Breath of Clarity

Ecology Discussion #1, B

The ecosystem I am observing for this course’s project is The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park in Aptos, California. Considering the park is amazingly lush, I am interested in studying how the biota is interdependent. I am wondering how the wildfires burning Big Basin and residences in the Santa Cruz mountains have impacted a flourishing forest in the region. Leopold acknowledged one resource cannot prosper while another deteriorates as he emphasizes ecological conscience is the awareness of all life being interconnected. I wonder how the ecologists at Nisene Marks are applying the given principle and how they enable the area to thrive. Leopold understood efficiency as a social calculation for the benefit of all as opposed to being driven by personal equity. I am also interested in how the state parks balance economic gain with providing a lovely haven to the public.

Although Nisene Marks is a state park instead of a national park, many of the same ecological principles can be applied to both. Researchers clarified, even in the face of natural disturbance, forest reserves have a stronger chance of sustaining biodiversity compared to lands managed for the purpose of timber production (Aber et al. 2000). Leopold’s emphasis on keeping economics from dictating decisions at the expense of other factors aligns with the management conduct. At the same time, the authors explained proposals to ban all timber harvesting on National Forests would leave managers without a valuable tool that can be used selectively to restore early successional habitat, reduce fuel loads, and contain pest and pathogen outbreaks in some forests (Aber et al. 2000). The journal article truly conveys Leopold’s value of the balance between economic gain and vitality. I wonder the degree to which invasive plants are currently spreading around Nisene Marks and whether it makes sense to use the removal of invasive plants as a proposed project.

Further, Leopold emphasized ecological conscience is the recognition that taking care of other living organisms and the space we all inhabit actually improves one’s own health. I am interested in observing the people who visit Nisene Marks and noticing their experiences interacting with the space. Insofar as ecology is the science of community, ecological conscience is the approach successful people bring and the moral code they act by to both excel as a member of society and enhance the well-being of all. However, I am curious how Leopold would respond to the impacts of recreational use as hiking connects people with wilderness and can also significantly damage the space. Perhaps, he would support the use of the space during the virus because he sees a sense of community as crucial. Leopold did emphasize ecological conscience needs to be experientially understood or communicated from one person to the next.


Aber, John, Norman Christensen, Ivan Fernandez, Jerry Franklin, Lori Hidinger, Malcolm Hunter, James MacMahon, David Mladenoff, John Pastor, David Perry, Ron Slangen, and Helga van Miegroet. 2000. “Applying Ecological Principles to Management of the U.S. National Forests.” Issues in Ecology 6:1-20.

Leopold, Aldo. 2013. Sand County Almanac & Other Writings on Conservation and Ecology. London: Penguin.

Comment #1:

Mary, I too, wonder how Leopold would respond to some of today’s conundrums with respect to conservation. People-watching can be and is a valuable adjunct to understanding how man-influenced systems are operating. If you decide to include people-watching, I wonder what sort of sampling scheme you might use?



Hi Professor Kay,

At first, I was using my own theory from leisurely people-watching at Nisene Marks to exemplify Leopold’s idea of ecological conscience regarding one collective health. However, impacts of recreational use adds complexity to the scenario because those who are valuing the park are also creating human impoundments on the land. While, I agree observing people use the space is valuable as a side note for understanding the way a specific ecosystem is operating, my sample would only focus on the designated caretakers of the land from the state and volunteer groups. I would also take note of any significant impact visitors have inflicted on the space. The next step would be to define “significant”. With all the biodiversity in the place’s ecosystem, my interest is more so in balancing my observation of the plants, trees, wildlife, and humans. So, my focus is on how humans function in the ecosystem community. Do you have any recommendation regarding the degree to which I should incorporate observation of humans into the report?

Comment #2:

Not really, Mary. I think it is something that will depend on what you see and how it relates to the system. Sampling people-watching should be an interesting trick.



Totally, sampling people-watching is an interesting phenomenon. I agree with basing the method for observing humans on their relation to the ecosystem community.

Comment #3:

Hi Mary,

Great post and your site for your study sounds beautiful! I’m really intrigued in regards to your final paragraph and the curiosity that has piqued your interest. It is truly interesting how we are always encouraging people to connect with nature, explore local parks, and go on hikes, yet all of those have the possibilities of impacting these areas. By having this thought process I feel like it will make your observation all the more interesting to see how people interact with the land and the choices they make. I have always loved being outdoors but while taking these courses in this program it has amazed me how much my perspective has changed and how I notice so many more things when I’m out walking on trails now than I ever did before. Do you believe the best way to promote ecological conscience is to lead by example or are there other ways to reiterate these ideas in nature?




Hi Casey,

Thanks for the support with the site selection! I agree taking the courses in this program brings fruit to my perspective while being outdoors. I also appreciate how learning tree and plant identification of species specific to a certain place enhances my experience being there. A key component of ecological conscience is awareness which in this context involves not leaving a trace beyond footprints or bike tracks. I agree with leading by example in this regard as it would involve paying attention to the way I leave a space after spending time there. However, my opinion is leading by example is not enough to spark ecological conscience in others. People may not respect their surroundings until they connect with the space and actually want to take care of it. Increasing the convenience of acting aligned with ecological conscience, such as placing many trash cans throughout a park, is a way I can help people at least respect the area. Increasing the convenience of supporting the environment also shows people ecological conscience does not necessarily entail massive sacrifice. As people make healthy choices, they may notice how being surrounded by clean conditions makes the experience enjoyable. They may develop a sense of gratitude. Then, it is easier for them to see that the alternative choice of contaminating the planet would actually be self-destructive.