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Burns, Robert

Professor of Natural Resources

Dr. Robert C. Burns is an interdisciplinary social scientist in the School of Natural Resources, and a former career military officer. Dr. Burns’ outlook on land/water use is utilitarian, recognizing the many uses and competing demands that support economies and people at every scale, from the provision of public services, to the production of wood, on public and private lands, and for economic, environmental and social benefit on both lands and water. He believes that strong disciplinary expertise leads to the best multi-disciplinary initiatives, and that the Land Grant mission is truly the most effective way of building sustainable natural resource initiatives. He is a 2022 Fulbright Scholar (Austria), he was named as a Fellow in The Academy of Leisure Sciences in 2022 and he was awarded the Society of American Foresters Award in Forest Science in 2019.  Dr. Burns is on the executive board of the National Association of University Forest Resource Programs (NAUFRP), and is the US non-governmental representative to the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO).

Burns earned a Ph.D. at Penn State in 2000, and was an assistant professor at the University of Florida prior to arriving at WVU in 2004. He has attended numerous leadership courses and academies over the past 38 years, and has a strong commitment to ethical leadership that is people-focused. Burns is a 2020 graduate of the LEAD 21 leadership academy. His belief is that decisions are best informed by those closest to any specific issue, and that team-building and empowering people through education will result in the best quality results, regardless of the topic. He is co-editor of the 2016 book entitled Outdoor Recreation Planning, a primer for understanding land use planning on public lands. He is past Chief Editor of the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, and is a member of the Society of American Foresters, The Academy of Leisure Sciences, Society of Natural Resources, and the Geological Society of America. Burns served as a U.S. Army soldier as both a commissioned and non-commissioned officer for 20 years (active and reserve).

His research scholarship involves collecting and using data to support decision-making for public lands planning and management. He has secured over $10 million in external research funding (as a Primary Investigator) from various federal agencies over the past two decades, and has been co-PI of many additional research efforts. Burns’ current research efforts focus on land and water uses, with funding from NOAA, NSF, USDA Forest Service, and NIFA.

In his most recent research effort, Dr. Burns works with the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) to understand visitor use patterns of visitors and residents to federal marine sanctuaries. His research supports current efforts to mitigate coral reef degradation in the Florida Keys, to understand human issues associated with veterans and the PACT Act (impact of burn pits on military members), understanding the perceptions of mid-Atlantic landowners who may desire to plant biomass plants for energy production, and visitor monitoring in the national forests of Oregon, Washington and Montana.

For over 20 years Burns has worked with various federal agencies, including the USFS, Army Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, and other state/local/non-profit entities to find a balance between the demand for forest products and social use on public lands/waters. He has maintained a long-term internship program that allows graduate and undergraduate students to learn about research and forest visitor monitoring. Over 200 students from WVU and partner institutions in the U.S. and Europe have participated in the program, working and living in U.S. National Forests. He has co-authored peer-reviewed publications on consumptive recreation (hunting and fishing) activities, predictors of forest and lake service quality, understanding land use issues, and other similar topics. Internationally, he was the Primary Investigator of a U.S. Agency for International Development and USFS—International Programs research program. This interdisciplinary effort seeks to connect Brazilian citizens to their public lands, replicating and extending the ongoing work with the USFS in the U.S.


  1. Burns, R. C., Janowicz, L., Cardozo Moreira, J., Pierskalla, C., Andrew, R., & Smaldone, D. (2023). Adventure recreation camp: An informal education methodology used to educate youth. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration. doi:10.18666/JPRA-2023-11581 

  2. Kakarmi, G., Strager, M., Yuill, C., Moreira, J., Burns, R. C., and Butler, P. (2023).  Landscape Characterization and Assessment of a Proposed Appalachian Geopark Project in West Virginia, United StatesGeoheritage 15(2), 72.

  3. Kakarmi, G., Strager, M., Yuill, C., Moreira, J., Burns, R. C., and Butler, P. (2023). Assessing public preferences of landscape and landscape attributes: A case study of the proposed Appalachian Geopark Project in West Virginia, US.   Geoheritage  15(2) 85.

