Brooke Eastman, Ph.D., doesn’t have an “aha” moment or story to share that inspired her to devote her career to studying forests.
She says her interest in the topic came naturally because she spent her childhood playing in suburban foliage.
“I have a lot of respect for the forest and the trees and how, when things get hard, they can’t get up and walk away and move like humans and animals do,” Eastman says. “They have to learn how to adjust in their environment.”
Eastman, a forest ecology and carbon shortage research fellow at West Virginia University, is one of six Liaisons for AAAS’ new Local Science Engagement Network (LSEN). She will lead the LSEN charge in the Mountain State while other liaisons helm the ones in Maine, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, and Utah.
AAAS established LSEN to mobilize scientists and engineers through local and state-based networks across the United States. Liaisons will connect with their communities and help them use science and scientific evidence to make their lives better and help policymakers make more informed decisions. Eastman sees herself as a facilitator of local science engagement. The issues the West Virginia LSEN (WV LSEN) will focus on depend on what the public wants, what information civic leaders need and what the network of science advocates chooses to tackle, she says.
So far, Eastman has created a seven-member leadership team of scientists from West Virginia University. Her next step is recruiting scientists and science enthusiasts from across the state into a peer-learning network so they can learn how to communicate science to the public and local civic leaders.
“A lot of people, especially early career students and faculty [at WVU] want their research to have an impact on the state of West Virginia, but don’t they don’t necessarily always have the tools to figure out how to do that,” says Eastman. She is hoping this network comes together and brings science to the public.
Eastman has already had practice connecting the public to science.
As a science policy fellow at West Virginia University for its Bridge Initiative for Science and Technology Policy, Leadership and Communications, Eastman serves as a policy analyst and community engagement lead. The initiative identifies challenges and opportunities facing West Virginia and provides a bridge between the school’s science and technology expertise, as well as the state’s local, state and national policymakers.
Eastman’s work with the initiative, where she still volunteers, led her to focus on science communication and engagement. This helped her translate scientific research to the public and especially policy makers in West Virginia.
The project she worked on that she’s most excited about sharing with the public as an LSEN Liaison is based on her forest carbon cycling research in West Virginia. The research explains how these forests store and cycle carbon by taking carbon out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis and storing it in wood and the soil. Some of it goes back into the atmosphere.
She’s applying that research to communicate the challenges and opportunities of carbon dioxide removal in West Virginia forests through carbon markets. Carbon markets, which Eastman says are expanding in West Virginia and Appalachia, help companies that are emitting greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, offset those emissions, by paying forest owners in West Virginia to manage their forests in ways that absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
“Some [landowners] choose to cut timber on their property to make some money, some of them don’t want to cut timber, and so this might be a good opportunity for them to keep that land in their family if they so choose to,” Eastman says.
Eastman’s been working with other university faculty and people across the region on providing unbiased resources to educate landowners and policymakers what this new market means to the state, as well as its risks and benefits. Last September, she also helmed the university’s Forest Carbon Management in Central Appalachia conference and moderated a panel discussion on environmental justice and equity.
Her passion for forests started early, she grew up in Southlake, Texas, just outside of Dallas, and Aurora, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, in houses that were right next to forested areas or private forest properties.
When it was time for graduate school, Eastman wanted to be near stunning forests. She selected West Virginia because its forests are beautiful and hospitable. With LSEN now firmly taking root within the state’s lush landscape, Eastman leans into her love of forest conservation to guide her work as a scientist and advocate within her community.
“Forests are an interesting tool for thinking about how humans are going to live differently because of climate change and who’s going to benefit from managing those forests in certain ways,” Eastman says.