Monday, April 13, 2009

The North Woods Issue at URI in the News

In Today's Providence Journal, there is a front page story about the controversy surrounding the construction of a new Research Park within the North Woods. The article entitled; "Their fight to save a forest at URI", by Peter Lord, discusses the issues concerning both sides of the decision to site new research facilities. The Providence Journal has also posted a video on their web page. (you may have to sign up to view the video)

As a forester who has studied the area in question, I'll give you my impression of the controversy and explain why I think the research facilities need to be located a few hundred yards away.

Last year, my Forest Management class studied the North Woods for the entire semester. We learned that the forest adjacent to the road (an area of approximately 20 acres) was the oldest forest stand in the 100 acres that we studied. This stand; as luck would have it, serves as the footprint for the proposed research park. The proposed facilities will require the construction of many buildings and new parking facilities.

The forest is approaching 100 years of age (95-100 years) and this was determined by taking a number of increment cores from trees on the site. There are trees that are actually older than the main stand. These trees most likely served as shade trees for cattle during the agricultural past, or they were border trees. A study of the oldest aerial photography from 1939, showed that this stand was an estimated 30 years old at that time. In 1939, this young pole timber stand was resilient enough to withstand the 1938 hurricane. The stand comprised largely of Red and Black Oak is located on very productive soils for growing trees. There is virtually no sign of coppice regeneration (coppice means emanating from stumps or roots). This is an important factor in determining past logging history. Most stands in Rhode Island have a significant amount of coppice regeneration. As logging occurred, the next forest would start from the stumps of the trees that were cut. In the North Woods, it is apparent that trees got their start from seed (acorns in this case). A forest like this is very hard to find in Southern Rhode Island.
I want to note that there are many other areas in the North Woods where logging has been quite significant. These areas are not currently being considered for the research facilities.

The class studied the timber in this stand and determined that there is an estimated 170,000 board feet of timber on this 20 acres and almost 130,000 board feet was Red and Black Oak. What does this mean? I've had a lot of people ask me the question; how much is the timber worth? If the economy was going strong and the mills were looking for some high quality oak, the timber could command a very high price for the region ($400 - 600 per 1000 board feet). This could place the value of the oak timber at $75,000. As you all know, the economy is in the tank and consequently, wood is not moving. Timber sales are a lot like stock sales; you want to sell when the market is up, not when the market is down. Today's prices would only bring in an estimated $25,000. URI is not going to get rich by cutting the trees in either case; this is the point I want to make.

The more important use for this stand is its value as a living laboratory, its proximity to the students and its aesthetic values for this beautiful campus. It seems to me that the research park could be placed a short distance to the west. Perhaps a short walking trail could be developed through the North Woods to connect directly the buildings that would link to the facility.

I'm no expert on research parks; but I do understand the forests of the northeast, and I can tell you that the North Woods is a special place. The URI administration has an idea to grow the University and elevate its stature around the country and the world. The idea is a good idea and should be pursued aggressively. Compromise on the footprint is an essential consideration in this debate.

I do have one question for the administration though. It seems to me that a successful research park will require a place for visiting scientists to live when they travel here. I have not seen a recommendation for siting an on-campus hotel as part of the plan. It just seems to be an important question.

I want to personally thank the students who have shown me they really care. In the left hand column is a slide show on the North Woods. You can click on it to expand it.


1 comment:

  1. Great comments and I liked the slide show