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Insects, diseases, fire, grazing and mining all affect the ecology of forests in the West. A new joint venture between Utah State University and the U.S. Forest Service will examine such disturbances with an eye to understanding and, where appropriate, restoring the natural ecology of forests.

A Center for Research on Disturbance Ecology has been established at the Intermountain Research Station Logan Forestry Sciences Laboratory. It is a joint venture of the Forest Service Intermountain Research Station and USU's College of Natural Resources."Land rehabilitation has been an active program in the College of Natural Resources for some years," said Dean Joseph Chapman. "Integrating our programs with the Logan Forest Sciences Lab is a progressive step."

Acting director for the new center, Jesse Logan, agrees. "We have years of research on insects, disease, fire, grazing, mining and other disturbances that impact the ecological integrity of natural systems," Logan said. "We will be able to study such disturbances in a broad, ecological context."

The Forest Services Laboratory in Logan currently has two projects related to disturbance ecology, according to Logan.

Scientists working with the Mountain Pine Beetle Project have investigated outbreaks of pine beetles for more than three decades. The Disturbed Land Reclamation Project has focused on restoring ecosystem-maintaining processes in land impacted by mining and other large-scale human activities.

Terry Sharik, head of USU's Department of Forest Resources, said he thinks combining the strengths of the Forest Service's national network of research specialists with the university's concentrated expertise will create an enhanced environment and vital collaboration.

The new center is meant to serve as a catalyst for interdisciplinary research, dialogue and seminars on disturbance ecology, according to Logan. The center will host visiting scientists from other universities and government-research facilities to focus on critical questions of disturbance ecology.

"To restore or maintain ecosystems, land managers must understand how these disturbances work with other processes to maintain or alter ecosystems," said Logan. "We need a much better understanding of the role disturbance plays in the structure and function of forest ecosystems."