Jiří Hulcr: cooperative extension. The American way of transferring innovations and why we need them to protect the Czech landscape

In the illustrative image, the species-rich and age-diverse forest in the St. Anna Demonstration Forest Building in Brdy.

In global nature conservation there is an increasing need to combine ecology and economy. There is no place left to shut down natural processes and endangered species in reserves, apart from humans; rather, we must learn to live together with nature. In forestry, which is my field, this means that forests must not only function as production but also provide ecosystem services. For this to work in the long run, someone has to pay the owners. The goal is for owners to cultivate forests that protect soil, water and birds, while producing quality wood. In short, for the forests to gain their own protection. The good news is that both are possible. The bad news is that we don’t yet have a mechanism in the Czech Republic to extend this in practice.

Biological forestry is a science with decades of tradition, which earns money and protects forests in many countries. It is already beginning to gain ground in our country, for example, under the auspices of Prosilva Bohemica, but so far only in the shade of spruce monocultures. What we need in the Czech Republic is to integrate the mechanisms of ecological and economic forestry into everyday practice. How to do? How do you teach an old dog new tricks?

I lived in America for almost twenty years and spent most of my career studying bark beetles, forests and forestry. Like any country, America can scare and disappoint us in many ways, and teach and inspire others. One of the amenities here that we should seriously consider importing is how scientific knowledge is put into practice.

How to ensure the cooperation of industrial foresters and the academy so that both parties respect and learn from each other? The American method is called Cooperative Extension.

This institution is one of the most important reasons why American agriculture and forestry is at such a high technological and conservation level. And yet, hardly anyone in the Czech Republic has heard of her, let alone explained to her.

And I’m just gonna try.

First, extension is not awareness

Outreach is public education, a godly activity, but not necessarily strategic or long-term. Raising awareness is a one-way distribution of knowledge: we propose a project and produce leaflets, but no one measures much if it worked and if we changed the behavior of the target group. In the United States, this is sometimes calledthrow shit on the wall and see what sticks“.

Extension is something completely different. It’s an organized way to transfer innovation from university labs to practice, for which the federal government pays universities and has been in US law since 1914.

This cooperative extension is based on several pillars. The first is the system of so-called Land Grant universities. Each state has one or two, and these are usually the largest public educational institutions, which traditionally focus on applied fields.

Harvard is therefore not a land grant, because it is private and Harvard professors live in a university bubble, and few of them are interested in forest economics. In contrast, the University of Florida, where I am employed, is a land-grant institution for this subtropical state and focuses primarily on agriculture, forestry, fishing, but also practical nature conservation, l economics of the use of natural resources or the study of rurality. education.

There are several hundred students in my forestry department; about half of them are engaged in forestry and the other half study the revitalization of ecosystems.

It is important that everyone, regardless of their goal, be required to take courses in practical forestry and landscape ecology. This brings forth a new generation of scientists with a pragmatic view of the world and the ability to use a butterfly net and a chainsaw.

Source Archives of Jiří Hulcr

Second, you have to go to the pub with the foresters

The second pillar is the pyramid of university employees who have innovation transfer in their job description. The University of Florida has several hundred of these “county faculties” or “extension officers” employed in all corners of the state, focusing on many commodities, from tomatoes to dairy to conservation. sources.

The key is that these people are judged for the dissemination of information. Their senior dean does not care whether these employees bring in grants, it is important to know how many hours per week they spend with their clients, i.e. local businesses, schools or authorities, if they learned anything, if they changed their perspective or activities, and if it brought in money or if it protected the local wetland. Everything is measured.

There is another layer of academic personnel above these district experts: the state specialists. Their task is research, but also the training of district experts and the production of material for them and their local customers, so that they combine modern scientific knowledge with utility on the farm or in the forest.

Author (in gray T-shirt) outside the academic bubble: a debate with local foresters around an infested bark beetle.

Author (in gray T-shirt) outside the academic bubble: a debate with local foresters around an infested bark beetle.

Source Archives of Jiří Hulcr

I am one of these state specialists, and my specific position is 60% research and 40% extension. This basically means devoting most of my time and effort to research into bark beetle and forest ecology, and the other essential part to devoting new knowledge to the language of practice.

The third important pillar that supports this cooperative extension is a serious science of information flow and innovation. It is probably the Czech Republic that I miss the most.

It turns out that it’s possible to teach an old dog new tricks, but it doesn’t work at all for an expert to come to the countryside, lecture and disappear again. Communication skills and mutual trust are needed to change perspective. Today, for example, it is already clear that the message itself is not as important to foresters, farmers or conservation groups as the messenger. Therefore, for a district expert (a local cooperative extension employee) to help a forestry company transform industrial plantations into nature-friendly agriculture, he must live and work among his clients. In America it looks like their families go to the same church, in the Czech Republic it looks like a professor of forest ecology from Prague or Brno goes to a local pub with foresters and conservationists near Jihlava.

For Czech forests to fulfill their role of landscape and biodiversity protection, we must help their owners to establish a new management that is ECONOMICALLY sustainable.

Homeowners would appreciate help converting the crumbling spruce into a modern era without losing revenue. They would appreciate the introduction of more environmentally friendly harvesters and subsidies for these. They would appreciate the streamlining of wild game control so that their forest functions as an ecosystem in which the trees themselves regenerate, not as a deer feedlot. They need hands-on training in GIS technologies so that even smallholders can measure the area of ​​their forests.

Experts from Czech forestry companies already know all this, you just need to pay them properly to share this knowledge with their customers and make us all have a little more confidence.


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