Daniel Botkin’s Renegade Blog

Daniel Botkin, eminent Ecologist and author of Discordant Harmonies, has recently started a blog called Reflections of a renegade naturalist. Two recent posts caught my eye.

The days of Smokey Bear, an enduring American icon of wildland management and its efforts to communicate with the public, are apparently numbered. Whilst his message about taking precautions against starting wildfires remains necessary, the underlying ethos of forest (and environmental) management has changed. Once, ecologists’ theoretical foundation was the ‘balance of nature’ and the presence of equilibrium and stability within ecosystems. But over the past three decades this perception has dramatically shifted and now ‘change is natural’ would be a more apt motto. Ecosystems are dynamic. Disturbance, such a wildfire, is now seen as an inherent and necessary component of many landscapes to ensure ecosystem health. This shift in thinking is evident on the Smokey website, with sections discussing the use of prescribed fire, fire’s role in ecosystem function, and the potential pitfalls of excluding fire entirely. George Perry has written an excellent review of these shifts in ecological understanding.

So what about Smokey Bear? His message about taking precautions in wilderness areas still remain of course. But with this new ecological ethos in mind, Botkin was asked for suggestions for a new management mascot. He came up with Morph the Moose. I haven’t seen anything about Morph previously, and a quick Google search currently only throws up 7 hits, so we’ll have to watch out for Morph wandering around with his new message soon.

The second post that got my eye is related to the evaluation of the forest growth model JABOWA that Botkin developed. JABOWA is an individual-based model that considers the establishment, growth and senescence of individual trees. In 1991 JABOWA was used to forecast how potential global warming would influence the Kirtland’s warbler, an endangered species that nests only in Michigan. Botkin and his colleagues forecast that by 2015 the Jack pine habitat of the warbler would decline significantly with detrimental consequences for the warbler. On his blog he suggests that matching this prediction with contemporary observations will be an ideal test to validate the predictions of the JABOWA model. Given my previous discussion about ‘affirming the consequent’ (i.e. deeming a model a true representation of reality if its predictions match observed reality, and false if it does not) it’s good to see Botkin does not suggest a valid prediction indicates the validity of the model itself. We’re advised us to stay tuned for the results. Given the subject matter and quality of the articles on the new renegade blog I certainly will.

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