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New center to provide improved data, tools, and models for sustainable outcomes


   

New River Valley Satellite Image Satellite imagery and remote sensing are among the many data resources the center uses. This Landsat Thematic Mapper image of the New River Valley shows forests (dark green), agriculture (light green), and development or bare soil (pink), bisected by the New River (black).


Feb. 15, 2014 –  

“As important as forests are to our quality of life, it is critical that we sustain them…”

In keeping with its commitment to advancing the science of sustainability, the college has created the Center for Natural Resources Assessment and Decision Support. “Our first task will be to answer the question, ‘Are we using our forest resources in a sustainable manner?’” said Associate Professor Stephen Prisley, who brings 30 years of experience in natural resources inventory, monitoring, and assessment to his new role as director of the center.

“As important as forests are to our quality of life, it is critical that we sustain them — that we use only what we and nature can replace,” said Prisley. “Yet the data and analytical tools needed for assessment and projections are not as precise nor as flexible as they need to be.”

Housed with the college’s Conservation Management Institute in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, the center will provide datasets of forest resource conditions; computer models designed for use by industry, government, and policymakers; and assistance in adapting models and data for specific applications, as well as offer research and internship opportunities to students.

Plans for the new center took hold after college representatives heard from private- and public-sector natural resource stakeholders across Virginia that they need improved data, models, and analytical techniques to assess the status and trends of resources such as wood fiber, water, and biodiversity. Among the center’s nearly 20 funding sources are The Nature Conservancy, Dominion Resources, Enviva, MWV (formerly MeadWestvaco), Morgan Lumber Company, and RockTenn. The center also receives critical support from the Virginia Department of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service.

The center will begin by creating models of forest harvest and regrowth in Virginia at the county level or an even finer geographic scale. Such models, based on data from remote sensing and from measurements collected by the U.S. Forest Service, will provide a new perspective on available resources and sustainability. “We will improve the integration of land-based forest inventory and remotely sensed resource data,” said Prisley.

In the long term, the center will conduct assessments of additional geographic regions and incorporate GIS layers of land use, infrastructure, population, and other attributes. “We will expand our research to assess the wider range of natural resources to include water, wildlife habitat, and diversity among plants as well as animals,” said Prisley.

“In addition to improving the data and analytical tools to create highly accurate projections for forest managers and policymakers, we will have the ability to revisit an assessment in the face of real-life variables such as fire, weather, land-use changes, and shifting market demands,” he continued.

The center’s clients will gain strategic planning advantages, better risk management, new measurement and modeling tools, boots-on- the-ground data verification, and the ability to anticipate resource and market changes. They will also be able to identify students as prospective employees.

“The college already has the critical scientific expertise,” said Dean Paul Winistorfer. “The center will provide the focus and, thanks to our partners in industry and government, the resources to fine-tune assessment science for decision making about natural resources.”


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