Research Awards and Grants (March 2020)

Title: Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy Governance Assessment 

PI: Peterson, Nils  

Direct Sponsor: NC Wildlife Resources Commission

Amount Awarded: $29,213                                                                                                            

Abstract: We propose a qualitative research project to address critical questions related to understanding and providing recommendations on the value and future direction of the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS), and examining best practices for collaborative governance. This project will address the following research objectives: (1) How have SEAFWA wildlife managers worked with SECAS in the past, and what aspects were most valuable (2) How would SEAFWA wildlife managers like to work with SECAS in the future, and what aspects will be the most valuable


Title: GIS analysis of the benefits of State and Private Forest lands for water supply in the southern United States 

PI: Nelson, Stacy   

Direct Sponsor: South Carolina Forestry Commission

Amount Awarded: $8,080                                                                                                          

Abstract: Forests and water are inextricably linked, and people are dependent on forested lands to provide clean, reliable water supplies for drinking and to support local economies. As more than 90% of the forested land in the South is privately owned, water supplies in the region are at risk of degradation from continued conversion of forests to other land uses to support a growing population. Given the variety of threats to surface water, it will be increasingly advantageous for forest managers to highlight the importance of sound forest management practices in the interest of maintaining clean and abundant water supplies to drinking water intakes in the region. The goal of this proposed work is to generate public information materials, databases and map products that will quantify water supply originating from State and Private Forests lands and the populations served in the South.


Title: Spatial and Temporal Dynamics of Bald Head Woods Reserve

PI: Forrester, Jodi

Direct Sponsor: Bald Head Island Conservancy

Amount Awarded: $10,000                                                                                                          

Abstract: I will describe the contemporary forest structure and composition of the Bald Head Woods Maritime Forest Preserve. This work will quantify the mortality caused by Hurricane Florence and help to predict the future canopy of the forest. It will build on historical vegetation measurements by adding measurement locations in open canopy conditions created by recent hurricane disturbance.
Tree, sapling, shrub and groundlayer vegetation will be measured within permanent established plots. Tree stem locations will be mapped in each plot, which will allow follow up surveys to track the growth and mortality of each individual. Canopy openness, soil moisture, and soil chemistry will be measured. Earlier descriptive studies (Taggart and Long, 2015) indicate a very sparse groundlayer flora, limited by low light availability beneath the closed canopy. Establishing additional measurement locations in these newly opened areas will help to describe the regeneration dynamics of this rare forest community. We will compile a species list, design a sampling protocol and provide training for the BHIC staff (if requested). Data will be summarized and submitted to BHIC upon completion.


Title: AmeriFlux Management Project Core Site – North Carolina Loblolly/Alligator

PI: King, John

Direct Sponsor: Texas A&M University

Amount Awarded: $99,519                                                                                                        

Abstract: A cluster of research sites will be maintained according to the Ameriflux Management Program’s Statement of Work. The sites include a mid-rotation loblolly pine plantation (site code US-NC2 in the Ameriflux and FLUXNET databases, operational since November 2004), and companion sites in young, recently disturbed loblolly pine plantations (US-NC3 starting 2013) and a natural bottomland forested wetland (US-AR/NC4 starting 2009). All sites are located on the lower coastal plain in North Carolina, and represent a historically established land use gradient. With current common management practices and areal coverage of commercial plantations in different edaphic and climatic regions in the SE-US, the two loblolly plantations are representative of a broader area. The core research at the individual sites and across the cluster focuses on the following topic areas: (1) the magnitude, regulation and variability of carbon and water cycles, (2) the tradeoffs of different management objectives, including productivity, carbon sequestration, water yield, biodiversity, and environmental services to surrounding communities, (3) responses to environmental pressures, like drought, pest outbreaks, and air pollution episodes, (4) validation, testing and development of plant gas exchange and ecosystem models of gas exchange and resource use, (5) projecting changes in flux partitioning under changing climate and environmental conditions, and (6) facilitating the development and validation of new measurement and modeling technologies.


Title: Loblolly Pine Biomass and Economic Analysis 

PI: Cook, Rachel

Direct Sponsor: NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Amount Awarded: $30,465                                                                                                          

Abstract: Loblolly pine can provide an excellent source of bioenergy in the Southeast. Optimizing the production of bioenergy can be accomplished through management practices such as stand density, silviculture, and appropriate genetics, however long-term trials are necessary to evaluate interactions among treatments and timing of peak biomass accumulation. Additionally, economical analysis is required to determine which combination of treatments optimizes not just the biological production of biomass but also results in the best return on investment. The “correct” combination of treatments will vary by site depending what resources are limiting, the cost of seedling genetics, and the number of trees planted per acre. We will evaluate the effects of silviculture, genetics (clones, controlled pollinated, and open pollinated families), and stand density on the production of biomass for bioenergy on two typical sites, one on a poorly drained site in the coastal plain and one on a well drained site in the Piedmont. Long-term and continued biomass harvesting of these treatments will help determine the optimal rotation length given different treatment scenarios. Economical analysis of each combination of treatments will provide landowners with information necessary to determine which scenario works best given local costs and market conditions.


