Effects of Exurban Development on Forest Structure and Diversity: A Case Study in the Sierra Nevada Upper Montane Forest

By Will Russell, Joe R. McBride and Rowan Rowntree.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Residential development outside of urban areas has increased in recent decades throughout the United States. This exurban development has redefined landscape patterns and the structure and composition of forest communities. A combination of aerial photography and field sampling were used to compare canopy cover, tree density, diameter distribution, species richness, and fuel loading in developed and undeveloped sites in the central Sierra Nevada of California. Analysis of current and historic aerial photography indicated a decrease in forest cover of 47.4 percent following development. Field sampling indicated significantly lower tree density in the developed area compared to the undeveloped area, as well as lower species richness, and less downed woody debris. The density of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. murrayana) was higher in the developed areas compared to the undeveloped area, with a reduction of all other tree species.

Keywords: Exurban Development, Forest Structure, Montane, Species Diversity

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp.1-16. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.242MB).

Dr. Will Russell

Assistant Professor, Environmental Studies Department, San Jose State University, San Jose, California, USA

Will Russell received a doctorate degree from the University of California, Berkeley in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, a master’s degree in Environmental Studies from San Jose State University, and an undergraduate degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz in Plant Biology. His research primarily focuses on the conservation and restoration of forest communities. He is particularly interested in the direct and indirect effects of logging on coast redwood forests. He has also done extensive work on ecological disturbance in the Sierra Nevada mixed conifer forest, as well as research on the restoration of coastal dune communities. Prior to coming to San Jose State in 2004 Will spent two years with the USDA Forest Service, four years with the USGS Biological Resources Division, and one years with the California State Parks. In addition, Will has taught in the public schools at both the primary and secondary level and has an abiding interest in developing methods for improving the ways that environmental issues are taught to our children. He is currently involved in developing research projects aimed at measuring the effectiveness of environmental education programs in the public and private sectors.

Dr. Joe R. McBride

Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA

Professor McBride is Chair of the Forest Science Division of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. Professor McBride’s current research involves projects on (1) the effects of urban forests in the reduction of air pollution in China, (2) the composition, structure, and function of urban forests in different biomes, (3) the role of fire in riparian woodlands of the Sierra Nevada, and (4) wind patterns, micro-climates, and windthrow hazard in urban areas. A list of his publications is available on his WEBSITE. Professor McBride’s professional projects include the Vegetation Management Plan for the Sea Ranch, Sonoma County , CA; Urban Forest Management Plan for Presidio of San Francisco; Restoration Plan for Sutro Baths, GGNRA, San Francisco; Oak Restoration Management Plan for Stanford University Academic Reserve Lands, Palo Alto, CA; analysis of boulevard trees for El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA.

Dr. Rowan Rowntree

Scientist Emeritus, Center for Urban Forest Research, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Forest Service, Davis, California, USA

Dr. Rowntree retired, in 2000, from the position of USFS National Program Leader and Senior Scientist for research in urban forest ecology. From 1979-2000 he established urban forest research programs in Syracuse, Davis (our Center), and Berkeley and published over 100 articles on the structure and function of urban forests. He served as a member of the Science Team of the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project and the Lake Tahoe Basin Ecosystem Project. Prior to his work with the Forest Service he was Associate Professor at Syracuse University, New York. His advanced degrees in forest science and biogeography are from UC Berkeley. At retirement, he was appointed Visiting Scholar in Forest Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and in 2004 he rejoined the Center to conduct work on urban forest ecology in the Lake Tahoe Basin and begin a book on historical vegetation change, including urban forests, of the San Francisco Bay region.


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