USDA Forest Service

Pacific Northwest Research Station

Pacific Northwest Research Station
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2011 Community Sustainability Research

Key Findings and Products

Forest Service projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act produced short- and longterm jobs and other social, economic, and health benefits in economically distressed rural communities while helping the agency meet its forest management goals.

Comprehensive report on wood-to-energy projects guides USDA initiative to build a forest restoration economy.

Airborne LIDAR sampling provides a tool for efficiently estimating forest bioenergy supply near communities in interior Alaska.

Partnerships expand agency capacity and build community ties.

Recreation activities in national forests burn billions of calories each year, helping combat obesity.



Investment in rural communities created social and economic benefits


An American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project on the Rogue River-Siskiyou national Forest enabled some contractors to stay in business through the recession (Photo by Emily Jane Davis).The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was signed in 2009 as part of a nationwide stimulus to create jobs for Americans in economically distressed locations across the country. The Forest Service received $1.15 billion in ARRA stimulus money for recovery projects intended to increase economic opportunities in local communities, while addressing the agency’s mission of sustaining the health of public forests and grasslands. Did these investments make a difference in rural areas? A station scientist led an evaluation of the social and economic impacts of ARRA-funded projects in eight economically distressed rural areas across the United States. Her team found that Forest Service investments in these projects helped meet the goals of the Recovery Act and demonstrated that Forest Service investments in rural communities can have far-reaching social and economic benefits for local residents, as well as positive outcomes for the agency.

Some of these outcomes included short and longterm job creation, revitalizing existing economic sectors, stimulating new economic capacity, and accomplishing restoration work of a type and at a scale that would not have happened otherwise.

Contact: Susan Charnley,, Goods, Services, and Values Program

Partners: Auburn University; Fort Lewis College; Southern Oregon University; University of Oregon; USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, Southern Research Station

Citation: Charnley, S.; Jakes, P.; Schelhas, J., tech. coords. 2011. Socioeconomic assessment of Forest Service American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects: eight case studies. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-831. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 168 p.


Lessons learned from past wood-to-energy project may help current effort

Station scientists are contributing to various efforts examining the feasibility of wood-to-energy projects. Above, a truck unloads woody biomass that will be used to produce electricity at the Blue Lake power plant in California (Photo by Susan Charnley).As oil prices climb, rural communities struggle, and forests accumulate fuel, the pressure to address these challenges becomes more insistent. An interagency wood-to-energy program could provide a solution that would benefit the American people in several ways, including reducing or completely offsetting costs of forest restoration and fire-risk-reduction activities; reducing the use of fossil fuels for production of electricity, thermal energy, and liquid fuels; and helping to stabilize the economies of rural communities. Recognizing this, Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack stated a goal of advancing forest restoration efforts through woody biomass utilization.

A station scientist was asked to contribute to this effort by developing a comprehensive report on lessons learned from previous wood-to-energy projects. The report yielded recommendations that will help the Department of Agriculture form new partnerships and maximize opportunities to pursue development of wood to energy.

Contact: Jamie Barbour,, Focused Science Delivery Program


LIDAR used to estimate biomass supply near interior Alaska communities


Remote rural communities in interior Alaska generally rely on fossil fuel to meet their power and heating needs. Diesel prices increased 83 percent from 2000 to 2005, however, and utility costs can amount to more than a third of a household’s income. Wood-based energy may be a viable alternative, but estimates of available forest biomass are needed before comprehensive plans for bioenergy production can be developed. Interior Alaska has relatively few roads, making it difficult to measure biomass availability over a large area using conventional ground-based sampling methods. Therefore, researchers tested the precision of data collected by aircraft equipped with LIDAR (airborne laser scanners) and used it in conjunction with data from sparse field plots.

The LIDAR sampling approach estimated total biomass with an 8 percent level of precision, indicating that the 200,000-hectare study in the upper Tanana valley contained 8.1 million (± 0.7 million) metric tons of biomass. They found that precision increased when plot locations were more accurately located, when larger plots were measured, and when additional smaller trees in the ground plots were measured.

This study indicates that airborne LIDAR sampling can be useful in planning bioenergy development in interior Alaska. In regions with very limited road access, an approach to field plot selection within accessible areas can be used to ensure that representative plots are measured to develop robust LIDAR biomass estimates.

