In Search of the Canary Tree: The Story of a Scientist, a Cypress, and a Changing World

Science Talk


This episode are human health, and our environmental health are deeply intertwined and each requires the other test to stay healthy. That's Lauren oaks. She's a scientist with the wildlife Conservation Society and Jordan professor in earth system science at Stanford University. He's also the author of the book in search of the canary Trie, the story of a scientist, the Cyprus and a changing world. Canary tree is the yellow cedar type of Cyprus that's native to coastal areas of north west North America. Another name for it is the Alaska Cyprus, it's being called the canary tree because it's the canary in the coal mine of an Alaska where oaks did her research in March Alaska, temperatures average, twenty degrees Fahrenheit above historical. Norms to talk about the book, I called oaks at our home in bozeman. Montana. Really enjoyed the book. I think you get into a lot of things that are really important that you don't see in a lot of scientific research. And so let's talk very briefly about how you decided to make this tree. Your study, focus, Sarah. So I say the puck it's true that I never thought I'd be someone spent your life studying a species and actually designed this pretty weird benign wanted them, and they were good reasons for it though. I generally was attracted to work in the north because warming there is a currying faster at faster rates than the averages across the planet. So in some ways, you can think about Alaska or the far far north as a looking last into the future in terms of what other of impacts we're going to see when it comes to climate change. So I spent a summer up there doing exploratory research where I really had no idea what the topic would be. I was interviewing scientists to were working in fisheries management or forest management, policymakers who were dressing things like coastal erosion on the far north coast were communities have to move inland and many other kinds of climate change impacts, whether it's watery sources or kinds of resources that we depend on anyways. I was hoping in that time that I would come across a topic at need really that was dented from the community where. Research could be relevant for current management. And where I could take a look at both the ecological in social impacts of of climate change. So I came from a program where we were trained scientists to bridge disciplines a lot of times in environmental problem solving were bringing together experts in in the room from different fields. So ecologists come together with the communists or policymakers, and we all kind of tend to speak different languages based on our training in disciplines. But the idea of this program is that if we train one person to speak, multiple languages into bridge across these disciplines that the new solutions could emerge. So from the beginning, I was always interested in you know, what are the ecological impacts of climate change in place. But then also how are people responding to those impacts? And I thought that you know, perhaps there could be lessons for myself in my own life for others other people in other parts of the planet by. I'm looking at those two factors and we'll get to the people part. But the decision to focus in on this one species was was really interesting. Yes out during that time, I came across Dr Paul Hennion who's a force pathologist at the United States forest service. He has since retired. But at the time we met he was about to publish a thirty year, synthesis, which was basically showing the link to climate change in terms of wire these trees dying, and it's kind of a complex pathway to death. But climate change plays a key role in that. And for me that was a really good jumping off point because I wasn't assigned this coming in trying to explain you know, why is climate change affecting the species how what are the vulnerabilities? You know, what's the likelihood of future events in in that kind of thing. I had a jumping off off point where we already know climate changes affecting the species, and that I could ask okay. Hey, what's what's happening to the rest of the forest community? And and how are people really affected by that as well? Looking at climate changes affect on the species as much as you are using the species as bellwether about what climate change will do everywhere. He actually I mean in some ways it's a story of loss. Right. We are losing this species in many places, but then there's also a story of re-growth, right it. So what comes in after the trees die in the same way? You know, how can people adopt alongside those ecological changes? And you do find that. As the yellow cedar goes away, the the western hemlock comes in. So there's there's loss there's gained there's a transition. It's happening. It's really interesting. But before we get to that. Let's talk about some of the realities of doing field research. It's incredibly strenuous and uncomfortable difficult. Yeah. It is a it. It was tough. It was tough. That's for sure I worked on the outer coast the southeast Alaska in the west coffee. Kobe wilderness and glacier bay national park, which are some of the most remote wilderness areas, we have in the country strikingly beautiful in also strikingly far from from civilization as you as you call it. But the forest where I work we're only acceptable by boat or plane, and I didn't wanna be. She schlepping back and forth. Both in terms of our time and the fossil fuels that we needed to get out to these sites. So basically figured out a way with a pretty awesome crew to set up a base camp. And we would spend two weeks at a time kayaking to random locations, and then hiking into forested sites where we would then measure the plants in the in

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