USDA Forest Service

Pacific Northwest Research Station

Pacific Northwest Research Station
1220 SW 3rd Ave.
Portland, OR 97204

(503) 808-2100

US Forest Service



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Restore Community Ecosystems While Promoting Green Jobs in the Puget Sound Area

Urban forests and green spaces provide a diversity of community benefits. A suite of research projects in the Puget Sound region, jumpstarted with $1,346,000 in economic recovery funding from the Pacific Northwest (PNW) Research Station, is helping resource managers and policymakers design and implement strategies to enhance urban natural systems and foster healthier lifestyles. The projects are being implemented through the Green Cities Research Alliance (GCRA), a network of scientists, local governments, conservation organizations, and urban sustainability professionals. The GRCA’s collaborative research is providing tools and information to evaluate and monitor the condition of urban forests, to prioritize restoration and conservation activities, and to understand what motivates citizens to become involved with stewardship of their local resources.

Scientists Dale Blahna and Kathy Wolf are the PNW Station’s GCRA collaborators. Other partners include the Cascade Land Conservancy, University of Washington School of Forest Resources, King County, EarthCorps, Institute for Culture and Ecology, City of Seattle, Oregon State University, International Forestry Consultants, Inc., USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station (Chicago and New York field stations), and Baltimore Ecosystem Study. The GCRA is the first group in the region to bring together the leading organizations to work collaboratively on urban sustainability research and to promote a significant expansion of research connections at the community level.

The GCRA’s economic recovery-funded jobs have supported the operations and expansion of the collaborative. In addition to providing needed work on research projects, the hirees are building the skills and knowledge needed for urban natural resources careers. The jobs created or saved include such activities as project planning and development, field data collection in the Puget Sound area, geospatial and statistical analysis, writing scientific and technical reports, and presentation of project results at regional and national conferences.

The ARRA-funded research includes many topics that align with USDA Forest Service and PNW Station science goals (see figure below). Research projects using other funding sources are also underway. Members of the GCRA meet frequently to share and integrate information on their findings, with the goal of providing communities with practical knowledge of how to plan, conserve, and manage urban natural resources, including urban forests.

Green Cities Research Alliance.


Civic Environmental Stewardship—Volunteer stewardship is an important component of strategies to restore and manage urban ecosystems. Moreover, stewards contribute to grassroots community building and social cohesion. In an effort to understand why people volunteer for stewardship projects, volunteers were surveyed while participating in a series of stewardship events held in public open spaces across Seattle and King County in 2010 and 2011. Results revealed important insights about stewards’ motivations and experiences; for example, volunteers appear to be motivated equally by opportunities to act on their concerns for the environment and concerns for their neighbors and community. The findings will help sponsoring organizations build program capacity and develop more effective programs and operations.

Organization Network Analysis—Stewardship gets done because well-organized groups, such as local governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), support projects and events. Few organizations operate independently. Better knowledge about the networking, communications, and collaborations across stewardship organizations will allow more efficient and effective work planning. In 2010 an organization survey was conducted with more than 500 groups, ranging from large, regional NGOs to small “friends of” groups in King County. Analysis is underway to learn more about how stewardship networks function in the King County region, and to compare networks in the Pacific Northwest to those in Baltimore and Chicago.



Urban Foraging—A significant number of urban residents connect with urban green spaces through the gathering of a large variety of plants and fungi for food, crafts, ceremonial use, and market products. This study seeks to understand the characteristics of urban foragers, the places that provide resources for them, and the social, economic, and cultural importance of their activities. The results of the research will help local and regional planners better understand the ways in which green spaces are used and work toward increased involvement of gatherers in stewardship activities. Data collection has been completed, and final reports are in preparation.

Residential Choice—Research conducted via interviews, surveys, and focus groups is identifying the underlying factors that influence individual choice of residence location. Investigators are also documenting the patterns of development outside the metropolitan area that result from these choices. This information will help local and regional planners develop effective conservation and stewardship strategies for both public and private lands within the wildland-to-urban interface.



Forest Landscape Assessment Tool—The numerous forested parcels in King County, adding up to almost 22,000 acres, are important to the well-being of residents, but the lands are threatened by invasive species, disease, and overuse. This project is developing baseline data on the health of forested open spaces and parks in the county, and is also creating tools that can be used by others for conducting multiscale forest health assessments. The data are helping King County forest managers develop corrective and restorative management plans to sustain the many benefits provided by forested urban lands.

Geospatial Analysis—From remote sensing data, the Remote Sensing and Geospatial Analysis Laboratory (RSGAL) of the University of Washington produces high-resolution geospatial products, which are being used to support other research within the GCRA. Such products are essential for understanding landscape patterns of urban forests, and detecting change over time. Working together with other GCRA projects, the geospatial team is developing land cover analysis tools that can determine the composition, character, and health of urban vegetation.



Forest Ecosystem Values—This project is an effort to understand the forest canopy conditions across all public and private lands using a city-wide (Seattle, 2010) and county-wide (King County, 2011) field sampling approach. Results from the USDA Forest Service’s i-Tree tools will first provide calculations of the ecosystem services contributed by urban forests in the study areas, and also will provide estimates of economic valuation. The study also is improving methodologies and field tools for conducting such assessments.

Green Cities: Good Health—“Ecosystem services” describes a broad array of benefits and functions that vegetation and landscapes provide for people. As cities pursue sustainability goals, there is increasing interest in the role of nearby nature in achieving environmental, social, and economic outcomes. Nearly 40 years of research (much of it funded by the USDA Forest Service) demonstrates that urban ecosystems contribute to human health and well-being in many ways. A Web site serves as a focused science delivery tool, providing summaries of the research accessible by citizens, decisionmakers, and resource professionals to improve urban greening design and management:


US Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station
Last Modified: Tuesday,18November2014 at11:48:56CST

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