Human Ecology

, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 409–422 | Cite as

Urban Forest Justice and the Rights to Wild Foods, Medicines, and Materials in the City

  • Melissa R. Poe
  • Rebecca J. McLain
  • Marla Emery
  • Patrick T. Hurley


Urban forests are multifunctional socio-ecological landscapes, yet some of their social benefits remain poorly understood. This paper draws on ethnographic evidence from Seattle, Washington to demonstrate that urban forests contain nontimber forest products that contribute a variety of wild foods, medicines, and materials for the wellbeing of urban residents. We show that gathering wild plants and fungi in urban forests is a persistent subsistence and livelihood practice that provides sociocultural and material benefits to city residents, and creates opportunities for connecting with nature and enhancing social ties. We suggest that an orientation toward human-nature interactions in cities that conceptualizes the gathering of forest products as a legitimate social benefit may support and expand urban forest justice. Urban forest justice recognizes the rights of local people to have control over their own culturally appropriate wild food and health systems, including access to natural resources and to the decision-making processes affecting them.


Urban foraging Forest justice Urban ecosystems NTFPs Social benefits 



We are grateful for the gatherers and research participants. We would like to thank research assistants Lauren Urgenson and Joyce LeCompte-Mastenbrook, as well as Arthur Lee Jacobson, Alissa Allen and Noah Siegel for species identification support, and Leilan Greer for assistance with copy-editing. We thank the two anonymous reviewers. We also thank Ursinus College Institutional Review Board for review of our methods. This work was supported by the USDA Pacific Northwest Research Station and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York (outside the USA) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melissa R. Poe
    • 1
  • Rebecca J. McLain
    • 2
  • Marla Emery
    • 3
  • Patrick T. Hurley
    • 4
  1. 1.Northwest Sustainability InstituteSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Culture and EcologyPortlandUSA
  3. 3.USDA Northern Research StationBurlingtonUSA
  4. 4.Ursinus CollegeCollegevilleUSA

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