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Research Highlights - Environmental Literacy

The Northern Research Station is committed to advancing environmental literacy in learners of all ages. Station scientists have worked with students and educators in the classroom, support development of science-based investigations and lesson plans, and participate through science fairs and career days across the Northeast and Midwest. With researchers in Ohio, middle school students are even hatching and rearing parasitic wasps that may help control emerald ash borer in the future. We’ve co-published The Investigator, a new science education journal for upper elementary school students, and contributed to the development of i-Tree Learning Lab, a lesson plan for high school students to learn the benefits of urban forests.

2014 Research Highlights

Forest Management Guidelines for Improving and Sustaining Missouri’s Forest Resources

Ensuring the quality of life and well-being of Missouri residents and visitors through productive, healthy, and resilient forests

Missouri Ozark landscape.  Photo by Dan Dey, USDA Forest Service
Missouri Ozark landscape. Photo by Dan Dey, USDA Forest Service

With the publication of “Missouri Forest Management Guidelines,” for the first time Missouri landowners have comprehensive guidelines and best management practices to improve and sustain high-quality forests. Northern Research Station scientists were key contributors to the production of these guidelines, which were published by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Over the past 18 months, these scientists drew upon their more than 80 years of forest research expertise to contribute to the guidelines. Most forest lands in Missouri (84 percent) are privately owned, and currently less than 10 percent of Missouri’s 15.5 million acres of forestlands are managed according to any type of forest plan. “Missouri Forest Management Guidelines” provides (1) an awareness of forest resources and their importance to the quality of life in Missouri, (2) an understanding of forest sustainability and the foundation of good forest management through planning and silviculture, and (3) a synthesis of current science that is embodied in standards, guidelines and best management practices. The ultimate value of forest research is fully realized when it is adopted by owners and managers of forestlands.


  • Mark Twain National Forest
  • National Wild Turkey Federation; Forest and Woodland Association; Natural Resources and Conservation Service; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; The Nature Conservancy. Missouri Department of Conservation; Missouri Department of Natural Resources; Missouri Consulting Foresters Association; Tree Farm System; University of Missouri; Mark Twain Forest Watchers; Missouri Forest Products Association

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PBS Kids Partnership Helps Kids Explore Nature “One Mission at a Time”

A Forest in the City and A City in the Forest, both featuring Jessie Scott, our Urban Connections representative in Boston, show kids just how much nature is in their urban neighborhood. Screen shot by WGBH Boston
A Forest in the City and A City in the Forest, both featuring Jessie Scott, our Urban Connections representative in Boston, show kids just how much nature is in their urban neighborhood. Screen shot by WGBH Boston

Urban forests and the Forest Service are featured in two live-action videos on PBS Kids’ newest multi-media environmental science learning program, “PLUM LANDING.” The program brings a space traveler, PLUM, from the planet Blorb to investigate the incredible ecosystems on Earth. Children, families, and educators can learn about nature around the world and in their backyards through animated and live-action videos, online games and outdoor explorations, and a full curriculum linked to the Next Generation Science Standards for nonformal educators. An associated app, “PLUM’s Photo Hunt,” sends kids on missions to find weird things in nature, signs of animal life, cool trees or flowers, and more. In its first 3 months, the PLUM LANDING website received more than 11 million page views through more than 2 million separate website visits; and more than 110,000 photos and drawings were submitted online. Future outreach efforts will include community service learning opportunities in partner cities across the country to engage families where they live.

