Joan Maloof, an environmental issues and biological sciences professor at Salisbury University, stopped at the iLand ArT gaLLerY in Fenwick Island last weekend (Oct. 1) to sign copies of her new book, “Teaching the Trees: Lessons from the Forest.”
Maloof also offered a reading, celebrating the arrival of autumn, and briefly discussed her book.
Trained in botany and specialized in pollination biology, she said she’d witnessed the harvest of “one forest after another” during her time in the field. She weaves science and poetic imagery in “Teaching the Trees,” but underlying all conveys her deep passion for old-growth forest conservation.
“Teaching the Trees” opens with insights on the possibility that old trees may be greatly beneficial to human health. Maloof said old trees release many as-yet unidentified volatile organic compounds — altogether, what she termed “wood-air.”
While there was little Western confirmation of their health benefits, she said the Japanese had done some research. She referenced “forest-air bathing and walking” (shinrin-yoku) studies, which seemed to indicate reduced blood sugar levels in diabetic patients.
And, more than anything else, Maloof said trees exuded compounds known as monoterpenes. She said considerable research suggested their benefits as part of diet, especially supporting cancer prevention and even cure. (She said she’d found no research on inhalation of monoterpenes, but implied the possibility of a corollary benefit.)
And she suggested, perhaps, the trees were puffing these compounds at humans as a “mutualistic reward” – an incentive to leave the trees intact.
She lamented the long, slow decline in forest ecosystems on Delmarva — she said the last time anyone had seen a bear was back in 1899 (Great Burnt Swamp, near Gumboro).
Especially objectionable to Maloof was the conversion of old growth forests into more economically lucrative, but less ecologically valuable, single-species “plantation forests.”
Loblolly pines fuel the paper market, and they’re fast-growing, but pine forests just don’t support the same diverse animal population and secondary plant life, she pointed out. However, Maloof said the paper industry was coming around, noting a recent agreement between North Carolina-based Dogwood Alliance and one of the world’s largest newsprint producers, Bowater (out of South Carolina).
According to the Web site, www.dogwoodalliance.com, Bowater has agreed to stop converting natural hardwood forests to pine plantations, and stop buying pine fiber from third-party landowners who make such conversions, after 2007.
For her part, Maloof insisted her publishers print the book on 100 percent, post-consumer recycled paper. “People feel a certain amount of powerlessness,” she said. “The question comes up a lot — ‘What can we do?’”
For people with deep resources, she suggested purchasing a piece of forestland and doing absolutely nothing with it. “It’s a great legacy,” Maloof said. For people with just a little extra, she recommended a modest contribution to the Nature Conservancy or comparable organization and for people with no money at all, there’s still political involvement.
There’s more information about the book online (Amazon.Com), and they’re also available at the iLand ArT gaLLerY, in Fenwick.