How Do Changing Landscapes Affect Human Risk to West Nile Virus?

Urbanization is transforming the South. And as forests and farms are converted to urban land uses, there are environmental consequences—reduced water quality, invasive species, and loss of habitat for native wildlife and plant species. The changes also have implications for disease vectors, such as birds and insects that can carry West Nile Virus (WNV), Lyme disease, and more recently, the Zika virus.

One group of researchers has been looking at the connection between a wide ranging but integrated group of factors in the transmission of WNV—the loss of forest cover, increases in impervious surface, reduced water quality, socioeconomics, and other factors—that may play a role in supporting the bird and mosquito populations that are key in the spread of WNV.

Graeme Lockaby, a research professor with the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences at Auburn University, has been studying the impacts of forest conversion on water quality for decades. In recent years, he has been working with an interdisciplinary team of researchers, including Wayne Zipperer, SRS-4952 research forester; Wayde Morse, a social scientist, and Latif Kalin, a hydrologic modeler, both with the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences at Auburn; and Navideh Noori, a hydrologic modeler at the University of Georgia. The team has been looking at how urbanization affects streams, creeks, and rivers in a range of settings from rural forested areas to the inner city.

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Leaves of Change Issue 21: National Team Takes a Unique Approach to Urban Forest Technology and Science Delivery

loc-21-pictureToday, 54 percent of the world’s population is urban, and the United Nations projects that number will be close to 70 percent by 2050. The growing urban population will rely on their ecosystems for a wide range of environmental services and human health benefits that we are only recently beginning to understand. This has fed a growing desire to keep up with the rapidly developing science of urban ecosystems and the emergence of new data and technology for evaluating urban green space, understanding trends, and designing a healthier environment for urban residents.

The Forest Service’s National Urban Forest Technology and Science Delivery Team (NTSD) was formed in November 2013 with the goal of improving the agency’s ability to deliver state-of-the-knowledge information to city planners and natural resource practitioners, in the most rapid and accessible ways possible.

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Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children

barefootandbalToday’s kids have adopted sedentary lifestyles filled with television, video games, and computer screens. But more and more, studies show that children need “rough and tumble” outdoor play in order to develop their sensory, motor, and executive functions. Disturbingly, a lack of movement has been shown to lead to a number of health and cognitive difficulties, such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), emotion regulation and sensory processing issues, and aggressiveness at school recess break. So, how can you ensure your child is fully engaging their body, mind, and all of their senses?  Using the same philosophy that lies at the heart of her popular TimberNook program—that nature is the ultimate sensory experience, and that psychological and physical health improves for children when they spend time outside on a regular basis—author Angela Hanscom offers several strategies to help your child thrive, even if you live in an urban environment. With this book, you’ll discover little things you can do anytime, anywhere to help your kids achieve the movement they need to be happy and healthy in mind, body, and spirit.

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Leaves of Change Issue 20: Project Attempts to Stem the Tide of African-American Land Loss through Active Forest Management

IMG_3211The decline in rural African-American landholdings over the past century has been dramatic, dropping from a peak of about 15 million acres in 1910 to less than 2 million today. The causes are multiple: outmigration, voluntary sales, foreclosures, and lack of access to credit and capital, as well as outright exploitation, threats, and discrimination. Another major problem has been that much of the land has been owned as heirs’ property, that is, land that was passed down through generations without benefit of a written will. Under heirs’ property, multiple heirs of the original landowners jointly own the family land; however, without clear title, heirs’ property creates obstacles to obtaining professional forestry services, procuring loans, and participating in conservation incentive programs offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

The problem can be traced back to Reconstruction, when African Americans first gained property rights. At that time, African Americans rarely created wills because they were denied access to, could not afford, or did not trust the legal system.

As a former procurement forester for International Paper and the current director of sustainable forestry for the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation (CHPP) in Charleston, South Carolina, Sam Cook has witnessed firsthand the steady disappearance of African-American landholdings in the increasingly valuable coastal low country surrounding Charleston. According to Cook, the problem with passing down property without a will is that over time, as the number of heirs reaches into the dozens or even hundreds, the risk of a forced sale increases as family members become targets for real estate developers looking to buy cheap property in coastal South Carolina. “Much of the land around Charleston was given to African-American families because it was too sandy to farm. But, later the developers found out that sand was valuable for tourism. They used this unstable form of heirs’ property ownership as a tool to force the sale of family land,” says Cook.

Typically a buyer purchases one family member’s share in the property. They essentially join the family and become another heir/owner of the property. The buyer is then able to initiate sale of the land with the ultimate aim of obtaining the entire property. In situations with many owners/heirs, it is unworkable to divide the land, so the court typically orders a forced sale and division of the proceeds. Legal options to counter these schemes are often limited for land-rich and cash-poor African-American families due to attorney fees, court fees, survey fees, and other fees. Predictably, family members have been unable to outbid cash-rich real estate developers, and the family loses the land.

