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Burns, Robert

Professor of Recreation, Parks & Tourism Resources

Dr. Robert C. Burns, a native of western Pennsylvania, is a the director of the Division of Forestry and Natural Resources and professor of recreation, parks and tourism resources, and a former career military officer. His research scholarship is in collecting and using data to support decision-making for public lands planning and management, primarily in national forest settings.  He has secured nearly $10 million in external research funding (as a Primary Investigator) from various federal agencies over the past 16+ years, and has been co-PI of many additional research efforts. Burns’ research is focused in three main efforts: West Virginia, western U.S. National Forests, and in Europe/Latin America.  Within West Virginia, he is a key co-primary investigator for a five year National Science Foundation funded effort to improve the state’s water quality, working collaboratively with WVU’s Institute for Water Safety and Security. His role is on understanding the behaviors and attitudes of West Virginia residents, analyzing and interpreting data with the multidisciplinary team of researchers, and assisting to develop educational efforts focused on water-related issues within the state.

Dr. Burns is also Primary Investigator of a long-term research and monitoring effort in several western U.S. states, primarily Oregon and Washington, funded by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).  For nearly 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. 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 is 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.

Earlier in his career Burns served as a U.S. Army soldier as both a commissioned and non-commissioned officer.  He earned a Ph.D. at Penn State in 2000, and previously was on the faculty at the University of Florida.  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.  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.  Dr. Burns is co-editor of the 2016 book entitled Outdoor Recreation Planning, a primer for understanding land use planning on public lands.  He serves as Chief Editor of the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, and is a member of the Society of American Foresters, Society of Natural Resources, and the National Recreation and Park Association.  Dr. Burns’ outlook on land 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.  He believes that strong disciplinary expertise leads to the best multi-disciplinary initiatives, and that the Land Grant mission is truly compelling.

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