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Urban Field Stations

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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. When the Forest Service was established in the early 20th century, 80% of the U.S. population lived in rural areas. Currently, in the early 21st century, more than 80% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas. Urban Field Stations extend the mission and relevance of the Forest Service, enabling the agency to connect with and serve a larger and more diverse portion of the U.S. population, and to serve the public by providing the science that helps us better steward urban ecosystems.

The mission of the Urban Field Station Network is to improve the quality of life in urban and urbanizing areas by conducting and supporting short-term and long-term research and science delivery about urban social-ecological systems and urban resource management.  The Urban Field Station Network has several important functions, which are described in greater detail in the 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.


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.

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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: May 4, 2017