Archive | February, 2012

My shameful response to “Field Notes on Science and Nature”

28 Feb

In light of my recent review and a chat with a friend, I’ve decided to open my own field notebook to scrutiny. So, dear readers, I submit for your viewing pleasure my current and most decrepit field notebook (cover at right)!

It achieved its awesome state through rain, snow, mud, wind, river water, tree pathogen and the cruel stompings of a certain vice-chairman. Watershed Processes class may be the final nail in the coffin for my stoic No. 311 level.

Aside from the sorry state of the cover, I will also show you the sorry state of its insides! I’m working on a term project in the Young Creek watershed that investigates whether a nearby clearcut has affected the creek’s water quality, velocity, and stream channel characteristics. The preliminaries involve everything from soil tests and vegetation surveys to streambed profiles and reach maps — most of which I’ll post below.

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The importance of recording everything: A book review

22 Feb

Field Notes on Science and Nature (ed. Michael R. Canfield) was recommended to me by a teacher a while back. It made loads of Best of 2011 lists, too, and for good reason — it’s a fascinating exploration of keeping field notes.

On the surface, this may not sound so interesting, but the book illuminates the approaches of several contributors spanning fields from anthropology to wildlife conservation, and it not only explains what sort of things they record, but why, and even what benefit there is in doing it one way instead of another. A great example is the chapters that alternately sing the praises of Polaroid instant film and of black-and-white sketches. Because each contributor makes a convincing case for his or her method of choice (which often involves explaining why another method should not be used), it can seem like a tangle of contradictions. But the wealth of perspectives is exactly why I found it valuable.

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Fire in Oregon’s forests: A study analysis

16 Feb

English: "Elk Bath" – A wildfire in ...I had expected this to be a very dense academic work since its subtitle bills it as a synthesis of current information,  and at times, it is. But I was also surprised to see that most of the information presented would be easily understood by the average reader. It’s mildly personally disappointing, as I was hoping to find a dense academic work (since OFRI publishes things just for me dontcha know), but it’s far outweighed by how much good can be done by making this information understandable to landowners and other non-specialists.

This publication spans everything from basics to specifics, predictive science to natural history. It begins by explaining a lot of things that I take for granted, and would imagine that many Pacific Northwesterners also consider common knowledge — the recent history of wildfire suppression policy, explanations of historical fire regimes, and the many dangers posed to the natural world by the interaction of the two.

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Oregon white oak profile

10 Feb

Quercus garryana is a special tree because it is the only native oak found north of Eugene, OR. It lives on the west side of the Cascades, primarily in the Willamette, Umpqua and Rogue River Valleys, and along the Gorge. It also occupies a similar range in Washington and British Columbia, and grows up into the foothills in California.

It is a very drought tolerant and slow growing tree. Historically, frequent low-intensity fires have maintained its dominance on oak savannas throughout its range. Because it is fire resistant when mature and a vigorous sprouter at all ages, it is adapted to thrive in this type of fire regime, which also keeps the seedlings of faster growing species at bay. Native Americans set fires in these habitats to promote the growth of important food sources like the Camas lily, prized for its starchy bulbs (and pictured with oaks above).

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Updates and some slightly unsettling questions

4 Feb

What a busy few weeks! I’ve had a very strange and thought provoking experience, recently, which is mostly what I want to talk about in this post — especially if any of you can weigh in on the issue. But rather than append random updates to the end of the discussion, I’ll get them out of the way right off the top for those who are interested.

So, as far as school goes, I’ve recently begun doing watershed surveys, involving visual protocols and generating to-scale maps of a reach. It’s been fun, and more than a little wet. I want to post an update with scans once I get more done. Same goes for my silviculture class, in which a group of us are working on a restoration proposal for an area of greenspace on our campus. I’m becoming pretty comfortable with ArcGIS, too — and would heartily recommend Getting to Know ArcGIS to anyone wanting to learn this program. The book is fabulous and practical, and comes with a trial of the program suite, too — though Mac users will be out of luck.

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