It’s got me stumped

Canberra's tallest tree

How much is an old tree worth? Often we only make the effort to appreciate something’s value until it’s threatened or (worse) till it’s gone. Take the case of Canberra’s tallest tree, now Canberra’s tallest stump.

This blog was inspired by Karen’s blog on the value of old trees in Canberra’s urban forest. Her research has shown that big, old trees have considerable biodiversity value. But what does that mean when other values (like public safety) are in conflict? And how does the value for one person compare to the values of other people, and who takes responsibility? All these questions came into sharp focus for me recently when the government cut down our city’s tallest urban tree.

The tallest gum tree in Canberra’s urban forest was a ribbon gum growing in a little park in the suburb of Ainslie, just up the street from where I live. No-one really talked about it, it had always been there. It was so huge (over 40 metres tall) that you kind of didn’t notice it – it was simply part of the landscape. And, because no-one noticed it, no-one asked if it was a good idea that it was growing right next to a community tennis court (and club house). Besides being a wonderful looking gum it also housed a large number of birds including a family of gang gangs and a pair of little hawks.

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What value an old tree?

Typical park with old tree in Duffy Canberra

Large, old trees are a familiar part of the suburban landscape, protected for their environmental and economic benefits.  But do they provide biodiversity benefits too?

It’s easy to get lost in Canberra’s suburbs: streets curve and dogleg in bewildering patterns that make a map a necessity in unfamiliar areas.  But what is the reason for this tangle?  Although I would not presume to understand what goes on in an urban planner’s mind, my guess is that part of the answer comes down to the presence of remnant eucalypts, i.e. large, old trees.

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What’s the point of science if no one listens?

Photo by David Cook

A while ago one of my colleagues raised the question whether we should be ‘outcome’ or ‘output’ driven in our research. I took these comments as referring to our focus on publishing articles, over research leading to changes in management. This got me thinking about a situation two years ago.

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