Finding Inspiration in Every Turn
In 2020, Green Forests Work founder and president, Dr. Chris Barton was awarded the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Science, Technology, and Innovation, hosted by the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Brisbane, Australia. The pandemic delayed the start of Barton’s Fulbright Scholarship; however, he departed in January and will work for six months interacting with CSIRO, university scientists, conservation groups, and mining companies in Australia to promote ecological restoration. He will also study the impact of these restoration efforts on climate change mitigation and the protection of the Great Barrier Reef.
Brisbane | January 12, 2023
Brisbane! My home away from home for the next six months. Brisbane is the largest city in Queensland and third largest in Australia and is named for the river that runs through it. The Indigenous Turrbal peoples refer to this area as Meanjin. The city will host the 2032 Summer Olympics, so there is a flurry of building projects happening at the moment: new stadium, expansion of the Metro and erection of at least a dozen new high-rise towers. A beautiful, clean and exciting place to be….happy to be here.
Brisbane City Botanic Gardens | January 16, 2023
The Brisbane City Botanic Gardens is approximately two blocks away from the flat I am renting. An amazing place to visit this time of year as the vegetation is lush and many plants are in full bloom. One specimen that caught my eye is the Banyan Tree (Ficus benghalensis), a 150-year old (or older) fig tree that sends out aerial roots that can be trained to form new trunks. Some of these trees are known to be 500 years-old and can extend several acres in area. This particular tree is reported to have a 50-meter dbh (diameter at breast height, yes…it is a real unit of measure in forestry). Not sure how they calculated this considering the number of stems it has (methods do exist), still, an impressive tree.
Tree Planting Update | January 18, 2023
One of my Fulbright goals while in Australia is to implement and promote reforestation projects as a means toward mitigating climate change. In 2022, my non-profit organization, Green Forests Work, partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation, Corporate Carbon and Unearthed Environmental Services to plant 200,000 native trees on about 2,500 acres of former pasture. Last week I took a drive across the Great Dividing Range and into the Granite Belt to check on our seedlings. Although the site is clearly ready for the upcoming rainy season, the seedlings are hanging on and have made it through that important first growing season. Through this project, 95,000+ metric tons of carbon dioxide will be sequestered in the trees and a healthy, functioning native ecosystem that supports biodiversity will be protected for 100 years.
Orographic Precipitation | January 20, 2023
When I travel, I am always on the lookout for things that I can use in the classes I teach. It is nice to have an image or video of a concept that I can discuss from a personal experience, rather than pulling it off the web or out of a book. Last week I found a great example of orographic precipitation. This is a phenomenon where a moist air mass rises to move across a mountain range. As the air rises, it cools, reaches a saturation point, forms clouds and ultimately rain. As the air mass moves across the mountains and drops there is less moisture and warmer temperatures which creates a rain shadow. So, we find that vegetation is moist and lush on the upwind (windward) side of the mountain and dry and sparce on the downwind (leeward) side. This image of a cool subtropical rainforest is from the upward side of the Great Dividing Range, while the images I showed previously from our planting site (only 50 miles away) were on the downwind side. If you have ever taken a flight east from Seattle, WA you may have noticed a similar pattern as you flew over the Cascades.
Australian Water Dragon | February 1, 2023
My lunch buddy! There is a small pavilion outside the building I am working in that is a perfect location for a break and a snack. Located on the banks of the Brisbane River, it usually has a nice breeze and lots of activities on the water to see. On my first venture to this location, I sat down and this Australian Water Dragon (Intellangama leseurii) ran toward me and nearly jumped in my lap. Wasn’t expecting that…..almost jumped out of my shoes! I shooed him away with my hat, but he would just come right back and sit down next to me. There appear to be a dozen or so in the area, but this same one (the biggest!) comes back day after day and hangs-out next to me. Looks like I made a new friend!
Fish River Treffiere - NSW | February 12, 2023
I departed Brisbane to embark on some travel and new adventures in Australia. I flew into Sydney and rented a vehicle (an MG, didn’t know they were still in business…I am fairly certain it wasn’t made in Great Britain!) and headed into the New South Wales countryside to the Fish River Treffiere. As many of you know, my siblings and I started a truffle orchard on our farm in Lexington a few years ago. While we wait for the first truffle to arrive, I thought it would be good to visit some truffle farms where they have experienced success and get some pointers. Outside of France and Italy, Australia has become a top commercial producer of truffles. There have been several books recently released about the mysterious truffle and even more mysterious truffle trade - The Truffle Underground, Truffle Hound, Entangled Life – all of which describe a cloak of darkness surrounding truffle cultivation and sales. So it was with great surprise that a completely anonymous email to Carmine Di Campli, owner of Fish River Truffles, requesting a visit to his orchard was received with open arms. I spent Saturday walking through a 20-year-old orchard of hazelnut and English oaks (the same species I am growing in Kentucky) and learning about some things that were successful and others that weren’t. It was great hearing first-hand from someone who has passion about growing this crazy fungi. Sorry, I can’t share what I learned…trade secrets!