The work by Cook and the CHPP in coastal South Carolina is part of a pilot project called the Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Program funded by the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, in partnership with the NRCS and the USDA Forest Service. Other pilot projects involve the Federation of Southern Cooperatives in western Alabama and the Roanoke Electrical Coop in northeastern North Carolina. The goal of the pilot projects is to stabilize African-American land ownership, increase forest health, and build economic assets across the southern Black Belt.

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Stanford Study Measures the Health Benefits of Nature Walks

bridgeA growing body of evidence supports the idea that spending time in nature has positive impacts on human physical and mental health. As a result, scientists are beginning to conduct research that addresses the more specific questions of just exactly how nature is beneficial and they are providing quantifiable results.

In a recent study by Stanford, researchers were able to pinpoint a neural response that resulted from time spent in nature. Study participants walked in either a high-traffic urban setting or in a natural area for 90 minutes. Participants that walked in natural areas showed a decrease in activity in the region of the brain associated with a key factor causing depression. This suggests that making time for nature outings might be helpful in addressing a range of mental health disorders, particularly for those living in city settings.

To read the full article click here.  

Every Kid in a Park Initiative

DF-41The Every Kid in a Park initiative enables every US fourth grader (or age equivalent free-choice learner) and his or her family to have free access to any federal land or water for an entire year (up to August 31, 2016). The Every Kid in a Park initiative aims to encourage valuable opportunities to explore, learn, and play in our national parks, forests, and other federal lands.

Fourth graders were targeted because research show that children ages 9-11 are at a unique developmental stage in their learning where they begin to understand how the world around them works in more concrete ways. They are most likely to have positive attitudes towards nature, the environment, and culture, and grow into the next generation of stewards for our natural wonders and historical landmarks.

Beginning September 1, 2015, fourth graders can visit the “Get Your Pass” section of the Every Kid in a Park website at, complete an online activity, and download a personalized paper voucher for print and unlimited use at federal lands and waters locations for one year. The paper voucher also can be exchanged for a more durable, Interagency Annual 4th Grade Pass at certain federal lands or waters sites. The Every Kid in a Park website also offers information and tips for trip planning and how parents can get involved.

Educators will be able to visit a specific area of the website and download and print lesson plan ideas and activities, along with paper vouchers for each of their students. Educators also will find information about the locations of their nearest federal land or water as well as field trip transportation grant opportunities.

The Every Kid in a Park initiative is supported by eight federal agencies:  the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Education, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, National Park Service, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Visit the Every Kid in a Park website to find out more!

2015: Year of the Nature-Rich City?

By 2050, the percentage of individuals that live in urban areas will rise to over 60 percent.  In this article, Richard Louv explores what this means in terms of human physical and mental well-being.  Louv describes an urban approach that would help connect people to nature and a new  initiative to help young people do just that.

“… a new kind of city, one that connects people to nature where they live, work, learn and play, a city that nurtures the health, learning and creativity of humans and serves as an incubator for biodiversity.”

To read the full article click here.

Louv, Richard. 2014 Dec 29. 2015:Year of the Nature Rich City?  Children & Nature Network: The New Nature Movement.

Green Schools National Conference to be held in Virginia Beach, March 4-7, 2015

GSNC2015The Green Schools National Conference brings together experts and stakeholders to influence sustainability throughout K-12 schools and school districts.  Colleagues who share their passion and offer their own green schools experiences are put together in a true collaborative event with thought leaders and early adopters of green school best practices.   Attendees are passionate about transforming schools and the way they operate.  The annual conference is designed to allow attendees to learn about creative strategies for success and to take home real-life tools that can transform schools.

The 2015 conference will take place in Virginia Beach, VA, March 4-7, 2015. To learn more about and register for this conference visit:

Leaves of Change Issue 17: Perceptions and Attitudes Toward Climate Change in the Southeast

In this issue of Leaves of Change you will learn about a recent SRS-4952 research project published in the book, International Perspectives on Climate Change,  that focused on how people’s views of climate change are influenced by factors such as political and religious affiliation, race and ethnicity, economic status, environmental context, media exposure, and sense of community and place. The project broke from the broad-scale surveys that dominate most descriptions of attitudes towards climate change by using qualitative methods, interviews and focus groups, to explore the beliefs of specific communities in detail.

You will also learn about the Proctor Creek Watershed Urban Waters Project and Camp Kids in the Woods.

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Double Jeopardy: Mapping Social Vulnerability and Climate Change in Georgia

In this issue of our Leaves of Change newsletter you will learn about a recent study in Georgia that addressed two key questions: Will the physical effects of climate change be more apparent in some areas? Will certain populations and communities be affected more than others? You will also learn about the Centers’ recent training and outreach activities, recommended resources, and upcoming events related to urban and interface forestry.

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