It is summer and people love summer. They love the warm days. They love to have picnics. They love to stroll in forest shade. They love to hear the ripples in wooded stream. People love summer outdoors.
Love is an interesting word and concept. What does it mean when we link love to the environment? We love summer weather. We love the outdoors. We love forests. How can we demonstrate such love?
Maybe, as a first thought, we try to do no harm. If we love the outdoors or the forests, we minimize our footprint. Go online and you can learn how to minimize your carbon footprint. In that process, you learn how your lifestyle contributes to global climate change. Or, if you love a forest, you can literally reduce your footprint by walking or hiking on designated paths. You make a commitment to carry out what you carry in to the woodlands. The intent is to leave no evidence of your journey - thus minimizing your impact or footprint.
No matter what it is that we love, we demonstrate that we care by learning more about that which we love. In the process of learning we show another dimension of love, we are attentive. How we express attention will vary by what we love, but it will often invoke an understanding of change. We become sensitive to change. If we love a tree, we want to keep it healthy, growing, and improving. The concept of attention easily expands to a forest, a stream, the larger environment.
As love intensifies, there is an accompanying need for knowledge. To garner knowledge, we probe, we learn, we accumulate information, and integrate what we learn to better care for, maintain, or relate to the item of interest.
Without going too far afield, how do you love a forest? It is one thing to say that we love forests and to want to spend time there. The challenge is to demonstrate a commitment to forests to gain knowledge. In many places the forest we love is struggling. Human imposed environmental changes are accumulating and forests are changing.
For the past several weeks, fire in the nation's western states has been in the news. Those forests are partially at risk because of misdirected love. For too long, we have excluded fire because we hated to see our forests burn. In the process, they became overstocked with trees too much fuel. Recent dry summers, too many trees, and an explosion of bark beetles, has decimated many of these forests. Now, fire is much more common and much more intense.
Here, closer to home, there are other examples of loving forests, but not learning and understanding. Hunters love deer, yet we allow deer numbers to exceed carrying capacity and threaten the future forest. We now know that many of our forests lack sufficient regeneration to replace them with a new healthy stand of trees. Exotic invasive plants, left unchecked, now threaten plant diversity. We are learning that those same exotic plants are affecting songbird reproduction and stream health connections we did not immediately understand.
Global climate change, a broad and troublesome concept, is changing local places in small but important ways. It is important to pay attention and learn about the things you love. Recognizing and striving to understand change, the complexity of a place or system, is an expression of love. As you begin to understand that place, you will gain knowledge that will help you appreciate the health and vitality of what you love.
Aldo Leopold, the father of wildlife management, wrote, "One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise."
If you love forests, learn to show affection, speak out to show you care and build your love by increasing your knowledge. It will make your time in the forest more meaningful and rewarding.
James C. Finley
Ibberson Professorof Forest Management