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Get Outdoors

June 2015

From hilly trails that stretch our legs and lungs to the restorative power of nature, getting outdoors is good for us. For Northern Research Station scientists and staff, getting outdoors is also a profound scientific adventure. This month, we feature a forester, research, a product and a partnership that celebrate the joy and science of getting outdoors.

Environmental Education Link

National Get Outdoors Day logoJune 13 is National Get Outdoors Day
A new annual event to encourage healthy, active outdoor fun.

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Featured Forester

Barbara McGuinness

Barbara McGuinness.  Photo used with permission by Meg McGuinness, used with permission.As a high school student, Barbara McGuinness was thinking about a career in medicine when she happened to see a forestry program brochure in her guidance counselor’s trash can. “It got me thinking, and then re-evaluating,” McGuinness said. She changed her focus to forestry and has never looked back. Today she is the Northern Research Station’s environmental literacy program coordinator.

Making forests and environmental science accessible and interesting to people come naturally to McGuinness. The youngest of six children in suburban Philadelphia, she was what today is called a ‘free range child.’ “We were typical kids, we went outside in the morning and came back in for dinner,” McGuinness recalls. Her father’s interests in birding, photography and camping translated to more time outdoors for McGuinness and her siblings.

After working as a forest technician on the Stanislaus National Forest in California and in the Forest Service’s Forest Inventory & Analysis program, McGuinness joined Forest Service Research to help communicate science to users and the general public. A temporary assignment coordinating the Northern Research Station’s “Adopt a School” program transitioned McGuinness into working as an environmental literacy coordinator. Much of her work centers on creating opportunities for people of all ages to spend time outdoors and to better understand the natural systems surrounding them. In addition to developing partnerships with outdoor learning advocates such as Project Learning Tree and overseeing environmental literacy grants for the Station, McGuinness also leads forest programs for school groups.

“As citizen science programs gain momentum, and academic standards push teachers to rethink the way science is taught, there are great opportunities to integrate Station research results into Forest Service and partner education programs,” McGuinness said.

Being outdoors is critical to people on many levels, McGuinness believes. Going for a hike or spending time in the backyard can be restorative for kids and adults, and observing nature can open up senses that get dulled in the recirculated air and artificial light of offices and schools. Understanding the natural systems that we rely on for food and shelter is also critical. “It’s important to connect to the planet you’re living on,” McGuinness said.

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Featured Product

i-Tree Habitat Models

Black capped chickadee perched on branch.  Photo from US Fish & Wildlife Service.For more than a decade, i-Tree has been an effective tool for analyzing urban trees’ value in terms of benefits to humans. Northern Research Station scientists and partners recently created a tool that helps evaluate the value of urban natural areas to a new audience – urban wildlife and the people who consider wildlife an essential part of the urban environment.

A U.S. Forest Service study published in 2014 in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, “Using urban forest assessment tools to model bird habitat potential,” created a model that evaluates habitat suitability for nine bird species and represents a range of life traits and conservation status. 

Ultimately, the tool expands understanding of the value of urban natural resources ranging from parks to back yards as wildlife habitat by integrating validated bird habitat suitability models into i-Tree. The models translate i-Tree raw data’s detailed information on the forest composition and structure into relative assessments of habitat value for birds. i-Tree habitat models are a tool for developing local or regional assessments of the current state of the urban forest as bird habitat. The new habitat models complement i-Tree’s existing suite of urban forest values, making it even more useful in comprehensive conservation planning specifically geared toward urban land-uses.

Results from this study will help guide urban foresters, planners, and landscape designers who are designing urban greening projects with the goal of improving the environment for both urban birds and people.

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Featured Research

Outlook for Outdoor Recreation in the Northern U.S.

Managers use a new tool to prepare forests for climate change.Fifty years from now, will we still be hunting, fishing, rock climbing and hiking? Published in 2013, “Outlook for Outdoor Recreation in the Northern U.S.” develops future projections for outdoor recreation as part of the Northern Forest Futures Project, a comprehensive effort to project future forest conditions within the 20 Midwestern and Northeastern states bounded by Maine, Minnesota, Missouri and Maryland.

Researchers evaluated how population growth along with changing socioeconomic conditions, demographics, land uses, and climate influence the demand for natural resource-based recreation. The study results suggest that while interest in outdoor recreation is likely to remain strong over the next five decades, the availability of public land and water may not keep pace with demand.

Outdoor recreation resources in the Midwest and Northeast are likely to become less available as more people use them. On privately owned land, increased competition for recreational resources could mean more restricted access or rising cost for access. On public lands, increased congestion and possible decreases in the quality of the outdoor recreation experience could present important challenges to management, the study suggests.

The number of participants in 14 of 17 outdoor recreation activities studied is projected to increase, with visiting interpretive sites, fishing, motorized boat use, downhill skiing, and horseback riding projected to experience the most growth in per capita participation. Activities that are expected to show the biggest average increases in participants between 2008 and 2060 include visiting developed sites, nature viewing, interpretive-area visiting, swimming, motorized water use, and fishing.

For a number of activities, the per capita participation rate is expected to decrease, however expected population growth should be large enough to ensure that only a few – hunting, snowmobiling, and undeveloped skiing – would actually experience a decrease in participants over the next 50 years. The five activities that are expected to experience the least growth in participant numbers are: non-motorized boating, hunting, snowmobiling, primitive-area visiting, and undeveloped skiing, which includes cross country skiing and snowshoeing.

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Featured Partnership

Urban Connections

Jessie Scott, our Urban Connections representative in Boston, show kids just how much nature is in their urban neighborhood.  Photo courtesy of WGBH Educational Foundation.

Do forests matter to city dwellers? The short answer is a resounding “Yes!” The Forest Service’s Urban Connections program exists to deliver a longer, more nuanced answer reflecting the diversity of interests and needs of the city dwellers themselves.
Urban Connections, an outreach program of the National Forest System’s Eastern Region working with the Northern Research Station and the Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry, is familiarizing residents of Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and the twin cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul with the forests in their backyards. In 2014, Urban Connections had 31 partnership agreements leveraging more than $2.5 million for outreach programs that connected nearly 4 million urban residents to local green spaces and the nation’s forests.

“Trees and forests are important to so many people and so many organizations,” said Jessie Scott, who staffs the Urban Connections office in Boston. “Urban Connections does what the Forest Service has a long tradition of doing in rural areas – forging partnerships that amplify a natural resource message that is relevant to the audience, whether that audience is students or educators or residents of any age who are interested in the impact they have on their landscape.”     

The region encompassing the Northeast and Upper Midwest is the nation’s most densely forested and most densely populated area, which creates unique opportunities. Urban Connections staff members participate in activities reflecting a variety of themes and purposes, such as communicating the value of nature and connecting people with public land, exploring Forest Service career opportunities, urban tree planting, and connecting environmental educators with professional development opportunities.

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