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Small Watersheds Group Oral History Interview, Part 2, October 16, 1997

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Fred Swanson: I agree. And that brought it home when the other parties weren't keeping up the standards. But it didn't slow them down from using our data. (Laughter)

Gordon Grant: Following up on that, when you came out with the paper on using our data, the reaction I would get all the way around, was people would be kind of critical of it, but they wanted to reproduce it, replicate it. But they wanted to replicate it with our data. It was not a replication as in biochemistry, when you report on an experiment and somebody tries to re-do it. It was like, "Please give me your test tubes, so I can do your experiment in my laboratory!" (Laughter) That's really a key point, and there is no other 00:01:00repository. And you can turn that around into, "What's the responsibility of an organization that has that?" That's a question I keep coming up with. What should we be doing, because we're the only ones on the block with this stuff? It's like that discussion we had the other day, with Don and Al talking about what to do with the small watershed programs into the future. Do we have some money to upgrade them? How do we think about the next generation? And we're having to make decisions in the blind, because we don't know what the issues are going to be, and we don't know what the social setting is going to be, and we don't know who's going to come up and use this data.

But we have this responsibility, and here's the municipal water quality issue, which is going to be big, because it just isn't going to go away. And I look 00:02:00around say, "Who's got the sediment data?" Well, no one does. Alright, we do. We're the only ones on the block. So we have to step forward, much as you guys did, asking the questions before people got around to asking them. We have to be forward-thinking enough to be able to articulate those questions, to get them on the ground, to invest in them, including cobbling together the money to do it, which is danged hard when people haven't figured out they want to ask as the question [research]. You then have to sell it, and it's a gamble. But I think that's really important, because we're the only ones who will do this. I don't see anybody else out there. I don't think the survey [USGS] is, I don't think any of the others are. EPA doesn't do it, the Forest Service, by virtue of having this long-tenure land ownership and land management-stewardship charge, is gonna be the only ones to do it. And so it falls to us.

Fred Swanson: I was reflecting on this earlier and then this brings it out, to do it, and we don't market our team and our budget based on small watersheds. 00:03:00This has been a small watershed pep rally here [laughter]. But we don't market it that way, and if our marketing changes through time, and then we just sort of keep it going. I don't feel like we've been challenged by the leadership to cut it off. We've just had to deal with those issues internally. At least that's the way we've approached it. I'd be curious to know if Hubbard Brook and Coweeta market more heavily, or just, the way they present themselves, or what their problem analysis looks like. I suspect it would be a much more dominant part of their marketing representation of themselves. Because Coweeta is a hydro-, the hydrologic laboratory, and the whole landscape, physically and conceptually, seems structured around the small watershed. So I picture them as sort of being 00:04:00way over toward that end, whereas we, I don't even remember if we mentioned small watersheds in the one page we have to describe ourselves in the program, what used to be a research work description.

Gordon Grant: But it's interesting, because we don't, maybe because we've never really have, but we've viewed the small watersheds as taking care of business, more than anything that we're really out waving the flag over.

Fred Swanson: Yeah.

Gordon Grant: We've probably missed opportunities, too. I was just thinking yesterday, as I was on the phone two hours with USFS and BLM around a little brush fire they're fighting down on the Umpqua, and about timber sales, yadda, yadda, yadda. It's all coming down to peak-flow. The issue is peak-flow problems. We have Coyote Creek and discussions about turning on Coyote Creek 00:05:00[Monitoring program suspended for years]. You want "real" information about peak flow responses in the Umpqua watershed? We can give that to you. If I had a marketing sensibility, I'd say, by God, have I got a deal for you! (Laughter) For $25,000 a year, you can have all the information you want about the Umpqua's peak flow! Somebody, maybe a Jerry [Franklin] would have been better at that, pricking up his ears at that last point. But these issues gets back to the responsibility thing. We all look to that, not just because we have good science, but also because we have raw data that lets us study something relevant, as these brush fires emerge and subside, and we might do a better job 00:06:00of advertising this enormous infrastructure, which is all hidden. I don't think people really understand, and probably less and less, because of the easy availability of the data, just how much effort it takes to keep this thing going. If we turned the key on a bunch of new watersheds, the whole thing, which is huge, multi-site, and comes to a couple of million dollars of infrastructure, rotting in the woods, for example.

