The 21st-century cartographer New tools for old naturalists In March, 2015, I gave a fireside presentation at the Mendenhall Visitor…2015 | Richard Carstensen | 31 minutes
Thinking like a mountain; landscape ecology
Cartographers are generally big-picture thinkers. Especially since the advent of GIS (Geographic Information Systems), which interfaces between maps and databases, we can ask increasingly sophisticated questions of our maps.
In 2001, I created this cartoon of a brown bear’s landscape movements in collaboration with Kim Titus of the Department of Fish & Game, based upon his studies of telemetered bears. Since that time, wildlife studies have become ever more sophisticated, following, for example, the hourly movements of collared deer through intimately mapped terrain.
The phrase ‘thinking like a mountain’ comes from the title of a famous essay by Aldo Leopold, describing an epiphany as he watched a wolf die, killed just because that’s what young guys did in those days. As he matured, Aldo began to wonder if the mountain didn’t have a different way of ‘thinking’ about wolves than our myopic two-legged assessment. What he was reaching for was landscape ecology.
The way we measure landscapes, increasingly, is through GIS. Technology simultaneously isolates and empowers us in ‘thinking like mountains.’ On the one hand, we spend ever more time at computers. On the other, only through extraordinary tools, like this ‘movie’ of a deer’s winter can we even ask the right questions, let alone muddle toward answers. At Discovery, we hope to nurture a generation of future naturalists, as proficient in bushwacking as in digital measurement.
One of my first immersions in big-picture landscape ecology came in the Landmark Trees Project, 1996 through 2005. One landform that consistently yielded giant spruces was karst—the soluble topography of limestone and marble. About halfway through that big-tree trophy hunt, Bob Christensen introduced me to GIS. Suddenly I was able to make maps like the one below. USFS Regional Geologist Jim Baichtal gave me a shapefile of the extent of karst, and I was well on the way to having a map of strongest Landmark Trees potential.
But all karst is not equally predictive of 10-foot diameter spruces, particularly a one-acre stand of them. In the map below, I separated out the low elevation karst.
Next, of course, we could overlay the USFS layer called activity_polygon.shp, an interesting moniker for clearcuts. This would rule out probably >98% of the mapped high-grade, low elevation karst for landmark trees hunting. This cookie-cutter approach gets us closer and closer to actually hugging one of those miraculous survivors, way back from the coast, where even the intrepid hand loggers never ventured. Oh yeah, we could also apply an exclusionary coastal buffer to deal with that parameter.
You get the idea. . . GIS. Landscape ecology. Aldo would have loved and hated it. Simultaneously.
In this section
In March, 2015, I gave a banquet presentation to the Alaska Chapter of the Wildlife Society. Afterwards, I archived it…2015 | Richard Carstensen | 31 minutes
20160526 Quadcopter video of Ch’eet’ Taayi, murrelet fat (Cowee Creek) over uplift meadow and blooming wildflowers. Cathy Pohl, Steve Merli…2016 | Richard Carstensen | 2:42
Our Fall 2001 newsletter includes an article by Steve Merli exploring the benefits of going off trail with kids, and…Fall 2001 | Steve Merli, Richard Carstensen | 6 pages
Excerpt from a lengthy scoping document on Héen Latinee Experimental Forest, at the northern edge of Áak’w Aaní. Geography, geology,…2010 | Richard Carstensen | 11 Pages
Four-fold brochure created for the CBJ Natural History Project describes 14 interpretive stations along the Outer Point Loop Trail. On…2013 | Richard Carstensen | 2 pages
Report to the Southeast Alaska Land Trust on habitats and wildlife use of glacially-rebounding valleys from 25 to 28-mile Glacier…2003 | Richard Carstensen & Kathy Hocker | 35 pages
Guide to natural and cultural history of the CBJ, summarizing Discovery’s longterm study on contract with Parks & Recreation that…2013 | Richard Carstensen | 72 pages
Connections between the living and non-living world Feature article on response of flora and fauna to geologic landforms and bedrock…Spring 2011 | Richard Carstensen | 12 pages
Final report on Discovery’s 2-year study of amphibian habitat relations. Population numbers, breeding pond origin types, and amphibian natural history…2003 | Richard Carstensen, Mary Wilson, Robert Armstrong | 77 pages