Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Sustainable Development and Social Power

What changes would be needed in current structures of social power to support sustainable development?  What alternatives can we learn from women and nature? Dr. Valerie Luzadis shared her thesis that:  the current dominate structures of social power limit our ability to live sustainable with nature and among ourselves.  Dr. Luzadis briefly discussed the difference between "power over" and "power to do", and provided additional background information that has shaped her thinking on the subject prior to inviting responses (and there were many!) from the participants.  Participants added that although hierarchies are not necessarily bad, but they are often too rigid to be effective, and by relying on "majority rules" rather than consensus, non-majority members are often overlooked.  Other participants related social levels to trophic levels, and considered the impact of reciprocity and co-evolution of members, as well as the opportunities presented by gaps in biological systems.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Advancing Ecology: Why (cultural) diversity matters

Dr. Robin Kimmerer (EFB) was the featured speaker at ESA's 2005 Diversity in Ecology Luncheon. She shared portions of her presentation and facilitated a discussion on why science institutions should change to take advantage of everyone's contributions, including those bestowed by membership in one or more cultural group, rather than continue to try to "fix" students into a one-size fits all mold.  Particularly striking were her own revelation that she almost didn't become an ecologist, her realization about 4 years into her first academic appointment that traditional knowledge could indeed by taught alongside the processes of botany, and true stories of students "with some otherness about them" that encountered obstacles related to culture, rather than their ability to "do science."   She reminded us that "we each have gifts and responsibly to bring them to the table," sort of like a potluck supper.  For a potluck supper to work, each person must bring a contribution, but also partake of everyone else's.  "But imagine that you have brought your specialty, and it is both delicious and nutritious, but no one will taste it.  Your dish keeps getting pushed farther and farther back on the table.  What would you do?  Pretend that you don't like it either?  Leave without mention? Or resolve that next time, you will bring macaroni and cheese, just like everyone else?" In the conversation that ensured, we noted that we don't want to rid the table of the mac and cheese, but that those who take comfort in it might enjoy expanding their palates to appreciate the other flavors and textures offered at the table.  If this seems too drastic a step, it may help to remember that often the same basic ingredients are used, but arecombined in different ways.  "After all, it's all science."

Friday, April 7, 2006

Conservation programs: boon or bane to public space?

by Heather Engelman
Dr. Sally Fairfax discussed “The Erosion of Public Space:  Acquiring and Allocating Conservation Lands,” on April 7, as the keynote address at the 23rd Annual C. Eugene Farnsworth Memorial Lecture and Fellowship Ceremony and part of the Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Speaker Series.   
According to Dr. Fairfax, public space can be considered either as land or as room for effective public discourse and decision making.  “Both are diminishing in my assessment, and that is not good,” said Dr. Fairfax. “Land conservation programs play a significant role in this erosion of public space.” 

“To establish the National Forests, the government asserted that it could manage the land better than private stewards could…and asserted authority over users of federal forests throughout the west.”  In addition, the federal government began buying formerly private land in the eastern United States.  “The government bought land—basically cut over beat out, about to be abandoned land-- that private owners wanted to cash out rather walk away from.” And, she noted “The terms were, ENRON era survivors will not be surprised to learn, very generous to the sellers.” 

Fairfax discussed Land Trusts and Conservation Easements.  “The Mount Vernon Ladies Association (circa 1850) meets today’s definition of a land trust:  private action to protect land and related resources.  The MVLA was public spirited—holding the land and managing it for the good of the public—and for a visitors’ small fee that supplemented private contributions, maintained the property specifically as an educational resource for the community.” 

“In the present context of creating public spaces, there is a quid pro quo—private organization can protect but there has to be a clear public benefit in terms of access,”
she said.
“A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement that allows a landowner to limit the type or amount of development on their property while retaining private ownership of the land. The easement is signed by the easement donor and the Conservancy, who is the party receiving the easement. The Conservancy accepts the easement with understanding that it must enforce the terms of the easement in perpetuity. After the easement is signed, it is recorded with the County Register of Deeds and applies to all future owners of the land.”
She noted that “Early takings law did not compensate, for example, even for every physical invasion.” She used the example of a government taking 10 acres from a private landowner for a public road, which decreased the owner’s total acreage, but tripled the value of the remaining holding.  No compensation would be due to either party.  “Land trusts and conservation easements take a very different approach,” she continued.  “Easements in effect give the land owner a tool with which to extract compensation for foregoing activities which either were not contemplated or were not permitted or both.  It is... much easier for regulators to buy a wetlands easement than it is to defend and enforce a regulation that curtails your right to drain wetlands.”  As a result, “compensatory conservation schemes like conservation easements [create] the misimpression that rights exist where none have been seen before and [erode] public understanding of its own rights in public property.” 