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Woodpeckers Capitalize on an Invasive Forest Pest

Dempsey Middle School science students paint and dissect ash logs to understand woodpecker feeding on emerald ash borer larvae. Photo by Joanne Rebbeck, USDA Forest Service
Dempsey Middle School science students paint and dissect ash logs to understand woodpecker feeding on emerald ash borer larvae. Photo by Joanne Rebbeck, USDA Forest Service

To understand how woodpeckers respond to emerald ash borer (EAB) and whether there is potential for woodpeckers to control EAB, Forest Service scientists and partners conducted surveys and dissected infested ash trees at Dempsey Middle School’s forest in Delaware, OH. They observed external signs of woodpecker feeding on ash and non-ash species. The seventh- and eighth-grade advanced science classes worked with scientists to mark holes and dissect infested ash trees to determine how many EAB larvae lived in the ash trees and how many were eaten by woodpeckers. Scientists found that woodpeckers specifically targeted ash trees, creating 14 times more feeding holes in ash trees than in other tree species. When feeding on ash trees, woodpeckers specifically targeted trees more highly infested by EAB. Woodpeckers consume a significant proportion of EAB larvae: of the 7,098 EAB larvae that were evident in these dissected trees, 2,624 (37 percent) had been eaten by woodpeckers. In some highly infested trees, up to 85 percent of the EAB larvae were consumed.


  • Deb Bogard, Dempsey Middle School, Delaware, OH; Joel S. Brown, Charles E. Flower, and Miquel A. Gonzalez-Meler, University of Illinois at Chicago

Woodland Ecology Research Mentorship in New York City

New York City high school students learned to assess urban forest plots and evaluate tree health through a Forest Service mentorship program

New York City high school students learn how to survey park users as part of a Woodland Ecology Research Mentorship.  Photo by Nancy Sonti, USDA Forest Service
New York City high school students learn how to survey park users as part of a Woodland Ecology Research Mentorship. Photo by Nancy Sonti, USDA Forest Service

Wave Hill, a public garden and cultural center in the Bronx, New York, selects academically-achieving teens from low-income households to participate in a 15-month Woodland Ecology Research Mentorship (WERM) program. Funded by the Pinkerton Foundation, this innovative internship provides a stipend to students as they take college-level environmental science coursework, learn urban forestry survey techniques, and develop an individual research project with the help of a local scientist mentor. This past year, a Forest Service scientist became a mentor, teaching workshops about urban tree health, park-user rapid assessment techniques, and statistical analysis. The scientist also helped lead a field trip to a nearby rural forest to discuss long-term ecosystem change and compare urban and rural forest dynamics.

2013 Research Highlights

NRS-sponsored Project SMART receives New Hampshire Governor's Commendation

Forest Service scientists help introduce high school students to science careers

Project SMART students, staff, and faculty. Students participate in science-related discussions, lectures, projects, and field trips during the program at UNH. Photo by University of New Hampshire Photographic Services, used with permission.
Project SMART students, staff, and faculty. Students participate in science-related discussions, lectures, projects, and field trips during the program at UNH. Photo by University of New Hampshire Photographic Services, used with permission.

Forest Service Northern Research Station scientists worked with staffers from Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry at the Durham, NH, field office to collaborate with faculty and scientists at the UNH Durham Campus. They participated in a month-long summer institute called Project SMART ( This partnership provides a unique opportunity for Forest Service personnel to reach out to high school students needing to make serious decisions about higher education and career choices. Thus students from urban and rural backgrounds, minorities and under-represented populations learned about forestry and the environment as areas of study and future careers. Students explored the White Mountain ecosystems for first-hand observations of the importance and multiple uses of our forests and lakes within. The Forest Service’s “More Kids in the Woods” program also provided partial funding for this program in the past years. On the final day of the program, participants presented a scientific poster at a session, which was attended by more than 200 students, faculty, teachers, parents, and UNH administrators. This year, project SMART and its founding director, Professor Subhash Minocha (UNH) received a commendation from New Hampshire Governor Margaret Wood Hassan.

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Partners in Education

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

Students from WB Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences. Photo by Jessica McAtamney, used with permission
Students from WB Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences. Photo by Jessica McAtamney, used with permission

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.

