The Power of Right Living

May 9, 2022
Power of Right Living

This profile is a part of our consortium profile series, highlighting the people that make up the SW CASC—what inspires them, makes them passionate about their research, and gives them hope for the future. For this profile, Bryson Mineart (SW CASC communications student assistant and undergraduate student in the University of Arizona Computer Science program) interviewed SW CASC researcher Margaret Evans, Associate Professor of Forest Ecology in the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona.

Margaret Evans was trained as a plant ecologist and spent much of her early career focusing on the conservation of plant diversity. Her career transitioned to a focus on forests and climate change when she joined the University of Arizona’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. Traditionally, tree-ring samples are collected from older, more climate-sensitive trees in each population. However, Margaret has undertaken a new approach of gathering tree-ring data from “average” trees, or as she likes to call them, “Joe Schmo Trees”. With this, Margaret brings a fresh perspective to tree-ring science.

With support from the USGS SWCASC, Margaret has been working collaboratively with the Navajo Forestry Department to augment their long history of forest monitoring, spanning nearly 50 years, by adding tree-ring sampling. The tree-ring and forest inventory data will be used together in a forestry tool called the Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS). This forestry model is tuned using records of past forest changes and then used to make projections about the future. FVS is useful as a management tool, not only to help foresters decide what actions should be taken, but also to comply with environmental regulations. In many cases, foresters need to show what will happen to a forest if they take action (for example, implement a forest thinning treatment) versus a scenario where no action is taken. FVS is the most widely used tool for this, across managed forests of the U. S., and with tree-ring data, Margaret and her team will be adding to FVS the ability to predict how climate change will influence forest growth.

Working on issues of climate change can be a truly daunting job. This work is complicated - with great scientific complexity and on a scale concerning the entire planet. Additionally, we live on a planet divided by governments, political parties, and societal barriers. Margaret recognizes the size of the challenge, but she shows no sign of giving up. Margaret is inspired by her colleagues in the Tree-Ring Lab, whom she describes as “smart, competent, and hardworking,” ranging in experience from high school students to those that are decades into their career. Another inspiration for Margaret is in practicing “right living” – living the way that one ought to (ethically) – by which she means taking into consideration those that come after you. It is important to maintain the planet not just for the people who are here now, but for the generations that will come after.

When asked about hope, in the face of the overwhelming issue of changing climate, Margaret cites the view that she can only control herself, related to the practice of “right living”. It is much easier to conceptualize a problem and experience a sense of hope if you are actively engaging with a problem. She places less emphasis on hope, and more on contributing to progress in the right direction. With much of Margaret’s work being centered around modeling and using data, she is often involved in finding solutions. Margaret holds great interest in nature-based solutions to the climate crisis, which focus on conservation and restoration of an ecosystem. This involves a focus on ecosystem management and “caring for the land”, rather than geoengineering or other risky solutions that may create yet more problems. However, she also notes that this notion of natural climate solutions should not be used as an excuse to continue along the trajectory that we are currently following--you cannot simply plant a million trees and expect it to solve the problem. Margaret offers a very calm yet passionate approach to tackling the unfolding climate crisis.