Communities and Landscapes of the Urban Northeast

Communities and Landscapes of the Urban Northeast

About Us

A hawk perches at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia. (Derik Pinsonneault, USFWS)The “Communities and Landscapes of the UrbanNortheast” work unit is anchored by sites that are part of the larger Urban Field Station Network.

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, urbanizing, suburban, and urban intermix areas. Urban field stations enable the Forest Service to fulfill the agency’s mission of helping steward all the nation’s forests, including those in the ecosystems and communities in which we live.

The Unit’s geography, focus, and leadership role can be distilled in three core messages:

  • We co-produce social-ecological science to inform the management of a million forests, and beyond.  The urban northeast is the most densely populated area of the country; it is also a region of a million forests. While these forests are abundant, they may range in size from a National Forest to the size of a parking lot or a backyard patch. Many of these smaller forest “patches” offer everyday nature experiences for the vast majority of Americans. On the whole, these patches tend to be small and highly fragmented and represent a mosaic of ownerships, conditions, actors, and purposes. Because of this complex landscape, our unit has developed expertise in high-resolution landcover mapping, stewardship and civic science, and the co-development of scientific knowledge. 
  • We are place-based, but not place-bound.  The connectedness and comingling of forests and society is perhaps nowhere as pronounced as in the urban northeast. Yet, as urbanization continues nationally and internationally, our unit is responding by serving as regional, national, and international leaders in the co-production of social-ecological science. This includes developing and leading a network of Urban Field Stations anchored by the USDA Forest Service but extending to scientific collaborators and partners throughout the world. In addition, it involves extending our expertise and tools with and in service of the National Forest System and suburban and rural communities looking to improve tree canopy cover and forest health, reduce wildfire risk, and more.
  • Our long-term approach maximizes dividends. To enhance research quality and build strong and effective partnerships, NRS-08 takes a long-term approach to research and community presence. Long-term research contributes to the development and testing of fundamental social-ecological theories and advances understanding of long-term dynamics of populations, communities, and ecosystems – knowledge that informs urban and community sustainability, economic viability, and public health and well-being. The Baltimore Ecosystem Study is an NSF-funded long-term ecological research program analogous to Experimental Forests & Ranges.a

Last Modified: August 12, 2019