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Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
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Urban Natural Resources Stewardship

Environmental Justice

Economically deprived neighborhoods are often the sites of polluting industries and toxic waste disposal. Northern Research Station (NRS) scientists are studying the ways that urban plantings can help to mitigate some of these effects. In addition, the NRS is a major player in the National Science Foundation’s Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) in the Long-Term Ecosystem Research Program. Scientists in this program are comparing various socio-economic and natural resources in two Baltimore neighborhoods---watershed 263, an economically deprived inner city neighborhood in Baltimore City, and Cub Hill, a middle-income suburban neighborhood in Baltimore County.

Selected Research Studies

[photo:] Homes in Detroit's Delray neighborhood. Photo by Michigan Radio, Lester Graham, used with permission.Engaging Detroit Communities through Reforestation across Six Different Site Types: A Project of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
We know that trees and forests can help improve water, soil, and air quality and slow stormwater runoff, in addition to a host of other benefits.  We also know that engaging in environmental stewardship can help communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from disturbance; can be a catalyst for revitalization; and can improve social cohesion and sense of place. In particular, the Delray neighborhood in southwest Detroit overlaps with the most polluted zipcode in Michigan, with related public health threats so severe that limitations to residential development are strictly enforced in the neighborhood.


[photo:] Young woman outdoors with mask, holding a cell phone.Adapting to crisis: Understanding green space use and experience, public land management, and civic stewardship during the COVID-19 pandemic
Two teams of Forest Service Northern Research Station scientists and colleagues used interviews, participant observation, journaling, and social media analysis to understand changes in green space use and experience, public land management, and civic stewardship during the COVID-19 pandemic and the emergence of societal recognition of systemic racism.


[photo:] Leafy Pine Street in Center City is contrasted with treeless North 5th Street in Hunting Park. Image credit: WHYY/Emma Lee, used with permission.Residential Housing Segregation and Urban Tree Canopy
While the multigenerational socioeconomic impacts of redlining and other similar local and state policies are increasingly understood, the USDA Forest Service is among the organizations leading the research to examine the environmental impacts and legacies of institutionalized discrimination.  Neighborhoods affected by such policies typically have substantially lower tree canopy cover than wealthier neighborhoods.  Policymakers can use this information to address persistent injustices that make some communities more vulnerable to extreme heat and other climate-related stressors.


[photo:] MillionTreesNYC Training Program Participants at Fall 2008 volunteer planting day at Father Macris Park in Staten Island, New York.  Photo credit: Brian Aucoin, New York City Parks & Recreation DepartmentGreen Jobs Training and Employment Result in an Increased Sense of Accomplishment as well as Positive Environmental Attitudes and Behaviors in Young Adults
Despite the well-documented benefits of nature on individual socio-psychological well-being, scant research has investigated the effects of working professionally in urban natural resources management.


Map of Baltimore parks and population characteristics, 1930Measuring Park Access and Environmental Justice in Baltimore
We used a novel approach to measure park ‘service areas,’ territories defined by distance to the closest park, as an indicator of environmental justice in Baltimore, Maryland. We found that more blacks than whites have access to parks within walking distance of their homes, but whites have access to more acres of parks than blacks. Areas of the city with the highest need for parkland have the best access to parks but also have access to fewer acres of parkland compared to low-need areas.


PhotoBaltimore Ecosystem Study
As part of the BES, the Forest Service has been conducting research and continuous monitoring to evaluate best management practices (BMPs) that can be implemented in urban and suburban landscapes to improve the quality of life for urban residents and to lessen impacts of storm water management on the Chesapeake Bay. In addition, they have conducted a photo narrative survey of local residents and developed a geographic information system (GIS) linking household information, field observation surveys, and photo narrative data. Numerous scientific studies are underway measuring and monitoring many aspects of the urban environment.


Last Modified: 10/14/2021