Science in the city: Ecosystem services lecture series offered

An interdisciplinary lecture series on the ecological and social implications of urbanization is currently taking place at Portland State.

Ecosystem Services Seminar–Research and Practice is a lecture series offered as an ecological services seminar for National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship. The lectures are free and open to the public.

The February 26 installment, “Public Attitudes about Urban Forest Ecosystem Services Management”, was given by Dr. Josh Baur, professor of Health Science and Recreation from San Diego State University. Baur presented statistics collected through a survey of Portland, Eugene, Springfield, and Bend.

Specifically, Baur presented on the public’s opinion on management of urban forests. Baur defined urban forests as a “mosaic of trees and other vegetation.” They are composed of the street trees, private lawns, parks, tree plantations and emergent forest landscapes around the city.

“The world is growing increasingly urban,” Baur said. “In this increasing amount of urbanization that we’re seeing in the United States and globally, one of the areas that natural resource managers and researchers have been looking at is how urban green spaces are playing a role in that urbanization and ecological and social well-being.”

Baur and his team asked people to share their perceptions of successful urban management in their cities.

“Our respondents indicated that more green spaces in their city and more natural habitats for human wildlife, those are the top two,” Baur said.

After the lecture, the audience participated in a question and answer session.

“Clearly leaving human beings out of ecological decision-making and natural resource decision-making is likely to lead to inadequate explanation of ecosystem processes in a world where the landscape is growing increasingly human dominated,” Baur said. “To act as though the social component has little to contribute to natural resource management is to avoid a rather large component of the puzzle.”

Dr. Darrell Brown, a professor at PSU and academic director for sustainability said this topic was chosen to highlight solutions for current environmental and social problems.

“Ecosystems services is a set of frameworks to help address problems that have both environmental and social content,” Brown said.

Dr. Max Nielsen-Pincus, organizer of the lecture series and professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Management commented on his goals for the series.

“We wanted to open it up to the whole campus community so that we could expose undergrads to the ideas the program is focused on, expose master’s students to relevant research methods and topics, and to offer our doctoral students a chance to really engage with leading scholars in their fields,” Nielsen-Pincus said.

Another component of this lecture series is student involvement.

“[Students] extended the invitations, dealt with the budgeting, figured out the logistics, set up pre-and-post lecture meetings for other students to engage more interactively with the speakers, and they were in charge introducing each speaker at the beginning of each lecture,” Nielsen-Pincus said.

“The people who are doing most of the work are IGERT students and PhD students who are already in the IGERT program, who are bringing in faculty members that they respect, who they want to hear information from and interact with, and that’s been the real benefit in my mind of this particular seminar series,” Brown said.

Organizers are working toward making the lecture series an annual event.

“We’re hoping that this is something that happens every winter,” Brown said. “Or at least that’s the current plan for it.”

Nielsen-Pincus said he is considering a future lecture covering climate change adaptation. “At this point it’s just an idea,” he said.

“We always hope that the things students learn will be of some value in the future,” Brown said. “But there’s a bunch of students who are getting some pretty cool information about some important ideas through this lecture series, and hopefully they will use that for the remainder of their careers and make some changes in the world.”

Winter lectures are held every Thursday from 4–5 p.m. in the Urban Center Building on campus.