This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.
U. S. Forest Service social scientist Lee Cerveny has carved out a special niche in the world of research. While her colleagues go into national forests and other protected areas to study things like trees and wildlife, she enters these natural environments to study humans – how they interact with and use a range of sites and resources.
Her research is in keeping with Secretary Vilsack’s “all-lands” concept of resource management. She recently launched the Human Ecology Mapping Project, a multi-year study to understand and map human activities and values in the forests of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Using a Web-based mapping tool and a series of community workshops, the mapping project will identify and display the diversity of recreation, cultural, historical, and economic connections held by a variety of agencies, tribes, resource users, and residents. The maps are digitized and analyzed using GIS tools to reveal existing patterns, such as high-intensity sites, areas of overlapping use indicating potential for resource conflict, and treasured places with barriers to access.
For example, land managers may need to accommodate the needs of visitors engaged in a variety of forest activities, such as organized equestrian rides, competitive trail running events, commercial brush pickers, and backpackers. The Human Ecology Mapping Project will provide information showing managers where these important use areas exist and where they overlap, potentially helping planners to better manage public lands.
“These sociocultural data layers can be integrated with biophysical data layers for use in planning,” Cerveny said. “By understanding changing patterns of resource use and human activity areawide, national forest planners can make informed decisions about their own management units. This project offers land managers a valuable tool for protecting natural resources while ensuring that natural forests and other protected areas provide Americans with the recreation opportunities, historical and cultural connections, and other ecological values they’ve come to appreciate.”
Because Cerveny’s work has helped the Forest Service adapt to social and economic change, she is in high demand as a research collaborator inside and outside of the agency. Cerveny is currently collaborating with four universities, two national forests, two research station teams, and one nonprofit organization on two of her recent studies. She works out of the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Portland, Oregon.
For more information about Cerveny’s research visit the Forest Service website.