Bill Mclean, Midwest, Academia discussed on In Defense of Plants Podcast


And what they were doing and they were a real interest in documenting these tribes what they were doing. But when it came to our part of the country, that hadn't that culture wasn't as established. So we just didn't know. We had these paintings and anecdotes about what was happening with fire. So Bill McLean, my colleague, he just spent years trying to piece together as many of these letters and journals and stuff like that as he could. And he just sucked out a lot of information for our part of the world. And, you know, we just sort of summarized it and tried to get it as a comprehensive picture of what we could find about what was happening pre settlement with fire in the Midwestern prayer region. Yeah. So it was more or less the Midwestern telegraph Prairie region, which is interesting to me because I'm in a backup and doing another tangent here for a second. There are a lot of fancy scientists in the forest service and whoever in academia who are trying to put together these maps, these predictive maps of what the pre settlement fire regime fire frequency fire intensity is for the United States. And they built their models on a bunch of variables, one of the variables, the strongest variables they found were number one, climate, which you don't is not surprising. How hot is the area? How often is it dry? Sure. Number two variable is human density. Pre settlement time. So how many Native Americans were just people generally were there from 1500 to 1850 in these areas? And it turns out the southeast had probably Florida and Alabama and all that had to probably the highest. That in the West Coast of California. So that variable that's climate human density and blanking on the third variable. Anyway, so then they use that to predict what the vegetation type was prehistorically and how often are burned. But then you would look at the Prairie region of the country and it was weird to me. It was like these are like really fancy proceedings in natural academy of science papers and science paper and they have the entire Midwestern prayer is like every 30 years. You know, fire or something like that. And I was like, what? If you had a Prairie that didn't burn for 30 years, you don't have a Prairie anymore. You know what I mean? You have Tunis before. Exactly. Exactly. And I'm like, well, how are these scientists putting together? So I went back and looked at it and what they were using to confirm their model of climate and human density was basically tree ring data. So they would go to the tree ring data and say, oh, that tree ring of fire frequency record matches what we get from our model. So that's how we're going to predict based on these tree rings. But if you look at the Midwest and the grasslands, the tree ring model is almost, you know, there's a couple really, really rare studies where there's a little forest blotch or whatever. But we don't have good estimates based on that. And so part of the reason I was so excited about this was like, well, that's wrong. And we have the data to show that that pre settlement firefighting is way more frequent than these models are coming up with, right? These big fancy computer simulations. So that was really fun. Wow. To be able to sort of put some heat behind the message that we sort of already guessed. Wow, that's a really neat look under the hood of your thought process there. And it's almost like, how the hell did you get that published in such a big journal with such a loose sort of, I mean, I get where it would work in a forested region, right? The southeast has a bit more forced ecosystem sort of inherent in it. But yeah, the Midwest that if you get a patch of trees, who's to say that you have enough resolution in those trees when we started finally looking at them to say anything about what's going on in a grassland and I mean, again, you talk to any land manager in the Midwest, you know, call it Bill handle, buddy Bill. And ask him what happens if you don't burn every 5 years at least. You know, there's just these inherent things that you're going. That makes absolutely no sense, which I think speaks to the benefit of you being a botanist in the field just as much as you are in the lab in the literature because you start to see where these people that I'm going to say this with knowing I'm getting some angry emails here is that just don't go out enough. Do not spend enough time in nature to know when their models are kind of silly. You know what I mean? So kudos to you for combining your skill sets to notice this gap and recognize where the strengths of moving forward on this to resolve something a little bit more realistic was needed and doable. Yeah, I mean, that being said, you know, they were working with the data they had. No, totally. And the maps, the maps are really neat. I mean, they really are cool. They show you in really nice detail. Oh, I forgot what the third variable is. You know, temperature, average mean temperature, historic human abundance, and precipitation, which is just basically, okay, you're going to have this much of a fuel load basically. Whatever. So and I recognize that. I recognize they're working with what they got, but this is the another color and I'm a parrot with this idea is go outside, get data in the field. You can only fall back on models so much. Right. And yeah, and they were you know, then these maps were being picked up by people as, you know, this is the gospel and you're like, wow, wow, slow down. You know, like you said, there are people who actually know more about this anyway. Yeah..

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