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Forest Service, USM Program Making Forest Data Accessible for Students with Disabilities

North Woodstock, N.H., February 18, 2014 - The U.S. Forest Service and the University of Southern Maine (USM) are teaming up to broaden the horizons of environmental science by developing a hybrid experiential educational program based on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) practices to be more inclusive of students with disabilities.

In the next several months, the Forest Service and USM will launch “Linking Real World Studies with “RealTime” Cyber Science:  A Universal Design and Learning Initiative at the Northern Research Station’s Smart Forests,” a program that will use a cyber ‘bridge’ to bring data from experimental forests managed by the Forest Service to science, technology, environment and math students at USM who have disabilities or other restrictions that limit access to forests.

At the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, “Smart Forest” technology provides near real-time data from the field to the computer on hydrology, meteorology, chemistry and phenology.  Webcams and acoustical sensors further allow participation and ‘Windows on our Watersheds.’ The Smart Forest network will include seven experimental forests throughout Northeastern United States and ultimately more nationwide.

“Real time data from a forest in no way replaces a visit to a forest, but this program will make it possible for all students, including those with disabilities, to get accurate, real-time data for research, which we hope will make environmental science a more desirable career choice for people with disabilities,” said Lindsey Rustad, a team leader at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest. “We are missing out on attracting some great minds to science because of physical barriers that technology can bridge.”

More than 50 million Americans, or 1 in 6 people, are living with at least one disability, and most Americans will experience a disability at some point during the course of their lives. Despite these numbers, individuals with disabilities are uniquely underrepresented in careers in the environmental sciences.

“The Forest Service is deeply committed to creating an inclusive workforce that better represents the public and the communities it serves,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Lab. “Engaging students with disabilities is obviously a great opportunity to the students, but it’s an even greater opportunity for the Forest Service. We want great minds working on the environmental challenges facing our nation and the entire globe, and great minds come from all communities.”

Later this year, University professors will select and supervise two students for internships in research related to the Forest Service’s ‘Smart Forest’ cyber-technology program. Students will produce a final report and will present their research at USM Thinking Matters conference.

 “This program represents a significant step forward in providing access to valuable ecological data for all citizens and for further enhancing appreciation and deeper understanding of forest ecosystems” Joe Staples, Professor of Environmental Science, University of Southern Maine.

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The University of Southern Maine is northern New England's public, regional, comprehensive university, dedicated to providing students with a high-quality, accessible, affordable education. From campuses in Portland, Gorham, and Lewiston-Auburn, USM offers baccalaureate, master's, and doctoral programs, providing students with learning opportunities in the arts, humanities, politics, health sciences, business, mass communications, science, engineering, and technology.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of our nation’s forests, amounting to 850 million acres including 100 million acres of urban forests gracing the nation’s cities, where 80 percent of Americans live. The mission of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station is to improve people’s lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

 

The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The mission of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station is to improve people’s lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, visit www.fs.usda.gov/.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity (including gender expression), sexual orientation, disability, age, marital status, family/parental status, income derived from a public assistance program, political beliefs, or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity, in any program or activity conducted or funded by USDA (not all bases apply to all programs). Remedies and complaint filing deadlines vary by program or incident. Persons with disabilities who require alternative means of communication for program information (e.g., Braille, large print, audiotape, American Sign Language, etc.) should contact the responsible Agency or USDA’s TARGET Center at (202) 720-2600 (voice and TTY) or contact USDA through the Federal Relay Service at (800) 877-8339. Additionally, program information may be made available in languages other than English. To file a program discrimination complaint, complete the USDA Program Discrimination Complaint Form, AD-3027, found online at https://www.ascr.usda.gov/complaint_filing_cust.html and at any USDA office or write a letter addressed to USDA and provide in the letter all of the information requested in the form. To request a copy of the complaint form, call (866) 632-9992. Submit your completed form or letter to USDA by: (1) mail: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20250-9410; (2) fax: (202) 690-7442; or (3) email: program.intake@usda.gov.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.


Last modified: February 18, 2014