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Burns, Robert

Professor of Recreation, Parks & Tourism Resources

Dr. Robert C. Burns is a professor in the Division of Forestry and Natural Resources, Professor of Recreation, Parks and Tourism 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 currently Secretary of the National Association of University Forest Resource Programs (NAUFRP), and US non-governmental representative to the International Union of Forest Research Organizations.

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 immediate 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 is Primary Investigator of an NSF Convergence Accelerator grant. The focus of this effort is to increase access for people in underserved populations to federal water and lands.  He is also responsible for developing a systematic data collection effort that allows managers to better understand the visitors to marine resource areas managed by NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (NMS). Through the National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Counting Process (NMS-COUNT), resource managers will gain valid and reliable data and data collection methodologies to advance predictive capability and understanding of visitors.

Within Appalachia, he is PI of an innovative land reclamation education methodology, involving WVU, Hocking College (Ohio) and Allegheny College (Maryland). He is co-primary investigator for a five-year effort to improve the state’s water quality, working collaboratively with WVU’s Institute for Water Safety and Security. Burns works closely with student veterans, and is co-PI on a veteran-centered program funded by the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences that provides service dogs to veterans with disabilities.

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. 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. 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. 

  3. 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). 

  4. 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.  

  5. 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.  

  6. 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  

  7. 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. 

  8. 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.  

  9. 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  

  10. 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.   

  11. 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  

  12. 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;

  13. 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.  

  14. Burns, R. C., Allen, M., Arnberger, A. and Kainzinger, S. Investigating Crowding at the Lower Youghiogheny River, Pennsylvania., U.S.  Journal of Park and Recreation Administration. Volume 39, Issue 3, Fall 2021, pp. 143-152.Å-2020-10127 

  15. 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  

  16. Moreira, J.C., doVale, T., and Burns, R.C. (2021). Fernando de Noronha Archipelago (Brazil): A coastal geopark proposal to foster the local economy, tourism and sustainability. Journal of Water. 13(11), 1586.  DOI: 10.3390/w13111586  

  17. 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. 

  18. 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. 

  19. Burns, R. C., Smaldone, D., Allen, M., and Popham, A. (2020). Monitoring outdoor recreation use: The Umatilla National Forest, Wenaha Wild and Scenic River Corridor. International Journal of Wilderness, 26(1), pp 54-71. 

  20. Burns, R. C., Andrew, R., Allen, M., Schwarzmann, D., and Moreira, J. C. (2020). 

  21. Conceptualizing the applied visitor use monitoring process for marine protected areas. Journal of Ecotourism, pp 1-11. 

    Burns, R.C., Chuprinko, T., and Allen M. (2020). Understanding Pacific Northwest (U.S.) mountain climbers’ motivations:  Mount Baker, Washington, and Mount Hood, Oregon. Eco Mont: Journal on Protected Mountain Area Research and Management. 12(1), PP 4—14.