Studies in Forest Change Through Time and Space
Jim Bouldin, PhD
Research Ecologist
Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis

Hi. I hope you find something useful or interesting at this site. It's basically just a collection of some of the things I've written or talks I've given.

Very few people have read this stuff, including people who should have, so don't feel bad if you don't either. Other than some of the documents, it contains far too few jokes and the lack of images of exotic beers, or women, is evident right away. There are no cool, embedded movie clips. Nor can you buy anything here. My CV, which should be here, is nowhere to be found. I add material to it as the mood hits me, which so far has been like, never. The site has an ISI website impact factor of 0.06, and this is probably biased high. It is however on the Department of Homeland Security's watch list. Also, its disclaimer percentage factor is rather high, given its impact factor.

If you're still interested, here are the basics. I work on questions related to forest landscape changes over the last couple of centuries, mostly in response to human activities, like logging and fire management, in various U.S. locations. It's mostly population and community based research. Most of this work's been in California's Sierra Nevada, which is an exceedingly cool place. Recently I have expanded it to include the Great Lakes area, my original stomping ground. It's cool to work in both the east and the west; the forests and topography and climate are very different. Variety is the spice of life as they say. I'm also interested in what climate change is doing, and going to do, to forest ecosystems.

If I had to choose between them though, I'd go with the west. The forests and woodlands of the western USA are really something else again. Every American should get the chance to sit, or stroll, or do whatever moves them, in an old growth coast redwood forest for a few hours, or days. Or to hang out in a bristlecone pine grove for a while. Or hike through an old growth red fir forest. Unless society's completely ripped the life out of you, you're not the same person coming out that you were going in. It's why Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir decided to ditch the plan to hobnob with the well connected back at the Wawona Hotel, and instead camped out for 3 nights in the nearby Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias. That said however, few things anywhere compare with a hemlock-hardwood forest in Michigan or Vermont in the fall. So it's all good, as they say.

Because I work with historical issues and data in my research, I get to read stuff that's actually interesting and entertaining sometimes. A lot of this is connected with the important General Land Office (GLO) tree data. These data were collected by land surveyors in the 19th century. If you want to know the definition of tough, you want to read about the GLO surveyors sometime. These guys would put cowboys and marines to shame. Straight line surveying, with a 66 foot measuring chain, through anything that could be gotten through with skin more or less intact. Endless brush thickets that would deter a rabbit, steep slopes, malaria swamps miles on end, grizzly habitat, Indian homelands--didn't matter. It was a different time for sure.

The GLO data's ecologically very important, basically giving us the pre-settlement picture we would otherwise not have. Often one has to read through the original survey notes to get at the tree data, and this can be hellaceously interesting, and highly diversionary. The work also sometimes involves talking to land surveyors, who are generally pretty interesting and who know where cool things are. Like the guy this summer in Newaygo County Michigan who told me about, and then took me to, the four foot diameter American chestnut tree in the county. And if you know anything about the chestnut blight, and the consequent number of remaining 4' dbh chestnut trees, you know the significance of that.

The notes can also be sobering. Like the time a couple years ago, in northeastern Colorado, looking through the notes for a county through which the South Platte river flows. The surveyor kept saying "made mound of bones for memorial" at each of his corner monuments. Memorial is a term sometimes used to refer to the survey corner monuments that the surveyors built, which were typically wood posts, rock piles or earthen mounds or pits. But mounds of bones, what in the world? It was 1875. A year or two earlier the market hunters had come through and slaughtered the bison in NE Colorado, like they were doing everywhere on the plains. The landscape was littered with bones and rotting carcasses from one of the most gruesome events in American history, at one of the most sordid times in American history. The use of the term "memorial" could not possibly have been more appropriate.

And then there's the whole Benson Syndicate story, about which I could go on and on until your eyes were permanently glazed. Suffice it to say that a guy named Benson figured out how to rip off the federal government big time, by faking land surveys throughout the west in the 1870s and 80s. In the rip-off business, he wasn't alone. In fact, if you're interested in corruption and greed and destruction and general chaos and stupidity, read about the post-civil war expansion across the western United States before the progressive era started.

I sometimes get to see very cool places doing field work. Unfortunately I've found myself doing less and less of that, and way too much arguing--and losing--with a computer over the last 5 years. And I see the exact same thing happening to others. I will be working to reverse that this year. I didn't go into ecology so I could be a statistician or programmer, but because I'm awed by nature. Not descriptions or analyses of nature, but experience with it. Statistics is interesting (sometimes), but never awesome. In fact, the academic life can quite kill the awe that drew you into it in the first place, if you let it. T'aint eventually about numbers, important though they be. Sometimes it ain't even about logic. Knowledge plays second fiddle to caring.

Please get yourself into an old growth forest, or a mountain ecosystem, or estuary or wetland at the earliest possible opportunity. In fact stop reading this nonsense right now and start looking at some pictures and maps, and dreaming about moving through and/or camping in some relatively pristine country somewhere, just for the experience. Or even some non-pristine country if that's all you can get to.

When you come back, you can read the stuff here about forests, and much more stuff elsewhere about other ecosystems, and it will be far more interesting to you than if you hadn't done so. You will probably also understand people like John Muir and Aldo Leopold and Robinson Jeffers better. Things will just generally make more sense. More questions will arise, more answers be suggested, more understanding emerge.