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2012 Research Highlights

Sustainability Science Fellowships Encourage Future Scientists

Sustainability Science Fellow Melanie Allen is studying small mammals to fi nd out if they can be used as a Rapid Assessment Tool to measure forest fragmentation health. (Left to right: Melanie Allen, Emily Giraud, and Njeri Kimani)
Ross Elliot, University of Delaware. Used with permission
Sustainability Science Fellow Melanie Allen is studying small mammals to find out if they can be used as a Rapid Assessment Tool to measure forest fragmentation health. (Left to right: Melanie Allen, Emily Giraud, and Njeri Kimani)

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.


Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

Kids Helping Their Communities Adapt to Fire

Students from Hedgesville (WV) High School discuss opportunities to reduce wildfire risk with homeowners during their annual field trip to The Woods, a neighboring FirewiseCommunity.
Pamela Jakes, U.S. Forest Service
Students from Hedgesville (WV) High School discuss opportunities to reduce wildfire risk with homeowners during their annual field trip to The Woods, a neighboring FirewiseCommunity.

In the U.S., most wildland fire preparedness and mitigation programs have focused on adults, but Northern Research Station scientists have found that kids too are playing a significant role in prevention, safety, and suppression. NRS scientists and partners studied seven youth wildfire education programs and found that a program is more likely to contribute to a community's capacity to adapt to wildfire if the program

  1. develops partnerships between educational institutions and wildland fire management professionals,
  2. contributes to each partner's goals by building on ongoing efforts,
  3. provides information and activities that address local conditions,
  4. empowers youth to act locally, and
  5. attracts and builds community support.


Pamela Jakes, retired


University of California-Davis, University of Florida, Southern Oregon University

2011 Research Highlights

Hubbard Brook Environmental Literacy Program

[photo:] Educators can now use Hubbard Brooks long term data sets to teach inquiry in their classrooms. J. Wilson, Hubbard Brook Research Foundation. Photo used with permission.One of the Northern Research Station’s primary partnerships supporting environmental literacy is with the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation, which has the mission of promoting understanding and stewardship of ecosystems through scientific research, long-term monitoring and education.

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At the Forest Service’s Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire, the Northern Research Station and Northeastern Area, State and Private Forestry are lead partners with the non-governmental Hubbard Brook Research Foundation in statewide efforts to strengthen teachers’ abilities to analyze and interpret real ecological data with their students. With partners from across the state, the Foundation’s Environmental Literacy Program is creating innovative science inquiry programs for middle and high school educators using data sets and real life examples from the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest. Partnerships with local schools help the program and its partners brainstorm,develop, and test new materials such as New England Common Assessment Practice (NECAP) exams to helps students understand the process of science, not just the results.

Subject matter experts

Barbara McGuinness; Amey Bailey, Northern Research Station;
Susan Cox, State and Private Forestry, Northeastern Area

External Partners

New Hampshire Education and Environment Team; Long-Term Ecological Research Network’s Schoolyard Program; New Hampshire Project Learning Tree; New Hampshire Fish and Game; The GLOBE Program; New Hampshire Project WET; New Hampshire Project WILD; the HOMES Program; New Hampshire Department of Education

More Information

Hubbard Brook Research Foundation Envifonmental Literacy Program Overview

Project SMART: Educating and Motivating Talented High School Students in Math and Science

[photo:] Students learning about forest management as part of the marine and environmental science curriculum for Project SMART - photo by Kevin T. Smith, U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station Forest Service funding from the Northern Research Station’s Civil Rights Diversity Committee’s Special Project Funds and Conservation Education’s More Kids in the Woods helped 39 students from 11 states and 3 foreign countries attend Project SMART, a 4-week summer institute at the University of New Hampshire. Students participating in Project SMART put science into action through research projects in areas of marine and environmental science, bio- and nanotechnology, and space science.

