Scientists & Staff

David N. Bengston

Research Forester
1992 Folwell Ave
St. Paul, MN, 55108
Phone: 651-649-5162

Contact David N. Bengston

Current Research

My current research includes three main areas:

  1. Listening to Neglected Voices: I analyze the natural resource related needs, concerns and perspectives of racial and ethnic minority communities, including American Indians, Latinos, and Hmong Americans. These studies use focus groups and/or content analysis to listen to groups that have often been neglected by natural resource managers and policy makers.
  2. Forest Values: I analyze the nature and structure of the values linking social systems to forest ecosystems and their implications for planning, management, and policy making. We need an understanding of the nature of forest stakeholder values, how forest values are changing, and what these changes imply for forest management and policy.
  3. Monitoring the Social Environment: I develop and test new methods to continuously monitor the social environment for forest planning, management, and policymaking. Traditional social science methods for monitoring the social environment (e.g., surveys, focus groups) are slow and expensive, and often produce results long after they were needed. Innovative approaches are needed. I serve as the leader of a team developing a web-based system for monitoring key forest policy issues. The website will enable planners, managers, policymakers, public affairs officers, communications officers, policy analysts, and others to monitor the public discourse on key Forest Service issues expressed in news media discussion, blogs, and a variety of other forums.

Research Interests

Valuing and Conserving Forest Ecosystem Services: The goods and services provided by forest ecosystems are vital to human well-being. But few ecosystem services have clearly established economic values. My research on forest ecosystem services will focus on (1) developing innovative, transdisciplinary methods for valuing the life-supporting services of forests, and (2) developing and evaluating innovative public policies, including market-based approaches, to conserve ecosystem services.

Why This Research is Important

Listening to Neglected Voices: The communities served by public forestry agencies are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Racial and ethnic communities often differ from the general population in their environmental attitudes and values and in their needs and concerns related to public land management. An important challenge for land management agencies is responding to an increasingly diverse society in ways that ensure that the views of all citizens are included in management and policy. My research on the needs and concerns of minority communities will help ensure these often neglected voices are heard.

Forest Values: We have found evidence that we are currently in a period of rapid and significant change in forest values. Some have argued that managing forests in ways that are responsive to diverse and changing values is the main challenge faced by forest managers. We need an understanding of: the nature of forest stakeholder values, how forest values are changing, and what these changes imply for forest management and policy for sound decision making.

Monitoring the Social Environment: Forest managers and policymakers need to monitor and assess both the biophysical and social environment. By monitoring the environment, we can make decisions that are responsive to the changing conditions and needs of the natural environment and society. We have already made progress in monitoring the biophysical environment. But traditional methods for monitoring the social environment, such as surveys, are slow and expensive, and often produce results long after they were needed. Innovative approaches to developing social information and monitoring systems are needed.

Professional Organizations

  • International Association for Society and Natural Resources
  • International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO)
    Unit 6.11.05, Ecological Economics in Forestry

Featured Publications & Products

Publications & Products

Research Datasets

  • Olson, Robert L.; Bengston, David N.; DeVaney, Leif A.; Thompson, Trevor A.C. 2014. Online discussions from a foresight panel: Wildland fire management futures. Fort Collins, CO: Forest Service Research Data Archive.
  • Potts, Robert S.; Gustafson, Eric J.; Stewart, Susan I.; Thompson, Frank R.; Bergen, Kathleen; Brown, Daniel G.; Hammer, Roger; Radeloff, Volker; Bengston, David; Sauer, John; Sturtevant, Brian. 2005. The changing Midwest assessment: data and shapefiles. St. Paul, MN: USDA Forest Service, North Central Research Station.

National Research Highlights

Children’s connections to nature prove to be lasting

Year: 2017

Childhood nature experiences have lifelong positive effects. Children’s voluntary engagement with nature, as opposed to exposure through schools and other organized programs, can result in benefits such as improved test scores, self-discipline, and reduced behavioral problems. This study examined different mechanisms through which children and youth are exposed to nature and the extent to which different exposure mechanisms are associated with such long-term benefits.

Nanocellulose facility at the Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisc. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

Alternative Futures for Wood-based Nanomaterials

Year: 2016

Forest products researchers are exploring the potential of nano-products from wood. Possible uses of these renewable products could include high-end compostable electronics, paint-on solar panels, strong and lightweight materials for airplanes and cars, and hundreds of other uses. This research explored the possible transformative implications of wood-based nanomaterials on forestry, forest products, and society.

Contemplating the future of forests, Illinois, USA. International Society of Arboriculture

Scientists Examine the Future of Forests in the Anthropocene

Year: 2014

Forest Service researchers analyzed the major issues and factors affecting forests in the decades ahead: deforestation, mega-fires, urban forests and growing urban populations, the end of wilderness, and water. Potential "game changers" for forest ecosystems include bioenergy and wood-based nanomaterials, synthetic biology, and runaway climate change. Developing the necessary foresight and tackling these issues now is needed to pass on the legacy of a healthy natural world.

Environmental Futures Word Cloud. David Bengston, USDA Forest Service

Environmental Futures Research: Experiences, Approaches, and Opportunities

Year: 2013

A Forest Service scientist organized a conference session that explored the trans-disciplinary field of futures research and its application to long-range environmental analysis, planning, and policy. He discussed how futures research can offer perspectives and methods that help researchers, decision-makers, and other stakeholders explore alternative futures and gain environmental foresight. Futures research holds great potential for developing the forward thinking needed to meet environmental challenges of the 21st century.

Face of DVD titled The Wildlife and Wilderness Exploration Show. Forest Service

Culturally Appropriate Conservation Education for the Hmong American Community

Year: 2011

Forest Service researchers produced a conservation education DVD in partnership with the Hmong community titled The Wildlife and Wilderness Exploration Show. The DVD puts a modern twist on traditional Hmong storytelling, delivering key messages in entertaining and educational segments covering a wide range of topics. The educational messages were identified through interviews with Hmong natural resource professionals across the US.

Last modified: Monday, January 20, 2020