Title: Sycamore: Sustainable Bioenergy-Improved Soil Health 

PI: King, John 

Direct Sponsor: NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Amount Awarded: $122,594                                                                                                         

Abstract: To be widely adopted in North Carolina, a bioenergy cropping system must be compatible with existing farm practices, be productive enough to sustain an industry, and enhance environmental quality. We propose here that integrating short-rotation coppice (SRC) American sycamore for bioenergy into conventional agriculture will achieve all three goals. Our data from Butner, NC, suggests that sycamore can sustain high productivity with low inputs (no fertilizer/herbicides), may improve ag soil properties, and has shown no decrease in stool survival or productivity over two coppicing cycles (9 years). We propose here to test the generality of these results by: 1) continuing the original Butner study through a third rotation (up to12 years old), 2) expanding the study to include new ag fields near Butner and Wallace, NC, to contrast with lower coastal plain sites, 3) to work with ENVIVA to test sycamore biomass wood quality for pellet production and energy yield, 4) get input from local farmers on the potential to integrate sycamore biomass farming to produce purpose-grown feedstock for ENVIVA, and 5) quantify benefits to ag soil properties from sycamore SRC. Data will be available for use in new proposals, economic modeling, and life cycle analysis in cooperation with collaborators.


Title: Loblolly Pine Biomass Genetics/Cropping Study (2019-2020) 

PI: Payn, Kitt

Direct Sponsor: NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

Amount Awarded: $74,382                                                                                                          

Abstract: Loblolly pine is the most abundant commercially grown tree species in North Carolina with over 100,000 acres of pine plantations established each year in the state. In addition to the conventional forest products industry, loblolly pine serves as a promising source for renewable energy in the form of woody biomass. Large genetic differences exist for growth, disease resistance, and stem form. By planting genetically superior trees with desirable traits, it may be possible to substantially increase the amount and quality of biomass produced at a given site. The goal of this project is to evaluate different planting stock (families) in combination with different thinning regimes in order to inform forest landowners how best to maximize their returns when supplying both the bioenergy and sawtimber markets. This project was initiated in 2012, with the planting of a high spacing density (1037 trees/acre) long-term field trial in the NC Piedmont. The trial includes 10 of the best Coastal and 10 of the best Piedmont families with varying degrees of adaptation, growth, and wood characteristics. Different thinning regimes will be explored using eight year measurements, and the predicted financial returns from the thinnings as well as projected sawtimber production will be evaluated.


Title: Lignocellulosics Engineering to Advance Dewatering (LEAD) 

PI: Venditti, Richard  

Direct Sponsor: Alliance for Pulp & Paper Technology Innovation

Amount Awarded: $150,000                                                                                                          

Abstract: The most salient cost factors for paper manufacture are fibers and drying energy. There are continued efforts in the paper industry to move towards lower grammage sheets (especially in the packaging arena) and higher machine speeds to increase productivity while conserving resources and energy. The proposed project will address the critical need for innovation in the dewatering of the paper web to maximize its solids after wet pressing through changes that result from a better understanding of equilibrium moisture and bound water, thus reducing energy consumption in the drying section while maintaining desired paper attributes.


Title: Forestry of the Future: Improving Student Readiness and Workforce Participation of Underrepresented Minority Populations in Forest Resources 

PI: Leggett, Zakiya

Direct Sponsor: USDA – National Institute of Food and Agriculture

Amount Awarded: $246,000                                                                                                          

Abstract: The US South has 245 million acres of forestland covering 46% of total land use. This region is the largest wood basket in the world where 60% of US timber derives largely from managed softwood plantations and hardwood forests. These forest systems are major economic engines to rural economies. However, nationwide, forest resources has the lowest minority representation within Food, Agricultural, Natural Resources, and Human Sciences and even lower representation in the US South. Diversity enrollment and matriculation have failed due to poor intersections of academic support, peer community support, mentoring, leadership development, and “readiness” work skills. This NNF program builds on a pilot program to pipeline minority undergraduates from HBCUs to successful graduate training in forest resources at NC State University (NCSU). The proposed program recruits HBCU undergraduates and offers pre-admission mentoring and professional development for a Master’s of Forestry at NCSU. Our NNF program will recruit and retain four, high-caliber minority forestry graduate students and prepare them for matriculation and professional success through NNF-specific programmatic, curricular, and industry experiences in forest resources. Key NNF program elements are a minority Mentoring/Leadership Community (MLC), certified forest curriculum, and industry internships in the automation, economics, biotechnology, and science communication of forest resources. The NNF cohort will mentor minority undergraduates, disseminate their experiences, network with professionals, and participate in annual NNF program performance assessment to support pipeline sustainability. This project supports USDA’s goal to develop a diverse and highly-skilled workforce for employment shortages in forest resources.


Title: Ecology of Black Bears in Urban/Suburban Habitats 

PI: DePerno, Christopher

Direct Sponsor: NC Wildlife Resources Commission

Amount Awarded: $61,970                                                                                                          

Abstract: In North Carolina, black bear populations occupy 61% of the state and their range continues to expand. Additionally, the human population in North Carolina has increased and growth continues unabated. Humans and black bears are now living in closer proximity to each other, resulting in increased human-bear interactions and some areas of the state may have reached or exceeded the social carrying capacity. In several of these areas, population management options appear limited, as hunting is often restricted in residential and urban developments. No data exists on whether suburban/urban environments serve as source or sink populations for surrounding areas, if mortality rates differ between hunted and unhunted bear populations in North Carolina, if bears in suburban/urban areas are vulnerable to harvest, or if hunting strategies can manage bear populations and human-bear interactions in and near residential developments.