First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your family, education, background/previous stops, career, etc.?
I grew up in Barnesville and had a pretty typical experience. My father was the high school chemistry/physics/math teach and his passion for education clearly rubbed off on me. I always appreciated the outdoors throughout high school.
I earned my BS from North Dakota State University, where my interest in birds and research were piqued. At NDSU I worked on summer research projects studying golden eagles, prairie falcons, aquatic insects, and birds and mammals on the Alaskan tundra.
I also met my wife, Lisa, in Fargo. Lisa and I moved to Virginia Tech where we studied piping plovers as part of my Master’s program. We lived on an Atlantic Coast barrier island during the summer and in the Appalachian Mountains during the school year – it was quite the educational and cultural experience so different from Minnesota. After 3 years in Virginia, we moved to Corvallis where I studied at Oregon State University. At OSU, I worked in the Coast Range with river-dwelling birds, principally American dippers. After my PhD, I was a post-doctoral research associate and teaching fellow at OSU for another 3 years. Our sons, Luke and Isaac, were born in Oregon. We moved to Crookston in 2000.
Birds. You and I agree they’re amazing and we share an appreciation for them. Convince someone who couldn’t care less about birds that they are truly missing out on something spectacular…
I would like to believe the 45 hours of instruction during my Ornithology course is just a primer on why I think birds are so incredibly amazing! Selecting one aspect is as hard as picking your favorite child! But I’ll offer a few. Several warblers that weigh only 10 grams (less than your car key fab) will gain 75% of their body weight over 2 weeks, then burn all that fat over 4-5 days as they migrate to Minnesota from South America. How many of us would like to gain 100 pounds during the holiday party scene in December and then go to the gym during the first week of January and lose all that weight. Amazing! Even more amazing is that this warbler that spent the winter in Venezuela will return and nest in the SAME TREE each year in northern Minnesota.
I know friends that have trouble finding their car in the Target parking lot. Birds are amazing!
How alarmed should the general populace be over the amount of birds and animal species in general that are simply disappearing, largely due to the changing climate? Please explain.
Research appearing in Science (arguably, the top science journal in the world) in October 2019 clearly demonstrated an average 25% decline in the number of birds in North America. The authors of the study used data collected across North America over the past 50 years.
Again, one-quarter of the birds in North America have disappeared over the last 50 years. On the prairies (i.e., Crookston’s landscape), that decline has been by over 50% for grassland birds. Today only half the number of birds present in 1969 are here today. That is pretty disturbing from an ornithologist’s perspective.
There is not a reasonable person who doesn’t see this as profoundly troubling unless they just don’t think science yields sound results (and good luck with any medical treatment, pharmacology, or engineering designs if you don’t believe in the foundation of science).
Climate change presents an entirely new issue for the next century. If we want to keep the experience I had growing up 50 years ago, we need to not only correct the challenges at play during the past 50 years for birds, but also anticipate the substantial challenges from climate change in the future.
Climate change predictions are that Crookston will be warmer, especially during winter nights, but with more variable precipitation. Ask any agricultural producer about the variability in production in the last 5 years based on temperature and precipitation. It has been record setting both in highs and lows, and that those differences in temperature and precipitation will only get more variable into the future. Good years can be great for many; terrible years will be catastrophic for some. Any long-term investment should consider the impacts of a changing climate!
You could probably teach at any number of institutes of higher education, but you and your wife, Lisa, and your family settled in Crookston many years ago and you have stayed. What has been the continued draw for you here?
Yes, perhaps I could live in many places. I moved here for a position that really matched my training and to be closer to family after spending two decades away going to school. An ideally-suited appointment at UMC keeps me here.
When you think of the Red Lake River in Crookston, what’s the first thought that comes to your mind? Why is that the first thing you think of?
Flooding (as I look out at the river in April), followed by unappreciated resource. Flooding because I live on the river and enjoy seeing the annual change in river stage.
But I also think it is a grossly unappreciated resource for paddling, fishing, camping, and other recreation. We have a world-class catfish fishery in Crookston and few know it!
Do you think the average Crookston resident realizes what it means to have a University of Minnesota campus in the community? Please explain.
I sure hope they do. We have faculty and staff with exceptional skills both in their discipline and in terms of analyses, organization, and operations. We have worlds of experience to share with OUR community. It would seem pretty short-sighted for Crookston residents to eschew these people with exceptional skills only because their grandparents were not born in Crookston. We have a lot to offer to our hometown!
Do you have any skills and/or hobbies that are particularly quirky or unusual that might surprise people to know about?
Foregoing my family’s objections, I am pretty normal without any unusual abilities. They might say I seldom lose my bearings and can always find my way home, I have an uncanny spatial/geographic memory, and I have an unusual grasp on mostly irrelevant knowledge. I guess some might consider studying the behavior of birds for 8 hours as quirky – I see it as quite normal!
Let’s try a you’re-stranded-on-a-deserted-island question: You have an amazing home theater and audio system and somehow have all of the electrical power you could ever need. But you can only play three songs and watch three movies. Which three songs and which three movies do you pick?
My media tastes are not refined enough to make such a list. No one on the island would want to watch endless reruns of Gilligan’s Island, MASH, Hogan’s Heroes, or the first Star Wars trilogy…. let alone what I might choose as an adult!
Please describe yourself using no more than 10 words.
I will leave that to others. I simply keep doing my best and hope to make it fun for all.