Preeminent Forest Scientists Receive Scientific Achievement Award

Forestry research is a vast and diverse field, rich with expertise in many scientific arenas. Three renowned experts from varied fields of study were recognized with Host Country Scientific Achievement Awards during the IUFRO 2014 World Congress Opening Ceremony. These awards recognize distinguished careers that have had exceptional impact. The recipients, Dr. Harold E. Burkhart, Dr. Stephen Hubbell, and Dr. Chadwick Dearing Oliver, are regarded as the preeminent forest scientists in the United States.

From L to R: IUFRO President Niels Elers Koch; Award Winners Dr. Chadwick Dearing Oliver, Dr. Harold E. Burkhart, and Dr. Stephen Hubbell; USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie; Congress Organizing Committee Chair Richard Guldin.

Dr. Burkhart, a University Distinguished Professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, is a leading innovator in forest biometrics. His 45-year career began with an interest in converting forest management into quantitative terms in order to measure and improve management techniques.

Much of Dr. Burkhart’s work focuses on managed monocultural forests, such as southern pines. “Some people may find these stands boring, but I appreciate them for their ability to provide forest products to society,” explained Burkhart. “This allows other types of forests to be available to meet different societal needs.”

In contrast, Dr. Hubbell, a Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UCLA, studies some of the most diverse forests in the world. He is the co-founder and co-director of the Center for Tropical Forest Science, which manages a global network of large, permanent tropical forest research plots and monitors natural population of more than 6,000 tropical tree species.

Hubbell and his colleagues have mapped one 50-hectare plot in Ecuador that contains 1,600 species. (In comparison, there are an estimated 1,000 tree species in all of North America.) Hubbell explains his research focuses on “understanding mechanisms that support such biodiversity.”

Dr. Oliver is the Pinchot Professor of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Director of the Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. As the son of a forester, Oliver often heard his father talk about how much they didn’t know about forests, and how management could be improved if the questions were answered.

When heading to college, Oliver was “determined to not be persuaded by his father’s interests,” yet found himself drawn to forestry. Much of his early work focused on the basic understanding of how forest stands develop and can be managed silviculturally. His work has since expanded to a global scale and focused on how this understanding can help resolve scientific, technical, environmental, and management issues at the landscape and global levels.

All three researchers were quick to emphasize that their success would not have been possible without the support and collaboration of a large network of colleagues, and that their recognition is rightly shared with many others in the scientific community.

When asked about the future of forestry research, the recipients spoke of a range of needs from technical advances to increased social support for conservation. Undaunted, Dr. Burkhart focused on the great possibilities that lie ahead. “I believe there are more opportunities in forest science than ever before because there is more pressure on our forests than ever before,” said Burkhart. “Regardless of specialty, there is a brilliant and bright future for forest research.”

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