Contact: Hans Andersen,, Resource Monitoring and Assessment Program

Partner: Oregon State University


Partnerships expand agency capacity and build community ties


Volunteers build a trail on the Sandy River Delta, Oregon (Photo by Megan McGuire).The Forest Ser vice has responded to declining budgets and diverse public demands by increasing its reliance on collaboration with partners. A station scientist developed a conceptual framework of recreation partnerships to help identify some of the implications of these interactions for accomplishing agency goals. The scientist found that partnership durability can be enhanced through strong personal connections, clear communication, and transparent expectations and roles. In some cases, strong relationships that balance partner priorities and agency goals can yield greater outcomes, provide access to new partnership networks, and supply additional resources. However, the assumption that partnerships provide free services that can simply replace agency functions with minimal investment can be problematic. Partnerships actually require considerable effort and investment in fostering relations and ensuring followthrough.

Contact: Lee Cerveny,, Goods, Services, and Values Program

Partner: Southern Illinois University, Carbondale


Houses with street trees are less prone to crime


Researchers found a relationship between large urban trees, lower crime rates, and higher birth weights (Photo by Rhonda Mazza).

Use: Portland's Crime Prevention Program uses finding to educate homeowners.

A recent study in Portland, Oregon, found that houses fronted with more street trees experience lower crime rates, as do houses with large yard trees. These results hold for total-crime rates as well as specific property crimes such as vandalism and burglary. Trees may reduce crime by signaling that a neighborhood is well cared for. These findings are consistent with the “broken window” hypothesis, which maintains that signs of neighborhood neglect, such as graffiti or untended yards, send a signal to potential criminals that the area is run down and that residents may not take steps to protect it. However, yards that contain many small trees had higher crime rates. Small trees and shrubs can obstruct views, making it easier for criminals to hide. Other view-obstructing features, such as fences, were also associated with higher crime rates. This finding underlines the tradeoff homeowners must make between security and privacy.

The City of Portland’s Crime Prevention Program is incorporating these findings in its education and outreach work with local service providers, public safety activists, neighborhood associations, and other community members. This study received considerable media coverage. The Associated Press picked it up, leading to over 300 stories in newspapers and magazines and on television and radio. Outlets include the Washington Post, USA Today, Associated Press, UPI, Daily Mail (England), NPR, CBS, NBC, FOX, ESPN, Discovery News, Science Daily, and Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Contact: Geoffrey Donovan,, Goods, Services, and Values Program

Partner: USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station


Urban trees linked to better birth outcomes


Use: Alliance for Community Trees in Maryland includes findings in education campaign.

A recent study by the PNW Research Station explored the link between tree cover and human birth outcomes in Portland, Oregon. Scientists compared tree cover around the homes of nearly 6,000 women who delivered babies in Portland in 2006 and 2007. They found that women in homes with more canopy cover within 50 meters were less likely to have an underweight baby. Proximity to private open space also reduced this risk. To rule out other possible effects, scientists controlled for over 100 variables including the mother’s age, ethnic background, household income, and education level. Previous research has shown that exposure to nature can reduce stress levels, which suggests that trees may improve birth outcomes by reducing maternal stress.

As the first study to demonstrate the link between the natural environment and reproductive health, this information supports urban planning and policymaking by providing specific examples of the positive impact trees have on community wellbeing. Findings are directly relevant to the Multnomah County Health Department’s mission to enhance the health of the people in the community. The Alliance for Community Trees in Maryland is using the study in its education and outreach campaign. These findings were reported widely in the media, including several newspapers in the Pacific Northwest, radio interviews, and online sources.

Contact: Geoffrey Donovan,, Goods, Services, and Values Program

Partners: Drexel University, Multnomah County Health Department, National Institute of Standards and Technology


Annual recreation on national forests burns 289 billion calories


Hikers stay in shape on the Mount Hood National Forest (Photo by Keith Routman).Despite the known benefits of exercise, two-thirds of Americans do not get enough. Children average 30 hours a week in front of television or computer screens, and one in five are obese. But humans still have a psychological affinity for nature, and physical activity—especially outdoors—can contribute greatly to a healthy lifestyle. Scientists evaluated the public health benefits provided by national forests by estimating the calorie expenditure of visitors recreating on national forest lands. They found that national forests receive over 170 million recreation visits per year, featuring a range of physical activities including hiking, camping, skiing, wildlife viewing, and fishing. These and other activities burned more than 289 billion calories, of which nearly 264 billion were expended by adults and about 26 billion were expended by youth. Expressed in terms of food, those calories equal enough french fries placed end-to-end to reach the moon and back, twice.

The annual energy expenditures from national forest recreation are equivalent to the exercise necessary for 6.8 million adults and 317,000 youths to meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines regarding daily aerobic physical activity for a year. The President’s Taskforce on Childhood Obesity report called for continued investments in a wide range of outdoor recreation venues, such as national parks, forests, refuges, and other public lands as one approach to lessening childhood obesity. As a result, public health officials, policymakers, and recreation planners all need information on how outdoor recreation on public lands influence opportunities for physical activity.

