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Burns, Robert

Director, Division of Forestry and Natural Resources
Professor of Recreation, Parks & Tourism Resources

Dr. Robert C. Burns is Director of 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 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 the most effective way of building sustainable natural resource initiatives.


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. 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 Northeast Region Chair for the National Association of University Forest Resource Programs. He is co-editor of the 2016 book entitled Outdoor Recreation Planning, a primer for understanding land use planning on public lands. He has served 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 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 $9 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. 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 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. Burns works extensively 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.


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 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. In his most recent research effort, Dr. Burns is responsible for developing a methodology of understanding visitor use at off-shore National Marine Sanctuaries in a study funded by the National Ocean Service, through NOAA and the National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation. This study will incorporate site surveys with high tech methods such as crowd-sourced data, as well as smart buoys and other satellite and vessel-based technologies.


Select Publications

  1. Burns, R. C., Carter, M., Brock, J., Leveque, J., Bunse, E., Palaseanu-Lovejoy, M., Guala, G., Harlan, N., Blake, M., Moreira, J., Britton, J., Ashton, K., Nugent, B., Marketti, M. (2019). The Appalachian Geo-STEM Camp: Learning about Geology through experiential adventure recreation. The Professional Geologist. 56(2), pp 27—31.
  2. Leveque, J. and Burns, R. C. (2019). Water quality perceptions and natural resources extraction: A matter of geography? Journal of Environmental Management, Elsevier. 234(15), pp 379—386.
  3. Burns, R. C., Popham, A., and Smaldone, D. (2018). Examining satisfaction and crowding in a remote, low use wilderness setting: The Wenaha Wild and Scenic River case study. International Journal of Wilderness. 24(3), pp 40—54.
  4. Burns, R. C., and Hinatsu, S. (2018). Development of an inter-agency committee to meet management challenges in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. International Leisure Review. 7(1), pp 75—106.
  5. Ferguson, M. D., Burns, R. C., and Smaldone, D. (2018) Innovations in outdoor recreation visitor use management: Applying market segmentation at the Timberline Lodge Recreation Complex. International Leisure Review. 7(1), pp 108—131.
  6. Garcia, L.M., Moreira, J. C. and Burns, R. C. (2018). Conceitos geográficos na gestão das unidades de conservação brasileiras. Geographia. 20(42), pp 52—62.
  7. Kainzinger, S., Arnberger, A., and Burns, R. C. (2018). An examination of whitewater boaters’ place attachment and specialization in four different river settings. Environmental Management. 62(2), pp 1—13.
  8. Levêque, J., and Burns, R. (2018). Drinking water in West Virginia (USA): Tap water or bottled water - What is the right choice for college students? Journal of Water and Health, 16(5), pp 827--838.
  9. Burns, R. C. and Robinson, K. (2017). Oregon’s aging population: Relationships between facilities, services, participation, and socio-demographics in outdoor recreation setti ngs. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration 35(4), pp 13—23.
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