Behind the Scenes with the U.S. Forest Service: Forest Health Protection

Rachael Biggs, Forest Service Silviculturist, examines plant life at timber sale on the North Mills area on the Pisgah Ranger District of the Pisgah National Forest, NC, on Friday July 28, 2017. (USDA Photo by Lance Cheung)

Featuring the U.S. Forest Service: Forest Health Protection  

Managing our forests is complex work! Ever wonder how the U.S. Forest Service does it? Check out the cool science behind some of the USFS’ Forest Health Protection efforts highlighted below. We hope you’ll share this exciting introduction to forest health and protection with your young Plant Heroes—our next generation of forest protectors!

Children can recognize many of our common natural enemies—also called beneficial insects—that prey upon garden pests. They include lady beetles (commonly called ladybugs), praying mantises and spiders.  

 Monitoring our forests. The USFS monitors and evaluates forests for the presence and impact of native and invasive insects, pathogens and plants, as well as abiotic factors that can damage forest health.  

Did you know native insects and pathogens that are normally part of a healthy ecosystem can cause significant damage under the right environmental conditions? A warming climate or a change in land use can shift environmental conditions.  

Invasive species are those that become established in a region they don’t naturally occur in, and they can cause significant economic or environmental damage to forests. For example, invasive insects and pathogens can destroy millions of acres of forest trees, and invasive plants can clog waterways and displace native plants by outcompeting for sunlight, nutrients, and water. Invasive species are often transported to new regions by people—sometimes intentionally, other times accidentally.  

Abiotic factors are those that can damage forest health that are not caused by a living organism. Examples include drought, nutrient deficiencies, and extreme weather. When abiotic factors cause significant damage to forests, forests become even more susceptible to damage from living organisms.   

Damage from insects, pathogens, plants, and abiotic factors can reduce forests’ ecosystem services. These are the benefits forests provide people and wildlife, such as clean water and air, wildlife habitat, recreation, timber, and jobs.   

The USFS works in collaboration with state, federal, public, private, and tribal partners to prevent, suppress, and manage impacts to forest health. 

Biological controls. Is there anything cooler than using pests’ natural enemies to control their populations and the damage they cause in forests? The process of using natural enemies (known as biological controls) is recognized as one of the most effective and economical long-term approaches for managing invasive species, according to the USFS. For example, the parasitizing wasp, Aleiodes indiscretus, preys upon the gypsy moth caterpillar. The gypsy moth is one of the most destructive pests in oak-dominant hardwood forests in the eastern region of the U.S. and Canada.  

Children can recognize many of our common natural enemies—also called beneficial insects—that prey upon garden pests. They include lady beetles (commonly called ladybugs), praying mantises and spiders.  

Using biological controls is a fundamental method of integrated pest management—an advancing mainstream practice of managing plant, agriculture and forest pests—used by the USFS. IPM considers the health of the entire ecosystem, and uses methods in addition to synthetic chemicals to control pest populations from causing significant damage, while reducing impacts to environmental and human health.  

Forest health protection highlights. Curious about the health of forests in your state? The USFS produces an annual report for each state (and the District of Columbia) that reviews the status and trends of forest health. Review your state’s forest health highlights here and share a summary with young learners.    

Educational tips. Education is an integral part of the USFS’ efforts to ensure all stakeholders—including the public—follow best practices that contribute to our forests’ health. For example, did you know it’s important to wash the mud and seeds off your boots before you leave one area and enter another? This helps prevent the spread of invasive plants and animals that can travel between regions on our shoes.  

For more practical tips and education, visit the U.S. Forest Service on Twitter: @forestservice.  

Written by: Jennifer Junghans


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