People and Forests

June 2019

When it comes to forests, our values and perspectives are unique; one person’s serene landscape may be another person’s college fund. In June, the Northern Research Station celebrates “Great Outdoors Month” with stories about a scientist who sees private forest owners as the future of forests, how the Nation’s Tree Census is moving into a city near you, how community stewardship leads to community resilience, and a partnership that is helping doctors prescribe the great outdoors to patients in Philadelphia.

Environmental Education Link

Logo for National Environmental Education Foundation.

Did you know that a 20-minute walk in nature can help children with Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) concentrate better? Learn more about the benefits of nature for health and find 10 apps that promote outdoor activity by visiting the National Environmental Education Foundation website.

Featured Scientist

Brett Butler

Brett Butler stands in natural area at edge of a pond.Growing up in a largely suburban setting outside of New Haven, Conn., Brett Butler’s primary interactions with nature were playing in the woods near his home and visits to local parks, such as Sleeping Giant State Park in Hamden, Conn. His interest in forests grew many fold as he attended the University of Connecticut majoring in Renewable Natural Resources. Butler’s interests ultimately led him to earn a PhD in forestry from Oregon State University and later a position with the USDA Forest Service in Amherst, Mass., where he works for the Forest Inventory and Analysis program as a research forester and director of the Forest Service’s National Woodland Owner Survey (NWOS).

Although many people do not realize it, most of the forests across the United States are privately owned. And in particular, families and individuals, collectively called family forest owners, own more forestland than any other group. The National Woodland Owner Survey is the official census of forest owners in the United States.  The survey is conducted every 5 years and is used to increase understanding of woodland owners. 

“If we are interested in the fate of the forests, we must be interested in those who control it and this means to a large extent family forest owners,” said Butler. “Family forest owners have diverse reasons for owning their land and their actions range from intensive forest management to passive uses. The group is important, interesting, and dynamic.”  

Collaborations are a key to Butler’s career success.  “One of the most fulfilling collaborations in my career has been with the Family Forest Research Center, a joint project between the USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station and the University of Massachusetts Amherst,” said Butler. Butler in collaboration with Dr. David Kittredge started the center to implement and analyze the National Woodland Owner survey and to conduct other research on issues such as landowner assistance programs, forest taxation, and inter-generational transfer of land. 

Butler is currently working on a project with the American Forest Foundation’s Woods Camp initiative. Woods Camp is an online tool to help family forest owners learn about their land and engage in forest conservation activities. The project will develop models to help quantify what factors are leading to landowner engagement in forest management activities and provide a tool to help them increase these efforts. 

Two things Butler finds most rewarding about his job are learning new things and sharing results.  “It is great to have the opportunity to share the results of our work with foresters, policy makers and others who can hopefully use this information to help landowners and the land,” said Butler. 

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Featured Product

Green Readiness, Response, and Recovery: A Collaborative Synthesis

A young boy takes part in spring planting as residents and volunteers steward a community garden in Queens, New York.Whether communities are battered by wildfire or hurricanes or acts of violence, their long road to recovery often has the common denominators of nature and stewardship. The writers and editors of a new general technical report published by the Northern Research Station, “Green Readiness, Response, and Recovery: A Collaborative Synthesis,” are finding that in many instances, environmental stewardship serves as a springboard to collective recovery and resilience.

The report is a collection of articles by researchers and practitioners representing natural resource management, emergency management, community forestry, landscape design, and other fields. Articles describing the state of the science and practice around the design, stewardship, and community use of green space following acute and chronic disturbances. An overview of existing programs, partnerships and networks, serves as a resource for government and non-government organizations involved in planning for resilience.

The Green Readiness report is rooted in ‘Landscapes of Resilience,’ a multi-city project funded by the TKF Foundation NatureSacred Program that included contributions from scientists with the Northern Research Station’s New York City Urban Field Station. The Landscapes of Resilience project explored community response to disaster in two communities, Joplin, Mo., and New York City following a tornado that killed 166 people in Joplin and a storm that killed 147 people and left parts of boroughs under water in New York City.

