Forestry | Ecotrope

Spare a dime for lichen research? How about a forest crane?

Ecotrope | May 5, 2011 6:55 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:38 p.m.

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Thought the Wind River “canopy crane” that we profiled on Oregon Field Guide was cool? Budget cuts just killed it. How about that lichen air quality research we featured this season? Budget cuts gutted that too.

Oregon Field Guide showcases a lot of ecological research (much of it federally funded), so it makes sense that we’re hearing a lot of news these days about programs featured in our show now getting the axe.

But while TV news stations covered the demise of the Wind River canopy crane after 20 years as a ‘killer app’ for forest researchers, I wouldn’t hold my breath to see headlines about the end of a federal lichen air quality monitoring program.

Lichens, being lichens, don’t get a lot of attention that way.

Now, admittedly, even I wondered whether lichens had enough sex appeal to attract viewers to a story on Oregon Field Guide. But the story was a hit, and I think it may be because lichens are not only beautiful to look at up-close, but also because people were intrigued to learn that scientists found a way to used lichens as a relatively cheap way to measure air quality.

But not cheap enough.

Charley Peterson, a program manager with the Pacific Northwest Research station, told me that in response to proposed 2011 federal budget reductions, his team has suspended “measuring the forest health suite of variables as part of an overall impact to planning our field measurements and operations.” In a nutshell that means the lichen air-quality research of Sarah Jovan, one of the scientists we profiled in our story, has been put on the shelf for now.  And the budget outlook for 2012 doesn’t look any more promising.

The other US Forest Service scientist in that story, Linda Geiser, has better news. She oversees a budget of about $30-50,000 to run a regional (Oregon/ Washington) program for the US Forest Service/ Air Resource Management Program that includes lichen monitoring. That program remains intact for now.

As anyone who follows politics knows, the budget cutting has just begun. I’ll be keeping an eye out It to see how many research studies profiled over the last 22 years of Oregon Field Guide survive future rounds of cuts.

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