George Hess @ NC State University
Research Overview
Green infrastructure is the network of unbuilt space that conserves natural functions in cities, including carbon cycling, stormwater absorption, and providing habitat for native plants and animals.   The term has become popular in ecological and planning circles, because it puts open spaces into the same context as other urban infrastructure -- such as communications, transportation, and water and sewer.

I focus on the conservation of open spaces as habitat, but recognize the importance of holistic approaches that include other values of open space, such as cultural and recreational.

My research efforts have three major thrusts: (1) improve the breadth and quality of ecologically-based information available to land use planners; (2) develop approaches to incorporating scientific findings about conservation into local planning activities by engaging with community partners; and (3) support the active engagement of students with community partners to address local conservation challenges.

Summary of Current & Recent Activities
Stories in Urban Open Space Planning
- by George Hess & Jan Thompson

Today's conservation science includes biodiversity conservation in metropolitan regions, and interweaves biological, economic, and social systems. Iowa State University's Jan Thompson and I are examining a set of metropolitan regions in the United States considered to have successful biodiversity conservation efforts and are asking, "Are there best practices that engender success for conserving biodiversity in metropolitan regions?" We will offer a graduate course for five years in which we explore the challenges of open space and biodiversity conservation in US metropolitan areas with an interdisciplinary team of students in a different place each year.

photo of Tucson, AZ
In our first year (2015), we examined the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan for the Tucson metropolitan area in Pima County, Arizona. Much has been written about the creation and implementation of the Plan as an example of successful biodiversity conservation in a metropolitan area. We reviewed published literature, read archival documents, and visited Pima County to converse with key players in the creation and implementation of the Plan.

Status: Active (2015) - first manuscript being prepared; Chicago Wilderness in 2016.
Creating Local Climate Change Policy
- by Adam Gibson

photo of Adam Gibson
All major U.S. scientific agencies agree that climate change is occurring, is likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks to natural and human systems. The current challenge is how best to address the anticipated impacts of climate change and adjust to the consequences of our changing climate.

Addressing and adapting to changes in climate is particularly difficult at the local level because individual cities and communities are often thought of as insignificant in the context of the global issue of climate change. The purpose of my study is to interview Raleigh, NC government officials and advisers to better understand the process of local climate change policy creation and implementation. The goal is to learn how the global problem of climate change can be addressed effectively on a local scale. more

Status: Completed (2014) - unpublished manuscript.

Wake Nature Preserves Partnership
- by George Hess

The mission of the Wake Nature Preserves Partnership is to organize and provide resources to identify ecologically valuable protected open spaces within Wake County and to build capacity for appropriate, long-term stewardship of those areas. This work has a strong service-learning component, to engage NCSU graduate and undergraduate student through coursework and graduate research.

Visit our website at

Visit our wiki at

Status: Active
Chimney Swift Conservation Education
- by Meghan Lobsinger

photo of Meghan Lobsinger
Chimney swifts are birds of conservation concern that breed in masonry chimneys. Changes in construction practices and the capping of masonry chimneys are dramatically reducing available chimneys, and chimney swift populations are declining as a result. My thesis research addresses the question "Are the outreach methods typically used by conservation organizations effective in reaching these organizations' goals?"

I am examining Wake Audubon Society's "Year of the Chimney Swift" programs and fundraising as the case study for my research project. I am investigating whether Wake Audubon is reaching the public that will have the most effect on chimney swift conservation -- those homeowners with potential chimney swift breeding chimneys -- through its outreach efforts. more

Committee: George Hess | Nils Peterson | Rua Mordecau | John Connors

Status: Thesis completed (2013). (Read thesis)

Dammed Reservoirs & Equity
- by Michael Youth

photo of Michael Youth
Access to a supply of drinking water is critical to urban sustainability and is frequently secured in North Carolina, USA, by constructing a dam to impound a water supply reservoir. I am using US Census data and GIS analysis to explore the potential of North Carolina drinking water supply reservoirs to induce gentrification of the communities surrounding them. My preliminary results are that (1) the white population (%) tended to be significantly higher within a half mile of reservoirs' shorelines than in more distant communities, and (2) even as North Carolina overall became less white over a twenty year period (1990 to 2010), the white population (%) within the half mile areas tended to increase relative to the overall white population (%) in the state. These tendencies are consistent with gentrification or gating the community. Further research can explore whether these tendencies result from procedural inequities or cultural preferences. more

Committee: George Hess | Melissa McHale | Nils Peterson

Status: Thesis completed (2012) (Read thesis); article published (2015).
Michael D. Youth, George R. Hess, M. Nils Peterson, Melissa R. McHale, Kevin M. Bigsby. 2015. Demographic shifts around drinking water supply reservoirs in North Carolina, USA. Local Environment.
Greenways for Wildlife
- by George Hess

We are developing recommendations on how forest corridor width, adjacent development intensity, and other greenway attributes can be managed to attract a variety of wildlife. We have examined the use of greenways of Raleigh and Cary, North Carolina, by breeding and migrating birds, mammalian bird-nest predators, and aquatic salamanders. more

Status: Dormant, but coming back

I'm trying to create a team at NC State to get involved in the Do corridors work? effort being initatiated at Northen Arizona University. We think that the Triangle's open spaces and greenways would make a great study system for corridor dynamics in a sub/urbanizing landscape.

Potential participants: Beth Gardner | Nick Haddad | Chris Moorman | Nils Peterson

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George R. Hess | Department of Forestry & Environmental Resources | NC State University | Raleigh NC 27695-8008 USA | 919.515.7437 |

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