Last week I mentioned the change going on in the wood industry. Well, change is happening in academia as well. For the past twenty years, in fact, forestry and wood science programs in the various North American universities have been changing focus to better reflect the concerns of society.
Here at Penn State, our School of Forest Resources was established in 1907 as the Department of Forestry at The Pennsylvania State College, four years after the start of the Pennsylvania State Forest Academy at Mont Alto. The Penn State program absorbed the State Forest Academy in 1929. A wood products undergraduate curriculum was added in 1941, and a wildlife and fisheries science curriculum was added in 1981. Today, the school proudly continues its three missions of resident education, research, and outreach in Forest Science, Wildlife and Fisheries Science, and Wood Products. And the Penn State School of Forest Resources is supported by the largest alumni group of any such school in the country.
But like the great company mentioned last week, the School of Forest Resources is being transformed into a unit more suitable to the interests and the resources of the times. The majority of the School is being combined with much of the acclaimed Soil Science faculty to form the new Department of Ecosystems Science and Management. The final wrinkles are just being worked out, and the formal announcements should be made shortly.
And while some may have concerns about the sciences of forestry, wood science, and wildlife in their own sphere, I think this transition is one that simply reflects our culture's maturing vision of natural resource management as a system science. More and more frequently, we here in the different academic disciplines are working together with our partners in the other, related disciplines to learn, teach, and transform society's use of the natural resource bounty we've been blessed with here in North America.
An especially revealing evidence of this maturity is the type of message being conveyed to the public by professionals in the forest resources industries. The following video is a great example of how we are collectively sharpening our understanding of the forces at work in the forest, and how we can intelligently care for and use the world's forest resources.
This video isn't just a hype piece created by an huge paper company trying to mislead environmentally concerned citizens. It truly displays, I believe, the way modern forest resource managers approach their jobs...with an eye to ensuring that the forest is maintained and in fact, improved, by any action they take. This is the essence of the ideal conveyed by our environmental prophets Gifford Pinchot, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson...that we should leave the world a better place.
There hasn't been a forester, wildlife biologist, or soil scientist trained in the last fifty years who wasn't brought up on the visions of these three great people...and the fruits of all that collected education is beginning to result in the kind of environmental stewardship they envisioned...not a politically contrived prohibition on the use of the forest, but a holistic understanding of how to use it properly.
The twenty-first century may turn out to be a pretty nice place to live in, if we can continue to work together, to learn together, and to teach the masses. In there somewhere lies the vision of ecosystems science and management.