Max Geier: Well, we've been here for quite a while, and I know some of you have other time commitments. Maybe we could end with a discussion, going around here, what we did at the beginning, of what you consider to be the most important research issues and questions that your group is facing now, and what some of the problems or constraints might be, as it relates to the history of where the 00:07:00group has come from? Do you want to tackle that?

George Lienkaemper: Well, my focus now is dealing with the spatial data. The big issue and challenge for me, is documenting the spatial data sets as thoroughly as possible. That may be a theme that you hear more than once, but certainly the biggest challenge. We have these great data sets, and we just need to make sure they're appropriately documented so, in fact, people can say, "These are good data, because we've got the documentation."

Fred Swanson: Right. I feel like we're at a really amazing place in the history of the small watershed studies with respect to the amount of work that is going 00:08:00on in them. There's Beverley's [Wemple] road work, there's a lot of the veg work, and I've got to go to an 11:00 meeting, and there's a bunch of that interfacing with the veg people. And we need the vegetation distributed spatially in the small watersheds for the much more refined hydrologic analyses that are underway. So, like we talked about going from the small watersheds as black boxes to looking at their inner workings in sort of a budgetary kind of way, back in the '70s, I feel like we're making a whole quantum step, or two or three right now, on that for hydrology, somewhat in nutrients, and maybe in some other realms. There's Steve Wondzell's hyporheic work, which is adding a new dimension to the small watershed studies, and the fact that Watershed 3 got reamed out, which was commented on early in the interview, was an incredible 00:09:00experiment. It was so thorough in hitting the alder in there, just remarkably thorough, and so that has a nitrogen and a water story to it.

So anyway, I'm just really impressed by the diversity of work going on inside those watersheds, and that also links with new remote sensing work, which will, by trying to detect cover, veg cover and leaf area index, can link to biomass, nutrient capital, and carbon studies, as well as with the water studies. So, I feel like there's a level of research attention that's much more intensive and diverse than it's ever been before. And there are improvements of databases and data analysis from long-term data sets, including the spatial aspect. I'd like 00:10:00to have a whole series of layers and conditions mapped through time, to help us interpret the progress of the watershed. All this is happening in the 5-8 year period, probably. Then I think, we're going to have another set of questions. Are we going to go in and do some thinning, and do some more treatments, or go manipulate the roads? And see if we can measure hydrologic effects? The young stands were getting pretty crowded, but then there was a bunch of snow down, and there may be new questions around that. And then, there's the whole flood aspect of the story. So, I'm wondering if we're going to have an episode, maybe a decade of intensive looks at the small watersheds. And then, we're going to possibly, drop back from it significantly. I don't know. And then, do we make sure we've maintained our corporate intention to keep the baseline stuff going? And how do we do that under a new administration. Al had his "graduate boot 00:11:00camp" for a long time, and so, maybe if we can (laughing) keep it going. So anyway, now we're starting to look ahead and be concerned about that next phase, although we're really busy in the current one.

Don Henshaw: Well, I'm an information manager, so I don't have quite the science approach, but I do look at information management as a science. I think my participation with the LTER and going to these national meetings, has really helped promote the fact that, this is a science. We are developing ways to promote inter-site science through the internet, promote development of meta-data structures, or documentation structures, and improve data access among sites, and also within the sites. One of the things we're trying to do here, with the watershed study, is to be able to take George's spatial layers and maps 00:12:00and be able to link them with other plot data sets, link them to their publications. Also link them to a set of key words, to a set of locations, to people, to maybe remote-sensing layers, so we have all these different pieces that we'd like to have a database scheme, but to accommodate it so that you could come in through the web, and pick a location on a map, for instance, and be able to see the studies that took place on that watershed, and who the people were that were involved, or come in with a person and see what they did, or come in with a key word and be able to see all these associated pieces of information. So, for me, that's a huge challenge. That's going to be the next 5, 10 years, as I see it, but that's really what we're trying to do, and to develop the mechanisms to do that. And to have an information system to be able to accommodate those types of questions. Make that data available, on your fingertips.


