Professor Bone's Forestry Research Maps a Digital Landscape

By Bree Nicolello

Dr. Chris Bone, whose name perhaps suggests that of a surgeon or professor of Archeology, is working on exciting new research in a growing field. Thanks to a generous interdisciplinary research grant from the Office of Research, Innovation and Graduate Education at the University of Oregon, he and his colleagues from colleges all over the world are examining how forest policies and climate change are driving native insect outbreaks in western North America.

Using computational programs that model human-environment interactions, Bone’s research focuses on what leads to forest disturbances, and how such disturbances impact forest policy. He does this by using both literature and surveys to plot individual decision making as agents on a digital landscape. These decision-making agents particularly focus on decisions individuals may enact regarding bark beetle outbreaks.   

Bone has studied deforestation, primarily by bark beetles and pathogens, for a decade now. His interest began when he was completing his Master’s Degree at the Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.  

“A guy in British Columbia used to fly planes and take pictures of forestry destruction caused by bark beetles. One day, I got to fly with him. Since then, my research has been on and off. But at the University of Oregon, I found new tools and colleagues,” remarked Bone.

Bone was focusing on statistical analysis that included either climate change or how policies affected large-scale beetle outbreak. The technology to see the influence of both concepts on deforestation just didn’t exist yet. However, thanks to recent technological advances, Bone and his team can now observe more multidimensional decision-making systems and the effects that bark beetles and climate change have on forest policy.

“It’s a new field, which is exciting. The study of coupled natural and human systems is an emerging discipline that is interested in the dynamics of how human decision-making and natural systems interact to cause change.”

The research is helpful to anyone working in forestry, especially those working with the US Forest Service who focus on bark beetle outbreaks. Governance and public policies affect bark beetles and vice versa, so it’s a cyclical process. Furthermore, managers of forests who want to understand how poly-season management can influence outbreaks would find this material useful.

This body of work is relatively new and is emerging from both literature on the subject and federal directives, which guide research.

Bone recommends those who are interested in this research to read related popular science books.  His favorite book is Emergence by Steven Johnson, which he considers to be the best place to start for those who want to explore more about complex and coupled natural and human systems.

“It talks about how phenomena emerge from local interaction between multiple agents or things. The things we see in the world are complex interactions between multiple entities.”