Northern Research Station News Releases

New York City Park Plugs Into Research

Information gathered by environmental sensors recently installed in Alley Pond Park will expand scientists' understanding of urban forests and contribute to making urban and rural forests healthier and more resilient. Photo used with permission of NYC Parks.  New York City, December 3, 2014 - From air and soil temperature to precipitation to solar radiation and phenology, data collected at Alley Pond Park in Queens by a collaboration of scientists from the U.S. Forest Service, NYC Parks, and Drexel Universitymay contribute to making urban forests – and perhaps their rural/wildland cousins too – healthier and more resilient.      

As it brings the Smart Forest Network online, the U.S. Forest Service is reshaping how scientists monitor ecological change over temporal and spatial gradients with the installation of environmental sensors and wireless communication on a growing number of experimental forests throughout the nation. The Smart Forest Network is also dramatically changing how information is shared; data that once was laborious to gather and sometimes took months to distribute is becoming available within hours of data collection. Alley Pond Park is one of the first urban forests in the network to be wired with Smart Forest technology.

“We have a wealth of information from wildland and rural forests,” said Lindsey Rustad, a research ecologist with the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and member of the Smart Forest team. “With more than 80 percent of the nation’s population living in urban areas, we need to have a greater understanding of our urban forests. The Alley Pond Smart Forest is a prime example of a growing network of scientists who bring expertise from both rural/wildland and urban forests directly to cities.”

Urban forests can serve as the proverbial canary in the coal mine for natural forests, experiencing more intense climatic, pollutant and land-use pressures than rural/wildland forests. Understanding the impacts of these ecological pressures may help land managers proactively manage exurban forests as increases in population and development bring some of those same pressures to their borders. In addition to their recreational and aesthetic qualities, urban forests (both relic and engineered) also help to buffer the impacts of flooding, and filter air and water pollutants.

Franco Montalto, Associate Professor at Drexel University and Director of its Sustainable Water Resource Engineering Lab, has been working with cities on their efforts to engineer new forms of green infrastructure. “Our research seeks to develop siting, design, and management strategies that maximize the services that new, engineered urban green spaces can provide to urban dwellers,” Montalto said. In 2010, Montalto’s group established the Alley Pond monitoring site with funding from the National Science Foundation as an ecological reference site for engineered green infrastructure sites in New York City and beyond. “Our goal was to determine how much evaporation, transpiration, canopy interception, and microclimatic regulation was happening at Alley Pond, one of the City’s last old growth forests, so that we have a meter stick against which to guage the success of our efforts to restore natural areas elsewhere,” according to Montalto.

The addition of Alley Pond Park, the second largest park in Queens, to the Smart Forest Network represents a new collaboration for the Forest Service, NYC Parks and Recreation and Drexel University, all of which have been partners on other research over the years. Drexel has been working with NYCDPR on green infrastructure research for several years, and the NYCDPR and the Forest Service established the New York City Urban Field Station in 2006. The Urban Field Station has become a cross roads for research on urban social and ecological systems, hosting individuals from throughout the region and world studying New York’s collection of historical and engineered green spaces.

“These partnerships help us bring Forest Service science and discovery to the city,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. “With our partners, we are gathering new information and developing tools that enable communities to better manage the 138 million acres of urban forests that grace and bring vibrancy to our cities and towns across America.”

Research is critical to managing the nation’s largest urban forest in New York City, according to NYC Parks Chief of Forestry, Horticulture, and Natural Resources Group Bram Gunther. “Our work with the Forest Service, Drexel University and all of our scientific partnerships advance our understanding of urban ecosystems – both biophysical and social components – and our management of our city’s diverse natural areas,” said Gunther.

The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The mission of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station is to improve people’s lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, visit


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Last modified: December 3, 2014