You are here: NRS Home / Special Programs / Environmental Literacy

Environmental Literacy

[photo:] More Kids in the Woods [photo:] Partners in Education. [photo:] Collaborative approach to Environmental Education [photo:] Banding birds [photo:] Connecting children to nature

Mission and Vision

The mission of the Northern Research Station Environmental Literacy Program is to integrate Forest Service Research results and sound scientific practices into local, regional, and national environmental literacy efforts.

Our vision is to help create an informed citizenry, and make an enduring impact on people’s values and attitudes toward nature and their role in conserving natural resources for current and future generations.


"Fostering an emotional connection to nature, in which children understand that they are a part of something profound, something intricate, and something requiring care, is one of the most effective conservation strategies we can promote."
─Michael T. Rains
Director, Northern Research Station & Forest Products Laboratory

In support of the NRS Environmental Literacy mission, we have three goals:

  • Foster personal, long-term relationships with schools, districts, and educational agencies and organizations in order to contribute to improved science-based understanding of ecosystems and ecosystem processes in educational programming.
  • Develop and strengthen external partnerships to deliver high-quality educational programs and materials to diverse audiences. Efforts will be standards-based, emphasize place-based and service learning, and reach youth, educators, and the public where they live.
  • Integrate Station research results into federal youth engagement efforts. The Station’s environmental literacy program supports a “Service First” approach of working across mission areas and agencies to meet the public’s needs where they live. Our contribution to STEM education includes our Station scientists’ expertise and inspiring stories; some of the oldest long-term ecological data in the nation; experimental forests; and opportunities to see research results applied to land management.

Curriculum Guides

As part of our goal to develop and strengthen partnerships to deliver high-quality educational programs and materials to diverse audiences, we look for ways to integrate research results into formal and nonformal materials for all age levels. Some examples include:

  • Project Learning Tree’s "Teaching with i-Tree" - Project Learning Tree has published a new set of activities designed to engage middle and high school students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) as they calculate the economic and environmental benefits of trees. Produced in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), three easy-to-do, hands-on lessons accompany i-Tree Design, a suite of free online tools developed by USFS and its partners, to help students discover and analyze the many ecosystem services that trees provide.
  • Bringing the Northern Forest to Your Classroom (Grades K-12) is a collection of 17 place-based lesson plans addressing various aspects of Northern Forests, including ecology, hydrology and history. The activities address academic standards from the fields of science, language arts, math, foreign language, technology, life skills, art and civics.
  • The complex connections between people and plants in northern Maine offer many opportunities for engaging students across the disciplines of Social Studies, Geography, History, Economics, Nutrition and Home Economics, and Biology and Life Science. Our Culturally and Economically Important Nontimber Forest Products of Northern Maine curriculum materials (Grades K-12) were designed and tested by educators.
  • The Youth Scientist Curriculum (Grades 5-8), developed in partnership with the Ohio State University and funded through the Ohio Environmental Education Fund, gives students an opportunity to walk through the process of science, with a focus on the invasive species that are affecting Ohio’s ecosystems.
  • Southern Forests and Climate Change (Grades 9-12) a new PINEMAP/Project Learning Tree secondary module to help educators in the Southeast teach about potential impacts of climate change on forest systems, includes activities relating to Station research on potential shifts in tree and bird species habitat due to our changing climate. Explore the Climate Change Atlas materials directly at
  • The “Wildlife and Wilderness Exploration Show” (All ages) is a DVD that puts a modern twist on Hmong storytelling to deliver conservation messages such as “leave no trace” camping, fire safety and prevention, and hunting regulations and safety to Hmong American communities.

Science Education Journals

The Natural Inquirer and the Investigator are free science education journals for middle school and upper elementary school students, published by Forest Service Research. Articles describing actual Forest Service research are used to walk students through the scientific process, from study design and data collection, through data analysis and communicating results. FACTivities, lesson plans and vocabulary words help students understand the content and the process.


Urban Education and Outreach

Citizen Science

Scientists in Chicago; New Haven, CT; Springfield, MA; New York City; Philadelphia and Baltimore work with partners to expand citizen science opportunities for all interests and age levels. With TreeKeepers, for example, we train urban residents in tree care and the environmental benefits of urban trees in Chicago and Baltimore. Through TreeKeepers training, citizens can become tree advocates and help plant and care for trees in their own neighborhoods.

Through a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s Neighborhood Nestwatch program, our scientists in Springfield, MA, have connected more than 600 people, including 350 youth, to urban wildlife research. Scientists partner with households, transforming urban and suburban backyards into active research sites, and together with the homeowners and neighbors, collect data on the health and vitality of common backyard birds along an urban to rural gradient.

