Great Outdoors Month
As summer approaches, the warmer, sunny days beckon us outdoors and promise good days ahead. In June, our web features go outdoors with a social scientist who knows the importance of considering people when tackling natural resource issues, research that employs futuring methodology to help land managers prepare for increased visitation to Colorado’s Front Range mountains, and a partnership that is working to transform a degraded urban park into a local sanctuary.
Most recreation fees are waived on Forest Service lands for National Get Outdoors Day, June 12, 2021.
Find a forest to explore with our interactive visitor map.
You could say that in 18 years of research for the USDA Forest Service, Social Scientist Cherie Fisher has specialized in variety. As part of the Northern Research Station’s “People and Their Environments: Social Science Supporting Natural Resource Management and Policy” research unit, Fisher’s work has taken her everywhere from deep in the woods to the heart of urban centers.
Early in her career, Fisher studied phytoremediation in Chicago to explore whether contamination taken up by vegetation was being ingested by insects and other wildlife. From there, her work has taken her bushwhacking through underbrush to find lost research plots and into complex urban environments to inventory trees, including measuring the trees, assessing their health, and identifying factors that may impact their growth over time. Indoors, her work has included representing the Forest Service in numerous partnerships and facilitating collaboration among partners. She has also edited general technical reports and science proceedings, massaging submissions to meet the Forest Service’s standards for clarity and quality.
Fisher’s connection to nature began when she was a child living near the ocean in Connecticut. She loved to comb the beach and marvel at the odd creatures (living and expired) that were carried in by the tide. “The ocean was a big influence on me when I was young,” Fisher said. “It is such an amazing mix of constant sameness and constant change.”
While the ocean may have pulled her toward a career in natural resources, her education in ecology pulled her to cities. “I realized that managing the resources in natural places is important, but working in urban areas may have more impact because that is where the damage happens and that is where most people interact with nature,” Fisher said.
One evolution in Fisher’s thinking about nature over the years has been the need to focus on people as well as natural resources. “I used to think that working in natural resources research meant just measuring trees or counting species within a plot,” she said. “Now I appreciate that to get anything done for natural resources, you have to work with people.”
More about Cherie Fisher >>
Implications of Population Increases in Colorado on Recreation Activities
What are the possible implications of doubling visitation to the public lands of Colorado’s Front Range mountains by 2050? With Colorado’s Front Range experiencing significant population growth, concerns are rising about the future of the wide‐ranging outdoor opportunities for which the region is known. This was the question scientists sought to explore using a futuring method called the Implications Wheel—a structured brainstorming process designed to elicit possible future changes.
Population in the 7‐county area that comprises Colorado’s Front Range grew from 2.8 million in 2010 to 3.2 million in 2018 and is expected to add another one million residents by 2050. Residents, planners, and land managers are worried about how population growth strains public lands. The Northern Research Station’s Strategic Foresight team worked with the Arapahoe-Roosevelt-Pawnee National Forest and Grassland (ARNF) and a collaboration focused on managing growth and protecting resources called NoCo PLACES 2050 to uncover strategies to achieve a sustainable future for outdoor recreation on Colorado’s Front Range.
Using the Implications Wheel, participants delved into the central question, “What are the possible implications if visitation demand on the public lands of Colorado’s Front Range more than doubles by 2050?” Participants were asked to identify implications and score each implication for desirability or undesirability and likelihood or unlikelihood, as well as identify possible triumphs and catastrophes. Implications rated highly likely and undesirable, and those rated highly unlikely and desirable, can focus managers’ efforts where they will do the most good.
Participants expressed significant concern about rising inequity in access to outdoor recreation and an increasing demand for first responders as the number of recreationists increase. At the same time, participants identified chances for significantly improving public transportation to solve access, equity, and pollution issues.
“Futurists often say, ‘change is the only constant’. The Implications Wheel helps professionals tasked with meeting uncertain challenges ahead to be better prepared and helps them design actions today to promote desirable futures while avoiding undesirable ones,” said Lynne Westphal, research social scientist and study lead.
Stillmeadow PeacePark: Restoring Urban Forests and Community Resilience
Stillmeadow Community Fellowship Church is the owner of 10 acres of urban woodlands known as the Stillmeadow Community PeacePark & Forest in a southwest Baltimore neighborhood which until recently was ecologically degraded, with many dead ash trees and invasive vines and little understory recruitment due to deer overgrazing. Over the past year the Northern Research Station has joined forces with Pastor Michael Martin, leader of the Stillmeadow Community Church, and many other community groups and residents, to help achieve the community’s vision of restoring this 10-acre parcel.
A team of researchers with the Northern Research Station including Morgan Grove, Rich Hallett, Max Piana, and Nancy Sonti, is joining with Stillmeadow to restore the land and test urban forest rehabilitation prescriptions to improve forest health. “Research demonstrates the importance of green spaces such as these for public health and well-being as well as for community health and resilience” said Grove.
“The focus of the PeacePark is to promote a ‘creation connected’ focus on spiritual health,” said PastorMichael. He envisions the PeacePark to be an encouragement of community connectedness and spiritual disciplines such as prayer, gratitude, meditation, fasting, silence, and celebration. “Right here in this urban setting, which is ripe for a renewed appreciation of the power of a healthy nature ecosystem and desperate for long-range investment in a healthy human ecosystem, is where a PeacePark needs to thrive.” PastorMichael adds, “We acknowledge the codependence of these two types of ecosystems and are working toward renewal and growth in a healthy, interconnected way.”
After cleaning up the site, removing invasive species, planting a diversity of native tree species, and preventing deer grazing in certain areas to allow native flora to thrive, researchers will monitor the site over time to assess what forest management actions work best to rebuild biodiversity and support a climate-resilient urban forest. “If we can tease out what actions work best to restore Stillmeadow PeacePark,” said Grove, “we can take these lessons learned and replicate actions across urban forests in other places such as Chicago or Detroit.”“While restoring this site is a goal, we’ve been fortunate to be able to partner with, listen to, and learn from the community,” said Sarah Hines, Urban Field Station Network coordinator with the Northern Research Station. “Together, we are learning not just the how, but also the why - restoring forest patches like this is a path to climate resilience, social cohesion, and our own well-being.”