The Havens Project: A Vision of Computer Guided Forest Management

“My son-in-law, on seeing a thin white worm in mud in a pond below the Peculiar Manor cabin that we were cleaning out, jumped into the pond and said, ‘Let’s get it!’,” writes Dr. Robert Giles. “At age 55, I was still learning from him about childlike excitement.” We all need this enthusiasm for life and wonder, and Dr. Giles thinks this especially necessary for a wildlife manager.375_628602523403_1118_n

Even before founding Rural System, Dr. Giles has been looking for ways to re-connect people with the land that supports them. He emphasizes that land and always has a rich, historical dimension as well as the potential for thriving ecological systems.

“I walk out of the cabin into the early-slanting sunbeams and tears often come. I am next in succession of 9,000 years of occupants. They saw the same long shadows, the same insect swarms in the beams. They arose from a fir bed in the forest. The tree species have changed but little else. Year after year, for 9,000 years! And here I am, in a cabin, in the same place.” -Dr. Robert Giles in The Peculiar Manor

A good wildlife manager needs to be an enthusiastic naturalist, well versed in as many of these historical and ecological interconnections as possible, in order to understand the best management practices for an area.

“The Havens concept is one of restoring the naturalist,” he writes. In the spirit of the naturalist, to understand Rural System one should know some of the history and connections that led to its founding.

The Havens Wildlife Management Area spans 7,000 acres of mountain land North of Salem, VA in Roanoke County. Rural System founder, Dr. Robert Giles, created the Havens Project to combine wildlife education in the field with research on forest systems.

The project began with 5 objectives:

  1. To develop a training area in forest and wildlife ecology for many types of students.
  2. To provide for Giles an opportunity for intensive and direct study of forest systems analysis and management.
  3. To provide the source for a comprehensive book that is descriptive of the area and its management as a reference for similar areas.
  4. To develop computer systems useful in optimizing resource systems on a similar, state-owned wildlife areas in Virginia and other states.
  5. To describe the structure and dynamics of the ecology of the area, particularly as related to wildlife.

Objective 4 especially went on to influence the conception of Rural System, which is characterized by an application of computer systems to guide land management. Once referred to as Guidance, Dr. Giles names Rural System’s computer guided land management system “VNodal.”

“Guidance (VNodal) integrates concepts of ecology, economics, esthetics, energetics, and enforcement in a multidimensional approach to major, complex land use problems through a centralized, comprehensive data base accessed directly by the system staff.” -Dr. Robert Giles in The Peculiar Manor

Not only would a computer-based management system make for more precise management, but Dr. Giles envisioned that this would liberate many field scientists from a dusty office and return them to the field. Rather than iterating and re-iterating the same equations, why not determine the best ones and let the computer do the work? Dr. Giles envisioned creating a computer system that would provide the land manager with management “prescriptions” to be executed in the field.

“Create computer systems for the field staff,” Dr. Giles recommends. “Every evening or every several days, the data may be entered. (There has to be some of this, at least by an assistant.) Then the system works. Office time can be traded for field time.”

Dr. Giles has never lost his enthusiasm for the natural world, its management, and the computer system that would make it all much more efficient. VNodal, born out of the Havens Project, is hoped to be the most detailed and comprehensive ecosystem model ever conceived. It would include historical, cultural, economic, esthetic, and of course ecological dimensions. All VNodal needs to begin is funding.

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About Laurel Sindewald

Laurel is an alumna of Warren Wilson College with a BS in Conservation Biology and a BA in Philosophy. She is a writer for Rural System, Inc.

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