Prioritization of Old-Growth Forest Conservation on the Pisgah National Forest
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The structural complexity of old-growth forests allows them to play many distinctive functional and compositional roles that are not fulfilled by younger forests. Left undisturbed by humans, these forests function as reservoirs of biological diversity, regulate energy and material cycles, and allow us the opportunity to study and understand natural forest processes, while at the same time providing significant recreational, existence, and heritage values. While old-growth forests are relatively rare in the eastern United States due to historic land use patterns, the Blue Ridge province in western North Carolina contains one of the highest remaining concentrations of these forests. Management of the Pisgah National Forest provides a wonderful opportunity to conserve many areas of old-growth in this region. In this master’s project, a series of Geographical Information System models was developed to prioritize a network of small, medium, and large patches of forest on the Pisgah National Forest to be conserved and managed as old-growth. The prioritization was based on criteria established by the USDA Forest Service, the amount of high quality old-growth forest contained by the patches, and other ecological considerations. Patches selected by the models were well distributed spatially and would conserve most of the identified high quality old-growth habitat on the Forest, though they underrepresented certain natural community types. Many of the chosen patches may not currently exhibit old-growth conditions and will have to be restored. It is important that selected patches for old-growth conservation be given permanent protective status so that natural processes are allowed to proceed uninterrupted. The set of models developed in this project can be used to help guide policy and management decisions by the Forest Service relating to its plans to conserve and restore old-growth across the Pisgah National Forest.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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