Greenhouse issues drive forestry growth
AS forestry program convener and senior lecturer in the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University, Cris Brack has developed a reputation as one of the key researchers in the field. His contribution to understanding Australia’s forest resources has attracted international attention.
‘‘ My research focus has been the development of optimal sampling strategies, modelling tools and decision- support systems for trees at stand, landscape and continental scales,’’ he says.
‘‘ It’s an issue of knowing exactly what you have to better manage it. To build that base of data and information, you have to be able to integrate knowledge across a range of fields, such as applied statistics, data acquisition, modelling of dynamics and supply, and decision- support systems.
‘‘ It’s research that has broad application in both natural and urban environments.’’
Forest management is an area of growing interest, as environmental issues such as carbon emissions and sequestration move to the fore of government policy.
Brack’s work has been influential in the development of the Australian Greenhouse Office’s national carbon accounting system, and in catalysing the development and adoption of new approaches by forest and land managers.
The data is used by agencies such as the Bureau of Resource Sciences, National Forest Inventory, Canberra Parks and Places, the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, Forestry Tasmania and Private Forests Tasmania.
Aside from his research interests, Brack emphasises the importance of teaching the next generation about forest management. His ANU courses aim to train undergraduate and graduate students in the principles, practices and potential of measuring and modelling forest- based resources.
But he notes that when he began his academic career, he saw teaching as an unwelcome price that had to be paid to pursue his research interests.
‘‘ The surprise was that once I started teaching, I fell in love with it,’’ he says. ‘‘ In fact, I have come to the conclusion that research and teaching are linked, with each refreshing and reinforcing the other.
‘‘ As broad community interest in sustainability has grown, the student base has changed. Once, the students who undertook the course were planning to go into forestry management. But now there is a broad mix, including students from other disciplines who want to understand forestry issues as part of a bigger picture. It means that the course content and method has had to evolve.
‘‘ My approach is based on teamwork and participation. I provide an initial set of learning resources and see how students interact with those resources and with each other. I add digital or web- based material, including self- help quizzes, and repeat the process.’’
His teaching achievements have been recognised with a citation for outstanding contribution to student learning by the Carrick Institute as well as the ANU vice- chancellor’s teaching award for excellence in education.
‘‘ It is very satisfying to win these awards, especially as the VC teaching award was due to nomination by undergraduate students,’’ he says. ‘‘ I guess that means that they are getting as much out of it as I do.
‘‘ As a researcher and a teacher, I believe you have to enjoy what you do. You have to be willing to play with your subject, your resources and your students, while keeping track of the impacts. If you’re not having a good time, you’re not doing it right.’’