UP Deer Browse Experiment Recce

A few pictures from our trip to the UP study area this past week.

The fall was almost over. We were out on a recce to find sites for an experiment we’re setting up over the next couple of weeks to examine the impact of deer browse on seedlings of various conifer species.

We want to locate our seedling planting on both state and commercial lands – cutting had recently finished at this commercial site.

We also visited a deer exclosure set up to examine tree regeneration in the absence of deer browse (similar in many ways to our experiment). It’s not the best picture, but the effects of 12 years of protection can be seen – very little regeneration on the left of the fence but evidence of green juveniles on the right. These effects haven’t been quantified at this site but by sight alone there’s clearly difference outside s inside the exclosure.

Finally, not all the leaves had fallen. We were a couple of weeks late for the real colours, but some remained down on the Lake Michigan coastline.

detroit river vs the thames

I’ve been busy recently. Those comments on the CHANS Science paper will follow soon, promise.

For now here is a grossly unfair, and probably invalid, comparison (but this is how it felt just looking whilst stood there). On one side of Detroit River is its namesake, Detroit, Michigan (top). On the other side lies Windsor, Ontario (bottom).

Looking across the river, whilst stood on the US side after walking through the large office blocks built when the city was at the centre of the automotive world, it felt a little like looking out at Rotherhithe from the Isle of Dogs. But Detroit and GM aren’t doing quite as well as Canary Wharf and I doubt whether the Windsor-Rotherhithe comparison is fair either. Anyway…

More vaguely interesting pics on the pictures page soon.


Top of the Rock

“I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night, and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

I, on the other hand, liked it immediately. Like London, it just has that energy that gets mind and body moving. I arrived the day after the tornado and the transport network was just getting back to normal. There were still a few problems though…

So, my highlights: Top of the Rock (the usual tourist thing of going to the top of something tall and checking the view – above); the UN HQ (below); Brooklyn Bridge (another US bridge about to collapse by the look of things); generally just hangin’ out with old friends enjoying the atmosphere with a few beers (Brooklyn Lager was pretty good); and learning to play wiffle ball in the street at 3am (not the easiest whilst half cut…) All good!

The Wilderness Ideal

One evening whilst sitting on a deck overlooking a tranquil lake in the wilds of the UP’s northern hardwood forests, I began reading William Cronon’s contributions to the volume he edited himself; Uncommon Ground. The book has been around for a decade and more but it is only recently that I came across a copy in a secondhand book store. It seems apt that I considered what it had to say about the ‘social construction’ of nature in a setting of the type that has long intrigued me. Maybe the view of a landscape which confronted me is another of the reasons I am doing what I am right now. I have had pictures of these large wilderness landscapes on the walls of my mind, and elsewhere, for a while.

Cronon examines “the trouble with wilderness” with reference to the Edenic ideal that underlay it from the beginning. Wordsworth and Thoreau were in bewildered or lost awe of the sublime landscapes they travelled, but by the time John Muir came to the Sierra Nevada the landscape was an ecstasy. Whilst Adam and Eve may have been driven from the garden out into the wilderness, the myth was now ‘the mountain as cathedral’ and sacred wilderness was a place to worship God’s natural world. Furthermore, as the American frontier diminished with time and technology,

“wilderness came to embody the national frontier myth, standing for the wild freedom of America’s past and and seeming to represent a highly attractive natural alternative to the ugly artificiality of modern civilization. … Ever since the nineteenth century, celebrating wilderness has been an activity mainly for well-to-do city folks. Country people generally know far too much about working the land to regard unworked land as their ideal.” (p.78)

Cronon suggests that there is a paradox at the heart of the Wilderness ideal, this conception that true nature must also be wild and that humans must set aside areas of the world for it to remain pristine. As Cronon puts it, this paradox is that “The place where we are is the place where nature is not”. Taking this logic to its extreme results in the need for humans to kill themselves in order to preserve the natural world;

“The absurdity of this proposition flows from the underlying dualism it expresses. … The tautology gives us no way out: if wild nature is the only thing worth saving, and if our mere presence destroys it, then the sole solution to our own unnaturalness, the only way to protect sacred wilderness from profane humanity, would seem to be suicide. It is not a proposition that seems likely to produce very positive or practical results.” (p.83)

I’ll say. But Cronon is not saying that protected wilderness areas are themselves undesirable things, of course not. His point is about the idea of Wilderness. As a response he suggests that rather than thinking of nature as ‘out there’, we need to learn how to bring the wonder we feel when in the wilderness closer to home. We need to abandon the idea of the tree in the garden as artificial and the tree in the wilderness as natural. If we see both trees as natural, as wild, then we will be able to see nature and wildness everywhere; in the fields of the countryside, between the cracks in the city pavement, and even in our own cells.

