where they are located and to North Carolina, by: a. Assessing the economic impact of recreational activity that can be attributed to Game Lands b. Assessing the economic impact of recreational activity attributed to specific amenities on Game Lands including shooting ranges and field trials areas 3. Determine the non-market value of Game Lands in NC for beneficiaries in the counties where they are located by estimating: a. Willingness to pay by users and by local residents (as reflected in property values) b. The fiscal impact of Game Lands on local governments, by examining trade-offs between the amount and value of taxable land

Date: 01/01/22 - 3/01/22
Amount: $5,369.00
Funding Agencies: Salisbury University (member of the University System of Maryland)

Report on legislation, laws, regulations, and government programs related to links in a causal model tracing the impact of satellite data on deforestation control, based on previous interactions with key informants, familiarity with press and social media coverage, and review of documents from Brazil.

Date: 07/09/15 - 3/31/20
Amount: $177,673.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service

The objective of this study is to provide wildfire suppression expenditure forecasts for the US Forest Service and the US Department of Interior land management agencies. In the process, we will improve upon the model specifications for the three types of forecasts required by these agencies.

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