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Tom Wessels on Conservation Biology

Last week, I interviewed Tom Wessels, a professor of Ecology and founder of the Conservation Biology Graduate Program at Antioch College in New England. Tom is the also the author of Reading the Forrested Landscape which I reviewed a few weeks ago. This book has completely changed the way I look at the woods on my backpacking trips and what I think about when I’m hiking.

As an Ecologist, Tom’s academic and field work has focused on describing interactions between organisms and with the natural environment including geology, weather change, and historical patterns of land use. Over the years, he recognized that quantitative and qualitative description of these complex systems was insufficient to effectively preserve them from disruption from local and national land developers or polluters.

Tom found that effective environmental stewardship required strong grassroots community organization and communication skills in addition to the scientific rigor of ecological study. This led to the creation of the Conservation Biology Graduate Program at Antioch, which offers a two year master’s program that merges ecology and social science. Graduates of the program primarily work for non-profit environmental organizations in roles that require scientific analysis and community outreach.

If you are interested in learning more about the study of ecology and the description of plant communities which is core part of the Conservation Biology curriculum and goes beyond the exercises in Tom’s Reading the Forrested Landscape, I suggest you look at Tom’s course syllabus for Community Ecology of the New England Landscape.

I’ve already started working through one of the prerequisite skills for the course, training myself how to identify the top 20 tree species in Massachusetts from just the bark of the tree. If you live in New England, you can visit the actual plant communities (driving directions are provided) where practical “reading the landscape” skills are taught by Tom and try your hand at describing the impact of disturbance history has on plant community development and composition. It’s really not that hard to quickly become an ecological Sherlock Holmes if you start paying attention to this stuff on your hikes and it is addictive.

If you are also interested in finding out more about the Conservation Biology program at Anitoch of New England (located n Keene, New Hampshire), check out the program description. Antioch also hosts visiting days, where prospective students can visit campus and meet with faculty and students.

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