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Leadership Corner

Effects of reduced human activity during coronavirus

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Alex Friend, Deputy Chief, Research & Development

Much of what we do in the Forest Service, whether at a research station or a ranger district, endeavors to quantify, plan or predict the environment’s response to human activity. While there is no rejoicing in a pandemic that has caused human suffering, death, social fracturing and economic uncertainty the world over, we are nonetheless afforded a privileged view of how the earth responds—in the air, in the water, in the woods—when we carry out a collective downscaling of the global industrial system that has taken shape over the course of our lifetime.

More than local or statewide initiatives simply to use less water to wash our dishes or eliminate plastic straws, the slowdown in manufacturing and transportation systems has massively reduced the output of nitrogen oxides and CO2 with immediately measurable effects.

As a scientist, I am fascinated by this stunning environmental response to the pandemic. As an agency leader, I am awed at the creativity, resolve and good humor our staff have demonstrated when using maladapted and new technologies, concurrently working and home-schooling, and physically isolating. More than ever, I feel a sense of pride in our workforce, who have exemplified increased patience, openness and support for colleagues in response to the pandemic and its impacts on our private and professional lives.

To be sure, this experience has had a humanizing effect. Through Teams and Skype and Zoom, we invite one another into our homes, where we engage with colleagues in uniquely personal environments that foster a kind of relaxed familiarity we find less in “real” conference rooms. We’re bringing our pets to meetings, sporting #covidhair and sharing recipes.

I find that my sense of respect and esteem…Read More

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