Fairfax contends that conservation easements are profoundly publicly funded, by the creation of tax-exempt foundations and/or payment with tax reductions, with little public access in return.  She also is concerned that they have eroded the public’s ability to comment, or participate in decision making. Thus, “Conservationists should be wary of compensatory easements.”
Professor Fairfax has taught natural resource law and policy at the University of California, Berkeley, College of Natural Resources for over 20 years.  She specializes in land conservation and management and has published extensively on legal aspects of administration and related federalism issues.  She is co-author of Forest and Range Policy, The Federal Lands, State Trust Lands, Conservation Trusts and  Buying Nature:  The Limits to Land Acquisition As A Conservation Tool From 1780 To 2002. 
This lecture was sponsored by the Faculty of Forest and Natural Resources Management with assistance from the ESF Women’s Caucus and Graduate Student Association. For more information about the Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions speaker series, please visit

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Grulke reports Air Pollution increases Forest Susceptibility to Wild Fires in California

By Yulanda Hwang and Tracey O’Malley

Dr. Nancy Grulke, a Plant Ecophysiologist with the USDA Forest Service, presented her research on Air Pollution and Increased Forest Susceptibility to Wild Fires at SUNY-ESF on Tuesday, March 28, 2006 as part of SUNY ESF’s Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Spring Seminar Series. This event was sponsored by ESF’s Faculty of Environmental and Forest Biology, Graduate Student Association, and the ESF Women's Caucus.
Dr. Grulke discussed the effects of air pollutants on forested ecosystems and their link to wildfire. Dr. Grulke first discussed how the rapid increase in human population and the change in land use from forest utilization to a management practice of fire suppression had originally led to the ecosystem’s susceptibility to wildfires.
Attention was then focused on regional ozone concentration and its relation to drought stress and on tree responses. Environmental stressors alter temporal and spatial variations in plant resources, acquisition, allocation, and partitioning. Strong tropospheric oxides cause plants to retain needles for much shorter periods of time and thus reduce root biomass. Dr. Grulke’s research proves that ozone exposure reduces photosynthesis, increases drought stress, and therefore results in a loss of roots and biomass. Whether under short, medium, or long-term ozone exposure, metrics were persistent in predicting sluggish stomatal behavior.  She concluded that sluggish stomatal response was caused by an increasing vapor pressure deficient (VPD) with ozone exposure.
Dr. Grulke suggests that air pollution increases drought stress, drought stress increases tree susceptibility to beetle attacks, and these attacks make the trees more susceptible to fires.
Dr. Grulke received her B.Sc. in Botany from Duke University in 1978, and her Ph.D. in Botany from the University of Washington in 1983. She is currently a plant ecophysiologist and Project Leader, Atmospheric Deposition on Western Ecosystems, at the Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service, in Riverside, California. She specializes in effects of air pollutants, especially ozone concentration, on tree responses and drought stress in forests of California.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Biomimicking: Engineering Design from Natural Structures

