EFETAC Director Danny C. Lee Introduced in Compass Magazine

Compass - Summer 2005The summer 2005 issue of Compass magazine, a quarterly publication of the Southern Research Station, profiled Danny C. Lee and his vision for the newly formed EFETAC research work unit.

Danny Lee Seeks Help to Manage Forest Threats

by Claire Payne

Danny Lee, director of the recently established Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center, grew up a couple of hours from Asheville in Sevier County, TN. He has come back East to tackle threats prioritized by the USDA Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth: loss of open space, invasive plants, unmanaged recreation, and fire and fuels, as well as forest pests, disease, pollution, and natural disturbances such as hurricanes. Lee says learning how the Forest Service can best address these and other issues will make for very interesting collaboration with colleagues and partners.

“I like the integrative nature of the work,” he says. “The dynamics of bringing people to the table with their separate interests, expertise, and ideas are very challenging.”

With Lee at the helm, the center will focus initially on establishing connections and partnerships, funding technology development, and producing synthesized papers to share information. “Managers and researchers at large know the issues well, but can benefit from advances in technology,” says Lee. “We can help provide the tools they need.” He looks forward to building relationships with people who will bring their ideas and knowledge to participate in problem solving.

One way to link people is to introduce practitioners to monitoring and research personnel so together they can detect situations in the field. Lee plans for the center to deliver scientific information in an accessible manner. “Many people don’t have time to read and analyze scientific literature. We want to provide portals to tools and information that people need in a form that is organized and coherent,” he says.

Lee wants to enhance the activities of others. “We’re in a fluid state now, soliciting and integrating people’s ideas and identifying clients,” he says. “We plan to add staff that can help foster partnerships and deliver a mix of products. Our first goal is to determine what the center can do early on to meet some needs in a timely and responsive manner.”

“We’re also going to begin working on long-term projects, some of which will require a 3- to 10-year timetable,” he adds. “We want to provide leverage for the good ideas of others. We can help others get connected and bring their ideas to market.”

Evolution of a Leader

Before Lee joined the Forest Service, he earned an undergraduate degree in zoology and a master’s degree in ecology from the University of Tennessee, as well as a master’s in applied statistics from Louisiana State University. While a graduate student, Lee worked primarily with fish. For his first research project, Lee counted and measured growth rings—similar to tree rings—in the pectoral spines of catfish collected in the Mississippi River. He later modeled native trout populations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Lee earned his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University while working for Resources for the Future, a nonprofit research institute in Washington, DC, modeling the effects of the Federal hydropower system on anadromous fishes in the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River Basin. Lee joined the Forest Service’s Intermountain Research Station in 1991 to work with fish populations in Boise, ID.

Lee’s Forest Service career includes work in California and the Northwest, where he worked on the Interior Columbia River Ecosystem Management Plan and the Pacific Northwest Forest Plan. He also worked on the Sierra Nevada Framework for Conservation and Collaboration, a joint effort between Forest Service Research and Development, the National Forest System, and other State and Federal partners designed to guide management of 11 national forests in California. Lee managed the science integration team that supported an interdisciplinary team charged with developing management alternatives for the Sierra Nevada forests.

In 2000, Lee became project leader of the Pacific Southwest Research Station’s Timber Management/Wildlife Interactions unit in Arcata, CA, which is distinguished by its work on sensitive birds, amphibians, and mammals, including spotted owls, marbled murrelets, fishers, and martens. Interestingly, the Klamath-Siskiyou area in northern California is second only to the Southern Appalachians in terms of diversity of amphibians and reptiles on the North American continent, and first in diversity of conifers.

While in Arcata, Lee formed a group that developed tools for assessing the risks of landscape-level fuel reductions or postfire treatment effects on fish and wildlife. “Forest thinning can affect multiple species both positively and negatively,” says Lee. “Although we may have some information on the immediate effects of forest thinning on fish and wildlife at the stand level, we are less certain of the larger scale or longer term impacts.” Lee and his colleagues developed a framework and a set of tools for fire risk assessment that evaluates tradeoffs among different risks and values, including fish and wildlife. The resulting Comparative Risk Assessment Framework and Tools Program uses the building blocks of ecological risk assessment, decision analysis, and decision protocols.


Setting a Course

Lee believes public involvement and transparency in planning are essential to reaching solutions. “It’s not wise to fall into the trap of planning only for the more probable outcomes and ignoring those with little chance of occurring—especially if the low-probability events have disastrous consequences. The tragic events following Hurricane Katrina are a graphic reminder of the necessity for planning for the extremes. Risk is a value laden concept,” Lee says. “Whose values are threatened if a certain course of action is prescribed? We need to put options on the table, anticipate where problems might arise, and honestly evaluate the tradeoffs.”

“At the landscape scale, there are no simple problems,” he continues. “We need to consider wildland development and changing and conflicting attitudes about how forest lands—public and private—are managed. We need to identify the factors that engage people, define what matters, develop clear objectives, and target activities to meet those objectives.”

Public participation matters to Lee. “The entire process must involve the public and be transparent,” he says. “Regardless of management choices, there are multiple possible outcomes; nothing is guaranteed. People may desire certainty from the government, but they respect the truth more. We need to rigorously portray what we know and don’t know. Reducing uncertainty costs something in the realm of tradeoffs. What are you willing to live with? If none of the options presented are acceptable, that’s a great incentive for new thinking.”

For more information: Danny C. Lee at 828–257–4854 or danny.c.lee@usda.gov

Download Compass, Summer 2005 (PDF)

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