The Main Drive Behind Forest Fires

forest-fireTemperatures are rising and forest fires, already larger and more frequent than the historical norm, are projected to increase dramatically with anthropogenic warming.

That’s the general consensus among scientists studying the relationship between fire activity and climate change in the Sierra Nevada. But a study released last week found an influence on past fire activity even greater than climate: human beings.

Since 1600, the way humans have used land in the Sierra has had more effect on fire behavior than climate change, said Valerie Trouet, associate professor of dendrochronology at the University of Arizona and lead coauthor of the study, published November 14 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To read more, click here.

Celebrating Every Kid in a Park

every-kipAs part of President Obama’s historic commitment to protecting our natural treasures and ensuring all Americans have the opportunity to experience our great outdoors, the Every Kid in a Park initiative gives fourth graders and their families free access to all of America’s public lands and waters for a full year. Now in the program’s second year, Every Kid in a Park is connecting hundreds of thousands of youth across the country to the great outdoors. 

Building on this work, today, we are thrilled to announce an inter-agency commitment to continue the program for the next five years and a new virtual reality video featuring the First Lady and Modern Family’s Nolan Gould. 

To read more, Click here.

This Medical Center Prescribes Nature, and Fills Prescriptions On-Site

We inrx_nature the Nature Explore family don’t need a study to tell us that nature has many positive benefits for our physical, mental and spiritual health. We feel these benefits in ourselves, and see them in the children who play in our outdoor classrooms. Yet if nature is so good for our health, why aren’t doctors prescribing time outdoors?

They are, across the country, thanks to the “Rx For Outdoor Activity” training given by The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF). Doctors who have taken this training are qualified to write prescriptions for nature and to address children’s health issues as they relate to nature and the environment.

One of these Nature Champions is Daniel Porter, MD, Medical Director of the Lone Star Family Health Center (LSFHC), in Conroe, Texas. Lone Star also has a new Nature Explore Classroom on grounds. Doctors there are writing prescriptions for patients to spend time in the outdoor classroom. These are not simply verbal recommendations, but true prescriptions that are entered into the patient’s electronic health record. This is the first Nature Explore Classroom directly on the grounds of a federally qualified health center, and a model for future replication elsewhere.

To read the full article, click here

Kids Who Play More Outdoors May be Less Likely to Have Problems with Peers

peer-problem Kids who spend more time outdoors seem to gain a boost in their peer relations, per a new report from Statistics Canada. In September, the agency released a report on outdoor time, physical activity and sedentary time and health indicators of Canadians aged 7 to 14.

Canadian guidelines suggest that kids between 5 and 17 years old get at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day. Only 9 percent of children do. (The rule of thumb is if you’re able to carry on a conversation easily then you’re not working hard enough.)

Each additional hour spent outdoors was associated with:

  • 7 more minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity.
  • 762 more steps.
  • 13 fewer minutes of sedentary time.

Additionally, children reporting more time outdoors were less likely to have peer relationship problems compared with those who spent less time outside, Mark Tremblay of the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and his team said in Health Reports.

To read the full article, click here.

Outdoor Learning Project Reveals Children More Motivated to Learn When Outside

outdoor-learningChildren from 125 schools across the South West of England are happier, healthier and more motivated to learn thanks to a new project commissioned by Natural England that has turned the outdoors into a classroom and helped schools transform ways of teaching.

The findings have been released today by the Natural Connections Demonstration project, a 4-year initiative to help school children – particularly those from disadvantaged areas – experience the benefits of the natural environment by empowering teachers to use the outdoors to support everyday learning.

The project, which is funded by Natural England, Defra and Historic England and delivered by Plymouth University, is the largest project of its kind in England and has already helped more than 40,000 primary and secondary school pupils get out of their classrooms and into the outdoors – whether that’s a math lesson in a local park or drama out on the school field.

To read the full article, click here.

Young Children’s Preferences: What Stimulates Children’s Cognitive Play in Outdoor Preschools?


A number of studies have identified childcare environments as significant resources for children’s development, learning through play, and contact with nature. However, there is a lack of knowledge about how, from a child’s perspective, specific outdoor physical environments in preschools stimulate children’s cognitive play.

