Deliver Social, Economic, and Environmental Benefits to the Public
Forests deliver a wide array of economic, environmental and social benefits to people. Forest Service research develops knowledge and tools that aid in managing the Nation’s forests for diverse purposes and values.
This month, we feature a scientist, research, a product and a partnership that showcase the multifaceted benefits of forests. Some of these benefits are known and loved, for example the flavor of black walnuts, the character that hardwood floors give a home, and wildlife habitat. We are just beginning to understand others, such as the relationship between trees and green space and less crime.
Parks and People Foundation is a long-time Forest Service partner in Baltimore that has exceptional education and outreach resources.
Mark Coggeshall already has deep roots in his new job leading the Northern Research Station’s research work unit 14, also known as the Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center (HTIRC), in Indiana.
Most recently an assistant research professor in the University of Missouri’s School of Natural Resources, Coggeshall began his career with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) as a forester specializing in forest genetics and tree improvement. For 20 years, Coggeshall worked to develop high-quality black walnut planting stock for use by the IDNR as well as private landowners in the state.
“A lot of the work I did with black walnut genetics the first time I was in Indiana is now being used by the HTIRC,” Coggeshall said. “Even more importantly than being familiar with the genetic resources at the HTIRC, I have longtime relationships with many of the people who are engaged in improving the productivity and quality of black walnut and other fine hardwood species in the state.”
Based on the Purdue University campus in West Layfette, Ind., the HTIRC is a national collaborative research, development and technology transfer effort led by the U.S. Forest Service and Purdue University. Northern Research Station scientists work with Purdue University colleagues and several other partners on research that advances the sustainable production and protection of hardwood tree species. As the unit’s supervisory senior research scientist, Coggeshall sees fortifying partnerships as a priority.
“The HTIRC has a history of very strong and productive partnerships,” Coggeshall said. “I would like to strengthen relationships between the HTIRC and other research work units within the Northern Research Station as well as with other land grant universities. We are having some very positive conversations about extending the reach of our research activities in Indiana and a broader geography.”
A native of Massachusetts, Coggeshall grew up learning about horticulture. His father worked at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University as their plant propagator and later owned his own nursery, where Coggeshall often assisted him. “I have had the great fortune to work with many fine plantsmen – people who know how to grow shrubs and trees,” Coggeshall said. “I have had wonderful mentors.”
Climate Change Bird Atlas
Migratory birds that travel back and forth between the eastern United States and tropical climates in the spring and fall have specific habitat requirements, such as tree species present and availability of food. Alterations in the landscape, like those associated with climate driven change, can lead to declines in the presence of suitable habitat. U.S. Forest Service scientists at the Northern Research Station have developed the Climate Change Bird Atlas to assess the response of 147 bird species in the eastern United States to climate induced changes. The Climate Change Bird Atlas strives to answer the basic question: How might suitable habitats for bird species change under future climates?
A variety of factors go into developing the models on which the Climate Change Bird Atlas is based. First, scientists look at what habitats migratory birds are most likely to use. Second, assessments are made as to which of these habitats tend to increase, decrease or remain the same in response to changes in environmental factors. Third, scientists look at a variety of environmental scenarios that combine possible climate induced changes with land management actions. Scientists can then create projections of impacts on bird habitat over the next 100 years
Scientists continue to update and refine the Climate Change Bird Atlas as new information and technology become available. Land managers are increasingly requesting information on the impacts of potential climate induced changes. “Armed with this information, managers can better understand the implications of these changes on ecosystems,” said Stephen Matthews, an ecologist with the Northern Research Station. “With enough lead time, managers can implement forest management plans to increase the chance that suitable bird habitat exists in the future.”
Trees and Crime
Along with cleaning the air, reducing energy costs and giving urban streets a certain grandeur, here is another possible benefit of trees: less crime.
In research in Cincinnati and Youngstown, Ohio, Research Social Scientist Michelle Kondo is finding that trees and green space appear to have a correlation with reductions in crime. Kondo’s work in both cities uses a natural experiment approach– meaning that she gathers data on actual changes that occurred in the environment rather than manipulating conditions for research purposes.