Urban residents can also connect to thousands of civic environmental stewardship groups in Baltimore, Philadelphia,New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle through the Station’s Stewardship Mapping and Assessment Project (STEW-MAP). Visit the new multi-city online portal at to find out who is working in your city to conserve natural resources and restore urban ecosystems.

Public seminars

Our urban field stations partner with diverse federal, state and local partners to host public seminar series, covering various aspects of urban ecology, environmental restoration, socio-ecological resilience and other environmental issues. Learn more about our series in New York City (Science in the Living City) on our Station website.

1000 Herons Project

This program is a partnership between the Northern Research Station and 1000 Herons, a nonprofit run by Dr. John Brzorad, a researcher at Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina. The program uses cell phone technology to monitor the daily, seasonal, and annual movements of two Great Blue Herons and two Great Egrets, and pairs each bird with a partner school to name the bird, track the data, and bring new lesson plans and technology into the classroom.

More Kids in the Woods (and in the parks and on the rivers…)

Urban youth may feel particularly disconnected from natural environments, but opportunities abound to bring kids to nature in even the largest cities. Through national initiatives such as More Kids in the Woods and the Federal Urban Waterways Partnership, and diverse partnerships in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Chicago, the Northern Research Station supports everything from K-12 curriculum development and afterschool programs, to graduate student mentoring and green jobs, to community education and restoration. Read about our 2013 urban education and outreach accomplishments in:


Urban Waters Federal Partnership - The 1000 Herons Project

Dr. John Brzorad, from the Reese Institute at Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina has established a new partnership with the USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, by presenting the Station with an exciting research project “1000 Herons”, to trap , tag and follow a great blue heron in the Baltimore area.  Dr. Brzoard will work with educators and students from Hampstead Hill Academy near Patterson Park and Green Street Academy in West Baltimore. The data that will be collected over the summer will be used and integrated as part of the environmental science curricula for each of the schools. This is part of a larger program that will include heron tracking in Newtown Square, PA; Philadelphia; and New York City

Dinosaurs, Denver and Climate Change (D2C2) Summer Science STEM Camp

The irresistible topics of dinosaurs and fossils were at the heart of two 6-week science camps that introduced youth to geology and climate change and engaged them in community-based projects. Science educators, Forest Service (including Dr. Quin Holifield from Baltimore) and National Park Service staff, and community-based organizations partnered to host Dinosaurs, Denver and Climate Change (D2C2), a National Science Foundation funded project, designed to engage diverse students in the STEM fields of geoscience and environmental science. A total of 80 African-American and Latino youth participated, including 60 elementary and middle school students. Additionally, 20 high school juniors/seniors and college freshmen/sophomores with bilingual skills and a strong interest in science were recruited and trained to help facilitate the program. The students were exposed to careers in environmental fields such as geology, climate change, energy use, paleontology, horticulture, biology, wildlife biology, plant science soil science, and information technology. Students also learned about science by experiencing it through Colorado’s natural resources in places including Dinosaur Ridge, Red Rocks Park and the Rocky Mountain National Forest. Field trips were also conducted at the Denver Botanic Gardens and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Partners: National Science Foundation (NSF); Denver Public School System; University of Wyoming; University of Colorado Denver; Texas Southern University; Department of the Interior; Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado); Denver Botanic Garden; Denver Museum of Nature and Science; Dinosaur Ridge; Morrison Fossil Area National Natural Landmark; Red Rocks Park; The Oleta Crain Enrichment Academy Community Center (OCEA); the Shorter Community African Methodist Episcopal Church; the Iglesia Gracia & Vida Church of the Nazarene.

Green Street Academy

Baltimore Field Station staff are partnering with Green Street Academy, a Baltimore City Public Charter School for grades 6 through 12, to improve student environmental literacy and increase awareness of Forest Service careers.

Together with other partners, NRS and Green Street Academy have designed and hope to implement a sustainable outdoor classroom/community green space that will serve as an hands-on science inquiry and an educational platform for the school's students and the community, and to promote interactions among students and adults in the neighborhood. 

Partners: Center for Urban Families; United Way of Central Maryland; The YMCA of Central Maryland; The Girl Scouts of America; Maryland Clean Energy Center; and the Mayor's Office of Employment Development (YouthWorks).

