Traditionally a great deal of natural resources management has involved field-based surveys and plans, explains Hong S. He, Associate Professor of Forestry in the School of Natural Resources at MU. But recently these scientists and managers have come to realize that they also need to pay attention to the larger spatial configuration of natural resources. This realization has a lot of implications for wildlife conservation and biodiversity: “You can’t really consider one spot without considering the things around it,” he explains. Wildlife species require, for instance, multiple habitats, and watershed problems have shown that “if we pollute one area, it can spread over the landscape.” As an area of research, landscape ecology refers to the study of response to various natural and social factors over large spatial and temporal domains.
Going far beyond maps, as one might presume, “Geography is the study of human-environment interactions,” explains Soren Larsen, Assistant Professor of Geography at MU. The discipline as a whole covers activity ranging from physical geography (e.g., wind erosion and weather patterns), techniques (e.g., modeling air pollution with GIS, or Geographic Information Systems, to understand the interactions between humans and the environment), and something called human geography, a subfield that focuses on the political, economic, cultural, urban, and regional elements of human-environment interactions. Human geographers cast their eyes on “the impact of the environment on human behavior,” as well as “the impact of human activity on the environment.” Within human geography Larsen specializes in cultural geography. While traditionally that may have entailed mapping the distribution of various cultural traits to track changes over space and time, cultural geography today is much more process-focused, drawing heavily upon the methodologies and theories of anthropology, psychology, sociology, and philosophy.
Hong S. He’s research projects in landscape ecology include Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing applications (such as satellite imagery and aerial photography), both of which are put to work in making important forestry management decisions.
Larsen’s newest project is located just north of Canyon City, Colorado, where the ranches that dominated the area since the late 1800s have been subdivided into parcels of 35 acres or more, creating a residential rural sprawl. Working at a field school facility that overlooks the valleys, Larsen and his research team have been interviewing the residents of this area “on the fringe, where residential development interfaces with wildlife.” The interviews reveal that “these ex-urban residents actually knew very little about the dangers, the environmental limitations, and issues that they were going to face”—from wildfire, bears, and rattlesnakes to how to deal with erosion and localized rain events that turn suddenly into flooding. As such, the residents were engaged in a process of knowledge transmission in order to learn about the environment. Larsen seeks to understand how this informal transmission of environmental knowledge might impact the future landscape.
“There is a land claims treaty process that is going on in Canada,” Larsen reports, “but generally the native people in the province of British Columbia are very dissatisfied with it because it asks them to do things in terms of Western court procedures as opposed to their own indigenous ways of knowing and establishing these things. The Cheslatta are among two-thirds of the native bands that are withdrawing from the treaty process completely—as a matter of protest and also as a matter of expediency” as they seek to join forces with other groups. As a matter of fact, the lumberyards in Columbia will likely contain Cheslatta forest products that derive from this band of 500 individuals partnering with a multi-national timber firm.