Connect People to the Outdoors

June 2017

We derive many benefits from forests, cleaner air and water chief among them, but some of what we gain from forests defies valuation. Time outdoors makes us breathe that cleaner air a bit more deeply. Whether we are hiking down a remote trail or sitting on a park bench, connecting with nature has the power to restore us. In June, we feature a scientist, a research project, a product and a partnership that center on connecting people and nature.

Environmental Education Link

Get Outdoors Day logoNational Get Outdoors Day is Saturday, June 10th! GO Day is an outgrowth of the Get Outdoors USA! campaign, which encourages Americans, especially our youth, to seek out healthy, active outdoor lives and embrace our parks, forests, refuges and other public lands and waters.

Featured Scientist

Marla Emery

Marla Emery foraging for ramps. Photo by Mark Twery, US Forest Service, retired.As a young child growing up in California, Marla Emery spent hours exploring the natural world in her suburban backyard and beyond, pretending to catch her own food. Fast forward to adulthood and Emery, a research geographer with Northern Research Station in Burlington, Vermont, now focuses her work on foraging and the importance of forests to humans for sustenance and usages that have cultural significance.

“This intimate connection between people and nature allows them to observe nature and the outdoors very carefully,” Emery said.

Emery’s work has taken her from Mongolia to Mexico and throughout the United States. In Mongolia, she reviewed the social outcomes of a program working with nomadic herders.  In Mexico, she explored women’s uses of plants for medicinal purposes. In Michigan, New York, and Maine she worked with native tribes that use black ash for basket making. For tribal basket makers, their art is part of their identity as Native peoples and a culturally-grounded source of income. In Hawaii, she is exploring efforts to strengthen access for hunting, fishing, and gathering with Native Hawaiian culture keepers and others.

“Across the globe, the way people relate to the outdoors and nature is similar, but how resources are managed can be quite different,” Emery said.

For example, the rules governing access to private land can be quite different from one place to another.

“In Scotland, they have a concept known as the ‘right to roam’. People can walk on private and public land, as long as they respect the land,” Emery said.

In a global society, the way the media and citizens discuss foraging has new avenues that are providing Emery and colleagues with another rich source of information about connections between people and nature. Since 2015 they have been analyzing and comparing articles about foraging in U.S. and Canadian newspapers and blogs. Social media has created a new arena for conversation about how people connect with nature; in upcoming research Emery and her colleagues will be analyzing how people use Twitter hashtags such as "#wildfoods" and "#foraging" to understand how people discuss foraging on a global scale.  

“No one did this in 1994, when I started researching these kinds of connections between people and nature. Tweeting and sharing information on the other side of the country and across the globe really lets you see how passionate people are about this,” Emery said.

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Featured Product

Urban Forest of Philadelphia

Map of landtype associations and pyrophyllic percentages in northern Minnesota.In Philadelphia, an estimated 2.9 million trees cover 20 percent of the city area. While there are costs involved in maintaining a city’s urban forest, there are also numerous benefits.
A report led by Northern Research Station scientists used a combination of sample plots and computer modeling using i-Tree (state-of-the-art, peer-reviewed software from the USDA Forest Service) to quantify Philadelphia’s urban forest structure and demonstrate that beyond being a beautiful and peaceful presence, trees provide environmental and economic benefits.

“An important aspect of managing the urban forest for current and future residents is to understand what taxpayers are getting for the investment, and how to sustain the benefits of trees for all city residents,” said Dave Nowak, the study’s lead author and a research forester with the Forest Service’s Forest Inventory & Analysis Program. “This report provides a means to communicate quantifiable urban forest benefits and provides a baseline by which to start making decisions about planting and management.”

In Philadelphia, the quantifiable benefits of trees run a gamut from cleaning the air to intercepting rain fall:

Average summer daytime air temperature reduction

0.3 °F

Pollution removal

513 tons/year ($19 million/year)

Volatile Organic Compound emissions

228 tons/year

Carbon storage

702,000 tons ($93.4 million)

Carbon sequestration

27,000 tons/year ($3.6 million/year)

Value of reduced building energy use

$6.9 million/year

Value of reduced carbon emissions

$1.4 million/year

Compensatory value

$1.7 billion

Rainfall interception

81.0 million cubic feet

To assess Philadelphia’s urban forest and establish a baseline for future monitoring, field data were collected during the summer of 2012; these data were processed and analyzed using i-Tree Eco, a computer model that quantifies forest structure (the number of trees in the city, what species of trees, the health of the trees, and leaf area) as well as the associated benefits and monetary values of trees based on local data. Tree cover has remained relatively stable over 5-year period from 2008-2012, but the report details various threats that may alter tree cover in Philadelphia in the coming years.