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Thirty-nine talented high school students attended the Project SMART (Science and Mathematics Achievement through Research Training) Summer Institute on the campus of the University of New Hampshire in July 2011. With funding support from the Northern Research Station’s Civil Rights Diversity Committee Special Project Funds and More Kids in the Woods, the Forest Service was able to collaborate with UNH and Liberty Mutual Foundation to offer this exceptional experience to a diverse audience, including students from eleven different states, Greece, Turkey, and India. They spent 4 weeks researching various topics including monitoring terrestrial and aquatic systems in the White Mountains and other forest management practices, climate change and its impact on forest productivity, and forest health. It is expected that several students will continue these research projects during the academic year and will present their findings at regional high school science symposia to compete for tuition and cash scholarships. It’s not just about learning, however; the program has given these lucky students long-lived memories and friendships with students and university staff.

Principal expert

Rakesh Minocha


Forest Service partners: National Forest System, White Mountain National Forest; State and Private Forestry, Washington Office, Conservation Education

External partner: University of New Hampshire

More Information

Project SMART at University of New Hampshire

2010 Research Highlights

Greenskills: Fostering community improvement through urban environmental education

[photo:] Students planting a street tree.The Urban Resource Initiative (URI) is a non-profit partnership with Yale’s School of Forestry that is designed to foster community improvement through urban ecology and environmental education. In partnership with the Northern Research Station, URI is implementing Greenskills, a city-wide program that hires New Haven teenagers to inventory and plant street trees in the city’s public spaces. High school students gain professional training and work experience, and benefit from regular interaction with Yale student mentors.

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New Haven benefits from the increased number of street trees, which remove pollution, lower energy use, improve water quality, improve human comfort, and increase urban property values. Happy with initial results of this partnership, the City of New Haven recently announced a new goal---planting 10,000 trees in cooperation with URI. NRS biological scientist Dave Bloniarz with the Urban Natural Resources Institute is expanding the program by developing a Google interface that will allow New Haven residents to find out what trees are in their neighborhoods, to understand the ecosystem services those trees provide, and to request new trees as needed.

Participant Quote: “[This] job has not only brought us closer together as a team at work, it has brought us closer together at school. My team always makes me laugh so I go home each night and, even if it’s hard, I say to myself: I like my job. I am honored to work with my crewmates and I feel that we are successful and that this is an experience I will never forget.”


This project has been supported by the Northern Research Station’s Civil Rights Diversity Committee and NorthSTAR program funding. Additional partners include Common Ground High School, the Sound School, and Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Nature in the City: Day camp for inner city kids

[photo:] Kindergarten students in Syracuse, NY, are hoping to catch Mill Pond’s big bass as part of the Nature in the City day camp sponsored by the Northern Research Station, Say YES! to Education, and Baltimore Woods Nature Center.Syracuse, NY, has an inner-city school district with a 78 percent district-wide poverty rate and fewer than 50 percent of entering kindergarten students eventually graduate from high school 13 years later. In the 2009-2010 school year, the Syracuse City School District adopted an innovative approach to education, partnering with “Say YES! to Education, Inc.,” a national nonprofit committed to raising high school and college graduation rates for inner city youth.

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In support of this initiative, NRS conservation education specialist Barbara McGuinness and the NRS Environmental Literacy Program partnered with Say YES! and the Baltimore Woods Nature Center on a pilot program Nature in the City Summer Day Camp. In this 4-week ecological exploration of Elmwood Park in a 182-acre nature preserve with woods, fields, ponds, and streams, 25 elementary students got their hands dirty as they discovered the surprising diversity of urban environments right in their own neighborhoods. The program was so successful that Say Yes! agreed to fund the entire program at Elmwood Park for the summer of 2010, and Baltimore Woods hopes to expand the program to other Syracuse city parks in future years. Additional partners include Syracuse City School District’s Roberts Elementary Summer Institute, the Syracuse Department of Parks, Recreation and Youth Programs, the Mary Ann Shaw Center for Public and Community Service at Syracuse University and St. Peter’s Outfitters.

