CORVALLIS - The next statewide forestry assessment for Oregon could be based in part on a view from 400 miles away, using satellite imagery to paint a more accurate picture of vegetation, answer questions about biodiversity and habitat, and visualize the future implications of land use policy.
Creating this new view is the Coastal Landscape Analysis and Modeling Study, or CLAMS - a joint research project of the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station, and the Oregon Department of Forestry.
The research focuses on the Oregon coast, from the ridge of the Coast Range to the ocean, from Astoria to Port Orford - an area containing the state's most productive forests and streams, and covering a diverse and complex mix of ownerships.
"The CLAMS work enables us at last to think of the entire landscape, not just our own small piece of it, and consider how our actions will affect it," said Norm Johnson, an OSU professor of forest resources. "And these tools encourage us to learn about effects together, rather than considering them only from our own viewpoints."
This effort to integrate social and ecological data influences how research gets done, leaves behind the notion that science knows best, lowers the level of rhetoric, and allows a more broadly-based effort to find policy answers, Johnson said.
CLAMS has involved as many as 40 different researchers and graduate students, with specialties in ecology, economics, forest resources, social sciences, hydrology, wildlife biology, modeling, geographic information centers, remote sensing and more.
The tools emerging from CLAMS, notably the detailed watershed maps that project landscape change through time, but also several models and a "braintrust" of interdisciplinary researchers, should be highly useful for the next statewide forestry assessment and has allowed the Oregon Board of Forestry to reshape its forestry program for Oregon. It will be used by federal land managers as they implement the Northwest Forest Plan.
CLAMS could help with the assessment work of watershed councils and that done on federal lands, or with cities and counties looking at the current and future conditions of their lands. Private landowners could evaluate management options, Extension faculty could work more effectively with landowners, and the information could help steer the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds.
Prior to CLAMS, researchers had to work from general zoning maps, without reliable models to show how things fit together over a large area with diverse ownerships, nor a view of landscape changes through time, said Tom Spies, a research forest ecologist with the Pacific Northwest Research Station.
Existing land use policies in western Oregon were done with no future simulations of likely landscape conditions and outputs, nor of effects associated with multi-ownership policies, the researchers said. To a significant extent, they were based on intuition and subjective judgement and did not often consider natural disturbance forces such as fire, flood, and landslides.
By contrast, CLAMS considers how trees grow and yield both timber and other ecosystem products under varying landscape conditions, which wildlife habitat is most productive and what interactions affect its status, how and when landslides occur, and how the landscape responds to different management prescriptions across multiple ownerships. All this data is still cross-referenced with the intuition and subjective judgement of researchers well-versed in ecosystem function.
"We cannot claim 100 percent accuracy and people need to recognize that these projections are akin to weather forecasts - they are highly educated guesses, and skepticism is well-founded," said Spies. "What they do give us is a good look at the overall big picture, a method to weigh and compare alternatives, a way to work towards common ground and agreement."
Johnson compares the maps to Impressionist paintings: perfect for conveying the overall impression, a little hazy up close.
CLAMS can show how the resource conditions of the Oregon coast might develop, from now to those likely to occur through the next century under current policy - location of resources, remaining old growth, forest fragmentation, the complex ownership mosaic, wildlife, streams and aquatic habitat, potential for timber production, recreation opportunity, and biodiversity.
Starting with current condition, the models project the possible future in five-year increments.
The watershed-habitat quality models, once completed, will help locate watersheds with high and low salmonid habitat potential, based in part on where there are big trees and unstable areas with high likelihood of landslides. Location of mature and old-growth forest will help assess habitat potential for the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet.
A symposium on CLAMS results is planned for September at OSU's LaSells Stewart Center.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Electronic images to illustrate this story can be downloaded from the CLAMS Project website.