Photo of John Schelhas

John Schelhas

Emeritus Research Forester
320 Green Street
Athen, GA 30602
Phone: 706-559-4260

Research Interests

Social and cultural dimensions of forest use and conservation:

My interest is in the relationships between people and forests, with research focusing on several areas: (1) cultural models and imaginaries of forests; (2) land use choice, landscape restoration, and biodiversity conservation; (3) marginalized and minority forest owners; (4) collaboration and community-based approaches; and (5) cultural and sacred aspects of forests. My work seeks to integrate social science theory and natural resource management, and prioritizes fieldwork and qualitative analysis. I have worked in contexts such as protected areas (neighbors and users), private forest management (livelihoods, conservation, and ownership), forest threats (invasive plants, insect pests), climate change (narratives, social vulnerability), sustainability (landscapes, bioenergy), and tribes and indigenous people (use and management of culturally important forest products).


Ph.D. in Renewable Natural Resources. Anthropology, 1991
University of Arizona
M.S. in Watershed Management, 1979
University of Arizona
B.S. in Natural Resources, 1977
University of Michigan

Professional Experience

Research Forester, Southern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Athens, GA
Research Forester, Southern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Tuskegee University, AL
Research Associate and Senior Research Associate, Deptartment of Natural Resources, Cornell University

Coordinated NSF Research Training Grant, Cornell Program in Ecological and Social Science Challenges of Conservation

International Policy Specialist, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, Washington, DC
International Cooperation Specialist, National Park Service, Washington, DC
Trail Worker, National Park Service, Yosemite National Park, CA
Volunteer, Conservation of Natural Resources, Peace Corps, Guatemala

Awards and Recognition

Director's Partnership Award, Southern Research Station, 2019
For innovative efforts in establishing a partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which resulted in improved and integrated management of culturally important forest products for the Eastern Band.
Regional Forester Award, Southern Region, 2019
Delivering State and Private Forestry Programs Group Award for contribution to the Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Program.
Visiting Tribal Heritage Scholar, Grey Towers, Milford, PA, 2017
Director’s Multicultural Organization Award, Southern Research Station, 2010
For significant contributions to the Agency's ability to meet the needs of minority and limited-resource forest landowners, and for outreach and education of Tuskegee University students.
Fellow, Society for Applied Anthropology, 2002

Featured Publications and Products


Research Highlights

Engaging African American Forest Owners in Sustainable Forest Management (2016)
SRS-2016-272 Baseline research was conducted in three southern U.S. states for a community- based outreach program: the Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Program. Research found that African American landowners placed a high value on their land because of links to family history and struggles to obtain it; yet land ownership was precarious, and few land ownerships were generating economic returns. Although past engagement in forestry was limited, forestry can be an attractive future option if barriers to technical and financial assistance are addressed.

Strategies for Successful Engagement of African American Landowners in Forestry (2019)
SRS-2019-48 Following four years of operation of the Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Program, USDA Forest Service scientists at the agency's Southern Research Station conducted qualitative research on the three longest running projects to identify lessons for success. The program succeeded through a sustained community-based effort. Lessons for success include addressing obstacles and constraints identified by prior research, establishing community-based networks to provide coordinated outreach and education, linking legal assistance for heirs’ property with forestry assistance, patiently engaging landowners through a process of forestry awareness and action, and resolving difficulties and maintaining momentum with regular feedback and problem solving.

R&D Affiliations
Research Topics
Priority Areas
SRS Science Area
External Resources
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  • The sites listed below are third-party sites which the Forest Service has provided for reference only.