Helping Recent Graduates Find Federal Careers

Dr. Quin Holifield of the Baltimore Field Station and Dr. Richard Pouyat of Forest Service Washington Office Research & Development hosted an Ecological Society of America Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (ESA SEEDS) Diversity Career Webinar, via teleconference, in October 2014. The focus of the Webinar was to inform recent college graduates at participating ESA SEEDS Chapters how to apply for jobs with the United States Department of Agriculture (including the Forest Service) through the newly redesigned USDA Career Pathways Program. The students were given tips on how to access the website and were also give interview tips. Nearly 50 students participated in the event.

More information on our Baltimore Field Station >>


Urban Waters Federal Partnership

The Northwest Indiana Urban Waters Partnership, is one of 19 federal partnerships designed to bring non-profit organizations and local, county, state and federal government agencies together to exchange information about waterway-related projects. Federal representatives provide technical support and other resources to non-federal partners when possible. The Forest Service is the lead agency in NW Indiana, and the FS-supported NW Indiana Urban Waters coordinator participates in a range of environmental education activities, including watershed festivals, working with teachers to engage students in litter pick-up events, educating students about human activities that impact water quality, and leading macroinvertebrate collections with students. Two highlights are the Wilderness Inquiry Canoemobile and experiential learning opportunities at Purdue University-Calumet.

Wilderness Inquiry is a Minnesota-based non-profit group that brings giant canoes to urban areas to help connect kids and families to their local waterways. Wilderness Inquiry first came to northwest Indiana in 2012 and 450 participants shared an unforgettable experience paddling up Trail Creek in 12-passenger canoes. In 2013, the event grew, accommodating over 500 students and adults. In 2014, this enormously popular program was offered in five locations and involved over 3500 youth and families. For these events, Wilderness Inquiry provides the boats and trained staff to guide the canoe trips. Local partner organizations – school districts, non-profits, and state and local government agencies – work together to offer land-based education that meets State Education Standards. Learning topics may include native and invasive species, water quality assessment, recycling and solid waste issues, and the history of the local fur trade. The UW coordinator helps partner organizations plan and promote these events, seek and secure funding, and staff education stations.

The Urban Waters Coordinator also works to connect Purdue-Calumet students with environment-focused experiential learning and internship opportunities at government agencies and non-profit organizations throughout the region. She meets regularly with students in environment-related courses to hear about their interests and goals and involves students in her own work projects whenever possible. Purdue-Calumet students are also invited to attend Urban Waters partnership meetings to learn about local water-related projects, observe how the partnership functions, and meet environmental professionals from a range of agencies and organizations.


NRS staff work with TreeKeepers, an organization that since 1991 has trained more than 5,000 Chicago-area residents in tree identification, species selection, planting, mulching, pruning, disease detection, and invasive insect identification. Started and run by the nonprofit OpenLands, the 8-day TreeKeepers course includes both classroom time and field work and the faculty includes nationally-known experts in tree care and urban forest management. Twice a year, USFS staff deliver the course’s first lecture, focusing on the history of urban forestry and the many benefits provided by the urban forest.

Eden Place

Eden Place Nature Center is a 3-acre oasis of learning, nature, and calm on a former dumping site in Fuller Park, the poorest neighborhood in Chicago. At Eden Place, kids and families learn about urban farming, solar energy, composting, gardening, and urban forestry in outdoor classroom spaces. Today the Forest Service continues its longstanding partnership with Eden Place by supporting the Leaders in Training program. Leaders in Training teaches environmental stewardship concepts and practical skills to African-American and Hispanic teenagers and introduces them to careers in natural resource science and management.

Annual Career Fair and Panel at Northeastern Illinois University

Each November, Forest Service staff  represent the agency at a half-day, multi-agency USDA Career Fair and Panel at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. Hosted by the USDA Hispanic-Serving Institutions National Program, this event gives Forest Service staff a chance to talk with dozens of undergraduates about the range of available careers with the Forest Service and the career paths that they personally followed to end up in their current jobs.

More information on our Chicago Field Station >>

New York City

Urban Waters Federal Partnership - Students learn about the Bronx River and its floodplain

With help from a U.S. Forest Service More Kids in the Woods grant, hundreds of students at Bronx Community Charter School and the Learning Tree will learn about the Bronx River and its floodplain forest through a new Bronx River Curriculum, which will be developed by the Bronx River Alliance, vetted and tested by both schools and shared through the NYC Urban Field Station website. Rich Hallett and Erika Svendsen will assist with building the curriculum and evaluating its success in the schools. By centering learning and activities around an area in close proximity to the schools—the Bronx River Forest and surrounding parkland—the program will not only serve the participants but also nurture future stewards of this urban forest.