Emphasizing on the value of listening to children, this study reports the perspectives of twenty-two 4- to 5-year-olds. The study context was an outdoor preschool with natural, mixed, and manufactured settings. A combination of photo preferences and semi-structured interviews was used to investigate children’s perception of preferred settings and cognitive plays.

The results identified that children mainly enjoyed functional and dramatic play. They mostly preferred mixed behavior settings that incorporated ranges of natural and manufactured elements. Compared to other settings, children found mixed settings provided the most opportunities for functional, constructive, dramatic, and game with rules play. The outcomes of this study have implications for the design of outdoor preschools, suggesting a balanced integration of nature with manufactured play features to enhance cognitive play experiences.

To read the full article, click here. 


Creating an Outdoor Classroom: Things to Consider

students-adults-working-to-create-outdoor-classroomStudents at Littlewood Elementary School in Gainesville, Florida are enjoying their new outdoor classroom, thanks to a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and a GreenWorks! grant from Project Learning Tree. The outdoor classroom includes seating for 24 students, as well as bird feeders, bird baths, and native plants that provide food and shelter for wildlife.

The students were involved in many aspects of creating the outdoor classroom; from site planning and design, through installing bird feeders, planting native species, developing adopt-a-tree signs, and creating stepping stone mosaics.

Teachers are thrilled to have this outdoor space where students can be immersed in learning about nature. They observe bird behavior, calculate the dollar value of trees, measure plant growth, and collect data on seasonal changes.

To read the full article, click here.

How to Raise an Environmentalist

loc_environmentalistThis article discusses how we can encourage kids to care more and take action to protect our environment. Social science research indicates that motivating people to take action requires promoting compassionate concern for the world rather than just stating facts and making disastrous predictions about the future world. Research is suggesting that the desire to conserve is linked to our connection to nature – the degree to which we enjoy spending time in nature. Early exposure to nature increases the likelihood that people will care about the environment once they are adults.

While researchers are still trying to figure out why early exposure to nature increases environmental concern, they do know that emotional engagement is crucial in this process. Maintaining mindful behavior when going into a natural setting leads to a more connectedness with nature and the ability to empathize with the creatures and environment.  The first step in the right direction is to get more children outside, playing, and receiving all the benefits nature has to give.

To read the full article, click here.

Forest Bathing to Improve Health

loc_forestbathingFirst prescribed by Henry David Thoreau in 1854, eco-therapy is now scientifically proven to improve wellbeing. Forest bathing – basically just being in the presence of trees – is a type of eco-therapy that has proven to lower heart rate, blood pressure, stress hormone production, and increase the immune system and general feelings of wellbeing. This method of relaxation and health practice is gaining popularity, and not a minute too soon.

A forest bath requires a person to just immerse themselves in nature and relax, instead of trying to accomplish anything. For 8 years, Japanese researchers studied the physiological and psychological effects of this method. They found a boost in the immune system of participants, due to an increase in natural killer cells. These cells provide rapid responses to viral-infected cells and respond to tumor formation, and are associated with immune system health and cancer prevention. These positive affects after a few hours in the forest can last for up to a month. These effects can be attributed to phytoncide found in plants and trees in the forests. Trees use this essential oil to protect themselves against bacteria and insects, and humans can use it for an improved immune system.

Nature also had physiological results on participants. They had greater activity in their parasympathetic nerves, which controls the body’s ability to rest and relax. The psychological benefits from forest bathing involved reduced hostility and depressive tendencies among the participants.

Due to the findings of this study, the Japanese government implemented 48 therapy trails throughout local forests. To read the full article, click here.

Partnerships and Community Involvement Help Texas High School Win $10 Million in ‘XQ Super School’ Contest

HOUSTON, Texas — The wait is over. The announcement has come. Furr High School is an XQ America Super School. And although this may be new news to most Texans – the recognition did not happen overnight.

The origins of this success are vast and varied, but for two lead educators, there is little doubt where their inspiration came from – their own high school experiences, the engagement of their teachers and the facilitation of the students getting involved with state, federal and non-governmental agencies.

David Salazar and Juan Antonio Elizondo are Career and Technical Education agriculture teachers at Furr High School – known as The Green Institute – within the Houston Independent School District. They are leaders in the Woodsy Owl Conservation Corps Green Ambassadors program and are largely responsible for proposing the concepts for which the school applied for the XQ grant.

