Watershed, wolves and science art at SOU conclave

You'll get a look at the ecology of the Ashland watershed, an explanation of why wolves are vital to a healthy environment and a show of art that relates to science as the Pacific Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science holds its annual convention this week at Southern Oregon University.

Noted wolf expert Cristina Eisenberg of Oregon State University, author of "The Wolf's Tooth," speaks at 7 p.m. today in the science building on the always polarizing role of wolves in modern society. She will demonstrate wolves are a "keystone predator" that balances the ecosystem, winnowing big eaters of shrubbery, such as moose and elk, said SOU biology professor Roger Christianson.

"Some people think wolves do nothing but eat up everything in sight," he said, "but science is establishing they maintain diversity by winnowing big eaters of shrubbery. Without wolves, we see the moose and elk down in the creek, eating the smallest sprouts but, with wolves in Yellowstone now, they are leery of going there — and there's all this diversity coming back."

The six-day conference of the Western Division of the AAAS will include an all-day Tuesday symposium on the Ashland watershed, source of the city's water and focus of fears on wildfire. It features 15 speakers.

Entitled "Citizen Science: Integrating Biophysical and Social Realities in the Management of the Ashland Watershed," it runs 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tuesday in room 108 of the SOU science building. The AAAS has opened the symposium to interested local residents for a reduced fee of $20.

The symposium organizers are Mark Shibley, professor of sociology and environmental studies, and Marty Main of Small Woodland Services, Inc. of Ashland. Presenters are from the U.S. Forest Service, the SOU Department of Environmental Studies, The Nature Conservancy, Ashland Fire and Rescue, Lomakatsi Restoration Project and others.

The U.S. Forest Service recently accepted a community alternative for its Ashland Forest Resiliency Project, with a partnership among USFS, the City of Ashland, The Nature Conservancy and Lomakatsi Restoration Project, a local forest restoration company. The symposium will study this community strategy for land.

Also, resource management scientists from all over the West will explore topics such as the value of advanced placement programs in high schools, wildlife forensics, vaccines, a philosophical survey of the conflicts between science and religion — and will include field trips to Mt. Shasta, Oregon Caves and the Illinois River Valley (for biological diversity and serpentine geology).

The conference has prompted a three-month display of "The Art of Science," with many paintings and other art portraying visions from science, including a highly participative "Waltzing Hammers" that you can spin and watch do its thing for about 15 minutes, until it runs down. It's created by Ken Patton, a Portland engineer, who also did the adjacent "Clocks Passing the Time," another kinetic sculpture that "mesmerizes" people, said Michael Crane, director of SOU's Schneider Museum of Art.

Thirty-three artists, many local, answered the call for art and are displaying their science-related creations in the art buildings on either side of the Schneider, in the Hannon Library and in Stevenson Union.

The showing features 60 enlarged covers from Science Magazine, the publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an array of photos by Jim Chamberlain of the U.S. Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory staff at work and three digital paintings by Deena desRioux, in the union, showing humans interfacing with cyber-technology wired into their heads — a dark suggestion of the future.

"Some artists have a loose, thin line between art and science," Crane said as he was lighting exhibits Friday. "There's no overarching theme. The creative process in both art and science is the same. You can come up with three good ideas and keep at work resolving it all your life."

Most of the artists have a strong interest in science, Christianson said, and several of the artists are scientists.

Local artists include Paula Fong, Jim Thompson and Shoshana Dubiner, all with an impressionist or fantasist spin on their take of science and nature. Details on artists and symposia are at http://www.sou.edu/aaaspd/.

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