Linking Water, Forests, & Communities in Atlanta: Part 3

U.S. Forest Service project links forest cover and socioeconomics with human health

by Josh McDaniel; Annie Hermansen- Báez, Interface South
West Nile virus was first isolated in the West Nile sub-region of Uganda in 1937. The virus first appeared in the U.S. in 1999 in New York City. Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

West Nile virus was first isolated in the West Nile sub-region of Uganda in 1937. The virus first appeared in the U.S. in 1999 in New York City. Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Proctor Creek snakes through downtown Atlanta and eventually works its way north to the Chattahoochee River. In 2013, Proctor Creek was named one of 11 new projects of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, an innovative union of 13 federal agencies that focus on both natural resources and economic development.

As a part of the partnership, the SRS Integrating Human and Natural Systems unit is conducting two interconnected studies in that will provide valuable information on the links between urban greenspace, ecosystem services, environmental justice, and human health in Atlanta. Part 1 of this CompassLive series highlighted SRS urban forest assessments in the Proctor Creek watershed linked to a community survey covered in Part 2.

In a related study funded by the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council and led by Auburn University’s Graeme Lockaby, Wayne Zipperer, research ecologist with the SRS unit, and other researchers are looking into the connections between forest cover, socioeconomic status, and the transmission of West Nile virus in metropolitan Atlanta.

West Nile virus is the most widespread arboviral pathogen (a virus transmitted by arthropods such as ticks and mosquitoes) in the U.S., and is commonly associated with urban environments in the South. The virus cycles between mosquitoes and birds. Mosquitoes with West Nile virus also bite and infect people and other mammals.

The risk of West Nile virus infecting people increases in areas with suitable habitat for the development and survival of mosquitoes (specifically Culex species) and sufficient habitat for the bird species that make up part of the West Nile virus cycle. Zipperer and Lockaby are examining the links between clusters of West Nile virus infections in metropolitan Atlanta and land cover and environmental characteristics such as water quality indicators of mosquito larvae habitat and forest structure and composition characteristics of bird habitat.   09.03.CDC.USE. Lifecycle13_240124_west_nile_lifecycle_birds_plainlanguage_508

The study is also taking into account data on West Nile virus infection rates and socioeconomic indicators to help explain the spatial variation in West Nile virus transmission risk across Atlanta. Preliminary results show that virus risk is clustered according to land cover and socioeconomic factors. This research could have broad implications for mitigating transmission risk in Atlanta and other metropolitan areas in the South.

Taken together the integrative studies covered this week in CompassLive will provide a unique look at the direct and indirect connections between healthy ecosystems and communities. While we have long known of the relationship between urban greenspace and factors such as stormwater mitigation, water quality, cooling, and carbon sequestration, these studies expand our notion of ecosystem services by linking urban greenspace to environmental justice and human health.

Read more about the urban forest assessment in Part 1 and the community survey in Part 2.

This is the third part of a three-part series on SRS research projects in Atlanta. These articles are adapted from the August 2015 Issue 19 of Leaves of Change, the bulletin of the SRS Centers for Urban and Interface Forestry.

For more information, email Annie Hermansen-Báez at ahermansen@fs.fed.us

Access the latest publications by SRS scientists.

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Posted in Ethics & Values, Insects and Diseases, Urban Forests

Linking Water, Forests, & Communities in Atlanta: Part 2

U.S. Forest Service projects link forest cover with community engagement and environmental justice

by Josh McDaniel ; Annie Hermansen- Báez, InterfaceSouth
Residents of west Atlanta neighborhoods learn more about the benefits of urban forests and greenspaces. Photo courtesy of West Atlanta Watershed Alliance.

Residents of west Atlanta neighborhoods learn more about the benefits of urban forests and greenspaces. Photo courtesy of West Atlanta Watershed Alliance.

Projects led by Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) researchers support a wide partnership effort to clean up an urban Atlanta river and revitalize the communities in its watershed.

Proctor Creek snakes through downtown Atlanta and eventually works its way north to the Chattahoochee River. Along the way it passes through both middle and lower income neighborhoods, including areas of the city with high rates of poverty and crime. The waterway is plagued with illegal dumping, pollution, erosion, and high bacteria levels from regular stormwater flooding and sewage overflows.

In 2013, Proctor Creek was named one of 11 new projects of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership , an innovative union of 13 federal agencies that focus on both natural resources and economic development. The partnership works to improve coordination among member agencies on problems in the watershed and to promote community-led efforts at economic, social, and ecological revitalization.

As a part of the partnership, the SRS Integrating Human and Natural Systems unit is conducting three interconnected studies that will provide valuable information on the links between urban greenspace, ecosystem services, environmental justice, and human health in Atlanta. Part 1 of this CompassLive series highlighted SRS urban forest assessments in the Proctor Creek watershed. The next step will be to link what’s learned from those assessments about the value and extent of ecosystem services in Proctor Creek to a survey of residents throughout the city of Atlanta — not just those in the environs of Proctor Creek – about trees and the urban forest, access to greenspace, and the ability to influence policy decisions made regarding urban forests and the ecosystem services they provide.

Cassandra Johnson Gaither, project leader of the SRS Integrating Human and Natural Systems unit and research social scientist, is working with researchers and students from Morehouse College to complete the survey, which will contain questions about residents’ attitudes and engagement with Atlanta’s urban forest, including their support for tree planting by the city or by private residents, and residents’ involvement in community organizations that promote tree preservation and planting.

“What makes this project innovative is the link between actual measures of local environmental services and people’s participation in the production of those services,” says Johnson Gaither. “We’re broadening environmental justice research by empirically looking at people’s perceptions of how they may or may not co-create the urban forest with resource professionals rather than only looking at residents as passive recipients of what others provide.”

