Purdue to expand climate-smart forestry practices


Project partners aim to enroll 1,600 landowners in the Family Forest Carbon Program

A high-resolution aerial photo taken by a drone shows individual trees in Martell Forest in West Lafayette, Indiana (Purdue Integrated Digital Forestry Initiative)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue University has received $12 million from a $35 million project managed by the American Forestry Foundation and funded by the USDA Partnership for Climate Smart Commodities to help family forest owners practice climate smart forestry in Indiana and eight other states throughout the eastern half of the United States

Other project partners are The Nature Conservancy, Center for Heirs Property Preservation and Women Owning Woodlands. The project could sequester an estimated 4.9 million tons of atmospheric carbon — a greenhouse gas that affects the climate — over 20 to 30 years.

“Our digital forest group has been working on different tools and thinking about how to apply those tools to real-life problems,” said Sonlin Fei, who directs Purdue’s Integrated Digital Forest Initiative. “This is an opportunity to apply our expertise to solving a piece of the climate change puzzle.”

Purdue is interdisciplinary Integrated Digital Forest Initiative includes faculty from the Colleges of Agriculture, Engineering, Science, Liberal Arts and Libraries and the Polytechnic Institute. The Integrated Digital Forest Initiative, one of five strategic investments in the Purdue’s next stepsuses digital technologies and interdisciplinary expertise to measure, monitor and manage urban and rural forests to maximize social, economic and environmental benefits.

“We are bringing the traditional field into the digital age,” said Fay, a professor forestry and natural resourcesand Department of Remote Sensing.

Purdue will use advanced digital forestry technology to measure, monitor, report and verify carbon sequestration as required by the project. The automated technology, applied at a regional scale with unprecedented precision, will be based on data collected by satellites and drones with various sensors such as light detection and ranging (LiDAR). The team will also develop a simulation system that will use artificial intelligence to create optimized forest management scenarios.

The work will result in a web-based tool that landowners can use to assess and predict the climate-smart commodity market potential of their properties. The team is also creating a smartphone app to measure and monitor trees.

American households own nearly 40% of the nation’s forests, but few participate in forest carbon projects or work under a management plan. However, if managed properly, trees can grow faster and absorb more carbon, Fay said.

For participating in the program, landowners will receive an economic benefit. Payments to landowners will depend on what climate-smart carbon practices they use. Project staff or consultant foresters will also provide landowners with technical advice and guidance on creating a forest management plan.

The project partners aim to register in Family Forest Carbon Program (FFCP), which was developed by the American Forestry Foundation and The Nature Conservancy. The Foundation and the Nature Conservancy will make special efforts to engage rural forest owners and minority women in cooperation with the Heritage Center and Women Forest Owners.

FFCP already operates in a dozen states in the upper Midwest and Northeast. The USDA grant will bring nine more states to the FFCP: Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. In some states, such as Indiana, hardwood products contribute significantly to the economy.

“This grant allows us to fight climate change, put technology into the hands of forest landowners, and engage low-income and rural Americans,” Fay said.

— Purdue University Agriculture News Purdue to expand climate-smart forestry practices

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