“If wildness can stop being (just) out there and start being (also) in here, if it can start being as humane as it is natural, then perhaps we can get on with the unending task of struggling to live rightly in the world – not just in the garden, not just in the wilderness, but in the home that encompasses both” (p.90)

Sitting on that deck looking out over the lake it was clear that landscapes such as the one I was in aren’t the idealised, pristine, wilderness that they may be portrayed as in books, photographs and travel brochures. Just as in studying its nature I have come to understand a little better the uncertainties of the scientific method that is supposed to bring facts and truth, so I think have come to better understand the place of human needs within these ‘wild’ landscapes. As naive as it is to think that science might offer the absolute truth (it can’t, but it is still the best game in town to understand the world around us), thinking humans are inseparable from nature seems equally foolish.

In the introduction to a book on natural resource economics (which has mysteriously vanished from my bookshelf), an author describes a similar situation. As a young man he wanted to study the environment in order that he might save it from destructive hands of humans. But in time he came to realise this was unrealistic and that better would be to study the means by which humans use the ‘natural world’ to harvest and produce the resources we need to live. Economics is concerned with the means by which we allocate, and create value from, resources. Just as it is important to understand how ‘nature’ works, it is also important to understand how a world in which humans are a natural component works, and how it can continue to function indefinitely.

Landscape Ecology and Ecological Economics have grown out of this understanding. Whilst theories and models about the natural world independent of humans remain necessary, increasingly important are theories and models that consider the interaction between the social, economic and biophysical components of the natural world. These tools might help us get on with the task of living sustainably in the place which humans should naturally call home.

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up pics

I’ve just posted some pics from my recent trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on my photos page. Here’s a taster…

Some of the State natural resource manager I met with spoke about the ‘Maple-ization’ of the forests in the western UP – whilst a native of these forests, the economic value of Maple wood is leading to the removal of other Northern Hardwood species and an (over) dominance of Maple.

The Mackinac Bridge, linking the Upper and Lower peninsulas of Michigan, celebrates its 50th birthday this year. Currently the third-longest Suspension Bridge in the world (at 1.7 miles of suspended roadway) it was originally dubbed the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’. Now however, it provides a vital (though recently decreasing) influx of tourist dollars to the UP. Whilst impressive, IMHO the Mackinac Bridge doesn’t have a patch on the Bristolian’s beloved Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Many of those tourists crossing the Mackinac Bridge head to Tahquamenon Falls. The second largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi (after Niagra), at peak flow more than 50,000 gallons of water per second flow over the edge.

Checkout the location of these pics, and others I took on my trip, at the photos page.

let’s go nuts!

Let’s go Lansing Lugnuts that is. Last night I went to my first Minor League Baseball game. I’ve been to a couple of Major League games before, but on a nice summers’ evening it was about time to find out more about what goes on in the lower echelons of the game that has always intrigued me. When I was about 8 my uncle brought me back a Red Socks baseball and pennant from a business trip. Maybe that got it started. One of my favourite writers Stephen Jay Gould was a huge baseball fan and used the apparent extinction of the .400 batting average as an adroit metaphor in one of his books to discount the idea of evolutionary progress with humans at the pinnacle in. And of course there are the parallels with cricket.

The lower levels of professional sport rarely get heard above the din and clamour for the biggest and best teams. The FA Premiership is now the richest football league in the world and followed avidly by many fans around the world. Its transition from a league with a reputation of violence and hooliganism to one of the most marketable sporting brands in the world has come via a change in attitude and facilities. I have a vivid memory from one of my first trips to a Bristol City game in the late 1980’s (again, I must have been about 8 – I hasten to add City are not, unfortunately, in the Premiership). I needed to use a bathroom so Dad took me to the ‘Gents’ where I was confronted simply by a 10 foot wall painted black with a gutter of urine running along the bottom. The smell was ‘colourful’ as was the language around me. It was intense to say the least. How this experience has effected me later personal development I can only guess – Mum certainly didn’t approve of me going along. But the violent and abusive behaviour that once embodied watching the game is no longer tolerated and the terraces have been replaced by more manageable and comfortable rows of covered seating (and more hygienic toilets).

Apparently a similar change has occurred in the minor leagues of baseball. In the game programme was a piece about the rise in popularity of Minor League games. Season attendances in every season since 2000 have been placed in the top 10 since the leagues began and in 2006 the current record was set at 41.7 million fans. That’s more than the NBA, and more than the NFL and NHL combined, each year. Fifth Third Field in Dayton Ohio has sold out every game since it opened in 2000. But the continuing growth has come since the 1990’s and a similar attitude toward the game as has changed football in the UK. And the programme article described a lady faced by a similar toilet experience as my childhood one – it’s certainly not like that now. The emphasis has shifted toward entertainment and whilst the minor league game hasn’t changed, the crowds have. In family-friendly America this means kids. And lots of ’em.