The study includes measures of human engagement and advocacy for Atlanta’s urban forest as a way of gauging environmental justice. The researchers will analyze environmental justice according to three indicators:

1) Community proximity to hazardous waste sites and refineries, as well as estimated air pollution exposure;

2) Community access to environmental services provided by the urban forest (e.g., cooling, carbon sequestration, and energy savings); and

3) Residents’ perceptions of, engagement with, and advocacy for trees in the city.

“This study focuses on residents within the city limits of Atlanta, not the surrounding suburbs,” says Johnson Gaither. “There have been a lot of demographic shifts in recent decades in some of Atlanta’s downtown-proximate communities. Places that 20 years ago were considered ‘inner-city’ have suddenly transformed into hip, urban ‘in-town’ neighborhoods, and with this change in people likely come changes in how people engage with nearby nature and the amount of energy they expend on keeping it intact.”

“We want to see how this attention to the urban forest may vary across neighborhoods — those that are still lower income and mostly African American, some that are middle/upper income and predominantly African American, and those that are either majority white or mixed and middle/upper income — and importantly, attempt to understand this attention to the urban forest in terms of the broader issues and concerns people have about community integrity.”

Read more about the urban forest assessment in Part 1.

This is the second part of a three-part series on SRS research projects in Atlanta. These articles are adapted from the August 2015 Issue 19 of Leaves of Change, the bulletin of the SRS Centers for Urban and Interface Forestry published through InterfaceSouth.

For more information, email Annie Hermansen-Báez at ahermansen@fs.fed.us

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Linking Water, Forests, & People in Atlanta: Part 1, Urban Forest Assessment

U.S. Forest Service projects link forest cover with community vitality and human health

by Josh McDaniel; Annie Hermansen- Báez, InterfaceSouth
Sign along Proctor Creek, which flows through northwest Atlanta. Over 127,000 people live in the Proctor Creek urban watershed. Photo by Mary Silver/Epoch Times used with permission.

Sign along Proctor Creek, which flows through northwest Atlanta. Over 127,000 people live in the Proctor Creek urban watershed. Photo by Mary Silver/Epoch Times used with permission.

Projects led by Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) researchers support a wide partnership to clean up an urban Atlanta river and revitalize the communities in its watershed.

Proctor Creek snakes through downtown Atlanta and eventually works its way north to the Chattahoochee River. Along the way it passes through both middle and lower income neighborhoods, including areas of the city with high rates of poverty and crime. The waterway is plagued with illegal dumping, pollution, erosion, and high bacteria levels from regular stormwater flooding and sewage overflows.

In 2013, Proctor Creek was named one of 11 new projects of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, an innovative union of 13 federal agencies that focus on both natural resources and economic development. The partnership works to improve coordination among member agencies on problems in project watersheds and to promote community-led efforts at economic, social, and ecological revitalization.

As a part of the partnership, the SRS Integrating Human and Natural Systems unit is conducting three interconnected studies that will provide valuable information on the links between urban greenspace, ecosystem services, environmental justice, and human health.

Dudley Hartel, the center manager for Urban Forestry South, one of two of the SRS unit’s science delivery centers, leads the Forest Service project that’s using i-Tree tools to better understand the current state of the urban forest in the Proctor Creek watershed and to develop management strategies to support efforts to restore the creek and revitalize the surrounding neighborhoods.

While conducting the urban tree canopy survey throughout Proctor Creek and elsewhere in the city of Atlanta, Hartel saw the full range of conditions, challenges, and benefits of the urban forest, as well as the range of social and economic conditions in which the urban forest exists. The forest plots he and his team searched out and surveyed were found in people’s yards, in parks, at schools, along highways, and beside railroad tracks. They surveyed plots in upper middle-class neighborhoods with old trees and green lawns and depressed neighborhoods with few trees and a great deal of concrete, asphalt, and abandoned buildings.

As part of this project, Eric Kuehler, Urban Forestry South technology transfer specialist, used remote sensing technology and i-Tree Canopy to assess the urban forest’s tree and shrub canopy, impervious surface, herbaceous ground cover, bare soil, and water cover. He then used field data collection through i-Tree Eco to describe the urban forest structure and tree canopy volume in order to estimate forest-related ecosystem services such as water quality provisioning, cooling, and carbon sequestration.

Kuehler also used i-Tree Hydro to examine some of the stormwater runoff and sewage overflow problems in Proctor Creek and propose potential mitigation strategies to reduce impervious surface and increase forest cover in targeted areas.

Data and analysis from this project are already providing important information on the role of impervious surface in polluting Proctor Creek. Analysis found that pollution could be reduced by 20 percent by disconnecting storm drains from impervious surfaces that lead directly to Proctor Creek, and estimates from i-Tree Hydro show that an expanded urban tree canopy could reduce pollution loading even further.

The next step will be to link what’s being learned about the value and extent of ecosystem services in Proctor Creek to a survey of residents throughout the city of Atlanta about trees and the urban forest, access to greenspace, and the ability to influence policy decisions made regarding urban forests and the ecosystem services they provide.

This is the first part of a three-part series on SRS research projects in Atlanta. These articles are adapted from the August 2015 Issue 19 of Leaves of Change, the bulletin of the SRS Centers for Urban and Interface Forestry.

For more information, email Annie Hermansen-Báez at ahermansen@fs.fed.us

Access the latest publications by SRS scientists.

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Posted in Ethics & Values, Integrating Human & Natural Systems, Urban Forests