In August 2013, NYC Urban Field Station scientists participated in hosting a group of students from the National Environmental Hispanic Council as part of the 8th annual New York City Minority Youth Environmental Training Institute, an intensive, science-based, residential environmental education and environmental career development program for Hispanic youth. Along with New York City Parks staff, NRS scientists led a tour of Freshkills Park that highlighted the city’s complex social-ecological systems, urban environmental stewardship and Forest Service social science in New York City. About twenty-five high school students from across the United States, ages 16-19, attended as part of their immersive, 7-day program.

Green Girls Summer Environmental Education camp

As part of the City Parks Foundation’s summer program introducing middle school girls to women scientists, NYC Parks ecologist Susan Stanley led a day-long lesson and field exercise on dragonflies. Stanley brought the group of approximately 20 students to Strack Pond in Forest Park, Queens, where they learned about dragonfly and damselfly ecology, behavior, and function in a wetland system.

Wave Hill Woodland Ecology Research Mentorship (WERM) program

Station scientists and partners are serving as science mentors to a group of academically high-achieving high school students from a number of underserved areas of the Bronx and Brooklyn, exposing them to both urban forest ecology and social-ecological research methods. Students will choose one scientist to work with and will complete a final research project under the guidance of their mentor. Forest Service staff from  the NYC Urban Field Station and Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry also helped develop field exercises and workshops exploring both biophysical and social science approaches to understanding NYC’s natural resources for this program.

More information on our New York City Field Station >>


Urban Waters Federal Partnership - Canoemobile connects youth the waterways

The Philadelphia Field Station participated in the Philadelphia-area Canoemobile, a Federal Urban Waterways Partnership event that brought nearly 2,500 students to the Delaware River for water- and land-based learning in October 2014. Canoemobile is a Wilderness Inquiry program that aims to give large numbers of urban youth direct experiences with nature. The Philadelphia-area event, which involved 2 weeks of activities in four cities (Camden NJ, Wilmington DE, Chester PA and Philadelphia) was one part of this national program, which served more than 7,500 students nationwide in 2014.

Sustainability Science Fellowships

Mentoring and college-level research experiences improve a student's chances for graduating with a degree in science. The Northern Research Station has created the Philadelphia Sustainability Science Fellows Program, through its Philadelphia Field Station, to promote environmental literacy and collaborative learning experiences and to increase the number of young scientists in the field of urban forestry. The program provides $5,000 grants to undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds for conducting research projects relating to a better understanding of urban forests and the ways in which trees affect the lives of city residents and the environment. Six students received fellowships in the first year of the program.

Research partnership with Morris Arboretum reaches nearly 1,000 students in the first year

A new partnership among the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, and four Philadelphia-area schools is integrating more environmental science into every-day learning for 950 students and 35 educators, and empowering them to make positive changes, such as taking action to improve local water quality. Researchers and Arboretum staff are working with each school to create tailored, year-long programs addressing curricular needs. The individual programs range from monthly hikes on Arboretum grounds to discuss forestry and watershed issues, to an in-depth inventory and analysis (conducted by students) of the ecological benefits of trees on W.B. Saul High School’s 130-acre campus. This program has an added benefit of exposing youth to a variety of environmental careers through an Outdoor Career Symposium, panel discussions, and hands-on workshops. This partnership was funded through a Forest Service “More Kids in the Woods” grant.

More information on our Philadelphia Field Station >>

Additional Resource Links

Books our scientists and staff remember as their favorite nature-themed fiction from childhood.

Audio Features

2017 Bird Banding Event

Youth holds female cardinal at April 2017 bird banding event.Bird banding requires specialized training and certification and unlocks a wealth of scientific information about birds, including migration patterns, population dynamics, ecology, and social structure. Recently, Northern Research Station Research Wildlife Biologist Scott Stoleson helped lead events that encourage people to observe and participate in bird banding at the Audubon Community Nature Center in Jamestown, New York.  This audio feature includes an interview with Stoleson and Ruth Lundin, President of Audubon Community Nature Center.


Right click to download MP3 file (8 mb)

Download transcript


Chestnut Restoration

Class from Tidioute Community Charter School pose for group photo at 2017 chestnut planting event.  Photo by Barbara McGuinness, US Forest Service Northern Research Station.How do you restore an iconic tree that has been gone for a century?
A short audio piece featuring interviews with Northern Research Station research ecologist Leila Pinchot and partners explains the research that involved students and teachers from Tidioute Community Charter School planting hybrid American chestnut seeds and seedlings on the Allegheny National Forest. This project is helping Pinchot and her colleagues better understand conditions necessary for reintroducing American chestnut and introducing students to hands-on experience in natural resource management.

Right click to download MP3 file (8 mb)

Download transcript

Last Modified: April 13, 2018