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Forests Important in Mitigating Heat-related Mortality

Photo of Deciduous forest. Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action PlanDeciduous forest. Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action PlanSnapshot : This research seeks to understand the relationship between heat-related illness and forest type and composition. Forest Service scientists examined this association controlling for social vulnerabilities related to demographic and resource-based characteristics for all counties within the contiguous U.S. Heat-related mortality was modeled as a function of social vulnerability (i.e., age, urbanization, material disabilities), forest type, and forest density for all counties in the contiguous U.S.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Johnson Gaither, Cassandra 
Research Location : Athens, GA in cooperation with University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.
Research Station : Southern Research Station (SRS)
Year : 2014
Highlight ID : 739


IPCC climate models show that increases in the frequency and duration of heat waves could significantly increase health and other risks in human communities. Multivariate principle components factor analysis of county level data on socio-demographic and heat exposure variables was used to develop an additive index of vulnerability to heat effect across the contiguous United States. The index was mapped and analyzed in relation to forest resources to investigate a potential relationship with the amount and distribution of forest resources. Multivariate regression was used to confirm the validity of the index, and evaluate the relationship of forest resources with a specific measure of heat vulnerability (i.e. heat related mortality). Results confirm that the vulnerability index generated varied significantly by region, and between urban and rural counties, and was strongly related to heat related mortality per capita. Results also suggest that public forest, deciduous and mixed forest, and un-fragmented forest are desirable forest characteristics for the mitigation of extreme heat.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Neelam Poudyal, University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
  • Zachary Walton, Bynum Boley, and Jeff Hepinstall-Cymerman, University of Georgia School of Forestry and Natural Resources

Program Areas