Faculty Profile – Michael Paul Nelson: Philosophy behind the Environment

Michael Paul Nelson is a faculty member within the College of Forestry with a non-traditional forestry background. His education is founded in philosophy and ethics, which has led him to ponder the dilemmas in the natural resources world. Michael says that as a philosopher, he is trained to take on natural resource arguments and try to answer difficult ethical questions related to natural resources and conservation ethics. These skills have led him to become the OSU Lead Scientist and Principle Investigator for the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest Long-Term Ecological Research Program, an NSF-sponsored, multi-million dollar research program in the Oregon Cascades.

The H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest was established in 1948 for the pursuit of long-term research, education and science-based management. The long-term data that has been collected at this site can help scientists study the impacts of different harvesting management strategies, determine how the ecosystem reacts to harvesting, and observe the legacy effect over time. Michael explains that after all this time, they are “still learning new things from these units and with climate change, this long-term data is important to look back on as the system is impacted.”

In addition to his work with the H.J. Andrews Forest, Michael also pursues many other scientific studies such as the Wolves and Moose of Wolf Isle Royale project. The Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale project is the longest continuous study of a predator-prey relationship in the world, entering it’s 58th year in 2016. This project is based on a remote wilderness island in Lake Superior. Michael’s role as the “environmental philosopher and historian” for the project began with his interest in the reestablishment of wolves into an ecosystem, and the controversial nature of this topic. After being involved with this project, Michael soon realized that if “we want to have any hope or seriousness about influencing policy, that the demands for deep and serious interdisciplinary thought and work are really enormous.” This project has brought together scientists from all disciplines to improve the status of wolves both on the island and within the American culture.

What Michael suggests for new students looking into the College of Forestry is to “sample broadly” and go out of your initial comfort zone. He urges students to “go to seminars, pay attention, ask questions, challenge thinking. You can learn so much and college is not just about classes. Take advantage of these opportunities, learn to be empathetic to the speakers in order to learn from them – what do they believe, what are they taking for granted, what are they arguing ought to be done? That is what college is about.”

To learn more about the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest visit : andrewsforest.oregonstate.edu/lter

To learn more about the Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale visit: www.isleroyalewolf.org