Reflections on the keynote by Jerry Franklin (#ESA2012)

By Joern Fischer

Jerry Franklin just gave a very inspiring keynote address, on his favourite topic, the forests of the northwest of the US. This was one of the most beautiful speeches I have heard in some time – mostly because Jerry shines with such a genuine passion for ‘his forests’, and a genuine humility. It is clear that Jerry is out for the forests; not for himself. This is what people feel; it is the difference between a keynote by someone who is clever and somebody who is wise. The audience appreciated it, and gave Jerry a standing ovation.

What kinds of topics did Jerry cover?

First, Jerry highlighted how much ecologists had actually learned in the last 50 years. Jerry recalled how a long time ago, people didn’t really know anything about northwestern forests as ecosystems – and clearcutting was the natural mantra that nobody had in fact ever questioned. Science started “without hypotheses”, simply to describe and learn about these forests. And people did learn: about the structure of the forests, about canopy development through time, about the importance of dead wood (standing and fallen) and about the importance of biological legacies, after disturbances.

Eventually, Jerry recalled, much of this knowledge led to changes in policy. Variable retention harvesting is now practiced in many places around the world, trying to mimic natural disturbances rather than continuing clearcutting. Locally, most progress happened in 1994, through the Northwest Forest Plan, under the Clinton Administration. That plan protected 80% of the forest estate from logging – a landmark achievement. Curiously, that plan is now being revisited, and will be changed. One new insight is that active management is in fact important; just a preservation strategy won’t be appropriate, partly because a mosaic of different forest ages is needed.

Jerry concluded that:

  1. A landscape scale (or coarse filter) approach is useful and “our only hope”, but species do matter (including natural history of those species);
  2. There is a need for active management of ecosystems, including active stewardship (not just “preservation”);
  3. Tongue in cheek Jerry remarked that “I went into this profession so I wouldn’t have to deal with people”, but went on to explain that engagement of people is vital: for policy to be sustainable, it has to be socially acceptable.

I’ll sum up with one last gem of wisdom that Jerry had to offer: “Education opens your eyes, but it can close your eyes, too – be aware of the limitations of what you are taught.”

8 thoughts on “Reflections on the keynote by Jerry Franklin (#ESA2012)

  1. Great to hear Joern! We need more inspirational leaders. They are sadly too thin on the ground. Thanks for posting such a positive note. Good on Jerry!

  2. Jerry gave a similar talk in Canberra last year, and I too was inspired by it. I think his point about the social aspects is crucial; from memory one of the key things Jerry mentioned was that initially, failure to engage with the social side of things slowed progress in forestry reforms. I think all too often, ecologists fail to appreciate the underlying social drivers of the issues they study, hindering progress.

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  4. Hi Joern,

    Could you clarify something though; When you paraphrase Jerry as suggesting that “there is a need for active management of ecosystems… (not just preservation)”, was he referring to ecosystems which have a history of human intervention, or need “active stewardship” to counter current external influences (e.g. invasive species, altered fire regimes)? I ask because the point can be interpreted in several ways.

    • Good point Adam, and indeed, an important difference. He referred specifically to northwestern forests. I think he gave some examples, like some introduced species which are now showing up, which one didn’t know about (or which were not a problem) in the past. So, even the landscape with its old-growth pockets therefore cannot just be left alone. He did not mean that silvicultural (forestry) management is needed everywhere, but rather meant a type of active stewardship, which should occur across the whole landscape. If readers who also were there disagree with me here, please let me know! Again, thanks for highlighting this Adam!

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