Late autumn is a special time of year. For many of us, the season stirs the reflection and anticipation mirrored in the natural cycles that surround us. Leaves once engaged in photosynthesis and the creation of wood mass are shriveling and falling to the earth. The autumn senescence of leaves and life represents the end of one journey and the beginning of another, resulting in the release of nutrients, energy and the building of humus—the rich, black organic matter of surface soils and the wisdom of living landscapes. In nature, loss yields opportunity.
Traveling the state and seeing the extent of beetle, budworm and fire-killed trees, coupled with our slow climb out of recession, I’m struck by the significant and mounting environmental, economic and societal challenges we’ll face in the coming years. However, I am given to hope when I see the enthusiasm in our students, and when I reflect on the depth and diversity of what is taught and learned in our school. Not only will our students understand the intrinsic value of wildfire-killed trees in a fire-maintained forest, they will also see opportunities where others see ecological catastrophes. The careful and sustainable management of beetle- and fire-killed trees, after all, has the potential to yield durable living structures as well as the generation of fuels or other products from residues.
If our goal is to create sustainable living systems that are reflective of natural ecosystems, a key part of this learning process is the integration of our students with those from across the College of the Environment and the broader university community. We live in a connected world, and few issues can be solved—or opportunities maximized—without a holistic approach to research and educational development. Sustainable land and resource management requires an understanding of ecosystems, management skills, a deep conservation ethic, critical thinking skills and an ability to apply systems thinking to complex problems. Our students are instructed and immersed in precisely those skills and qualities, and their careers will help raise our capacity to address these challenges. Loss yields opportunity. As we shed talented graduates, the world churns with fresh energy and determined minds.
So, here is to autumn and the collective knowledge generated during the last quarter—and here is to humus!
Thomas H. DeLuca
School of Environmental and Forest Sciences