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Urban Field Stations

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Cover image of Current Topics NewsletterThe Baltimore Wood Project: Finding New Lives for Urban Wood and Rowhome Properties

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Contact Information

For more information contact Sarah Hines
Urban Field Station Coordinator

[photo:] Baltimore [photo:] Chicago [photo:] New York City [photo:] Philadelphia

An Urban Field Station is both a physical place and an extensive network of interdisciplinary scientists and partners working on developing research, curating data, and advancing and delivering science to improve the quality of life and natural resources in urban and urbanizing areas, using an integrated socio-ecological approach. Urban Field Stations are analogous to Experimental Forests and Ranges; through science and partnerships, Urban Field Stations inform and strengthen the environmental, economic, and social health of communities. They enable the agency to fulfill its mission and serve the public by providing science that helps inform stewardship of urban and urbanizing ecosystems. The quantity, quality, and health of these forested ecosystem has an outsized influence on the health of all the nation’s forests. Social perceptions and understanding of forested systems affects the social, economic, and environmental strength and resilience of communities.

The mission of the Urban Field Station Network is to improve the health and well-being of forests and communities by supporting short-term and long-term research and science delivery about urban and urbanizing social-ecological systems and resource management. The Network includes locations across the U.S., including chartered locations in Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and San Juan; and additional place-based research in Atlanta, Portland, Sacramento, Seattle, and Springfield, MA. The Urban Field Station Network has several important functions, which are described in greater detail in the Northern Research Station’s Urban Field Station Charter. In short, the Urban Field Station Network:

  • Conducts research that is collaborative, partnership-based, multi-disciplinary, and interdisciplinary
  • Focuses on research that improves our science understanding while also improving peoples’ lives
  • Addresses resource management issues that are place-based and also widely-relevant
  • Undertakes both short- and long-term studies to yield a deep, broad, and innovative understanding of social-ecological ecosystems
  • Increases capacity, efficiency, and synergy by functioning as a network among locations


The Northern Research Station's (NRS) Urban Field Station Network reflects the USDA Forest Service's commitment to understanding socio-ecological systems across the urban to rural gradient to support and improve comprehensive land management.

The Northern Research Station currently maintains four Urban Field Stations, each of which serves a larger metropolitan area and seeks to extend relevant findings to urban areas more generally.  Each Field Station is invested in a research portfolio that helps to increase our basic understanding of social-ecological systems while also producing information, tools, and results to improve urban natural resource stewardship, decision-making, and residents’ quality of life.  Please explore these locations to learn more about the research, partnerships, and tools that we have produced.

The Northern Research Station also conducts Urban Research in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Other Research Stations maintain Urban Field Stations in:

  • Denver
  • Los Angeles


USDA Forest Service Urban Research Locations map.

Starter Kit

The Urban Field Station Network Starter Kit of tools and resources can help communities better understand their social and biophysical landscapes in order to assess, plan, and monitor urban sustainability outcomes. Learn more and begin using these tools.


Urban Field Stations

Forest Service researchers are co-leaders of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES), part of the National Science Foundation's Long-Term Ecological Research Network. BES seeks to integrate social and ecological research in ways that help us achieve a more complete and holistic understanding of cities as ecosystems.  This leads scientists to try and determine how organisms, environments, hydrologic and nutrient flows, air quality, etc., in and around cities are affected by the buildings and paved surfaces, the things that people do, and the new environments that cities create. In addition, scientists consider how people interact as groups and organizations that make decisions. What people do and build in and around cities affect the environment, plants, water, and other species for many miles around.  Understanding the ecology of the city is important, as over 50% of the world’s population and 80% of the US population live in metropolitan areas, and decisions made in, for, and about cities have implications for human and ecosystem health and wellbeing. 

Urban Waters Federal Partnerships

The Urban Waters Federal Partnership (UWFP) is a multi-agency partnership that seeks to reconnect urban communities, particularly those that are overburdened or economically distressed, with their waterways to become stewards for clean urban waters. Through the Partnership, communities gain economic, environmental, and social benefits, and collaborate with Federal agencies, state and local agencies, and community-led efforts to achieve common goals. The UWFP designated 19 locations between 2011 to 2014. The 19 geographically dispersed locations are working to revitalize urban waterways and the communities that surround them, transforming overlooked watersheds into community assets. Three of the Urban Waters locations correspond to Urban Field Station locations.

