Green­house is­sues drive forestry growth

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Research Round - Up - Derek Parker

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.’’

Tree ami­gos: The Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity’s se­nior forestry lec­turer Cris Brack, right, with hon­ours stu­dents Si­mon Roberts and Matthew Kinny

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