By M. Bowman, Sarah Darkwa, and Adam Davison

            Dr. Lorna Gibson, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, presented her research on Biomimicking: Engineering Design from Natural Structures at ESF on Tuesday, February 14, 2006 as part of SUNY ESF's Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Spring Seminar Series. The ESF Women’s Caucus and the Faculty of Environmental Resources and Forest Engineering jointly sponsored the seminar.
Dr. Gibson discussed naturally occurring structures in plants and animals in terms of how they provide flexural rigidity and resist critical loading.  In other words, how the structures provide both strength and flexibility without overly increasing weight of the animal or significantly reducing photosynthetic capacity of the plant. 
These structures fall into several categories: iris and cattail leaves are structural sandwich panels, while plant stems, bluejay feathers, and porcupine quills are cylindrical shells with compliant cores. Both types of structures are comprised of fibers or a dense shell on the outside with a foam core on the inside.  Sandwich panels are typically a low-density core material sandwiched in between two higher modulus plates, which allows for a lightweight structure with a high rigidity and load capability. Skis and helicopter rotor blades are similarly constructed to reduce their weight without compromising their strength.  The compliance of the core material provides resistance in all directions, which allows stems to resist and prevents bird feathers from kinking.
Other efficient structures for load resistance are represented by palm trees, bamboo, and woods such as oak. Wood in particular has a uniform cylindrical structure or “honeycomb” and is one of the most efficient at resisting loads. The gradient structure of palm trees and bamboos that allows the stems to grow taller without adding diameter at the ground level had a large influence on the engineering of bone scaffolds.
The scaffold that Dr. Gibson and her colleagues are working on is mineralized collagen foam that is comprised of different gradients. This scaffold is particularly useful for joint implants, since joints are an interface of bone and cartilage. So far they have tested their scaffolds in the joints of sheep and goats with very promising results for human use.
Professor Lorna J. Gibson received her Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Toronto in 1978 and her PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1981. She was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of British Columbia from 1982-84. She joined the MIT faculty in 1984, where she is currently the Matoula S. Salapatas Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. Her research interests focus on the mechanical behavior of highly porous materials with a cellular structure, such as engineering foams, trabecular bone and scaffolds used in tissue engineering. She is the co-author, with Professor M.F. Ashby, of the book "Cellular Solids: Structure and Properties". She has been active in MIT’s gender equity efforts, chairing the Committee on Women Faculty in the School of Engineering.  The next presentation in the Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions speaker series is March 28.  Nancy Grulke, Project Leader, Atmospheric Deposition on Western Ecosystems and plysiological ecologist, Pacific Southwest Research Station, will discuss “Air pollution and the Californian wildfires:  an insidious link” at 4 pm in 140 Baker Laboratory.  For more information, visit 

But you don't look like an engineer.

Following her campus-wide lecture on Biomimicking:  engineering design from Natural Structures,  Dr. Lorna Gibson joined us for a discussion of the infamous climate for women at MIT.  Her perception is that things have outwardly improved, but one trend that remains concerns her: MIT's tendency to hire their own graduates appears to extend only to men.  Because these new hires already have mentoring relationships among the faculty, often continue on the same research projects, and know where to go for further assistance, they have a great advantage over hires from outside the institution.  Since women faculty almost exclusively come from elsewhere, they start at a disadvantage, and because disadvantages accumulate (see seminar syllabi for readings on the subject), it is very difficult to overcome.  In addition, these younger men seem to have adopted not only the methods and styles of their mentors, but also their prejudices.  With the biases entrenched in the faculties, hopes that the climate would improve with the eventual retirement of the old guard seem overly optimistic.

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Gardens, Medicine and Health Care: Past, Present and Future

By Cynthia Watson, Doreen Bwalya and Donna Lowe

Dr. Joanne M. Westphal, Professor of Landscape Architecture, Michigan State University, discussed Gardens, Medicine and Health Care: Past, Present and Future at ESF on Tuesday, February 7, 2006 to launch the annual SUNY ESF’s Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Spring Seminar Series. Dr Westphal’s seminar was jointly sponsored by the Faculty of Landscape Architecture and the Women’s Caucus at SUNY-ESF. 
Dr. Westphal discussed several issues of health in the built environment including design that complements medical treatment protocols, therapeutic site designs and post-construction evaluation of therapeutic site designs.
Historically, gardens were a fundamental element in health care systems and occupied the center core of hospital compounds. Gardens were regarded an essential aspect of treatment for hospital patients; until the 1880’s every medical facility in Europe and the United States had gardens for patients to ambulate. However, as new discoveries were made there was a tremendous shift in hospital design. Hospitals were built up instead of out and the center core formerly occupied by a garden was replaced with mechanical and specialty units. Essentially the “Germ theory” coincided with the demise of the garden in hospitals.
Today health care professionals such as Dr. Westphal support the idea that positive health benefits can result when “active living components,” including gardens and open spaces, are incorporated into the designs of hospital and health care facilities. Dr. Westphal and her research team conducted a study to evaluate the effects of the presence of therapeutic gardens on post-treatment recovery for patients suffering with third stage Alzheimer’s Disease. They found that there was a significant reduction in aggressive behavior and blood pressure, and that less “as needed” medication was requested by or for patients who spent as little as ten minutes walking or resting in a garden. The implications of these passive garden experiences for hospital patients can be tremendous; resulting not only in improved patient health but also substantial savings in medications and reduced stress to health care staff.  
Dr. Joanne Westphal is a practicing landscape architect and licensed physician in Michigan. A member of the School of Planning, Design and Construction at Michigan State University, her specialty areas involve environmental design, therapeutic site design, regional landscape design, and research methodology.