Current Topics Newsletters

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Cover image of Current Topics NewsletterThe Baltimore Wood Project: Finding New Lives for Urban Wood and Rowhome Properties - August 2018, Issue 5 - While abandoned rowhomes in Baltimore have long been a sign of blight, they’ve recently become an opportunity for social improvement — on multiple levels. By working with city, state and federal agencies, along with nonprofits and commercial enterprises, the USDA Forest Service is helping to drive employment, urban renewal, and improved sustainability through an ongoing initiative called the Baltimore Wood Project. In one case, rowhome deconstruction on Baltimore’s McKean Avenue has provided jobs, wood for furniture, and space for a community park. The next step is to expand and replicate the initiative in other cities around the country as part of a business model that the Forest Service calls an Urban Wood and Restoration Economy.

Cover image of Current Topics Issue 4Going Local: A Place-Based Approach to Reducing Urban Gun Violence - April 2018, Issue 4 - Scientists at the Northern Research Station are studying the connection between urban greening, public health, and crime. One recent study found that firearm assault frequency decreased following improvements to abandoned buildings and vacant lots. Another study that focused on Philadelphia gunshot crime survivors found that the likelihood of being assaulted was lower when people were under tree cover as opposed to when they were out in the open. A third study determined that neighborhood improvements had a lower financial cost than the gun-related crime that the improvements helped to prevent. Since many U.S. cities have plans in place to increase citywide tree canopy levels and improve green stormwater infrastructure, this research may help city land managers to prioritize spending and work with nongovernment organizations to maximize environmental, economic and social benefits.

Cover image of Current Topics Issue 3STEW-MAP: Amplifying the Power of Urban Environmental
Stewardship Groups
- September 2017, Issue 3 - In response to urban issues such as urban growth, budgetary pressure, and deteriorating infrastructure, researchers at the Northern Research Station in New York City have come up with a way to quantify, evaluate, and map community-level environmental stewardship groups. The project, which began in 2007, is called STEW-MAP, which is short for Stewardship Mapping & Assessment Project. Urban land managers are increasingly using the approach, which has been implemented in U.S. cities from New York to Los Angeles and overseas in places such as Colombia, France, and the Dominican Republic. The basis of the program is a survey that helps to identify and evaluate stewardship groups that may include block associations, kayak clubs, tree-planting groups, nonprofit educational institutions and museums, and other groups that care for cities’ natural environment and resources. By using STEW-MAP methodologies, urban researchers can identify gaps and overlaps, enhance citizen monitoring projects, promote broader public engagement, build partnerships between stakeholders, and promote efforts related to issues such as climate change adaptation and sustainability.

Urban Tree Canopy Assessments: Creating a Nationwide Precedent for Effective Urban Stormwater Management -  March 2017, Issue 2 -The Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) suite of tools consists of high-resolution mapping methodology that integrates green and gray land cover data with critical social, economic, and environmental information to inform sustainability and resilience policy, planning, and management. The UTC suite of tools came about as a direct result of collaboration among the Chesapeake Bay Forestry Workgroup, the U.S. Forest Service, and other partners. UTC is now used in dozens of cities, and has been used to create and inform tree planting and other goals that improve quality of life for millions of people.

Cover image“A Tree Grows in the City”: Improving Lives with an Urban Forest - October 2016, Issue 1 - Recent U.S. Forest Service studies in Baltimore and Philadelphia support the concept that landscape improvements and increased tree canopy in underserved neighborhoods can help residents develop a sense of community and increase positive neighborhood utilization of outdoor spaces — both of which have been seen to lower crime levels in test cases. The Forest Service’s Urban Field Stations are collaborating with city departments and nonprofit organizations to improve the quality of life in urban areas by working with communities to apply the research and make positive changes to the local environment. At the same time, cities are accomplishing related improvements, such as pollution reduction through stormwater infrastructure development and making underserved neighborhoods more vibrant and appealing.

Last Modified: October 25, 2018