So whilst the high pitched screaming wasn’t so good for my ears, the $9 seat in the third row along the first base line was good for my wallet and got me close to those 90 mph pitches. I have got to say though, even with my uneducated eye, the quality of play wasn’t quite up there with, say, the SF Giants. The Lugnuts gave up 4 runs in the first inning and it wasn’t looking good. But then South Bend gave up 5 in the second and from there on we cruised to victory (8-5). Highlights from ‘the game’ for me included a Lugnuts batter snapping his bat over his knee (golfer style) after he struck out with the bases loaded, and the genius sack race ‘run’ by some ‘hefty’ women from the crowd between 8th and 9th innings. I was less impressed that they wouldn’t refill my plastic beer glass when buying a second and that I HAD to have a new one. Grrr…

Regardless of the quality of play it was a good night. And seemingly the growth of Minor League Baseball is good for the cities in which the teams are located. Oldsmobile Park is leading the much needed regeneration of the waterfront area of downtown Lansing. After the game, the fireworks reflected in the windows of the old Ottawa Power Station (above) that has lain empty for over a decade. Regeneration is needed in Michigan of all places in the States, where the decline of the American auto industry has hit hard. With manufacturing in sharp decline the state and the city need to turn to alternative industries for income and regeneration. The dollars spent in the stadium are now helping to boost the local economy, and give this part of town something to build around for the future. So, let’s go nuts!

notes from sri lanka

Erin (AKA travelorphan) has been offline for a while, but on her return from the field she’s made several posts to her blog detailing some of her recent work and the events in Sri Lanka.

Many people are still trying to rebuild their lives following the devastation of the 2005 tsunami and Erin has had the opportunity to assist local evacuation and disaster management using activities such as community-led vulnerability mapping. However, much of this recovery goes on in the midst of an ongoing conflict, which is endangering those offering aid and diverting resources away from civilian and toward military uses.

Check out some of her notes and pictures. Stirring stuff.

getting my head round things

Now that I’m into my second week at MSU, things have calmed down a little. I’ve ploughed through most of the necessary admin, met many of the people I’ll be working with here at CSIS and throughout MSU (although being summer campus is quiet right now – the undergrads are gone and the postgrads are away on their fieldwork), and finally got my apartment into a liveable state. The next few weeks will no doubt be spent really getting my head around what we’re aiming to achieve with this integrated ecological-economic modelling project. For example, during the next month or two I’ll take a trip up to our study area to get a feel for the landscape, see the experimental plots that have been put in place previously, and gain a better understanding regarding the subsequent effects of timber harvesting. Also I plan on meeting and interviewing several key management stakeholders from organisations such as Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources and The Nature Conservancy to get their perspective on the landscape and what they might gain from our work. I’ve also been examining some of the tools that we hope to utilise and build upon, such as the USFS’ Forest Vegetation Simulator.

So whilst I get my head around exactly what this new project is all about, I’ll continue to blog about some of the work coming out of my Phd thesis. I’ve been threatening to do this for a while, and now I really mean it. Specifically, I’ll walk through the later stages of my thesis where I explored the potential of more reflexive forms of model validation – seeing the modelling process as an end in itself, a learning process, rather than a means to an end (i.e. the model) which is then used to ‘predict’ the future. I’ll discuss the philosophy underlying this perspective before re-examining my efforts to engage the model I produced with local stakeholders after the model had been ‘completed’ with their minimal input.

And of course, I’ll throw in the odd comment to let you know how things are going here in this new world I’ve recently landed in. Like my trip to the grey and windswept Lake Michigan at the weekend – I’m going to have to look into this kite-surfing stuff…


memories of a British coastal landscape

Before my impending departure to the States I’ve been out and about visiting a few places that I won’t see for a while. This week, I took my Grandmother back to the town where she grew up on the English south coast – Lyme Regis in Dorset. I’d never been and she hadn’t been back for a while so it was a trip down both new and old memory lanes.

And what steep lanes. Apparently they used drag cargo up Cobb Road from ships docked in ‘the Cobb’. They realised it was a bit much like hard work up these steepled slopes and stopped a fair while ago. But there were other war-time stories about the inclines; run-away trucks with failed breaks, careening down narrow lanes toward the sea-front, their landings cushioned not by a sandy beach but by the solid walls of the old coal merchants (it seems it’s still happening these days too). Line upon line of American soldiers snaking up and down Broad Street outside the old Regent Cinema (then The New Thing In town). Apparently it remains quintessentially British today – tea and biscuits from a china cups and saucers before taking your seats (aside the fact it shows the latest Hollywood block-busters of course).

The vertiginous topography has not only caused rapid runaway of trucks, but also the rapid (and creeping) runaway of the soil. Efforts to manage and reduce land slippage are being undertaken in parallel with a £17 million coastal defence and harbour improvement scheme. Whilst understanding that it is necessary if they want to save their sea-front industry (which has changed from sea-trading and fishing to sea-swimming and tourism), locals aren’t happy about the large new shingle banks that provide the needed protection. Sand has accumulated in the harbour over recent years and has now been joined by a nice sandy beach imported from France.

Alongside visiting the sea-side we had tea and cake at some old friend’s house – all in all a good day stocking up on memories of the British coastal landscape before I jet off across the pond.