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.

Can Urban Forest Settings Positively Influence Children with Autism?

In late July, autism_greenspaceUSDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the four recipients of the 2016 USDA Forest Service’s National Urban and Community Forestry Challenge grants. One of the recipients, Georgia State University (GSU) and several partners, will investigate the impact of natural environments such as urban and community forests on symptom expression in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Brian Barger, research assistant professor at GSU, is principal investigator for the grant, with collaborators from other universities, nongovernmental agencies, and the Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS). Cassandra Johnson Gaither, project leader of the SRS Integrating Human and Natural Systems unit based in Athens, Georgia, and Annie Hermansen-Baez, SRS science delivery and Kids in the Wood coordinator in the same unit, will provide their expertise in assessment and science delivery.

“Research results showing the positive effects of managed natural environments such as urban parks and forests on human general and mental health have grown exponentially over the last decade,” said Barger. “Yet no studies to date have explored the effects of these environments on the expression of core and associated symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorders.”

To read the full article in SRS’s CompassLive, click here.

Health Benefits of Nature

benefits_of_natureSpending time in nature can benefit humans in more ways than one. Researchers are building a body of evidence that proves that nature can greatly improve our short and long term mental and physical health.

For example, children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD can increase their concentration with as little as a 20 minute walk in a natural setting.  Adults with depression can decrease their symptoms of depression with a short period of time in nature. These are just two of the many benefits nature can have for our health.

To see the hundreds of research studies, news articles, and case studies about the benefits of nature for children and adults, click here.


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.

Encouraging the use of trees and natural areas in municipal Green Stormwater Infrastructure projects

At the recent International Low Impact Development Conference held in Houston, TX on January 19-21, 2015(, research was presented by Carli Flynn (, a doctoral student from Syracuse University, showing that in the United States we are still in the early implementation stages regarding Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI).  She surveyed all municipalities in the United States greater than a certain population size.  She suggested that if we graph the number of cities embracing and implementing GSI over time it would look like a bell-shaped curve.  She then divided that curve into five segments to represent five different stages of GSI adoption: Pioneers, Opinion Leaders, Early adopters, Late adopters, and Laggards.  By her estimations, we are approaching the end of the pioneering section and entering the opinion leaders part of the curve.  She also suggested that the key components for municipalities to implement GSI include leadership, collaboration, and education.

The U&CF State Coordinators in the Southeast are uniquely positioned to provide education about trees as GSI is still in its infancy.  Steps to encourage the use of trees and forests in GSI systems that the Coordinators may consider include:

  • Develop relationships with engineering firms that offer GSI design services
    • to learn the language that design engineers use
    • to understand the barriers they face to using trees in their designs
    • to provide education (tree physiology, anatomy, benefits, etc.)
  • Identify and meet with state chapters of the water works/stormwater society
    • consider presenting at their annual meeting about the benefits of trees regarding stormwater
    • to develop networks of stormwater managers and design engineers
  • Meet with your state environmental protection department
    • to discuss the GSI/LID program at the state level
    • to better understand stormwater requirements for the state
    • to understand the barriers to using trees as GSI Best Management Practices (BMPs)
  • Develop relationships with municipal or regional stormwater boards
    • to understand their needs, requirements, and concerns regarding the use of trees as GSI BMPs
  • Emphasize to these groups
    • the co-benefits of urban trees and the urban forest
      • how trees satisfy the “Triple Bottom Line” (Environmental, Economic, Health)
    • the benefits of riparian buffer conservation, forests, and undisturbed soils to water quality

Urban Soil Health

stewardship-2006-2The Nat’l Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) has been holding a series of urban & community seminars of interest to urban foresters.  Their next scheduled presentation is February 20th (Noon – 1pm EST).

Soil Health in Urban and Community Areas

As noted by presenter Clare Lindahl from Iowa, soil health is not just for crop land. This webinar will look at threats to soil quality, homeowner practices for enhancing soil health, and programs in Iowa and Ohio to promote soil quality in urban areas.

Speakers will include Lindahl, Executive Director for the Conservation Districts of Iowa; Wayne Peterson, State Urban Conservationist with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship; and Holly Utrata-Halcomb, Administrator for the Hamilton County SWCD in Ohio.

To register, email Debra Bogar at WITH your name, title, district or business name and email address. Information to access the webinar will be sent by email.

Trees & Ice: Tracking Winter Weather

NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center (WPC) provides a way for urban foresters to easily monitor 1 to 3 day ice accumulation probability (and other weather events).NOAA Winter Advisory for Ice-Example  A great resource for urban forest managers.


  1. precipitation type
  2. forecast duration
  3. accumulation viewing option

Zoom in to an area of interest, or download KML files for viewing in Google Earth.

Image files are also available for download (no need for screen capture!).


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.

To view this issue visit:

Tampa Adopts Urban Forest Management Plan

Florida Urban Forest CouncilWork on Tampa’s Urban Forest Management Plan began in 2008 when the Steering Committee on Urban Forest Sustainability developed a vision statement and six goals.

Vision: Maintain and expand Tampa’s urban forest in recognition of the many benefits it provides, including: enhancing quality of life for present and future citizens, attaining numerous economic and ecological benefits Nature provides, and seizing opportunities to better understand our natural environment through scientific research and public education.

In 2010 the city council funded the development of “a science-based comprehensive Urban Forest Management Plan”.  The plan was developed based on A Model of Urban Forest Sustainability (Clark, J.R., Matheny, N.P., Cross, G., and Wake, V. 1997 Journal of Arboriculture.) and includes criteria and indicators adopted on work of W.A. Kenney, P.J.E. van Wassenaer, and A.L. Satel in Criteria and indicators for strategic urban forest planning and management. (2011)  The criteria and performance indicators have been organized into four major topic areas: Vegetation Resource; Community Framework; Institutional Framework; and Resource Management.

Review or download this plan at Urban Forestry South.  Photo credit: Florida Urban Forest Council.


U&CF Management and Research

A recurring theme (of interest from a technology transfer point of view) at the 2013 Partners in Community Forestry Conference this week in Pittsburgh was the need for data to support research.  Beth Larry, USDA FS Urban Research, spoke of this need at the closing session when she outlined the connection between partners, research and the process:

  • research direction (from the field)
  • research design
  • the need for data (from a range of sources)
  • science delivery to “bridge science & practice” (back to the field)

At concurrent sessions that morning, Lara Roman, USDA FS Research Ecologist, introduced the national network for tree growth & mortality (  Following Lara was Theresa Crimmins, Nat’l Outreach Director for the National Phenology Network with a presentation on Nature’s Notebook.  This national database records life stages (e.g. tree leafout, blossoms, seed development, fall color) of plants (and animals) and the information has research and practical applications of relevance to local volunteer tree groups, and their community U&CF programs.  She highlighted recent work with Casey Trees in Washington, DC.

Earlier in the week Theresa made a similar presentation to the Society of Municipal Arborists and encouraged municipal and other professional arborists & urban foresters to get involved and involve their communities.

Visit these organizations and join thousands of professionals and volunteers throughout the nation that are contributing to long-term datasets to support current & future research.