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Northern Research Station
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Madison, WI 53726
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Natural Environments for Urban Populations


The Northern Research Station has realigned our staff from 37 Research Work Units and Programs into 14 new Research Work Units.

RWU-4902 is now part of NRS-9, People and Their Environments: Social Science Supporting Natural Resource Management and Policy.

[image:] black panoramic silhouette image depicts scenery ranging from urban and industrial to rural.

Nearly 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas ranging in size from small cities to large metropolitan areas. Every day, these urban dwellers affect the natural environment – and the natural environment affects them. Decisions about where and how urban people build and landscape their homes, where and how they recreate, and where they vacation all influence the environment. At the same time, the natural environment changes urban people, too. Trees, prairies, lakes, and rivers, both within and beyond cities and towns, affect urban people’s health and well-being.

As urban populations increase in size, extent, and diversity, natural resource planners and policymakers must address growing concerns about a wide range of environments. To make the best decisions—for people and for nature—they need better information about how urban people influence and are influenced by natural environments across the entire spectrum of urban to rural landscapes. That is the focus of the Natural Environments for Urban Populations unit.

We research how urban people perceive, use, benefit from, and value natural environments across the landscape. We seek answers to resource management questions, and our findings help natural resource managers and policymakers make informed decisions in planning, designing, and managing places with people in mind. Our research focus areas are Landscape & Demographic Change, Management and Restoration of Natural Landscapes, Environmental Perceptions & Values, the Calumet Initiative, and the Fire Management Initiative.

Staffed with social scientists with a wide range of relevant backgrounds, Natural Environments for Urban Populations is one of only a few Forest Service research work units that study the human component of natural resource management...more >>


Research Areas

Photo: Aerial view of suburban neighborhood in Eagen, Minnesota surrounded by lakes and forestand.Landscape and Demographic Change
As cities, towns, and communities spread across the landscape, natural resource managers and policymakers need to anticipate and respond to the many changes and growing pressures affecting open space and associated natural environments..


Photo: Creek resoration project in progress.Management and Restoration of Natural Landscapes
Nature enhances the quality of life of urban people in a wide range of environments. Sometimes those natural resources become degraded and need to be restored. Whether managing urban natural resources or restoring them, people are a critical part of the equation for success.


Photo: Landowner in a wildfloer planting providing habitat for wildlife in Mecosta County, MichiganEnvironmental Perception and Values
How people perceive and value the environment can affect how they use natural resources and view their management. By considering urban people’s experiences of nature, managers are better able to develop truly sustainable approaches to landscape management.


photo: Factory at Calumet site.Calumet: An Ecological and Economic Rebirth
In many ways, the Calumet Region of southeast Chicago and northwest Indiana is a quintessential post-industrial landscape – but with an ecological twist. We have undertaken a variety of research projects to help managers and planners find ways to sustain and improve the region’s marshes, prairies, forested areas, and water bodies while also encouraging economic revitalization.


Photo: Two lakefront houses surrounded by wildfire.People and Fire
As more and more people choose to live in forested areas, wildland fires become an ever-larger threat to lives and property. Our unit researches people’s attitudes, perceptions, and values with respect to different fire-management options. We are also helping to identify and map wildland-urban interface areas so that managers and planners can direct fire management efforts and resources to where they are most needed.


Last Modified: 12/21/2007

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[image:] Cover image from Landscapes to Lots: Understanding and managing landscape change
Paul Gobster and Robert Haight win 2006 Research Award of Honor from American Society of Landscape Architects...
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[image:] New York City Skyline

The Northern Research Station’s New York City Urban Field Station promotes natural resource stewardship and ecological literacy to advance human well being in the country’s largest and most diverse metropolitan area, New York City