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LIFE & TIMES / WENDY MILLER

How Do You Store an Ecosystem Inventory?

October 13, 1994|WENDY MILLER | Wendy Miller is editor of Ventura County Life

There are people out there who are unusually neat and orderly. You know the type I mean--the ones who in childhood seem to have imprinted with a desk organizer?

Well, I'm not one of those people. Though on some level I have enough command over life's myriad details to conduct business, maintain a presentable home and keep my children clean, dressed and educated, the truth is that I lost control of my stuff years ago. My things could be anywhere. It has gotten so bad that I'm afraid to look in certain drawers, so it's probably a good thing they're so stuffed they won't open. I should try a filing system, but the last time I did that I forgot all the categories. And anytime I've had a desk organizer, I've forgotten to write in it long before I've actually lost it.

So imagine my amazement when staff writer Pancho Doll, who wrote this week's Centerpiece story, told me that scientists and park rangers were attempting to keep track of the contents of our federal parks and oceans. And they don't even have drawers.

Actually, they are inventorying various ecosystems in four of our national parks, one of them our own liquid Channel Islands National Park, where scientists have just finished a summer-long kelp monitoring project.

"The men and women conducting the kelp forest monitoring project are in a sense hyperbaric file clerks. It's kind of cool, spending a week at a time diving into this beautiful marine environment. Heck, lots of recreational divers would pay big bucks to do it. But the reality is lots and lots of counting and measuring," said Doll.

"People like myself who spend lots of time in national parks sometimes think of the bureaucrats who manage the parks as bean counters in green denim," he said. "There's a fair amount of paperwork involved in a simple visit. If you want to go hiking you often need a wilderness permit. If you want to camp, you need a camping permit and so on. Even in the off season when there's loads of room, rangers get really bent if you're there without the proper permits." All this makes it doubly amazing that the park service hasn't got a method to inventory the plants and animals it manages.

"Someone who's not an expert on the environment might get the impression from reading about this, that, and the other study, that biologists have a pretty clear idea of what's in a given ecosystem and how it works," said Doll. "They don't."

Which isn't to say that park scientists aren't some very orderly people.

"While researching this story I went out with marine biologist Gary Davis," said Doll. "Watching that guy eat an apple leaves the impression that he's a very thorough guy. The only thing he doesn't eat is the stem."

Maybe he could help me clean out my drawers.

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