The Italian Perspective

Managing Ecosystems as a Complex Adaptive System | Tuscany, Italy

In his second year as a Ph.D. student within Forest Ecosystems & Society (FES), Austin Himes partook in a field course in Tuscany, Italy this past autumn that focused the issues of management of natural resources in a time of global change, with a collective cohort of students from four different universities and countries.

Read Austin’s background, future ambitions, and the role this master’s-level faculty-led program has played in offering new perspectives to the concept of ecosystem and forestland management!

What is your professional and academic background, and how did it relate to this faculty-led program?

I am the area manager for GreenWood Resources Hybrid poplar plantations in Boardman and Clatskanie Oregon. I have had previous positions in GreenWood’s research department in silviculture and tree improvement. Prior to joining GreenWood, I earned my M.S in Forest and Ecosystem Sciences at the University of Washington and worked as a wildland fire fighter for the US Forest Service. I am a Ph.D student being advised by Klaus Puettmann in OSU’s Forest Ecosystems and Society department. My project is investigating the impact of tree species diversity and composition on multiple ecosystem services in industrial forests in the coast range of the Pacific Northwest.


What were some of deciding factors that encouraged you to apply and attend this international experience?

Klaus is my advisor, so I had little choice. Seriously though, I hoped to hear how other leading scholars and students on the international scene were thinking about complexity in forestry. Forestry in the US is much more industry driven than large parts of Europe, including Italy, and I wanted to understand how the different market and culture lead to different views. I think I achieved those expectations. I also learned about chestnut management in coppice which is an ancient and interesting approach relevant to my hybrid poplar experience.


Tell me a little more about the program! What went well and what could be improved upon?

The open-ended structure was the best and worst part. Group dynamics present challenges, but also give opportunities to learn about things from new perspectives. I would absolutely recommend the experience to other students in and out of the college.

Having it based around forestry, my work and passion, was really awesome. Getting some firsthand experience with a piece of European forest management is something I will always cherish. It is a silvicultural system and a perspective that I admire and hope to see replicated to some extent in the US.

I loved the people and the food. The setting of the class was also spectacular. I’m into English renaissance literature, so finding out that John Milton refers to Vallombrosa in Paradise Lost, one of my favorite works, was really cool. It is impossible to really understand the perspectives of other cultures that come from living in a place without being their first hand.

A lot of my research is on mixed species forest management. A lot of the research in the area comes from Beech/Spruce forests, just like the ones we saw in Italy. Having some firsthand experience with this ecological system helps me draw connection to the literature and my own research. I want to finish my PhD and have a long career as a leader in forest resource management thought and development. Italy opened my eyes to new perspectives and ways of looking at the industry, which is valuable in determining win-win paths forward for natural resource management. I work for an international company and anticipate doing work for GreenWood abroad in the future in some capacity. The trip to Italy helped familiarize me with a sector of European forestry that may be very valuable in the future.



Great example of mixed beech forest with fir regenerating in the understory


The delicious cured meats in every shop in every town and every restaurant where one of my favorite parts of the trip.


Sound like your cup of tea? Although we are not running the Italy graduate student program for the 2017-18 academic year, take a peek at our other faculty-led programs running this year. It is not too late to apply for programs traveling to Spain and Costa Rica! The Spain deadline has been extended to April 30thapply now!

Published by: Savannah Stanton, CoF International Programs

Completion/Archive Date: 
Tuesday, June 19, 2018