USDA Forest Service

Pacific Northwest Research Station

Pacific Northwest Research Station
333 SW First Ave.
Portland, OR 97204

(503) 808-2100

US Forest Service
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» Nature and Human Well-Being

Tree health, human health may be linked

Tree health, human health may be linked
Photo by Dan Herms

A new study conducted by station research forester Geoffrey Donovan is the latest to point to connections between public health and the natural environment. Donovan and colleagues analyzed 18 years’ worth of data from 1,296 counties in 15 U.S. states where the invasive emerald ash borer beetle has infested and killed millions of trees. They found that counties infested with emerald ash borer had an additional 15,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 6,000 additional deaths from lower respiratory disease, after accounting for the influence of demographic differences such as income, race, and education. Although the study shows the association between loss of trees and human mortality from cardiovascular and lower respiratory disease, it did not prove a causal link, and the reason for the association is yet to be determined.


Contact: Geoffrey Donovan,

Volunteers come for camaraderie, stay for ecological benefits

Volunteers Come for Camaraderie, Stay for Ecological Benefits
Photo by Forterra

In Washington’s Puget Sound, thousands of people volunteer in parks, plant street trees, and participate in other environmental stewardship projects each year. Land management agencies and stewardship organizations increasingly rely on volunteer labor, making it important to understand what motivates these volunteers.
Station scientists and collaborators interviewed representatives of nine Seattle-based organizations. The researchers learned that people who participate in urban stewardship activities vary in their motivations, but social outcomes are likely to be at least as important as ecological benefits. Personal, social, and community fulfillment were key reasons people volunteer. The work on behalf of urban natural resources also satisfied the volunteers desire to make a positive difference in the environment.


Contact: Dale Blahna,

Urban forests as edible landscapes

Urban forests as edible landscapes
Photo by Melissa Poe

Early urban forests in Europe often were established to provide residents with fuel, building material, food, and livestock fodder. In the United States, a different approach was taken. Urban green spaces were designated as parks and valued as places for leisure and other services rather than to provide forest products. A movement is afoot, however, to use urban forest management as a way to help achieve urban sustainability, including food security.

A recent study funded by the Pacific Northwest Research Station examined changes taking place in Seattle, Washington. They found that Seattle’s urban forests are managed for services, but not products. The notion that urban forests might serve as space where people engage in productive forest practices, such as gathering, gleaning and livestock production is gaining political traction in Seattle. Several city regulations have been modified over the past 3 years to facilitate this. However, the overarching management plan for the city’s urban forests is based on a traditional vision that fails to incorporate the sociocultural, psychological, and economic values associated with gathering and using urban forest products.


For more information: Producing Edible Landscapes in Seattle’s Urban Forest.

Mapping human ecology

Mapping human ecology
Photo by Lee Cerveny

Forests of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula are valued by residents for a wide variety of uses—recreational, cultural, historic, and economic. Until recently, how these connections overlapped and interplayed was poorly understand. Led by Lee Cerveny, a research social scientist, the study is using a Web-based mapping tool and a series of community workshops to identify and display the diverse cultural, economic, and recreational uses of the landscape. The study’s maps are digital and can be analyzed using geographic information system tools to reveal use patterns. Areas of overlapping use, for example hunting and gathering nontimber forest products at the same time of year, signal potential for conflict. This information can help national forest planners make informed decisions about their management unit.


Contact: Lee Cerveny,

Featured Scientist

Beckey BittnerGeoffrey Donovan is a research forester with the station’s Goods, Services, and Values Program. His research explores the economics of wildfire management and, more recently, quantifies the benefits of urban trees. His urban forestry work has revealed sometimes surprising associations between urban trees and a range of services, from increasing home sale prices and reducing summertime energy use, to reducing crime and promoting healthier babies. His latest research suggests that increased rental prices and better community health also may be associated with the presence of urban trees. Donovan has a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Sheffield University and a doctorate in forest economics from Colorado State University.

Tools and Software

i-Tree Eco

i-Tree Ecoi-Tree Eco is a software application that combines field data with local hourly air pollution and meteorological data to quantify urban forest structure, environmental effects, and value to communities. Recently, the tool was used to conduct a station-funded multi-year study of Seattle’s urban forest that revealed, among other things, that the city’s trees are worth $4.9 billion.


For more information:


US Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station
Last Modified: Tuesday,05August2014 at09:40:38CDT

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