Contact: Jeff Kline,, Goods, Services, and Values Program

Partner: Oregon State University


Forests near Sitka, Alaska, sequester more CO2 than city produces


Forest near Sitka, Alaska, sequester more carbon dioxide than the city produces, and opportunities exist fro the city to further reduce its carbon emissions (Photo by David Nicholls).Sitka, Alaska, has substantialhydroelectric resources, limited driving distances, and a relatively mild maritime climate, all suggesting strong opportunities for the city to lessen its carbon footprint. Station scientists evaluated humancaused carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from Sitka, Alaska, and compared results with the estimated carbon sequestration potential of forest ecosystems on Baranof Island in southeast Alaska. They found that forest carbon sequestration was conservatively estimated to be about twice that of human-caused emissions from Sitka. Several factors could reduce Sitka’s carbon footprint even further, including a proposed expansion of the Blue Lake hydroelectric facility near Sitka, increased use of wood energy for residential heating, use of electric vehicles, and adoption of energy conservation practices throughout the community.

Contact: David Nicholls,, Goods, Services, and Values Program



Evaluation of NEPA processes finds that team harmony and empowered leaders lead to success


Team harmony and an empowered leader were the most consistent predictors of positive outcomes in meeting NEPA requirements (Photo by Tom Iracis).

Use: Forest Service develops new NEPA training based on findings

The Forest Service has struggled to understand why its planning procedures associated with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are sometimes inefficient, perform poorly in the eyes of the public, and fail to deliver outputs that advance agency mission. Looking for solutions, researchers examined a representative sample of NEPA processes conducted by the agency between 2007 and 2009. They examined interdisciplinary team leaders’ perceptions of the following outcomes: achievement of agency goals and NEPA mandates, process efficiency, public relations, and team outcomes. The most consistent predictors of positive outcomes in meeting NEPA requirements were team harmony and a team leader who felt empowered. The results suggest the importance of genuine concern and respect for participating members of the public, as well as effective interagency coordination. Forest Service leadership and others who regularly work with NEPA planning are using this information to develop new training sessions for managing interdisciplinary teams.

Contact: David Seesholtz,, Focused Science Delivery Program

Partner: Virginia Tech


NEPA processes influenced by external social pressure

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires an environmental assessment (EA) or a more involved environmental impact statement (EIS) to be completed before federal action can occur, if there is potential for the activity to negatively affect the environment.

Researchers found that the reasons for preparing an EIS were in many cases not clearly related to the environmental focus of NEPA and its regulations. The NEPA for the 21st Century Initiative found that practitioners followed several themes for preferring an EIS over an EA that went beyond the considerations outlined in official regulations. These themes included threat of litigation and ability to withstand legal challenges, level of public controversy, and the ability to incur a significant impact.

The possibility that a NEPA practitioner may consider these factors is being built into a riskmanagement framework under development. This framework will help practitioners determine an appropriate course of action for accomplishing their NEPA responsibilities.

Contact: David Seesholtz,, Focused Science Delivery Program

Partners: State University of New York, Virginia Tech



Tribal Climate Change Project Profiles

Description: With their close cultural and economic relationship to the land, American Indian and Alaska Native tribes face disproportionate risks associated with climate change. Station scientists have developed information tools to help build awareness of the unique problems faced by tribal stakeholders in addressing natural resource issues, as well as their innovative approaches to adaptation. These profiles summarize climate change mitigation and adaptation projects implemented around the United States to share success stories and provide examples for others to learn from. In addition, profiles include information on available resources, key contacts, and government programs that can provide services or grants.

Use: The Lummi Nation and Swinomish, Coquille, and Nez Perce Tribes have all participated in the process, using the method to initiate adaptation planning and projects that anticipate further climate change. The collaborative model is being replicated in Forest Service research stations across the agency as part of an all-station tribal climate change initiative.

How to get it:

Contact: Ellen Donoghue,, Goods, Services, and Values Program


Web Site: Green Cities—Good Health

Description: This Web site concisely summarizes the benefits of urban trees and green spaces, based on more than 1,700 scientific articles. Key findings are presented for multiple audiences, such as resource managers in local government, conservation groups, and nongovernmental organizations. The research evidence about the benefits of the human experience of nature in cities indicates proximity to nature can lead to stress reduction, healing, better learning and work productivity, and improved social dynamics in communities. All of these findings have broad implications, from human capital enhancement, to community cohesion, to economic costs and benefits.

Use: This project provides a suite of evidence-based products that explain the diverse benefits associated with having well-managed nature incities and towns.

How to get it:

Contact: Dale Blahna,, Goods, Services, and Values Program


US Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station
Last Modified: Tuesday,18November2014 at14:53:01CST

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