Memorial Day Week: Memorializing Forests of the Pacific Northwest by Beverly Parsons

I’m Beverly Parsons, executive director of InSites and a former AEA president. I’m commemorating the original forests of the Pacific Northwest, powerful ecosystems that have shaped the region’s natural and social systems.

If you come to Oregon or Washington today, you might question why I’m commemorating something that seems so alive and present. Ahh, you’re seeing the trees but not the forest. Look closer.

The original forests, while dominated visually by trees, were alive with diverse vegetation and animal life. The cycle of life—an infinite pattern of birth, maturity, release, and reconfiguration of elements—worked together as a complex system. The forests anchored and stabilized the soil so that heavy rains were absorbed. They protected the top soil that had been developing over thousands of years. Their canopies captured the fog from the Pacific Ocean and brought water to the streams. They sequestered massive amounts of carbon.

Today you see the monoculture of Douglas fir trees, industrial timber farms. The undergrowth is meager. There is no moss on the trees. This year, you are likely to see large areas of clear-cut land. The industrial forests are clear-cut about every 40 years with the specific timing depending on the timber market. Timber prices are high now, especially in markets outside of the U.S., so the land is stripped. You might even see a small plane flying overhead spraying chemicals to control the undergrowth before genetically modified trees are planted in preparation for the next market cycle.

Less obvious changes may be the most important. The microbiome of the forest’s soil is diminished. Pesticides have entered the streams. The salmon are dying due to their high sensitivity to toxins. The diversity of wildlife, birds, bees, plants, and more is gone.

Lessons Learned:

As evaluators we need not stand idly by. We can proactively help restore and rebuild the forest ecosystems or whatever ecosystems are important where we live and work. Nature is ready to do its part if we humans support nature’s ecosystems instead of undermining them.

Matt Keene, Lovely Dhillon, and I elaborate on related topics in our upcoming book that builds on the theme from the 2014 AEA conference, Visionary Evaluation for a Sustainable, Equitable Future. But don’t wait for our book. Start now to consider these questions in every evaluation you conduct:

  1. Have we explored the relationships among natural, social, and economic systems in the design and conduct of our evaluation?
  2. Have we discussed the relationships between values, actions, outcomes, and visions of a sustainable and equitable future?

Rad Resources:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Memorial Week in Evaluation. The contributions this week are about the concept of extinctions — those long past, recent, imminent, and foreshadowed. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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