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New Approach to Urban Ecology Emerges from Forest Service Research in Baltimore

Baltimore neighborhood of row houses with urban tree canopy and downtown skyline in background.  Photo by Morgan Grove, US Forest Service. Baltimore, MD, October 20, 2015 - USDA Forest Service research is shaping a vast and still growing landscape: cities. In a book published this month by Yale University Press, a Forest Service scientist and co-authors propose a new school of urban ecology based on two decades of Forest Service research in Baltimore that encompasses cities’ social, political, and ecological complexity.

The  book, “The Baltimore School of Urban Ecology,” is the first new school of ecology to emerge in more than 90 years, and the vision proposed by Morgan Grove, a Forest Service scientist in Baltimore, and co-authors includes environmental justice, human migration, public health, economic restructuring, water supply, climate and sea-level change, and more. While the research focused on Baltimore, the results have application internationally.

“The Northern Research Station serves about one-half of America and over 80 percent of these people live in urban areas,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. “To fulfill the Forest Service’s mission to ‘care for the land and serve people,’ we must have an aggressive, agency-wide program in urban natural resources stewardship whereby science and technology deployment plays a key role.  To be relevant in improving people's lives throughout the rural to urban land gradient, we need to make a real difference in the health of the environments in which all people live.”

With the urban landscape expanding in the United States and throughout the world, understanding the elements of urban ecology has become essential to not only making cities more livable, but making the planet sustainable, according to Grove. “If we have a land ethic that does not include cities, we do not truly have a land ethic,” he said.

In the 1920s, the Chicago School portrayed cities as separate from nature; Grove and his co-authors assert that cities are a rich mosaic of natural and built systems that can be even better when planning considers social and ecological perspectives.    

Grove is one of several Forest Service scientists in Baltimore who are part of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, an effort funded by the National Science Foundation and the Forest Service that examines environmental features like trees, waterways, and soils, built structures like roads, ports, houses, and industrial facilities, as well as social factors like the distribution of people, health problems, wealth, and crime. In addition to Baltimore, the Forest Service maintains urban field stations in New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago.    

The book’s co-authors include: Mary L. Cadenasso of the University of California, Davis; Steward T. A. Pickett, of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies; Gary E. Machlis of Clemson University; and William R. Burch Jr. of  Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

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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Last modified: October 20, 2015