  4. Lee, J., Cheng, M., Muhammad, N.S., Lee, K.H., Aung, T. R. and Burns, R.C. (2022).  Accelerating the nature deficit or enhancing the perception of nature-based human health during the pandemic era: An International cross-sectional study in Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, and Myanmar, following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Forests (MDPI). 13, 198.  

  5. Chick, G., Moreira, J.C., Burns, R. C., Sidik, K., Dong, E., Yeh, C.K., and Hsieh, C. M.  (2023).  Leisure satisfaction and life satisfaction in Mainland China, Taiwan, and Brazil: a meta-analysis . Journal of Leisure Sciences. 

  6. Kakarmi, G., Stragar, M., Yuill, C., Moreira, J., Butler, P., and Burns, R. C. (2023). A crowdsourced approach to documenting users’ preferences for landscape attributes in the proposed Appalachian Geopark Region in West Virginia. International Journal of Geoheritage and Parks. 11(2). 

  7. Lemmen, M., Burns, R. C., Andrew, R., Smaldone, D., Pierskalla, C., and Moreira, J. (2023)  Visitors’ Environmental Concerns in Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary: An Offshore Marine Protected Area. Water. 15(7), 1425.  

  8. Gazal, K., Burns, R.C., Andrews, R. (2023). Economic contributions of visitor spending in ocean recreation in the Grays Reef National Marine Sanctuary. Water 15(7), 1425.  

  9. Borga, M., Moreira, J., and Burns, R.C. (2022). O Perfil do Visitante em Áreas Protegidas: Exemplos de Diferentes Unidades de Conservação Brasileiras. Biodiversidate Brasileira—BioBrasil 3(12)26—42) DOI:  10.37002/biobrasil.v12i3.1894  

  10. Ferraz Bueno, J. J., Moreira, J. C., & Burns, R. C. (2022). A Satisfação do visitante do Parque Nacional de Anavilhanas (AM) Uma Análise de Comentários Abertos. Revista Geoaraguaia, 12(2), 146-160. 

  11. Gazal, K., Andrew, R. and Burns, R.C. (2022). Economic contributions of visitor spending in ocean recreation in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Water. MDPI, 14(2) 198.  

  12. Lee, J., and Burns, R. C. (2022) Older adults’ preferences for natural environment and rural life: intergenerational transmission of pro-environmental motivation.  International Journal Outdoor Recreation and Tourism.  DOI:  10.1016/j.jort.2022.100556  

  13. Lee, J., Cheng, M., Muhammad, N.S., Lee, K.H., Aung, T. R. and Burns, R.C. (2022).  Accelerating the nature deficit or enhancing the perception of nature-based human health during the pandemic era: An International cross-sectional study in Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, and Myanmar, following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Forests (MDPI). 13, 198.   

  14. Seebunruang, J., Burns, R. C., and Arnberger, A. (2022) Is national-park affinity related to visitors’ satisfaction with park service and recreation quality? A case study from Thailand. Forests 13(5):753. DOI:  10.3390/f13050753  

  15. Andrew, R., Burns, R. C., Schwarzmann, D., Allen, M. E., Moreira, J. C.  (2021). Blue water visitor monitoring: A literature review and alternative proposal. Water, MDPI, 13(305), pp 1—21;

  16. Burns, R.C., Allen, M.E, and Chuprinko, T.  (2021). Crowding perceptions at Wilderness areas on Mount Baker, Washington and Mount Hood, Oregon (US). International Journal of Wilderness, 26(1), pp 5471.  

  17. Hurtado, M., Burns, R.C., Andrew, R., Schwarzmann, D., and Moreira, J. C.  (2021). User satisfaction and crowding at Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.  Water MPDI. Water 13(23):3423.  DOI:  10.3390/w13233423  

  18. Moreira, J.C., Bueno, JJF., Albach, V., Burns, R. C. (2021). Visitor perception and satisfaction: The positives and negatives of visiting the Tapajos National Forest between 2014-2016. Applied Tourism 6(3):18-26. ISSN: 2448-3524. 

  19. Vidal, M. D.; Santos, P. M. C.; Chaves, M. P. S. R.; Moreira, J. C.; Burns, R. C. (2021). Understanding the factors that influence visitor perceptions regarding tourism with Amazon River dolphins in Anavilhanas National Park, Amazonas, Brazil. Revista Hospitalidade. São Paulo, volume 18, n.2, p. 173-196, 2021