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Jerry Franklin Oral History Interview, November 19, 2020

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Jerry Franklin Oral History Interview, November 19, 2020


Jerry Franklin had a long history with the Andrews Forest, as described in his several other oral histories in the Voices collection. He began working there as a student intern in 1957, and as a Forest Service scientist he rose to a leadership role in the International Biological Program (IBP) (1970s) and served as Principal Investigator in the early Andrews LTER period. He continued to engage with the program after moving to the U of Washington in the 1980s.

Revealing his professorial history, Franklin begins the interview with an extended discussion of what constitutes an ecosystem – composition (he favors the term biodiversity), structure, and functions with some examples from forest ecosystems. The functions include production, interaction (e.g., hydrological), conservation of nutrients and soil (geomorphology comes in here), and habitat for other organisms. He states that this vision is the product of 40 years of research and teaching, and he feels that forests are particularly important ecosystems because of the scale on which they carry out these functions. He also sees forest ecosystems as “well ordered,” and predictions can be made about their future.

Concerning his education and early relation with forests, he explains that he found comfort in forests as a youth and made a commitment to work for their wellbeing. He has approached them as an “inter-disciplinarian” at the interface of ecology and forestry. His research approach has been observational and not based on hypothesis testing, but, rather, on questions. It was in that spirit that research on the nature of old-growth forests took place; the work began with description of the system. He uses research on dead wood as an example, and goes on to discuss the differences between his approach to science and that of Dick Waring, with whom he co-led the Andrews program in the critical IBP period. A key point is recognition of the importance of distinctive attributes of particular species. This leads to a story about wanting to rely on understanding natural history rather than theory-based models to address ecological problems. Old growth comes up again as he discusses the quest for objectivity in science, but he points out that selection of research topics plays a critical role and that selection isn’t always objective. The research at Mount St. Helens was also strongly observational and a great medium to express his “gift” for integrating many people’s work and ideas. He mentions the motivation of his anger at those who promoted “universal theories” about forest ecosystems, and that truth is in what you observe in the forest. In response to a question about existence of laws of nature, Franklin asserts there some are “givens,” like “we live, we die,” but biology doesn’t have simple laws as in physics and chemistry. Concerning his motivations in science, he returns to the point about wanting to do the best he could on behalf of forests, and the best way to do that was to conduct observational, inter-disciplinary science, although he mentions some experimental work of importance. He describes the benefits of modeling as learning activities, but with limitations, which he describes with an example of tree mortality in a model by East Coast researchers.

Franklin gives limited response to questions about his opinion concerning engagement of arts and humanities in the Andrews Forest program and circumstances of his departure from Andrews and Corvallis for U of Washington in 1986. But, this leads to a rich discussion about the contributions of the Andrews program in terms of articulating characteristics of old, native forests and their distinctions from plantation forests. He says that took a community to learn that and communicate it to the world. “It was magical.”


Jerry Franklin


H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest Oral History Collection (OH 28)


Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Oregon State University Libraries


November 19, 2020


Sara Khatib


Born Digital Video




Oral History



Oral History Item Type Metadata


Sara Khatib


Jerry Franklin


Interview conducted over Zoom

Original Format

Born Digital Video



OHMS Object

Interview Format


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