Forests and Human Health Jan-16-2013

Human Ecology Mapping Project - U.S. Forest Service scientist seeks to identify diverse connections people have to the land

Diane Banegas
Program specialist, USDA Forest Service, Research & Development, USA

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.

In 2010, she 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 identifies and displays 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, and backpackers. They also manage lands used by local residents for commercial brush picking, subsistence hunting and fishing, firewood cutting, and cultural activities. 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.”

  Longtime Olympic Peninsula residents mark forest areas they value and use, Forks, Washington. November 2011

In the initial project, residents of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State participated in community mapping workshops held in eight local communities: Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Quilcene, Hoodsport, Shelton, Aberdeen, Forks, and Quinault. In each workshop, 20-25 residents from each community were asked to describe their favorite outdoor activities and identify three to five places on the Olympic Peninsula where they engaged in those activities. The data generated from the residents from all of the communities was summarized in an “Activities Map” that showed the places and densities of residents’ activities. The data also generated a pie chart that clearly showed the percent distribution of the different types of activity, with outdoor recreation and subsistence (hunting, fishing, and gathering) being the most prominent.

A similar map and pie chart also were generated for “Landscape Values.” In this mapping activity, residents were asked to locate places that had particular meaning for them and describe what the meaning was. Recreation, economic value, and natural beauty of the land were the most frequently given reasons for assigning value to locations, but home, heritage, and environmental quality were also important. This information helps land managers developed informed plans that consider the values attached to these treasured places.

Latino forest harvesters map areas of resource use in the Olympic Peninsula, Shelton, Washington. August 2011  

The research team realized that they were missing an important cultural group in the first phase of the study and pursued a grant for a mapping workshop for Latino forest harvesters and recreation users that was conducted in Spanish. This resulted in a follow-up meeting bringing together land managers and law enforcement officers with Latino harvesters to discuss forest safety.

All together, the maps and pie charts provide land managers and area planners valuable socio- spatial information. In addition to density maps that target areas of high value or intense use, land managers can look at maps that show specific activities or values. Areas of special importance (such as heritage sites) or places that host multiple activities (such as hunting and gathering) can then be identified and steps taken to address special needs or resolve conflicts between activities that are not always compatible. The Human Ecology Mapping Project’s regional approach also helps to identify places where cross-jurisdictional cooperation may be beneficial.

“Since our initial round of community-based workshops, we have begun mapping with other categories of people who value the Olympic Peninsula. In the summer of 2012, we conducted mapping activities with more than 300 visitors, meeting them at trailheads, campgrounds and on the ferry. In the fall of 2012, we initiated focus groups with nonlocal stakeholders, such as hiking clubs, who live in Seattle, but who also value the Olympic Peninsula. Through these efforts, we hope to compare how various groups of people (residents, visitors, and nonlocal stakeholders) relate to a region in various ways.”

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 the Human Ecology Mapping Project visit:

< Back

Share |
© Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla), Jokiniemenkuja 1, PL 18, FI-01301 VANTAA, p. 029 5322111 | Join or quit from the delivery list by this form
Comments: Lu-Min Vaario,