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Back to the Future

Happy Back to the Future day! Today is the day that Marty McFly, Emmett "Doc" Brown and Jennifer Parker targeted in their time travel from 1985 to 2015 in the sci-fi film trilogy's second installment in 1989. 4:29 PM today, in fact. The future, as imagined in 1985, offered self-lacing sneakers, hover boards, personal fusion devices running on garbage, and a winning Cubs team. While these predictions have not yet come to pass (sorry Cubs!), flat-screen TVs and Skype have.

It’s the management, stupid

In the 1992 U.S. Presidential campaign, Bill Clinton’s staff (specifically James Carville) kept the candidate and the campaign organization focused with “it’s the economy, stupid” printed on Post-it notes (another 90s innovation) stuck to every flat surface.  Who knows how popular this particular snowclone (a popular cliché that can be adapted to many different uses) would have remained had the election outcome been different, but it has stuck around and been adapted to many situations as a reminder about the need to stay focused on what is really important. 

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Restoration as big as Texas

What is restoration? Well, its big. It’s about people, money, policy, technology, history, biology, belief, and faith. Restoration is the primary mode of deliberate intervention in our environment to improve it, often taking a lifetime or more to fully unfold. It means that communities of people come together, define what they want to change, and then go about trying to change it as the technology, money, and effort will allow.


Can Soil Survey become the basis for land management?

One of the most challenging aspects of land management and restoration is to balance the generation of new information and the application of existing accepted knowledge.  At one end of the spectrum is the argument that we can always learn more but we should not wait to get on with the job.  At the opposite end is the rationale for a learning-based approach (adaptive management)-as we do more, we should learn more and we should constantly be revising the information base.  These questions are complicated by the lack of a centralized decision-making structure in most landscapes.

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Thresholds, novel ecosystems, and the sanctity of history

How is an ecosystem supposed to be? The answers determine how millions of dollars are spent and how ecosystems are transformed, with effects lasting centuries. Conflict over this question used to be between industry and environmentalists. Now ecologists are doing battle with one another too.


Scale, management, and ecosystem services

The idea of ecosystem services is appealing to land ecologists.  It promises a new way to convey the value of ecosystems and ecological processes to a broad audience and focus attention on sustainable management of those services.  While this effort gives monetary value to what many of us have only been able to describe in terms of the passion we have for the workings of nature, quantifying ecosystem services to the point where they can be ‘monetized’ is a step or two beyond what most of us had in mind when we entered the profession.  Yet, if we are serious about communicating the value of

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Desertification? With a grain of salt

A steady stream of news articles announce: “Desertification affects (insert fraction) of (insert country)”. A photograph of a sand-engulfed house, dry riverbed, dead animal, or close-up of cracked earth accompanies the story. Environmental catastrophes make for interesting reading. But it is seldom clear what ecological phenomena the term “desertification” actually refers to, and therefore what the solution might be. And it’s the solution that matters.


Why am I always the last to know?

'I have done that,' says my memory. 'I cannot have done that' -- says my pride, and remains adamant. At last -- memory yields.  Frederic Nietzsche

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Tipping points and resilience in Mongolian grasslands

The future of Mongolian rangelands is at a crossroads. The decision is whether to try to control livestock numbers or to allow (or encourage) numbers to increase. Many believe that the latter will result in irreversible changes, including those called ‘desertification’.


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Degraded rangelands to deforestation in the Argentine Chaco

Twenty years ago I completed my Master’s work in the Chaco forests of northern Argentina. The native forests are, in fact, rangelands. In addition to livestock production, the forests are used for timber extraction and wildlife harvest (think tegu lizard cowboy boots). I took part in a project comparing biodiversity among production systems. A new system promised to reverse biodiversity loss and soil degradation. But it’s a moot point now since many of those forests have been cleared for cropland--the highest rate of tropical forest loss in the world.


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