Director’s Note, October 2020

Photo of Karen Oberhauser, UW–Madison Arboretum director

Karen Oberhauser, UW–Madison Arboretum director (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW–Madison)

To the UW–Madison Arboretum Community,

Conserving as much global biodiversity as possible requires three key elements. First, conservation requires knowledge—we need to understand what is essential for organisms and natural systems to survive and how we can ensure those essentials are protected and sustained. Second, conservation requires action. As the late Edward Abbey said: “It is not enough to understand the natural world; the point is to defend and preserve it.” In many ways, the need for action separates the relatively young applied field of conservation biology from the older foundational field of ecology. And in my own evolution as a conservation biologist, I’ve become aware of a third, and perhaps most important, requirement—conservation requires hope. In many ways, hope is what gets me out of bed in the morning.

The newest additional to the Longenecker Horticultural Gardens collection embodies this hope. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we planted a jack pine on Sept 19, 2020. This tree is a fitting tribute to Aldo Leopold, who wrote in A Sand County Almanac “I love all trees, but I’m in love with pines.” But planting a tree that one might associate with northern Wisconsin sends another message. I encourage you to visit this tree at the top of the pinetum hill soon, but—spoiler alert—here are some of the words from the sign installed next to it: “Jack pines . . . range farther north than other North American pines and grow widely throughout Canada. . . . We hope that this tree will be thriving on the Earth Day centennial in 2070.”

Of course, we have no way of knowing how the 1,700 acres that we defend and preserve at the Arboretum and outlying properties will look in 50 years. We can’t predict how many of the trees will still be around and which natural communities will thrive in conditions that could be quite different from now.

But the Arboretum has been around for even longer than Earth Day. Eighty-six years after our 1934 dedication, Leopold’s goal of reconstructing “a sample of original Wisconsin,” while still a work in progress, is being carried out through knowledge generation and science-based action. And a healthy dose of hope.

— Karen Oberhauser, Arboretum director