The collection of research and interviews was edited and compiled by Lindsay Campbell, Erika Svendsen, Nancy Falxa Sonti, and Sarah Hines of the Forest Service, and David Maddox of The Nature of Cities.

“Greening and natural resource stewardship can play a larger role in long-term recovery, and this report is one of the few that shares some of the lessons learned by communities that have used stewardship as a means by which to rebuild, and cultivate readiness and resilience,” according to Erika Svendsen, a research social scientist with the Northern Research Station and one of the document’s authors. “One of the report’s strengths is that the authors are researchers and practitioners representing a diverse array of fields.”

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Featured Research

Urban FIA

Participants in training on Urban FIAThe USDA Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program has been conducting a census of the Nation’s rural forests for more than 80 years. The FIA program monitors forest health and species composition including tree size and crown condition while also tracking tree growth, removals, mortality and regeneration. The 2014 U.S. Farm Bill noted that the FIA program needed to expand beyond traditional forests and start assessing the trees that make up the urban forests. Thus was born the Urban FIA program.    

The Urban FIA program takes a three-pronged approach that involves collecting data such as land use, tree species and urban damage agents from plots 1/6 acre in size; surveying private land owners to determine their perspectives on forests and green spaces; and analyzing how wood from urban forests is being used. The goal is to provide urban foresters and city planners with strategic level data to assist them in managing urban tree resources in the United States.  

Working collaboratively with state and local governments has been the foundation of the program’s success and its ability to provide relevant data for municipalities. For example, FIA data from rural forests was useful to the Texas A&M Forest Service in providing a good estimate of how many trees were lost due to a drought in 2011.  In the future, Urban FIA data will enable land managers in the flood-prone Houston area to answer questions such as “What species are better at withstanding floods?” and “Do invasive species reestablish at a higher rate after flooding?”

Currently the Urban FIA program is assessing trees in 35 American cities.  Program managers hope to eventually include about 100 of the most populated cities while ensuring that each state is represented by at least one city.  “Through these efforts, the Forest Service seeks to help improve urban forest and wood resources management, improve sustainability, create jobs and restore neighborhoods and watersheds,” said Mark Majewsky, FIA’s Urban FIA coordinator.

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Featured Partnership


Young child peers through holes in a leaf.In Philadelphia, NaturePHL is giving family doctors a large, green prescription pad.

Nature PHL is a cross sector collaboration of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and the USDA Forest Service that aims to increase public access to and engagement in local parks by linking parks with health. The program’s goals include increasing knowledge of the benefits of being outdoors and knowledge of spaces and opportunities to spend more time outdoors.

NaturePHL serves populations most in need of increased outdoor activity through its prescription/referral program, in which pediatricians serve as trusted messengers providing patients and their families with prescriptions to get outdoors and active at their local park. Once a 'patient family' receives a referral to the program, which currently operates in four CHOP clinics, they are contacted by a “nature navigator.” The nature navigator is a community health worker or social worker who works with the patient and their family to establish interests, values, barriers and form a 30-, 60-, or 90-day plan to work together to get outdoors and active.

“In under-served neighborhoods, people do not always have green space within walking distance, and if they do they may not feel safe in that space,” said Michelle Kondo, a research social scientist with the Northern Research Station who helped plan the NaturePHL program. “The concept of recommending outdoor exercise as a health intervention is not new, but programs like NaturePHL that connect people with parks are very unique.”

Kondo is leading the development of research questions on the benefits of and barriers to prescribing time outdoors to reduce health problems such as chronic stress, diabetes and obesity. Future research is expected to explore how spending time in nature affects metrics such as body mass index (BMI), heart rate, and sleep.

"Dr. Kondo and the Philadelphia Field Station have been a key partner in NaturePHL,” said  Elisa Sarantschin, Program Coordinator for Nature PHL at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education. “Being able to measure the impact of our clinical messaging and resources on behavior change – and whether or not patient families are increasing their time spent outside – is a crucial part of continuing the success of our program. Partnering with Dr. Kondo on our upcoming clinical survey study , analyzing self-reported surveys before and after NaturePHL's clinical messaging, will allow us to continue our evaluation into whether park prescription programs are being successful in getting people outside and having a positive impact."

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Last updated: 06/03/2019