Week 5: Forest Ecology & Management

Week 5: Forest Ecology & Management

By Heather

As I sit here in the early morning hours thinking about what to write I realize even though I live in an urban environment, ecosystems and the lives of many that we cannot see, continue.  I see it quite often in our yard, the hummingbirds fighting over our two feeders, the bees fighting with them on occasion; the large dragonfly that seems to have taken up residency in our large fallen “good” oak which will be cut to fuel our fireplace this winter; the adult deer with their fawns eating my garden and who are still speckled with white; the reddish orange gleaming coat of a healthy, bushy tailed fox who is probably responsible for keeping our rabbit population low but I do wish it would come around more often, and early this morning the smell of skunk wafting through our open skylights, the latter being new to me at this residence.  I was pleasantly surprised as that smell dissipated and the air in the house filled with the smell of brewing coffee and just a few moments after that I inhaled the fresh morning air which harbored a tinge of rain.  I am not sure what the forecast is for today.

Our good oak 1.1

Clicking away at the key board I am contemplating our essay discussion from Tuesday evening called Good Oak.  I actually read this while I spent a few days in my childhood home in Wisconsin.  The essay combined with a flood of memories struck me.  Aldo Leopold’s chronological life of an oak tree to which he states, “we sensed that these two piles of sawdust were something more than wood: that they were the integrated transect of a century; that our saw was biting its way stroke by stroke, decade by decade, into the chronology of a lifetime, written in concentric annual rings of good oak.”   Not only was his scripting of his words unique and fascinating it gave me insight on the conservation history of Wisconsin and the lack thereof.

As he saws through each ring, he recounts the happenings within that year, the year that stopped the oak from making wood, until the tree’s beginning.  In a chronological reverse order he talks about how much the tree has witnessed.  I found this to be a truly unique way of sharing the lifetime of this oak and how specifically it provided fuel for his stove through the winter.  Growing up, most of my childhood weekend memories entailed making wood at our land. As Leopold describes it, “If one has cut, split, hauled, and piled his own good oak, and let his mind work the while, he will remember much about where the heat comes from, and with a wealth of detail denied to those who spend the week end in town astride a radiator.”  The work put into something shows its value or worth to the person who creates it.

On the first night of our class we had an ice breaker which I mentioned in my first blog titled Orientation Night.  We had to choose a quote and place our name on it.  Then discuss with whomever else chose that quote as to why we chose it.  The quote I chose was the leading paragraph of this essay, “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm.  One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”  Within today’s cultural and societal norms many school programs that taught such things have been cut or defunded.  Many kids and young adults do not have any idea of where our food comes from nor do they know how their electricity is produced.  It is with the lack of these basic understandings that our environment has been on a decline.  I would like to believe now with food awareness programs and the expansion of renewable fuel sources that knowledge would be increasing.  I can hope can’t I?

Not many were as fortunate as I.  We had a wood furnace; we grew a huge garden, canning or freezing a majority of our harvest and provided supplemental meat through hunting and fishing.  We also had dairy and crop farmers around us.  The things we did not grow or harvest ourselves we could purchase at a very low price or were given to us because we did what most rural farm communities did and banded together to help one another.  Times are different and it is up to us to help educate those who are not aware.  This is something I think we, our class, has in common…education.

One last phrase I found interesting was at the end of each section he says, “Rest! Cries the chief sawyer, and we pause for breath.” No one mentioned this during our discussion and my cat-like curiosity, of course, got the best of me.  I really didn’t know or quite understand his repeated phraseology.

Our Good Oak 2

In general, when I search for information I start with the words I do not understand and go straight for the definitions.  I looked up what a “chief sawyer” is.  The chief is the leader, logical. The definition of “sawyer” according to dictionary.com is, “1. A person who saws wood, especially as an occupation  2. Also called a sawyer beetle.  Any of the several long-horned beetles, especially one of the genus Monochamus, the larvae of which bore in the wood of coniferous trees.”  According to a blog I found called tolovewhatismortal.blogspot.com dated February 1, 2013 she writes that the “Rest!” is yelled to give the sawyer a chance to stop and catch a breath.  Makes perfect sense, I could not imagine having to use a long crosscut saw without taking a break.

I am sure some of you already knew what it meant but since it was something Leopold wrote after each yearly ring I felt it deserved the few moments it took to look it up and understand his purpose.  This seems like a perfect way to naturally segue into the next year.

Once our essay discussion was finished Stacy discussed our first field expedition this weekend. I am super excited and cannot wait to write about it!  I will also be taking my camera in hopes of getting some good photos of our group and scenery.  Did I mention I am excited?  😀

Our guest lecturer was Paul Whitsell from the Missouri Department of Conservation who is a Resource Forester.  He led our informational session on forest ecology and management.

We discussed the different types of forest ecologies such as ecosystems, ecological regions, forest types, forest sites, forest structure, tree index and succession.  All of the lecture information is noteworthy but I cannot share all of it here.

One of the pieces of information I do want to share is what an ecosystem is made up of.  The lecture slides state the following:  Communities include animate, living, things, plants, animals, insects, microbes, etc…; collections are made up of inanimate, nonliving things such as rocks, water, soils, gasses chemicals, etc… and connections tie everything together by using matter and energy with both systems.  I think if more people knew or realized how important the ecosystem structures are they would have a better understanding of why it is important to preserve some areas and conserve others.

Our Good Oak 3

Which leads me to the second piece of knowledge we absorbed; the difference between conservation and preservation.  Paul’s slide presentation had two different quotes from two different iconic men.  The first was from John Muir who wrote, “Government protection should be thrown around every wild grove and forest on the mountains, as it is around every private orchard, and the trees in public parks.”  The second is from Gifford Pinchot who said, “Conservation means the wise use of the earth and its resources for the lasting good of men.”  To be blunt, if anyone would have made better policies and choices or if our egocentrism would not have gotten away from us earlier in our U.S. history we could have conserved more and destroyed less.  Now we need both, preservation and conservation.  We need to protect areas that have recovered and areas that have not been touched.  We need to have strong conservation for land, ecosystems and everything encompassed within those systems.  We have gotten so intertwined in the process of interfering with ecosystems that now all we can do is continue to balance and interfere to ensure the systems receive proper conservation and preservation.

Paul made a comment at the end of his lecture, “nature isn’t static.”  There will always be changes; ebbs and flows with flora and fauna.  But it is up to us to create a sustainable future for the many different ecosystems which encompass our earth which includes our human race.

Pictures:  The two of the large oak is ours from our front yard.  The third is a cross section of just one of the branches.  We have not yet cut into the main trunk to see the rings.  It will be pretty cool when we do!

P.S. Does anyone have a chainsaw that big? We have a good size chainsaw but it won’t come close to cutting the main trunk. 😀

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