Harvard forest leveraging research impacts through outreach

Network News Fall 2011, Vol. 24 No. 2
Site News

With a focus on New England forests, Harvard Forest is making great strides in public, media, and decision-maker outreach


At the Museum

In May 2011 the Harvard Museum of Natural History (HMNH) unveiled a new permanent exhibition, its most ecologically complex to date, entitled “New England Forests.” The result of four years of collaboration with staff from the Harvard Forest (HFR) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program and other Harvard departments, the exhibit features videos of LTER scientists, murals of LTER research sites, and educational displays that address all four of the U.S. LTER Network’s grand challenges. Although such collaborations take concerted staff effort, their public impacts reverberate in ways that direct outreach by a research site often cannot. Each year, the HMNH—located 70 miles east of Harvard Forest’s rural campus—opens its doors to more than 150,000 urban visitors. To showcase the new exhibit, the museum has launched a full year of forest-related programming for faculty, students, alumni, schoolchildren, teachers, and families. David Foster, director of the Harvard Forest, kicked off the event series in September with a standing-room-only museum lecture, which was advertised to an electronic list of more than 300,000 alumni. Throughout the year, museum member hikes at the Forest, spring lectures by Harvard Forest researchers, teacher professional development workshops, news articles in university publications, and the exhibit itself will keep LTER research in the university and public consciousness—with minimal research staff time the only cost incurred by LTER.

In the News

In October 2011, The New York Times published a cover story on climate change impacts to the nation’s forest canopy. The long-term eddy-flux tower maintained at Harvard Forest by LTER PIs Steve Wofsy, Bill Munger, and REU students past and present, was featured in the article as one answer to the difficult task of carbon budgeting, “one of the biggest accounting problems of modern science.” The reporter hailed the “meticulous measurements over the decades” at Harvard Forest as a way to quantify forest carbon in New England, calling the region “one of the most important for carbon storage on the planet.” The message was in keeping with the regional focus that Harvard Forest has been communicating through synthesis products and outreach efforts in recent years. In fact, the Forest’s 2010 synthesis report, Wildlands and Woodlands, was cited in the NYT article’s interactive feature. Perhaps even more salient to LTER was the reporter’s follow-up to the cover story, which was meant to address the hundreds of reader questions posted online. His post ended with several paragraphs on the need for more on-the-ground ecological research and monitoring throughout the nation’s forests. He ended with a direct question to millions of Americans and their elected officials: “If the situation in the world’s forests were to start going downhill at a faster rate, would we even know it in a timely way?”

On Capitol Hill

In a September policy report, 60 organizations urged federal lawmakers to help meet New England's economic challenges by investing in the conservation of the region's forests. The groups, convened over the past year with leadership from HFR, outlined in their report six policy opportunities to conserve forest resources and the ecosystem services they provide. Bolstering the report were decades of forest and water research from HFR and Hubbard Brook LTER programs. A comprehensive outreach plan for the report was outlined by HFR and implemented by media and policy leaders at several of the region’s larger conservation NGOs, putting the report in the hands of the senators and influential representatives from each of the New England states.