Fred Swanson: I have to go to this meeting, and I'm real interested in what these guys say, so I'd like to be able to read it in the transcript. So I was wondering if you'd noted our names around the table, so that at least, for the beginning and these ending comments, that you'll make sure that we, know you.

Max Geier: Sure.

Don Henshaw: That was Don. (Laughter)

Ted Dyrness: That's why we went and introduced ourselves, because the transcriber recognizes our voice, and every time anybody says something, it will be attributed to the correct person. I just am struck by the tremendous legacy we have in the small watersheds. Yeah, it's a credit to the guys like Al, Ros, and George, that through the lean years, that they kept at it, as far as 00:14:00collecting the data, and made sure it was high quality and so on. But on the other hand, it's rather like having the tiger by the tail. We do have now, a tremendous responsibility for continuity, to continue. It's the same way, in talking to Steve Acker on his permanent plots, that it's a responsibility to go out there and collect new data, in his case, on mortality and growth rate on trees, and so on. But it's a cumulative thing. That as long as you do that, it's worth more, but it's a heavier responsibility to continue it. And you're continuing it, knowing not what questions will be asked in the future. You know, 00:15:00when we started, we didn't dream the questions we'd be asking right now. And now, we can't dream the questions that the people will be asking in the future. I know I'm sounding like a pep rally for the small watersheds, but in a way, we need to look at the small watersheds as just another set of permanent plots that we are responsible for, and it's incumbent on us to be a faithful steward. And that, in the future, all these measurements will continue, and the implementation will be serviced. It's a tremendous responsibility. And it's getting heavier, because there's more and more of what we are a steward for coming generations. Being fit, you know. (Laughter)


Gordon Grant: I could be frank and say, "I agree with that." But I'm not gonna do that. (Laughter) I've never done that. I too, am struck by the fact we're sitting in this room today, talking about this, which owes itself to a couple guys who chose the place, and then, a lot of people who kept it going. And I think the challenges for the future are going to be how to look at that list of drivers, and the contingencies embedded in all those drivers-the social, the people, the science, the technological, and the full suite of that changing landscape, the natural system. The challenge for us right now, is how do we pass 00:17:00on the legacy we've been handed? I think that's incumbent upon us as the beneficiaries of that legacy, to then pass it on. And that's really going to be the challenge. Because I think the nature of the environment has shifted, so that what Ted says is, "We gotta keep the place running." Well that's, you know, fundamental. That's a given. But it's even more than that. And the question is, how much can we anticipate the questions that are going to be useful down the road? And how do we set ourselves up now, so that when those questions get asked, we already have 10 or 15 years of data?

That way, the enterprise really pays for itself. And at that moment, the whole enterprise pays for itself. How do we deal with the people issue? I'm looking at the age distribution of people sitting in this room. We're all a bunch of white 00:18:00guys with gray hair, you know? (Laughter) Where is the next generation? Where is the next legacy of field people, science people, and data information people going to come from? Are we looking for that? Are we training those people? Are we training them the way that they need to be trained? Fred talked a lot about the science issues, and how these are likely to evolve. I see other places, because I think a very important point which has already been brought up, which is this inter-site business, but if we already have people, like David Post here, who's looking at our watershed data in the context of a set of other watersheds from around the country, and I spent the time in Italy and saw some of their experimental watersheds, and these experimental watersheds are international phenomena. Nobody has ever tried to capitalize on that full set. 00:19:00Nobody's even put a data set together of where these places are. One of the things I see happening in the future is that we're going to be increasingly involved in the larger-scale, multi-site, international-in-scope enterprise. What role to we have, and how do we best play that role? How do we also play the role of helping other sites come on-line? I mean, there are developing countries that are now looking to us.

Don Henshaw: Right.

Gordon Grant: For expertise, "where should we put our watersheds? What should we be studying with them?' These are the challenges I think we're faced with. I think these are the real issues, and our success or failure, the success or failure of this generation, my generation, is gonna be whether we did a good job in handing-off around that set of other issues.


