Great Outdoors Month

June 2022

This month, in recognition of “Great Outdoors Month” we feature a scientist who studies how people co-exist with and realize nature's benefits, research that explores how bison helped shape the forest landscape in West Virginia, and a forest foresight game, “IMPACT: Forestry Edition” that helps players see how intricate and intertwined impacts affect forests and the goods and services they provide.

Environmental Education

Screenshot of Forest Service National Visitor User Map Interface

Find your next adventure using our interactive visitor map and get outside on National Get Outdoors Day, Saturday, June 11.

Featured Scientist

Lynne Westphal

Lynne Westphal looking across an urban forest patch toward Lake Michigan.Deep into Lynne Westphal’s career as a research social scientist with the Northern Research Station, Westphal is focused on the future. One month before retirement after a 34-year career, one of Westphal’s last publications, “The Future of Recreation on Public Lands: A Horizon Scan,” (in press) addresses the future of recreation on national forests. Though not intentional, in many respects the publication neatly ties Westphal’s early research interests to this last research direction.

A native of Chicago, Westphal was a graduate student studying geography and environmental studies and signed up for an intern position with the Forest Service. At the time, Westphal was more interested in the office location (it was just a few blocks from university classes) than on the focus of the research station’s social science unit. To Westphal’s surprise, the internship progressed into a career with the Forest Service.

In the span of a career, Westphal has contributed to the Northwest Indiana Area Urban Waters project and explored topics ranging from the social aspects of urban forestry to reclaiming brownfields as urban greenspaces and urban residents’ attitudes toward wildlife and natural areas. Westphal’s underlying interest has remained how people and nature co-exist, the myriad of ways that people benefit from nature, and providing these benefits equitably.

“Instead of being laser-focused on a particular subject, I have looked for ways to bring social science to biological and physical science research,” Westphal said. “The advantage for me has been that I am always learning something new and getting insight into new fields.”

One of the new fields that drew Westphal is strategic foresight, a social science approach to understanding alternative possible futures. “The Future of Recreation on Public Lands: A Horizon Scan” is built on over 700 “scan hits,” or signals of change, identified using a strategic foresight tool called horizon scanning. Westphal’s research suggests that the future of outdoor recreation could play out many ways, giving public lands managers an opportunity to plan now for a preferrable future for forest-based recreation.

Westphal has also co-led the Station’s Diversity & Inclusion Science team, taking a deep dive into Forest Service employment data trends to identify meaningful action points for the Agency.

“Connecting land managers to relevant research has been important to me,” Westphal said. “It is extremely gratifying to be ending my career with the Forest Service with research that gives the Agency and others insight on diverse issues from managing recreation to effectively diversifying our workforce.”

More about Lynne Westphal >>

Featured Research

Primeval Paths: Bison in West Virginia

Map of bison trails in West Virginia.One creature that evokes the great outdoors is the bison, a large and powerful mammal symbolizing a free spirit and harmony with nature. Although considered an animal of the Great Plains in the U.S., bison were also present in the eastern United States from Pennsylvania southward to Georgia and Mississippi, and their movement likely helped shape the forests we see today. In a recent study, a Northern Research Station scientist and her collaborators developed a map of bison trails in West Virginia that will be an important resource for telling a more complete story of the history of forests and woodlands of the area.

The last known bison in West Virginia were killed in 1825 in Randolph County, near the town of Valley Head. In 1989, an employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used historical travelers’ accounts and other records to document bison trails in the state. This work was undertaken because of the rediscovery of a rare plant, the running buffalo clover, thought to be associated with bison trails.  The effort resulted in a map of approximately 2,600 kilometers of bison and elk trails in West Virginia.

Research Forester Melissa Thomas-Van Gundy collaborated with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources in 2021 on a publication documenting the creation of the original map and the process of updating the trails to digital format (Primeval Paths: Bison in West Virginia. “While considerable change has occurred in the forests of West Virginia, this documented presence of a nomadic grazer in the state is useful for a complete picture of past conditions,” said Thomas-Van Gundy. “These large animals would have directly altered the landscape through their creation of paths and their consumption of vegetation.”

View a storymap - Primeval Paths: Bison in West Virginia >>

View the publication - Primeval Paths: Bison in West Virginia >>

Featured Product

Gaming the Future of Forestry through Serious Play

Five people playing IMPACT: A foresight game - Forestry Edition. USDA Forest Service photo.

A novel way to think about the future of forests and prepare for change comes with a serious  game developed by Northern Research Station (NRS) scientists Dave Bengston and Lynne Westphal. Along with colleagues Mike Dockry and Jason Crabtree, the two adapted IMPACT: A Foresight Game created by Idea Couture for Policy Horizons Canada from a technology focus to a focus on forests.

The use of games to achieve serious goals has a long history, dating back at least to war games played on paper maps during the Middle Ages. Serious games have proliferated and have been applied in diverse areas such as education, national security, health care, urban planning, and natural resource planning and management. “The purposes of these games include engaging communities, teaching or training participants, informing planning, solving real-world problems, and—of course—fun,” said Bengston.

Players take on an avatar with a forestry job of the future, like “smart forest technician” or “experience concierge” and play impact cards to achieve the desired future condition for their avatar. Each impact is based on real-world signals of change in one of 10 domains: forest ecosystems, water, recreation, community and culture, energy, work, transportation, medicine and wellness, forest products, and food, agriculture, and ranching. Disrupter cards, also based on real-world signals of change, create significant change immediately.

“Through playing IMPACT: Forestry Edition, players see the intricate, intertwined impacts across society on forests and the goods and services they provide,” said Westphal.

More on A “Serious Game” to Explore Possible Forest Futures >>

Last updated: 06/07/2022