Bart Johnson’s research honored nationally

The Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) has awarded Associate Professor Bart Johnson the 2014 Excellence in Research Award, Senior level. Johnson formally accepted the award at the annual CELA conference in Baltimore, Maryland, in March.

“Over the course of his career, Dr. Johnson’s research and teaching have revolved around a unifying theme of understanding humans as members of earth ecosystems,” said Liska Chan, head of the UO Department of Landscape Architecture. “We are thrilled that Bart received this well-deserved honor. He is a model for the future of research in our field.”

Bart Johnson
Above: Associate Professor Bart Johnson

Johnson’s research began with an emphasis on site-scale restoration ecology and landscape-scale conservation planning. Over time it evolved into “focused explorations of the couplings of human and natural and systems within the context of rapid global environmental change,” Chan wrote in nominating Johnson for the award. “In the course of these explorations he has engaged three primary areas of scholarship: ecology and design education, ecological experiments, and coupled human and natural and systems research.”

While at UO, Johnson has been the principal investigator or co-principal investigator on more than $4 million in externally funded research grants.

Johnson joined the UO faculty 1995, teaching courses in ecology, design, and research methods. He was also responsible for integrating ecology into both undergraduate and graduate curricula. When the Department of Landscape Architecture began a PhD program in 2005, Johnson was selected to serve as its program director, a position he held through 2011.

“At the time Bart joined our faculty, almost twenty years ago, there were very few landscape architecture departments in the U.S. who had on staff someone with graduate degrees in both landscape architecture and ecology,” said David Hulse, Philip H. Knight Professor, UO Department of Landscape Architecture. “Our hope at the time was that Bart, with such experience, could help prepare the next generation of designers to more meaningfully understand and incorporate the insights and findings of ecology into their design and planning work. He excelled in both these realms, and more. Bart is one of a very few academic landscape architects of the past three decades to successfully integrate a long-term ecological research agenda into a career dedicated to improving relations between people and ecosystems.”

Hulse outlined three research contributions in particular where Johnson’s work stands out: his investigations into the use of fire as a landscape management tool, his role in catalyzing efforts to bring ecology into design thinking and work, and his focus the past five years on climate change adaptation planning and design.

“These efforts integrate very advanced simulation modeling, in-depth ecological investigations, stakeholder engagement, and alternative futures approaches into what is rapidly becoming a model for conducting such work,” Hulse said. “The international interest in it is testament to its quality and to the increasing reach of Bart’s accomplishments.”

For his part, while Johnson said he is pleased to receive the CELA award, he is quick to acknowledge colleagues. “It’s an honor to receive national recognition through CELA for what it means to conceive and execute a sustained landscape research program over time,” Johnson said. “Most of my work is collaborative and interdisciplinary and it couldn’t be done without the dynamic colleagues I have at UO in landscape architecture, environmental studies, biology and the Institute for a Sustainable Environment, as well as researchers at OSU, PSU, and the U.S. Forest Service. And as rewarding as it is to receive this award, I have to say that the long-term and abiding support of treasured departmental colleagues who ‘get’ what you’re about and what you’re trying to achieve through your work means as much or more.”

Johnson’s recent research grants and awards include three larger projects entitled, respectively, ”A Landscape-Level Approach to Fuels Management Through Ecological Restoration: Developing a Knowledge Base for Application to Historic Oak-Pine Savanna” (2004-2008), from the U.S. Department of Interior Joint Fire Sciences Program. ”The Interactions of Climate Change, Land-Management Policies, and Forest Succession on Fire Hazard and Ecosystem Trajectories in the Wildland-Urban Interface” (2008-14), from the National Science Foundation Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Program; and ”Climate Effects on Plant Range Distributions and Community Structure of Pacific Northwest Prairies” (2008-13), from the U.S. Department of Energy.  He has received several related awards from the USDA Forest Service and National Science Foundation that build on these projects through wildfire simulation and risk reduction modeling, monitoring oak restoration outcomes, and offering research opportunities to undergraduates. He and his colleagues have a number of other research proposals and projects in the works.

Chan said Johnson’s future research “is aimed at a theory of adaptive capacity in coupled human and natural systems that integrates understandings of land and water tenure, learning and self-organization in the face of global environmental change.” Johnson’s doctoral students are working on such diverse topics as the impacts of urbanization on hydrology and aquatic ecosystems under future climate change, climate change impacts on soil carbon storage in Pacific Northwest prairies, and whether beneficial airborne microbial communities may be an underlying reason for the human health benefits of urban green space, and if so, how such knowledge can be used to create more resilient urban environments.

Johnson holds a PhD in ecology and a master’s in landscape architecture from the University of Georgia, as well as a bachelor’s in agronomy from Cornell University.