2009 Research Highlights

Research collaboration yields big results

[photo:] Students examine an ash log and mark woodpecker feeding holes with blue paint.Northern Research Station scientists Joanne Rebbeck and
Kathleen Knight worked with 7th and 8th grade science students at Dempsey Middle School in Ohio to collect data on the emerald ash borer infestation at their school forest. The emerald ash borer (EAB), an introduced forest pest, kills ash trees by feeding on the vascular tissue just under the

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Students surveyed the forest, made hypotheses about infestation patterns, dissected ash trees in the classroom, and collected data on the EAB larvae and other insects inside the trees. In a finding that put these students at the cutting edge of science, they found a dead EAB larva beside a cocoon in an EAB feeding gallery. When these cocoons were incubated, tiny, delicate parasitoid wasps emerged. These parasitoid wasps lay eggs on EAB larvae, and the wasp larvae eat the EAB larvae, then form a cocoon, pupate, and exit the tree as adults. The parasitoids the students found were identified as species of native North American wasps, including one, Leluthia astigma, which had not previously been recorded as parasitizing EAB. Although the parasitization rate was low (2% of EAB were parasitized), the Leluthia were reared in a biocontrol facility to learn about their biology and potential as a biocontrol for EAB. The students were recognized at the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s EAB Awareness Week event.



  • Deborah Bogard, Dempsey Middle School, Delaware (OH) City
  • David Cappaert, Michigan State University
  • Robert Kula, Agricultural Research Service
  • Kamal Gandhi, University of Georgia

The Investi-gator, a new science education publication for upper elementary students

[image:] Cover image of Investigator magazineThe Northern Research Station co-published the first edition of the Investi-gator, a new science education journal for upper elementary students. The Investi-gator is aimed at fifth-graders and is the newest member of the Natural Inquirer publications family— developed by the Forest Service Research & Development Science Quality Services Staff in partnership with the Cradle of Forestry Interpretive Center—and provides an avenue to spread new knowledge developed by Forest Service scientists

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This issue uses research from the NRS as a foundation for teaching about scientific inquiry. The Investigator’s first edition addresses why leaves change color, effects of ozone on tree growth, and other topics. Order free copies of the Investi-gator at NRS’ Environmental Literacy Coordinator Barbara McGuinness was co-editor of this publication.



  • U.S. Forest Service R&D Science Quality Services Staff
  • Cradle of Forestry Interpretive Center
  • Project Learning Tree

Updating the Carbon-Plus Calculator

[photo:] Trees in cities improve quality of life and help reduce net carbon emissions.The CarbonPlus Calculator has been developed by the Northern Research Station (NRS) and its partners to help people estimate their carbon dioxide emissions (what is sometimes called the carbon footprint); provide tips on how to reduce that carbon footprint; and learn about the many

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Each participating city or location can customize the calculations to improve the accuracy of estimates compared to national averages. Designed originally for the general public, the new 2009 version of the calculator adds features specifically for businesses and government agencies to identify ways to reduce their emissions. People can also generate a “pledge certificate” to remind themselves of ways to reduce emissions, and some partner cities are using the increased awareness created by the calculator to encourage support of local tree-planting and greening programs in their cities.



  • Cities of Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Baltimore
  • State of Vermont
  • The Davey Tree Institute
  • University of Massachusetts

i-Tree Learning Lab, a lesson plan for high school students

[image:] i-Tree logoThe Northern Research Station partnered in 2009 with the U.S. Forest Service’s Conservation Education staff (Washington, D.C.) to create i-Tree Learning Lab, a high-school level lesson plan that helps students understand the benefits

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After inventorying trees on their school grounds or in their neighborhoods and recording tree species and diameter, students return to the classroom to enter their data into www., an online calculator that helps students understand each tree’s storm-water, property value, energy, and carbon dioxide benefits.

