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Get Outdoors

June 2016

The physical, mental, and emotional benefits of getting outdoors and experiencing nature are well documented.   Experiencing nature takes many forms—from participating in an urban stewardship project in New York City, to walking on a trail through a forest preserve in Chicago, to enhancing pollinator habitat as part of a high school science project.  The outdoors can be as close as your own backyard or as far away as a remote wilderness area and stepping into either one can make life better for anyone who ventures outside. This month we feature a scientist, a product, research and a partnership all related to the benefits of getting outdoors.

Environmental Education Link

National Get Outdoors Day is June 11, 2016. Find events in your state.

Featured Scientist

Deahn Donner

Deahn Donner

Landscape ecologist Deahn Donner is fascinated by bats, birds, and butterflies, the places where they live and breed (habitat) and the impacts of disease, climate change and habitat loss on their survival.  She is also interested in passing on her knowledge to the next generation.

For the past several years, Donner has worked with local teachers to present live bat demonstrations and instruction on building bat houses to 5th grade students.  In her sessions she works to increase children’s awareness of the importance of bats – that they are voracious eaters of insects and can eat their body weight in insects every night—and the threat to their existence posed by White-nose Syndrome, a disease that is leading to drastic declines in bat populations across the U.S.  She also works to dispel many of the myths surrounding bats. “I have been really pleased with the response from teachers as well as the kids,” Donner said. “They tell me that they are not nearly as scared of the bats after they see my presentation.”

When she isn’t visiting schools, Donner spends most of her time doing research on the conservation and restoration of wildlife at large scales.  This involves studying movement and habitat ecology of bats including the federally-listed threatened northern long-eared bat, investigating whether little brown bats are developing resistance to White-nose Syndrome, examining pollinator and bird responses to land management treatments such as harvest and prescribed fire in barren restoration efforts, and better understanding the effect of climate change on the full lifecycle of the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler.  

Donner’s passion for the natural environment was formed from many weekends in childhood spent hiking in southwest Wisconsin, or camping on sandbars of the Wisconsin River.  “There are six kids in my family, and we’d go to many areas off the beaten path during all seasons,” she said “We did a lot outside as a family, from hiking, to fishing to hunting.  From the first time I started fishing with an old cane pole I loved being outdoors and spending time with my family.”

The opportunity to collaborate on science that land managers can use is among the best aspects of the job for Donner “I get to pursue interesting questions on topics that are important to me as well as to the Forest Service,” she said.  “Much of my research has been applied, and in cooperation with national forests, and I enjoy working with them to help address issues they are trying to tackle.”

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Featured Product

A social science perspective on the forest preserves: Seven virtues for connecting people and nature

Three adults walking through restored oak savannah.  Nearby nature experiences can have important psychological health benefits for people, helping to reduce stress and facilitate coping with the problems of everyday life. (Bunker Hill, October 2014) Photo by Paul Gobster, US Forest Service.

On a sunny day (or perhaps it is just after a light rain, and the air is a heady blend of blossoms, earth and asphalt) you stroll beneath trees in an urban forest listening to birds chirping around you and leaves rustling in the breeze. Frustrations of the day fade along with the sound of traffic as you follow a trail that invigorates you and connects you with nature, yet preserves your sense of safety in an urban setting.  

There is considerable science behind that experience.

The Cook County Forest Preserves has been an important outdoor laboratory where scientists with the Northern Research Station’s Chicago Urban Field Station have studied human/nature interactions since 1978.  Understanding how people perceive and value urban green space and how perceptions and values of urban nature affect use of parks has been a central goal of the Chicago Field Station. Last year, research landscape architect Paul Gobster used the centennial of the Cook County Forest Preserves as an opportunity to contemplate key themes drawn from the Field Station’s work as well as his personal observations as a visitor to the preserves over the last three decades. His ruminations became part of the proceedings for a symposium titled “Celebrating 100 Years of beauty in the forest preserves.”

