Current research projects of ECON focus

Managing Central Hardwood Forests under Climate Change and at Large Scale

Optimally managing forests for multiple objectives is a century-old problem with new challenges. Recent scientific findings support that tree growth and natural disturbance regimes will likely alter under global climate change. These trends will not only impact financial returns generated by timber and nontimber products, but also critically affect ecosystem services, which is very often irreversible and sometimes disastrous. Current forest management tools are incapable of effectively dealing with these changes due to their inherent limitations. Although there exist some methods for optimization under uncertainty, few can be directly adapted to forest management due to its complexity, scale, variety of objectives, and multiple stakeholders. Therefore, it is important to develop methodology specific for optimal forest management under uncertainty of global climate change. In the central hardwood region, major species shift from oaks to maples is predicted to take place, along with altered disturbance patterns. Management guidelines are lacking as to how to deal with these changes, for both private landowners and practitioners of public land management. Another relevant issue is the lack of participation in active management by private owners in the region, resulting in long-term concerns in forest health, timber supply, and invasive species. This calls for the need for quantifying economic potentials of active management. The research area will fill both the methodological and empirical gaps in research of forest management. Moreover, it will provide straightforward management guideline assisting informed decisions by landowners and managers in complex situations. It will also quantify critical economic values not only motivating participation in active forest management but also facilitating effective policy design.

Team members: Wu Ma, Vamsi Vipparla, Mo Zhou

Evaluating Economic and Ecological Impacts of Conservation Programs

Private hardwood forests play an important role in providing abundant timber resources and ecosystem services (ESs), vital to the wellbeing of the economy, environment, and people in Indiana. However, the health and productivity of these hardwood forests are presently endangered by a multitude of factors, among which forest fragmentation and parcelization, and under-participation in forest management are two of the biggest threats. The Classified Forest and Wildlands (CFW) is a longstanding property-tax incentive program that discourages deforestation and encourages sound forest management practices to promote timber production, protect watersheds, and enhance forest ES in Indiana. The area of private forests with management plans in the state accounts for only 19% of all forests, nearly all of which is associated with the CFW Program. Therefore, participation in CFW is the dominant means of implementing forest management in the state. Nevertheless, its contributions to Indiana’s hardwood resources, economy, landowners, environment, and society have yet to be quantified, limiting its impacts at small scales. Moreover, the underlying drivers of and barriers to CFW participation are unclear. The primary goal of this research area is to spatially quantify economic and ecological benefits of hardwood forest management through examining the effects of CFW participation on timber income, forest connectivity, and water purification in Indiana.

Team members: Yangyang Wang, Wu Ma, Mo Zhou

Assessing Impacts of Trade on Regional Hardwood Industry

The emergence of protectionism is one of the most remarkable changes in international trade during the past decades, with the most recent instance of a series of strategic protectionist trade policies by the U.S. since 2017. Consequently, free international trade has been disrupted in the forest sector, resulting in its unstable and vulnerable financial performance. Current and future domestic trade policies and the international trade environment, inevitably, will be pivotal to the hardwood industry, economy, and forest ecosystems in the Central Hardwood Region. Despite widespread concerns over trade-related economic and ecological issues, forest products models, appropriate for investigating regional impacts and specific for the CHR, are currently lacking. The primary objective of this research area is to empirically examine consequences of past trade policies and predict effects of current and future changes in the domestic and international trade environment on the hardwood industry, market, economy, and forests in the Central Hardwood Region with Indiana as a focal point.

Team members: Xufang Zhang, Eva Haviarova, Mo Zhou

Economics of Biological Conservation

Resilience is an ecosystem’s capacity to return to its original state after disturbances. The biodiversity literature provides ample and strong evidence supporting that biodiversity, in addition to maintaining a myriad of ecosystem services, also functions as an “insurance policy” to promote ecosystem resilience. Forest ecosystems, as the most important global repositories of terrestrial biodiversity, also provides woody materials as market goods vital for livelihood and economy. As climate change induces major regime changes in forest disturbances and accelerates species loss, conservation of biodiversity is of particular salience and urgency. Nevertheless, the economic value of biodiversity still remains controversial in both academic and practical domains. The objective of this research area is to focus on the economic theory of biological conservation to lend theoretical support to the current debate on its benefits and costs.

Team members: Mo Zhou

Other Projects to be updated soon…

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