“American cities have valued trees for their aesthetic qualities,” Nowak said. “Our research assists cities by revealing the numerous benefits trees deliver in terms of environmental quality and human health.”

In addition to Northern Research Station scientists with Forest Inventory and Analysis and Philadelphia Field Station staff, the research team included researchers from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse, New York and Davey Trees’ Davey Institute.

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Featured Research

Enhancing Songbird Populations in Eastern Forests with Forest Management

Wood thrush. Courtesy photo by Bill Thompson, USDI National Park Service.Over the next 100 years, an estimated 12 percent of bird species worldwide are facing the risk of extinction. From their breeding habitat in the eastern United States to tropical wintering grounds in Central America, research wildlife biologist Dave King has explored the habitat needs of songbirds and factors behind the loss or degradation of their habitat for more than two decades.

“Birds are an important part of our native ecosystems,” King said. “We view them as an indicator of ecological health, and the widespread interest in birds has also given them greater importance to local economies.”

Last year, King’s research on the role of forest management in supporting bird populations was one of 22 projects selected for inclusion in the Northern Research Station’s “Research Highlights” presentation, a collection of the best science of the year. His research explored whether forestry can enhance habitat quality for bird species in eastern forests.

A 2014 article by another Northern Research Station scientist, Stephen Shifley, inspired King’s research. In “Five anthropogenic factors that will radically alter forest conditions and management needs in the Northern United States,” Shifley identified a lack of age-class diversity as a significant problem for forests. Nearly 60 percent of northern forest land is clustered in age classes spanning 40 to 80 years; young forests (age 20 years or less) are only 8 percent of all forests in the region; and forests older than 100 years are 5 percent of forests. For forests, this means that they are not as diverse or resilient as they could be.

King wanted to know what the homogenization of forests might mean for forest birds. He set up research plots in Massachusetts and used tiny radio transmitters to track fledgling wood thrush from the time they left the nest to when they left on their southward migration. With a 50 percent decline in population in the past half-century, wood thrush are experiencing the most dramatic population change of eastern birds.

King found that wood thrush favored habitat in managed forests where forestry operations increased the density of shrubs and saplings. “Forest regeneration creates more nesting opportunities for adult wood thrushes and better hiding places for fledglings,” he said. “The increasing homogenization of northern forests reduces habitat diversity, making it is as much a threat to bird species as it is to forests.”

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Featured Partnership

Bird banding with Audubon

Youth holds female cardinal.  Photo by Barbara McGuinness, US Forest Service. At the Audubon Community Nature Center in Jamestown, NY, the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station has partnered with the Audubon Society in bird banding activities as part of public education programs and to monitor the health, diversity and characteristics of bird populations in the area.

The partnership began 10 years ago.  Research wildlife biologist Scott Stoleson, volunteered his expertise in bird banding and knowledge of birds to help identify locations at the Nature Center to set up bird nets.  Nets strung across the birds’ most common flight paths enable Stoleson and colleagues to capture birds and gather data on their age, sex, wing span, and tail measurement.  Each bird is then outfitted with a small aluminum leg band marked with a unique 9-digit identification number before it is released back into the wild.  The bands are used to track the movement and health of the birds. All data collected is submitted to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Bird Banding Laboratory in Patuxent, MD.

Educational programs at the Nature Center provide opportunities for members of the public to get a closer view of birds through bird banding activities.  “Some kids really catch on and get a spark from participation in the program,” said Stoleson.  “One young man who started coming here about 6 years ago, when he was 5, now knows all the birds.”

“We do bird banding during spring migration and during bird breeding season,” said Ruth Lundin, President of the Audubon Community Nature Center.  “The bird banding activity goes back to the 1970s, but it was discontinued for many years.  Through the partnership with the Forest Service we can again do bird banding because of Forest Service researchers who are licensed to conduct the banding.”

In addition to bird banding, the Center hosts a “First Friday” program where people can learn about Forest Service research that is going on nearby, including research on the neotropical migratory cerulean warbler that twice annually travels between eastern forests in the U.S. and South America.  “The relationship with the Forest Service is a wonderful win-win situation,” said Lundin.


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Last modified: 05/25/2017