Joan Maloof

Making the Right Choice

Recorded: March 1, 2012

Would you like to learn a lesson from the forest? Professor Joan Maloof, founder of the Old Growth Forest Network explains how she has taken science out of the classroom to use it for positive change in the world.

As an Associate Professor of Biology at Salisbury University in Maryland, Joan Maloof spent years as a distinguished teacher encouraging her students to take science out of the classroom and use it to create positive change in the wider world. Despite publishing research articles in journals such as Ecology and the American Journal of Botany, Professor Maloof realized that she had to go “beyond science” to directly affect the threatened forests of North America. Building on her expertise in forest ecology, Professor Maloof wrote ‘Teaching the Trees: Lessons from the Forest’ (2005) and is currently the founder of the Old Growth Forest Network, whose aim is to connect people with nature by creating a national network of protected, mature native forests. Devoting all her post-teaching focus to the Old Growth Forest Network, Dr. Maloof’s goal is to establish a sample old growth forest in every American county that once had such forests.

Joan Maloof: Now, I started out as a scientist, a biologist, and learned to identify the rare plant species and spent lots of time in the forest and lots of time doing scientific research and writing papers. I realized that although that scientific work was very important, it didn’t seem to be really changing the world around us and it didn’t seem to be protecting the forests the way I thought they should be protected. And year after year, I saw more of the forests falling and I realized that it needed to go beyond science. So I started writing for a more general audience, but bringing the science in. Using the work that the scientists had done to show that these forests are important for the wolverines, for the bluebirds, for the flying squirrels, for the fungi, I realized that we should not be content with these few tiny special places that are left. Some of them not so tiny, but certainly not enough of them.

Joan Maloof: And why can’t our generations start to reverse some of the damage? Why can’t we take some forests that perhaps have been cut in the past and say, “Guess what, this forest will not be cut again. This forest will be allowed to heal and mature, so that maybe not in our lifetime, but maybe in future lifetimes, people will be able to see these forests again in their maturity.”

Joan Maloof: One of my listeners at a talk, he described them as genetic museums. This is what the earth has produced on this spot. This is the ultimate production of our planet right here and all the organisms relate to each other and all the genes and organisms are all functioning right here. In the future especially, we are going to need these places to understand how our planet functions and use them as baselines.