Before Monica and I hit the road on Wednesday morning, I want to share my latest take on NTS-ENTS-WNTS. Are we there yet, i.e. are we accomplishing our missions? What are our missions? In a recent email to Ed Frank, I listed 5 missions that I consider to be the heart and soul of NTS. I'll list them again.
(1) We serve as a Internet interest group for all who like forests and trees and who want to socialize on the topic. There are no expectations in the socializing, just participation. This will be a continuing mission of NTS. People can join our group with no fear of having to meet goals or objectives. So, in this mission, I say we are succeeding thanks in no small part to the herculean efforts of Ed Frank.
(2) We collect forest and tree data for scientific usage with no particular groups, individuals, or specific purposes in mind - just data of a type that nobody else reliably collects - at least that we know of. This mission implies such things as databases, collaboration with others. etc. How are we doing? We've made small inroads, but we're not there yet. But in this mission, it will always be niches that we fill. Success will be hard to define.
(3) We develop site descriptions that provide information (usually tree data) that can be found nowhere else and serves to better inform specific groups and individuals and the general public about the sites. We do a lot in this area, and I suppose we can claim victory, but our efforts come in fits and spurts. I wish we were more systematic. Each site description is important. It usually adds information that is available nowhere else. Maybe we can eventually produce an NTS book of sites.
(4) We explore forests and trees in the context of art, music, photography, etc. This connection exists thanks to the likes of Michael Gatonska, Andrew Joslin, Jennifer Dudley, Monica Jakuc Leverett and others. It is an important part of NTS and one I hope continues to grow. Thanks to those mentioned and others, this is a growth area. We may not be there completely, but we're making a splash.
(5) We develop and put into practice and educate on methods for measuring tree dimensions to an ever higher level of accuracy. This implies adding truth to the numbers where that truth currently doesn't exist. This mission also implies helping other groups struggling to make individual tree measuring a serious endeavor. With respect to this mission, we are there, but oh, there is so much left to do. We have arrived at the front door and stepped inside, but there is no back door, just endless opportunity. We have arrived, but we haven't made anywhere near a large enough splash.
I suppose we could add to the list, but if we go much beyond the above, we're kidding ourselves on what we can actually accomplish. We don't want to become a mile wide and an inch deep.
Other groups could serve the first mission. So for us, its the freebie we offer. Mission two is always going to be limited because what we can supply is niche data and so far there hasn't been much demand for it. We can strive to make it more accessible, but basically the scientific community has to express the need first. Three is a bread and butter mission. There can't be too much of this mission. We need more - much more. Number four is in the hands of the artistic. It is an exciting area with lots of potential outlets. It is NTS at the highest level. Five is a mission that we truly own. We're better at it than any other group of which I am aware. But we've been very scattered in our execution of this mission. Our numbers are everywhere, and consequently, it is hard to make the most hay with this mission until we develop some tools to keep our accomplishments up in front of everyone. I can't emphasize this enough. Suppose we were to dig through all our postings to identify accomplishments of significance. What could we post? We can certainly claim lots of species height records, but could also show growth patterns that provide better understandings of the maximum growth potential of many species.
Here is a little thought exercise. Imagine that we were to go to an author of a tree book, say a field guide, and ask him/her where a particular species achieves specified dimensions, what is exceptional, what is average, and where, and if he/she provides that information is it from some level of experience or just quoting other sources. What would the author's response likely be? I doubt that we would find many, if any authors, who could provide that kind of information from personal experience or from group participation unless that author was a member of NTS. If we think about it, that has profound implications with respect to public awareness. It robs the public of understanding what is special versus ordinary, and in the ensuing ignorance, what is worth saving.
We in NTS are in a position to play an almost unique role in the restructuring of species dimensional data. For example, what can we expect out of Rocky Mountain Doug Fir in say Wyoming versus Colorado versus New Mexico. What would a lot of data points show. I have an incomplete picture now, but I'll wager dollars to donuts that none of the so-called tree or forest experts can match what I now know from my just admittedly incomplete picture. How can that be? We could discuss the reasons, but it wouldn't change the reality.
I should point out that with respect to mission #5, it is not about maintaing champion tree lists, state or national. We readily see that their methods and data can't fulfill mission #5. But for us, we can pat ourselves on the back on what we know and what we contribute with a caveat. IMHO we still haven't gotten there yet. We have to find ways of presenting what we individually and collectively know so that others will take notice. That achievement still eludes us. Because of the overwhelming amount of bad numbers floating around with a life of their own, we struggle against long odds. So, in summary, relative to mission #5, are we there yet? No, not yet.