Al Levno: Well, I think I'm more simplistic. As I'm looking toward my gray years and ready to retire, I'm just concerned that we have the foundation down and we can continue all the things we've been doing into the future. I keep wondering what's fallen through the cracks, and whether we can continue. It can be a small thing like, the snow-cats [transports for winter weather]. Are we looking out for ourselves? And that's always been a pet project for me. Making sure that we have snow-cats. For years we haven't had a snow-cat, and we have had challenging absolute travel conditions. I guess I'm hopeful that enough of a foundation has been laid that would allow us to connect the baseline data that we need, that we would continue to do that.

Ros Mersereau: I keep thinking, it's been 9 years since I retired, and things 00:21:00have really changed.

Ted Dyrness: In just 9 years?

Ros Mersereau: In just the 9 years. There are things that have been built, are being built, on the Andrews that I never would have even considered when I first started, and I think of all the things that the Andrews has in the small watershed area, that stands out to me, is the type of people who have been doing the work, and why I believe the data that comes from that is as good as it can 00:22:00be from anywhere. And even when you think of the fact we were using those old A- 35s, because although you have these fancy machines around, they still don't give you data that you can trust like you do the A-35s. I think that's part of it there. If we could, if you could go out and find a machine, and reach down in your pack, shove another one in its place and keep on going with it, you might be able to do something like that, but when you go up and you look at an A-35 and it's down, you know you can take it apart and put it together and get it to 00:23:00work. And it keeps right on a-going. And that's the big thing. You don't lose any data.

Ted Dyrness: Yeah, yeah.

Ros Mersereau: So what I keep hoping is the people that are following us are being real mindful of how they're doing the work.

Ted Dyrness: Yeah, that's right. If that stuff is lost, everything is lost.

Al Levno: I think the people who have been associated with the Andrews have been special, hard-working people who are willing to, to put their job ahead of everything else.

Ros Mersereau: Oh, yeah.

Ted Dyrness: Go out at 2 o'clock in the morning and put the stuff out.

Ros Mersereau: And doing like Roy did, going around.

Ted Dyrness: On the roads, yeah, and just walking.

Ros Mersereau: Yeah. That's why I don't go for your horsey thing. When they went 00:24:00out there and searched for those watersheds, it was bi-pedal! (Laughter)

Gordon Grant: I like your point.

Max Geier: I've got a lot more questions, but we really don't have time for that, so I appreciate your time here, and thanks for coming. And if you have anything you want to add about this, or what we've talked about here, feel free to contact me directly, via e-mail or drop a note in my box.

Ted Dyrness: You haven't talked to Julia [Jones] at all?

Max Geier: Not yet. I'll be talking to her soon.

Ted Dyrness: Yeah, I think, especially in view of the fact that she's not here, that she needs to be contacted alone or something.

Max Geier: Yeah, I was planning on doing that whether she was here or.

Ted Dyrness: That's too bad, because she really expressed enthusiasm for this.


Gordon Grant: I also wonder about talking with the next generation, people like Beverly and Dave Post and Sherri Johnson, people who are using the small watersheds.

George Lienkaemper: Reed Perkins.

Gordon Grant: Reed Perkins. Right. And it might be useful to get a group of them together, because I think this setting works really well for bouncing off people.

Ted Dyrness: That's why Fred had this dream, and I mentioned in my memo, remember, that the grad students would come in later, and I'm just sitting here thinking, and when we're discussing, my grad students would really eat this up. To have this kind of a conversation, you know, it would give them a historical perspective. I hope they would eat it up. I don't know. (Laughter)

Al Levno: I was wondering about continuing this, maybe, you know the hydrology meeting ["Stream Team"], the weekly meeting, we could get together and discuss 00:26:00just one small watershed meeting, and then 1, 2, and 3, and go through it like that?

Ted Dyrness: Sure, they had that hydro thing going weekly, didn't they?

Gordon Grant: We haven't done much of that this year, but we initialized it.

George Lienkaemper: You mean, just talk about what the history has been and where it's heading?

Ted Dyrness: Yeah, and sort of cross-cutting. That point is well taken. We need to encourage the younger generation. Where are they?

George Lienkaemper: They need to hear about the good old days. (Laughter)

Al Levno: Yeah, that's quite a thing. To look at those pictures. (recording ends)