In Cincinnati, an invasive insect called the emerald ash borer (EAB) handed Kondo and her colleagues a unique opportunity to examine the correlation between trees and crime. Between April 2007 and September 2014, the city removed 646 mature ash trees in the public right-of-way and kept detailed records for each tree removal, including location, date removed, and diameter of the tree. Researchers plotted the location of each tree removed and then plotted crime data provided by the Cincinnati Police Department for those exact locations.
When researchers compared 11 classes of crime on neighborhoods infested with EAB and crime on neighborhoods not infested with EAB, they found that between 2005 and 2014, EAB infestation was significantly and positively associated with relative increases in crime in all but four crime categories.
“Our findings are consistent with other research on the correlation between trees and crime, but that research has been done in very large cities,” Kondo said. “The novel – and really exciting – part of our research is that we found a similar correlation between trees and crime in a mid-sized city.”
That social effect may extend beyond trees. Kondo looked at the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation’s ‘Lots of Green’ program to see how different approaches to re-using vacant lots affected crime. Lots of Green began in 2010 with a two-part program: a cleaning and greening ‘stabilization’ treatment by paid contractors and a community re-use treatment that primarily focused on creating community gardens.
When she compared crime in and around newly treated lots with crime in and around randomly selected and matched, untreated vacant lot controls, Kondo found that as a whole, the vacant-lot greening program resulted in statistically significant reductions in felony assaults, burglaries, and robberies. The lot stabilization treatment was associated most consistently and significantly with reduction in burglaries, while the community reuse treatment, which was primarily the creation of community gardens, showed more consistent and significant reduction in violent crimes.
“Much more research is needed to better understand the relationship between trees, green space and crime,” Kondo said.
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Baltimore Wood Project
Where does wood come from? If asked, most people would say that wood comes from trees. With further probing, they might say wood comes from trees that grow in forests. Surprisingly, a large source of wood is available in the form of urban trees that fall down or are cut down, and from century-old buildings that are torn down. Currently, only a small percentage of this wood is put to good use. The Baltimore Wood Project, an innovative partnership being co-led by the U.S. Forest Service, is helping to tap into the economic value and community-building potential of using urban wood.
Urban wood is a renewable resource that tends to be wasted. When an urban tree falls down, or needs to be cut down, it’s often hauled away to the landfill, or perhaps it’s used as firewood or mulch, even if it was a gorgeous specimen. In addition, when a building needs to be torn down, there’s often abundant wood (and other materials, including brick) in the framing and flooring that is hauled to the landfill during the demolition process.
In Baltimore, a post-industrial city with over 16,000 vacant and abandoned buildings, city leaders turned to the U.S. Forest Service to explore their options for using wood waste. The Northern Research Station’s Baltimore Field Station and the Forest Products Laboratory are working with Baltimore City’s Department of Planning, Department of Recreation and Parks, and Office of Sustainability as well as other local partners to rethink the traditional waste model and salvage urban wood for reuse.
Humanim’s DETAILS program is one of the key local partners in the effort and has fine-tuned the business model of “deconstructing” vacant rowhomes – not only is it cost competitive with demolition, but deconstruction creates six to eight times as many jobs. The sale of the salvaged materials enables living wage salaries and upward mobility for these employees. This figure does not even include the many jobs created by the re-use and re-purposing of the salvaged materials. The Green Pattern Book, the result of a joint effort by the City of Baltimore and the Northern Research Station, then provides a template for community organizations, NGOs, and city agencies to transform the reclaimed lots into community gardens, forests, parks, and open spaces.“The U.S. Forest Service, with its partners, is deeply committed to creating opportunities to salvage and value urban wood, yielding benefits to ecosystems, neighborhoods, human health, and economies,” said Sarah Hines, Urban Field Station Network Coordinator. “These efforts enable the Forest Service to fulfill its mission to care for the land and serve the people, not just in rural areas, but in urban areas too.”