The lesson plan has been presented to educators at the National Science Teacher’s Association (NSTA) 2009 National Conference Workshop, an NSTA Learning Center webinar, and the D.C. Green Summer Jobs Program. With project partner Project Learning Tree, i-Tree Learning Lab is also being incorporated into the national GreenSchools! Program. i-Tree Learning Lab is correlated to the following topics of the National Education Standards of Science: Inquiry, Life Sciences, Earth and Space Science, History and Nature of Science, and Mathematics. Additional modules are planned. More>>


  • U.S. Forest Service Conservation Education Staff
  • i-Tree Project partners include:
    • The Davey Tree Expert Company
    • Arbor Day Foundation
    • International Society of Arboriculture
    • Society of Municipal Arborists

2008 Research Highlights

Bringing the Northern Forest to Your Classroom

Project (ACP) has been working to link students to natural and cultural resources in the Adirondack region. This year, the Northern Research Station, Paul Smith’s College and ACP published Bringing the Northern Forest to Your Classroom, a set of lesson plans that use northern forest themes to address academic standards from art and

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Since 2000, the Adirondack Curriculum Specifically designed as place-based challenges, the lesson plans have been field tested and linked to national education standards and can be adapted to a range of grade levels. Learn more about the Adirondack Curriculum Project at

Research in Action in New York City

The Northern Research Station NYC Field Unit has an extensive “research in action” program, reaching out to learners and environmental stewards of all ages. The K-12 partnerships brought children outside for hands-on learning on public lands, provided extended, outdoor internships for Bronx high school students, and supported Green Collar Mentoring, a series that introduces teenagers living in public housing to environmental careers.

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The Harlem Healthshed Project is helping a neighborhood with high rates of asthma and obesity design a trail and greenway with community-based data collection, planning and design. The Stewardship Mapping and Assessment Project is using the results of a citywide assessment of nearly 3,000 NYC based non-profit or community-based stewardship organizations to fill gaps in understanding about how individual citizens, non-profit organizations, businesses, and governments work together as environmental stewards. The Station also serves as an advisor for the NYC Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability and Million Trees NYC. Learn more about all of these programs in New York City at


2007 Research Highlights

Environmental Literacy Efforts in Urban Areas

[photo:] Students learn about the environmment in Central Park, New York CityIn 2007, NRS staff reached out to students, teachers, and partners in cities such as New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit to connect people and their environment. For example, scientists at the New York City Field Station supplemented one school’s curriculum with hands-on experience in forests, wetlands, and restoration sites throughout the city and helped to provide more than 5,500 copies of the Natural Inquirer, a science-based middle school education journal to the NYC Housing Authority’s after-school and summer day camp programs.

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In Baltimore, NRS staff partnered on the Schoolyard Habitat and Education project to provide field trips; hands-on, inquiry-based activities;studentdirected long term schoolyard restoration projects; and teacher workshops. In Detroit, NRS scientists provided research results and met with students at the Henry Ford Academy to help integrate science and outdoor inquiry. All of these projects were funded in part by Forest Service’s More Kids in the Woods grants.


  • In New York:
    • Harlem Link Charter School
    • NYC Housing Authority
    • U.S. Forest Service Natural Inquirer
  • In Baltimore:
    • U.S. Forest Service State and Private Forestry
    • Parks and People Foundation
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
    • Hooked on Nature
    • URBANtells
  • In Detroit:
    • Henry Ford Academy
    • Greenfield Village
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
    • Michigan Department of Natural Resources
    • U.S. Forest Service Urban
      Connections and Natural Inquirer
    • University of Michigan—Dearborn Interpretive Center Helping

Helping Students Understand Invasive Species

[photo:] Dempsey Middle School students study invasive speciesDempsey Middle School students are monitoring their own school grounds for signs of emerald ash borer with inventory and monitoring protocols developed by NRS scientists in Delaware, Ohio. Students will estimate the severity and distribution of the EAB infestation using GPS units to mark and locate plots and map the spread of the infestation within their woodlots over time.

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These methods have been shared with other schools across the Station and were provided as part of the Station’s support for the Great Plains Tree and Forest Invasive Initiative’s education and outreach project.


  • Delaware City Schools
  • Ohio Department of Agriculture

NRS at a Glance