They grew up learning that the mission of natural resource agencies is ultimately to help the people.

“Agencies afford people the opportunities and education of what natural resources mean,” said Salazar. “They avail us all of long-lasting experiences, opportunities for civic participation and a sense of place. With this knowledge and experience, we are able to engage with policy and help push it forward. This can greatly impact our public education system – especially in our urban communities.”

Houston is the most populous city in Texas and the fourth-most populous city in the United States. With a land area of nearly 600 square miles, Houston is recognized by as the country’s most sprawling city.

This makes natural spaces a premium and more-and-more a rarity.

W. Goodrich Jones State Forest is nicknamed Houston’s Backyard and is 1,700 acres on the outskirts of Houston proper.  Managed by Texas A&M Forest Service, it is a working forest used for research, demonstration and education. The property and its visitation programs serve as a home-base of sorts for inner-city school field trips and various educational programs. It is among the pines and wildlife of this forest that a core group of HISD educators and students began unfolding their ideas for a different education and life for those in their schools and communities.

Salazar and Elizondo are just two of the leaders in this truly youth-led movement, using peer-to-peer learning and multi-agency collaboration. They have helped take what agencies deliver into their communities and have made it their own.

The Green Ambassador program is an integral component of Furr High School attaining the status of Super High School and receiving up to $10 million over the next five years to help transform the American high school experience.

The program was formed in the East End of Houston with the help of the American Forest Foundation Project Learning Tree GreenSchool Initiative and a grant from the USFS-National Urban and Community and Forestry Advisory Council.

The ambassadors are high school and college students, who go out to elementary and middle schools, local communities and parks to share information on how to take care of the environment, spreading conservation and environmental awareness messages. They incorporate bilingual education, use mentors to connect diverse audiences to nature and facilitate after-school programing in schools and community centers using conservation education curricula from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Forest Service and Texas A&M Forest Service — among others.

It is in part through these numerous partners and collaborators that the Houston Greenbelt is becoming a sustainable model that others may be able to replicate nationwide.

“The U.S. Forest Service is thrilled to have had a long-term collaboration with the community and with Furr High School — The Green Institute — that has led to the development of this phenomenal opportunity to serve as one of the nation’s 10 XQ Super Schools,“ Michiko Martin, director of conservation education for the U. S Forest Service said. “We will continue to support the inspiring work of our youth, educators, administrators and the community as we forge new pathways to education, natural resource careers and connecting all people to nature and conservation.”

Salazar and Elizondo said they tried to help the school and community figure out how urban and community forests could mitigate the heat island effect and flooding that are so prominent in Houston. They also recognized how trees could help contribute to food sovereignty.

“A lot of us saw each other as overweight, obese and with diabetes. We were truly seeing a trend – we were the trend!” said Elizondo. “We wondered why? Why are we like this? We started thinking about food and connected it with the concepts of gardens, food orchards and food forests.”

The Green Ambassadors have planted hundreds of fruit trees and other beneficial vegetation in their communities. They are embracing prevalent research that connects human health benefits with trees and nature to create natural spaces that are sustainable and self-regenerating.

The organic gardens are just one category on which the group concentrates. There are members of the group dedicated to permaculture, pollinators, health and physical fitness, wildlife, urban planning and development and environmental justice.

These current concepts and content areas serve as a starting point for Furr High School’s vision for the future.   According to school administration, the vision encapsulates a place that offers: equitable education and assessments customized to the specific needs, hopes and dreams of the students — comparable to those available for more privileged populations; and a sustainable leadership tract for educators and students, incorporating partnerships with universities. 

The energy and enthusiasm of the East End movement has been invigorated with the XQ: Super School Project grant. But Salazar knows that the real work has just begun.

“Change starts here. This is just the beginning,” he said. “As we help transform our little corner of the world, we will be able to serve as a model for comparable schools and help build the capacity of Texas and the nation.”

Furr High School is one of 10 schools nation-wide to receive the competitive XQ grant. Read the Education Week XQ: Super School Project announcement here.

For more information on Furr High School and the XQ Project please visit  or


John Warner
Urban District Forester, Texas A&M Forest Service

Released September 15, 2016