After more than three decades, the East Texas Pine Plantation Research Project, initiated by Stephen F. Austin State University’s Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, continues to make breakthroughs in the management of East Texas forestlands and the Western Gulf Coast region.
The long-term research program partners with private forest landowners to gather precise scientific data to develop modern tools to optimize the growth, health and management of the region’s forests.
While industry partners benefit from scientific insight, SFA forestry students profit from the ability to conduct hands-on research in the field.
After joining the college in 2016, Dr. Yuhui Weng, assistant professor of forest biometrics and ETPPRP director, set a goal to expand partnerships and research projects beyond Texas’ pineywoods to serve timber producers across the Western Gulf Coastal Plain.
“Our research is highly focused on the needs of timber producers in the Western Gulf Coast region.” Weng said. “Because of our expertise in factors influencing forest productivity in the region, we are able to provide more region-specific, data-driven guidance than other universities who may be located on the southeastern U.S. coast.”
Examples of ongoing projects include the development of growth and yield models for intensively managed pine plantations and the incorporation of environmental factors, such as climatic change into the management of pine plantations in the Western Gulf Coastal Plain.
Weng explained that productivity of forest plantations is primarily determined by site quality, stand age and stand density. The ETPPRP established numerous permanent experimental plots in pine plantations across the region that are measured for growth and health every three years.
This data provides an accurate evaluation of the dynamic, temporal changes in site quality, stand density and presence of disease and has been used to develop mathematical tools to predict future plantation productivity and health.
Since the program’s launch, more than 100 peer-reviewed publications and technical reports have contributed to the body of knowledge of factors affecting the region’s timberlands.
This year, the ETPPRP will partner with the Western Gulf Tree Improvement Program to develop growth and yield models for a variety of genetically unique loblolly pine varieties, which are known for their rapid growth.
In December, representatives from four participating timber companies, as well as prospective partners, visited the SFA campus for an annual meeting to review program accomplishments made in 2018.
Among the developments are two peer-reviewed publications that provide participants with insight into the early response of loblolly pines to tree thinning operations in the Western Gulf Coastal Plain, as well as trends in fusiform rust infections and their relationship to tree and stand characteristics in East Texas pine plantations. According to the U.S. Forest Service, fusiform rust is a widespread and highly damaging disease that affects loblolly and slash pine species.
Moving forward, Weng said he hopes to gain more forest industry partners to continue to expand the scientific knowledge and productivity of the region’s forestlands.