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People and Forests

March 2014

People and forests have had a long, long relationship. Wherever there have been trees, they have fed our spirits and camp fires and housed our bodies. Today, we know that people were managing forests to meet diverse needs long before there was a written word with which to record it.

Time has not diminished our need for forests. Today research is building our knowledge of how closely trees are intertwined with tangible benefits like clean air and water, and just how enriched we are by the intangible benefits trees give us, like a sense of place and a whisper of nature in the heart of a city. This month, we feature an employee, research, a science product and a partnership illustrating our long and complicated relationship with forests.   

Environmental Education Links

Click here to visit the Baltimore Ecosystem Study education webpage.

Middle and high school students may enter the Baltimore Data Jam Competition.  Information about this competition is available here.

Check back frequently for new opportunities for Baltimore area students and educators.

Our partners in Baltimore also have lots of great opportunities for students, families and educators, all year long! Visit Parks & People Foundation to learn more about how you can participate in SuperKids Camp (grades 2 -4), BRANCHES (year-round green job training for youth 14-21), the School Yard Habitat and Education Program (educators), and more.

Featured Scientist

Lynne Westphal

Lynne Westphal

Even 20 years after writing her thesis on the motivations of TreeKeepers in Chicago, Lynne Westphal can quote some of the people she talked to about why they chose to dedicate time to planting and tending trees. “One TreeKeeper said: ‘trees soften the incessantly stark lines of human endeavor,’ Westphal said. Now the Project Leader for the Northern Research Station’s People and their Environments unit, Westphal continues to do research aimed at understanding the bonds between people and nature.

“That is part of what fascinates me,” she said. “Finding out how people care for and react to the natural world.”

Although she was drawn to trees from a young age, geography, not design, drew Westphal to her first job with the Northern Research Station. A native of Chicago, she was a graduate student studying geography and environmental studies when she signed up for an intern position with the Forest Service because the office was located just a few blocks from the university. “I took to it like a duck to water,” she said.

Understanding humans’ responses to nature is vital to forging solutions to environmental challenges that meet the needs of people and the planet, according to Westphal. For Westphal, trees demonstrate that those needs can all be met.

“Trees do things for us on all levels, from making us healthier and reducing cooling costs to providing wood to build homes, to providing habitat for wildlife and providing amazing experiences that sooth our souls,” Westphal said. “They are not either useful or aesthetically pleasing, they are the ultimate ‘both/and – multi-taskers that do all of those things at the same time.’”


Find out more on Lynne Westphal's biography page >>

Featured Product

National Woodland Owners Survey

Excerpt from National Woodland Owner Survey. Who owns most of the forestland in the United States? It isn’t the U.S. Forest Service, although that is often the perception. It isn’t the forest industry, either. Of the 794 million acres of forestland in the United States, more than half is privately owned and, of this, nearly two-thirds is owned by families and individuals. In the East, where half of the forests in the nation exist, forest ownership is predominantly private, and of this private ownership, family forest ownership dominates.

What we know about private forest ownership largely comes from the “National Woodland Owners Survey,” a report by the Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis Program that is spear-headed by Brett Butler, a research forester with the Northern Research Station’s FIA program in Amherst, Mass. Conducted every 5 years, the Survey tells us:

  • Who owns the forests of the United States
  • Why they own it
  • Concerns they have about it
  • How they have used it in the past
  • How they plan to use it in the future

Information about who owns forests tells us a lot about the future of those forests. A preliminary look at the 2013 Survey reveals that family forest owners have multiple reasons for owning their land, with more than half of respondents indicating that aesthetics, wildlife, family legacy, nature, and privacy are important. These attitudes impact how they view their land and if and how they will manage it.

“If we are interested in the future of forests, we need to be interested in the people who own the plurality of this land – family forest owners,” Butler said.

Results of the 2013 National Woodland Owners Survey are due to be officially released later this year.

Featured Research

Baltimore Urban Long-term Ecosystem Study

Photo of tree lined urban street with Baltimore skyline in background.What better place for long-term urban ecosystem research than a 285-year old city? The Northern Research Station participates in the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, a partnership that integrates biological, physical, and social sciences to explore urban ecosystem structure, function and change.

With more than three-quarters of the United States’ population living in cities and suburbs, urban areas constitute a significant and complex ecosystem. As part of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, Northern Research Station scientists are contributing research that examines environmental features such as trees, waterways, and soils; built structures including roads, ports, houses, and industrial facilities; and social factors such as the distribution of people, health problems, wealth, and crime. Our work has included:

  • Analyzing park locations, crime rates, and property prices in Baltimore to try to find a pattern in the relationship between them.
  • Determining that there is a strong inverse relationship between tree canopy and crimes of robbery, burglary, theft, and shooting when high-resolution tree canopy data and geocoded crime point data were compared for the Baltimore region.
  • Investigating the influence of trees on ultraviolet radiation in addition to other interacting factors.
  • Studying water quality in urban streams as well as in the catchment drainage infrastructure and its network of buried streams.

The Baltimore Ecosystem Study project is supported by the National Science Foundation Long-Term Ecological Research program, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and other partners. Our research is contributing to the health and well-being of the nation’s 26th largest city and providing insight into urban ecosystems that benefits other cities.

More Information >>

Featured Partnership

Northwest Indiana Urban Waters Partnership

Several students paddle a canoe in Northwest Indiana.

Northwestern Indiana is both the epitome of a rustbelt landscape and a unique geography dotted with dunes, marshes, and rivers that drain into either Lake Michigan or the Mississippi River watershed and, ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. Today remarkable natural features remain, but the waterways continue to show the effects of industrial, agricultural, and urban uses.

One of 18 Urban Waters Federal Partnerships in the nation, the Northwest Indiana Partnership is helping improve water quality in the region and recreational access to the area’s waterways. With the U.S. Forest Service serving as the lead agency, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Park Service are helping coordinate activities and connect local organizations and municipalities with federal agencies that can provide guidance and technical expertise for local projects. The Northern Research Station is leading the Forest Service’s efforts as part of this Partnership.

A unique aspect of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership is the breadth of agencies involved. Not limited to the “environmental choir,” Housing and Urban Development, the Economic Development Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control are just some of the other agencies active in the partnership.

“Challenges to restoring natural areas in Northwestern Indiana are woven into a host of challenges that are not necessarily tied to the environment,” said Lynne Westphal, Project Leader for the Northern Research Station’s People and the Environments unit. “With the diversity of voices represented in this Partnership, we can meet a wide range of needs in a wide range of ways.” 

More information >>