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Project Overview

This page gives an overview of the Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment (HEE) goals and objectives. For information about study sites, harvesting treatments, sampling design, and more, see our Study Design page and US Forest Service General Technical Report NRS-P-108, The Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment: A Framework For Studying Responses to Forest Management.

The Issue

Forest management in the eastern United States is faced with many modern challenges. Professional foresters have an innovative set of management options for the maintenance of healthy forest ecosystems. But some options raise public objections when applied to public lands (e.g., types of timber harvest, prescribed fire) and the effects of some management options on forests and their native inhabitants are poorly understood. Moreover, forest lands in the eastern and Midwestern United States primarily are in small privately-owned parcels that change ownership relatively frequently. These lands are often managed for short-term financial gains rather than long-term sustainability.

As populations of some forest organisms decline, restrictions on landowners may increase because species become classified as endangered or threatened (e.g., the Indiana bat), while increasing populations of other species (white-tailed deer, invasive plants) create economic and ecological challenges. These problems are compounded by the lack of scientifically rigorous research on the overall impacts of forest management on the effected ecosystems and their components. To address this set of issues, the HEE, a long-term, large-scale experimental study of forest management and its impacts, was initiated in 2006.

Research Goals and Objectives

The primary research goal of the HEE is as follows:

What are the ecological and social impacts of long-term forest management on public and private lands in Indiana and the Central Hardwoods Region?

The objectives of the HEE are diverse, because the information will be of use to a broad array of potential users. Our research objectives include efforts to:

  1. Develop a proven system of forest management prescriptions to maintain desired populations of native plant and animal species and important communities such as those dominated by oak species;
  2. Understand the response of targeted native wildlife and plant species to forest management, in order to identify the positive effects and mitigate the potential negative effects on species of conservation concern;
  3. Assess public attitudes towards forest management to develop new approaches for education of the general public and private landowners; and to engage various interest groups in a discussion of proper land management;
  4. Identify direct and indirect benefits of specific forest management practices to local and regional communities, and understand the impact of forest management practices in community development.

Project Outcomes

The HEE is in its initial stages and is planned as a 100-year project. Data were collected for two years prior to the first round of timber harvests and inventories have been conducted annually since, allowing us to quantify the varied responses of plants and animals to active forest management. This data will ultimately be used to develop management prescriptions that provide for resilient and sustainable managed forest ecosystems in Indiana.

Project Contributions

Over 30 M.S. and Ph.D. level graduate students to date have completed all or part of their research as part of the HEE. The project has also employed more than 250 undergraduate and post-graduate students to conduct summer field work. In addition to the US Forest Service General Technical Report NRS-P-108, The Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment: A Framework For Studying Responses to Forest Management, HEE data has contributed to the publication of more than 60 peer-reviewed journal publications. The HEE has also hosted numerous local and national outreach and extension events, and has been highlighted in media outlets including the Chicago Tribune, WTHR Channel 13 Indianapolis, The Herald Times (Bloomington), and WIBC 93.1FM/1340 AM Indianapolis.