Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Finally, land managers paying attention...

... to climate change, that is. A notoriously conservative profession, rangeland and forest managers are finally getting serious and provocative articles on the effects of climate change in their journals. The most recent edition of Wildlife Professional was devoted entirely to the subject, and a particularly well-written and evocative article has appeared in Range Management (reviewed here with links to the original by Revkin of the NYT).

The Society of American Foresters, an organization to which I am entitled to belong by virtue of my forestry school MS, has just held it's annual conference, this year dubbed Forestry in a Climate of Change.

About time. But even at little Unity College, now acknowledged as one of the nation's leading schools in the teaching of climate change and climate mitigation, while bright young liberal studies students virtually inhale science and policy news about climate change, even some of our best land management students still sit sullenly at the back of class with their baseball hats pulled over their faces. Generally they're waiting to jump in their V-8 pick-up trucks and head to the woods.

(It is hunting season after all, so maybe I'm being too harsh.)

So there will need to be quite a bit more work done yet before the profession of land management finally as a whole realizes that, literally, the planet's ecology is shifting under its feet.

Funnily enough, it was at the Forestry School where I got my first introduction to climate science, in the early, heady days of 1994. There was a corner of one floor of the seven-story University of Montana forest science building reserved for a lab funded by NASA, where a tiny team of select, and very geeky, graduate students and professors implemented a recently devised technology in remote sensing by satellites to study what they called Leaf Area Index, an indicator of the changing seasons around the globe, but also correlated with the effectiveness of carbon sinks. I spent a happy-enough semester taking an advanced class there as part of my senior year in biology, before starting the MS.

(Here's a link to an essay by Dr. Steve Running, the leader of the UMT remote sensing program, and my climate science professor that semester, that I found amusing, mostly because I have students in each of his Five Stages of Climate Grief in class right now.)

Of course, the rest of the foresters studiously avoided that corner. For good reason. It was an easy trip to academic, cultural and sex-role humiliation. There were always computers humming, the math was advanced, many of the graduate students were suspiciously foreign or female, and there was only the slightest prospect of a field trip. There were far more of us geeky biologists, and many environmental studies students (who still couldn't do the math needed to finish the class), than there were foresters. The idea that Montana forest science would soon be turned on it's head by this motley crew was barely considered by anyone, especially the Republican, Mormon Dean of the Forestry School himself.

(I told you it was a conservative profession.)

Now Running is, officially, a Nobel Laureate.

And, ironically, part of my job is to find ways to get our eastern state land management students interested in this material so they can begin to be prepared for what will await them in the field at their first stations.

Plus ├ža change

Still, the UMT forestry students were more believable outdoors-men than some of our guys. They had cowboy hats, not baseball caps. And they hunted elk, not whitetail.

Ungulate envy.

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