Canadian boreal forest. Credit David Adamec
There were three ecologists trapped and starving in a boreal winter. A conservation biologist, a fisheries expert, and a pest control scientist.
A moose appeared on the horizon and came thundering towards them. A thousand kilos of warm, edible flesh. Each scientist drew up their expertise and dealt with the moose using all of their respective disciplines.
The conservation biologist couldn’t decide on an objective. He died wondering whether the moose’s existence was more important than his own.
The fisheries expert used the wrong model. Based on her prior knowledge of elk, she predicted that more moose would be coming, so she starved in anticipation of a herd that never appeared.
The pest control scientist knew that the moose had to be killed, the only question was with what: poison or a biological control. He opted for an environmentally friendly biological control and released a wolf, which turned around and ate him.
It’s not really that funny, but it’s a good effort. I know some of the people who wrote this manuscript, and they’re kind of playing to their own strengths. I give it at the end of my course and we talk about people’s values, outcomes, and actions.
In this case, the values are of the conservation biologist, who died thinking about the moose’s existence, and whether that was more important than his own. The fisheries expert was thinking about outcomes, and died thinking more moose would come because of her experience with elk, so she starved in anticipation of a herd of moose that didn’t really exist. The pest control scientist was thinking about actions, because they knew that something had to be done, whether it took poison or a biological control to kill the moose. So they took an action, but when they released the wolf it ate them.
Values, outcomes, and actions are really the three things we do with a lot of natural resources. At the end of my class, when we’re trying to wrap everything up, I say that we’ve talked a lot about actions and outcomes, how we do some analyses and how those analyses are then used, but we don’t talk a lot about values.
Those are also a big part of the equation, and maybe covered by other courses at the same time, but you have to think a lot about the values and outcomes the actions that you take.
What are you currently reading?
Here's my pile of books. I pile some books everywhere. We have a good seminar speaker coming in the spring—Larry Nielson—I’m reading his new book, Nature’s Allies.
For my Christmas project I’m working through this book (Bayesian population Analysis of WinBugs) again. I’ve done it once before but I’m going over it again on Christmas Break.
Is there one piece of advice you would like to share with students who will read this interview?
I’ve been thinking about this because I was digging through old boxes and found my first cell phone. My son is thirteen, and he’s way into technology. He has his own little phone, and I showed him my old one.
I was like, “Oh yeah, this was my first cell phone,” and it’s shoebox-sized.
I’ve been wondering what I would say if I could pick up the phone and call myself in 1995 or 1996.
Dr. Pine went into the hall and brought back a printed quote.
I think I would tell myself this: