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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 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. 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 is immediate past 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. Burns’ current research efforts focus on land and water uses, with funding from NOAA, NSF EPSCoR, USDA Forest Service, and NIFA.


In his most recent research effort, Dr. Burns is 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.


Select Publications

  1. Burns, R.C., Leveque, J., Kainzinger, S., Arnberger, A., and Allen, M. (In review). Investigating crowding at the Lower Youghiogheny River, (U.S.). Journal of Park and Recreation Administration.
  2. Burns, R.C., Arnberger, A., Leveque, J., Moreira, J., and von Ruschkowski, E. (in review). Protected Area Visitor Monitoring: An International Perspective. Chapter to be published in Visitor Use Management in Parks and Protected Areas.
  3. Seebunruang, J., Burns, R.C., and Arnberger, A. (submitted) Is national-park affinity related to visitors’ satisfaction with park service and recreation quality? A case study from Thailand. Issues in Tourism.
  4. 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.
  5. Burns, R.C., Schwarzmann, D., Andrew, R., Allen, M., and Moreira, J. C. (2020). The National Marine Sanctuaries Visitor Counting Process: A Process to Inform Marine Protected Area Management & Community Development. PANORAMA: Solutions for a healthy planet.
  6. Burns, R.C., Andrew, R., Allen, M., Schwarzmann, D., and Moreira, J. C. (2020). Conceptualizing the Applied Visitor Use Monitoring Process for Marine Protected Areas. Journal of Ecotourism, pp 1-11.
  7. 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.
  8. Andrew, R.C., Burns, R.C., and Allen, M. (2019). The influence of location on water quality perceptions across a geographic and socioeconomic gradient in Appalachia. Journal of Water. 11(11), pp 1—12.
  9. 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.
  10. Burns, R.C., Gregory, L.C., and Moreira, J. C. (2019). A profile of visitors to Brazil Amazon Protected Areas: Anavilhanas National Park (Amazonas) and Tapajós National Forest (Pará). Marketing and Tourism Review. 4(1), pp 1—29.
  11. Burns, R.C. and Moreira, J.C. (2019) Tourism aspects in the Appalachian Geopark project, West Virginia, USA: Preliminary notes. Terr@ Plura (Brazil). v. 13, n. 2, p. 451- 468.
  12. Hurtado, M.M., Moreira, J.C., Burns, R.C., and Albach, V.M. (2019). O perfil do visitante do Parque Nacional de São Joaquim (SC): Breves considerações. Rev. Bras. de Iniciação Científica (RBIC), Itapetininga, v. 6, n.3, p. 82-94.
  13. Kainzinger, S., Arnberger, A., and Burns, R.C. (2019). Whitewater recreationists’ tradeoffs among social, resource, and managerial conditions segmented by specialization level. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration. 37(4), pp. 14–32.
  14. 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), pp379—386.
  15. Moreira, J. C., Haura, F.K., Burns, R.C., and Caires, A.M. (2019). Perfil, percepção dos visitantes e a observação de Animais Silvestres: Estudo de Caso do Parque Nacional Marinho de Fernando de Noronha-PE. Anais Brasileiros de Estudos Turísticos-ABET, Juiz de Fora (Brasil), v.9, pp.1 – 13.
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