A new tool is available to anyone interested in learning about the effects of changing land use on a particular tract of forest or farmland in Virginia. The free software program, called InFOREST, was developed by the Virginia Department of Forestry in partnership with Virginia Tech and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, with funding from Dominion Virginia Power and a U.S. Forest Service grant.

Virginia Tech’s main contribution to the program was a suite of ecosystem calculators called MEASURES. It provides an estimate of ecosystem services such as water quality and carbon sequestration associated with a proposed change of land use based on user-entered criteria, which can help planners, landowners, and citizens determine how to mitigate any negative impacts that would result from a proposed change.

Several members of the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation contributed to the project, including Professor Randy Wynne, Associate Professor Valerie Thomas, Research Scientist Christine Blinn, and GIS Programmer Paige Baldassaro. Wildlife Professor Dean Stauffer was also a part of the effort. “We’ve tried to take knowledge that we’ve collectively generated and make it more available to improve our ability to make decisions about the environment,” Wynne said.

Seth Peery, a senior GIS architect in the university’s Enterprise GIS Research and Development Administration; Beth Stein, a forestry graduate student; and Gene Yagow, a senior research scientist in biological systems engineering, were also heavily involved with development of MEASURES. “A lot of times when people have models, it’s primarily through a lookout table approach, which means the user can only access certain pre-run scenarios,” Wynne explained. “With MEASURES, for many of our tools, the model runs are being made in real time, which is very unique.”

The staff at Virginia Tech had previously designed many of the calculators used in MEASURES, but its incorporation into InFOREST will make these features more readily available to the general public. “You don’t have to use InFOREST to use these calculators, but the program will call up the models for you,” said Buck Kline, director of forestland conservation at the Virginia Department of Forestry. “This means it’s a lot easier to access for ordinary people who want to use them, since we’ve taken care of the
hard stuff for you.”

Although MEASURES is a prominent component, InFOREST also contains several other valuable functions. Users can create basic maps and view various layers with the program, including aerial imagery, topography, streets and roads, watershed boundaries, and a forest conservation value layer.

Researchers are happy with how InFOREST has progressed since its release in March. “I’m really pleased; we met a lot of our goals,” Wynne commented. “If you think about Ut Prosim or putting knowledge to work, or any of these kinds of taglines, in the end this is it.”