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Local News

UNH Researchers Study Impact of Fragmented Forests from Above

Credit: iStock

Kathryn Carley

Researchers with the University of New Hampshire are taking to the skies to study the state’s increasingly fragmented forests.

Urban and agricultural growth, and roads are carving up large swaths of forestland into smaller patches, exposing new forest edges to invasive species and uprooting wildlife.

Russ Congalton, professor of natural resources and the environment at the University of New Hampshire, said they’re using drones to get a better look at how forests are responding.

“So we could see 50 meters into the forest,” Congalton suggested. “There’s still a change in the vegetation, there’s still a change in the density of the vegetation, there probably are some temperature changes.”

Congalton pointed out newly-created forest edges affect tree mortality, which increases carbon emissions contributing to climate change. They are also more susceptible to invasive species, like the woolly adelgid, attacking hemlock trees across New England.

New Hampshire lost more than 126,000 acres of forest from 1983 to 2017, a nearly 3% reduction, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Congalton noted by using drones, researchers can view nearly 100 acres of forest in 40 minutes, helping them not only cover more distance, but detect and measure the forest’s adjustment at the new “edges” sooner.

“We save tons of effort, tons of money and tons of time in order to get this kind of information in a lot more efficient and effective manner,” Congalton explained.

Congalton added some residents have at times not been happy about seeing drones near their property, but he hopes they know the camera is focused on the trees, and there are a lot of them. At nearly 80% forest coverage, New Hampshire ranks as the second most-forested state in the U.S.

This story was written by Kathryn Carley, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.