For Gobster, the key themes that have emerged from the Field Station’s research equate to seven virtues of public green space: beauty, naturalness, access, cleanness, safety, health, and compatibility.
“The foundational virtues of beauty, naturalness, and access helped establish the Cook County Forest Preserves a century ago,” Gobster said. “Health, cleanness, safety and compatibility have been identified by managers and through research as additional virtues needed to sustain and enhance connections between people and nature.”

In the Forest Preserves and urban green spaces throughout the nation, the virtues that connect people with nature have the power to spur stewardship, Gobster concludes. Research revealing how beauty and naturalness move the human soul and then move us to action has informed planning, design, programming and other activities, and helped forest preserve managers provide mutually beneficial outcomes to people and nature.

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Featured Research

Cultivating Stewardship, Recovery, and Resilience Workshop

Volunteers planting at public park in New York City.After the storm, the images associated with catastrophic events like tornados and floods tell the story of the swift response to save lives, clear debris, and begin again. Research and the nation’s experience with natural and human-caused disasters, including terrorism, have demonstrated that recovery from disaster is more than clearing the rubble, and that natural resource stewardship activities such as planting trees and creating community green spaces can play a unique role in helping communities recover.

In June, leaders, organizers, and researchers within the USDA Forest Service, community groups, and academia will gather in New York City to explore and examine the social practices of natural resource stewardship in:

  • Facilitating medium and longer-term community disturbance recovery
  • Strengthening social trust, enhancing civic participation, and fostering creative innovation
  • Helping to address chronic vulnerabilities and socio-economic inequalities in communities.

Hosted by the USDA Forest Service, the workshop is a collaboration among the Forest Service, The Nature of Cities, and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, which is the Forest Service’s partner in operating the New York City Urban Field Station. Support will also be provided by the TKF Foundation’s NatureSacred Program, a key partner in the design and scientific research on nature, health and well-being.
“This workshop will give participants an opportunity to share ideas, identify best practices, and explore new forms of collaboration,” said Erika Svendsen, a social scientist with the Northern Research Station and a co-director of the Urban Field Station. “Although the focus will be on urban areas, lessons and practices can be applied across the urban-rural gradient.”

Lindsay Campbell, a social scientist with the Northern Research Station working out of the New York Urban Field Station, is among the people organizing the workshop. “One of our primary objectives for this workshop is to develop a network of leaders engaged in these issues across the Forest Service who will continue to explore how to expand our abilities to work with local partners, build novel networks, and craft messages that resonate with and engage communities,” Campbell said.

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Featured Partnership

Northwoods Environmental Scholar Program

Group photo of 2015 Northwoods Environmental Scholars Program participants at shoreline stabilization project on the Willow Flowage in northern Wisconsin. Photo by Bruce Birr, US Forest Service.

Situated in the heart of the Northwoods in the northeast quadrant of the state, Rhinelander, Wis., is a haven for nature enthusiasts with its 560,000 acres of forestland and 1,000 lakes and streams offering opportunities to hike, fish, boat or just enjoy the scenery. Ironically, many of the local youth, who have easy access to these natural amenities, are actively engaged in social media and spending their time indoors lured away by Twitter, Instagram and other sirens of the virtual world.  

Getting these kids outdoors, exposed to natural resources and excited about science was the common objective of  Adam Wiese, Ron Zalesny, and Ed Bauer of the Northern Research Station along with John Schutts, former Rhinelander High School Science Department Chair, when in 2009 they partnered to establish the Northwoods Environmental Scholars Program. 

The Program typically involves 7 to 10 high school students each summer who are selected based on their applications to the program.  In the course of 10 full day sessions offered by partner organizations, students participate in supervised field projects, field trips, and classroom exercises and learn about environmental conservation disciplines such as genetics, physiology, wildlife biology, landscape ecology and forestry.  The program culminates with scholars completing a small-scale scientific study and presenting their results to Forest Service staff.  Past studies have explored how to reduce shoreline erosion and enhance pollinator habitats. 

By the end of the summer 2016 program, 53 students will have participated and the number of partners involved in the program continues to increase.  “Not only do the students benefit from participation in the Northwoods Environmental Scholars Program,” says Zalesny, “but each of the partner organizations benefits from knowing they are opening the door for the next generation to explore and understand the wonders of the natural world right in their backyard.”  

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