Ways to Meet a Changing World

Stressed forests. Songbirds at risk. Silver linings. How we talk to one another. The stories in this issue explore endings, beginnings, relationships, and our ever-present need for more information.

By Marie Lawrence

Human fingers holding a bright yellow bird with black markings
Like other Hawaiian honeycreepers, the ʻakekeʻe is highly endangered. A new program offers hope for saving them from extinction.

Image credit: USGS / Carter T. Atkinson

Some common threads run through the articles in the winter 2023 issue. One is that our forests are changing. By now, a lot of people realize that forests are super important to the health and future of Earth—and to us, even if we never step inside one. But the stories in this issue show that as attached as we are to them, tree-filled landscapes may not be in our future to the extent that they are today. In the lead feature article, Nathan Kiel and colleagues make a convincing argument that that’s not intrinsically a bad thing; it’s just a thing. One we may have to adapt to. More wildflower-filled meadows anyone?

Hazel Galloway and coauthors tell us that tree death in the West is whittling away at Pacific Northwest forests. Megan Nortrup tells us that overabundant deer and non-native plants in the East are altering the innards of eastern forests. And Mike Bell and colleagues tell us air pollution is harming many of them, even from far away.

Silver linings? Deep inside old-growth forests we can still find really old trees and intact ecosystems that show resilience to stressors (but it’s important to stay vigilant). Recent congressional funding is helping eastern parks improve their forests’ health. And reducing air pollution just might—maybe—offset some of the harmful ecological effects of global warming. Wow! I didn’t see that one coming. But as with all good stories about science, each ending is just another beginning, and the key to unlocking a mysterious and unsettling future is—as always—more data.

We are a collaborative species; our information is only as good as our ability to share it.

That brings us to another common thread in this issue: how we exchange information with others. Because, as the story by Martha Merson and colleagues illustrates so well, we are a collaborative species; our information is only as good as our ability to share it. In order to share information, we have to agree on some things. So Ann Gallagher asks us to consider whether our definitions of “old growth” and “mature” forests truly serve us—or the planet. And Christopher Calvo’s podcast shows us what we’re missing when we ignore “old-school” forms of communication, like radio.

The sweet bird songs in Jeri Stoller’s podcast help bring home the plight of Hawaii’s highly imperiled forest birds. What kind of world would we have when we can no longer hear their songs? But Stoller’s story is, as are all the stories in this issue, ultimately about the hope that good science—good data—can give us. Don Swann’s article on citizen science tells us that professional scientists are few, but park visitors are many, and they can help fill our collective knowledge gaps in ways we have yet to imagine. Jessica Weinberg McClosky’s night-sky article shows us one way that’s straightforward: just ask them. Will Babb’s report from the field about thru-hiking shows how our long trails are changing. Could long trails be an indicator of things to come? Thru hikers can help us find that out.

Finally, Tim Henderson and colleagues ask us to journey back into the earth-shattering events of the past for clues to our future, as we delve into the mysteries of the mother planet. I had a lot of fun editing the stories in this issue. I hope you have as much fun reading or listening to them and wish you a happy, healthy new year.

A smiling woman in a gray winter hat and a red shirt, with sunglasses perched on her head, stands in front of a green river with trees in the background.

About the author
Marie Lawrence is the editor of Park Science magazine.

Last updated: January 4, 2024