Millthorpe, NSW | February 14, 2023
Over the weekend I stayed in a small town called Millthorpe. It was a former railroad stop that has been transformed to a weekend destination with a few nice coffee shops, antique galleries, and restaurants (I found it similar to Midway, Kentucky). After a long day in the field, I was very hungry and looking forward to a nice dinner on the town. Well, there were only two places open to eat …the pub and an award-winning restaurant, Tonic, known for farm to table foods and local wine selections. I had a beer at the pub and then decided to go to the restaurant. I walked in and asked for a table and the hostess informed me that they were serving a planned five-course dinner with paired wine selections from the region. The waitress asked if I was ok with that and I thought “why not”. What I didn’t realize was that it was their Valentine's Day dinner and….I was the only single person dining! To make it worse, they seated me next to the door and the front window for everyone to see. Pathetic! All of the staff was very nice and stopped by periodically to talk to me…and express pity! It was actually very good…I got a laugh out of it later in reflection. Lonely heart Valentine 2023 for sure!
Canberra, Australia | February 23, 2023
While much of my time in Australia has been focused on work and trees, I have had an opportunity recently to do some travel and exploring. One of my recent trips was to the federal capital of Australia, Canberra, to meet fellow Fulbrighters from the US and those from Australia that will be going to the states to work or study. It was an interesting few days where I met some amazing people doing extraordinary work. The week was capped off with a Gala at the Parliament House where all of the scholars presented work on their projects and received a certificate of recognition for their accomplishments. The US Ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy, was there to present the awards and I receive this picture to document the occasion. I told someone that I was going to burn the suit I was wearing… that had been stuffed in a suitcase for a few weeks… after the event. Unfortunately, there is a burn ban in Australia at the moment…so I will have to wait and light it up on my return to the US around a campfire one evening. Get the marshmallows ready!
Narromine Transplants, NSW | March 2, 2023
This week we will begin our tree planting season in Australia. In anticipation of that, I decided to visit the nursery, Narromine Transplants, where our native seedlings were established. I met David Cliffe, Managing Director of the nursery, near the town of Dubbo in New South Wales and had a nice conversation and tour of his operation. David is currently growing 8 million trees…with about 100,000 of those dedicated to projects I will be planting. The seedlings looked great! Nice and healthy and ready to be transplanted. Let’s hope for good weather!
Sydney, Cairns, and Tasmania | Feb/March 2023
Recently, my wife and her parents made the long journey over to visit me and see a bit of Australia. As many do, we started our Australian adventure in Sydney with a night at the Opera House and the closing-night performance of Don Giovanni. A long weekend at Palm Cove and the Great Barrier Reef followed, then another long weekend in Tasmania. There was work in between, but we made the most out of the time they were here. Hikes, sea adventures, vineyards, museums, markets, and more....lots of great food and local wine too! It was too short, but I really appreciated having them here.
Sunshine Coast, Queensland | April 2023
After three weeks of office work, grant writing, and presenting several lectures in Brisbane, I am back on the road. Today I visited the Sunshine Coast and, as the name would suggest, there was plenty of sunshine. I spent the day meeting with faculty and students in the Forest Research Institute at the University of the Sunshine Coast and enjoyed learning a little about some of their projects. I will return on Monday the 24th of April to give a seminar. There is something about being in a place called “Sunshine Coast” that makes me feel happy. I’ll go to the Gold Coast in a few weeks and see if I feel rich!
Meandu Mine, Kingaroy, Queensland | April 2023
I had the opportunity to attend the Central Queensland Mining Rehabilitation Group’s 2023 Workshop this week and we visited the Meandu Mine near Kingaroy, Queensland. The mine’s environmental group showed us several rehabilitation areas in the open-cut coal mine. A long-time cooperator from Australia, Dr. Nardia Grant with Unearthed Environmental Services, and I were excited to see that this group is following practices that lead to the successful establishment of native forests in their rehabilitation process. Using topsoil from the site that has good chemical characteristics for a growth medium, deep ripping of the material after placement, and use of native plants were employed to create a eucalypt-acacia forest type. These are the same practices we promote in Appalachia....albeit we will not be planting any eucalyptus or acacia. It was good to see both young and maturing forests on the site.
Sunshine Coast, Queensland | April 2023
Move over MacGyver! This morning I was getting ready for my seminar at the University of the Sunshine Coast and pulled out my “lecture uniform” only to find that the button on my pants was missing. Some brilliant person thought to include extra buttons inside the waist seam in case of such a catastrophe. Great, I have a backup but nothing to sew it on. I searched through my bags and all the drawers in the flat I am renting...nothing...and I have stayed in a dozen hotel rooms recently that have little sewing kits. After a minute of panic and wondering where I could buy some new clothes on the way to the talk, I came up with a viable solution with the items I had available. Enter one corkscrew and some dental floss. It worked perfectly and my pants didn’t fall down during my talk. Good day.
The Glass House Mountains | April 2023
The Glass House Mountains are located about 50 kilometers north of Brisbane. The eleven peaks that poke up toward the sky were formed from volcanic activity about 27 million years ago. This area is of spiritual significance to the First Nation Peoples as a place for ceremonies and trading. It is also listed on the National Heritage Register as a landscape of national significance. A very interesting landscape feature to crawl around on for sure. Interestingly, the area surrounding these mountains is planted with “Southern Pine” plantations. Driving through I could have sworn I was in one of the loblolly or slash pine plantations in South Carolina. Well, I wasn’t that far off...did a little research and these are hybrids of slash (Pinus elliottii), Caribbean (Pinus caribaea), and sometimes loblolly (Pinus taeda) pines. If there was only a place to get some good Carolina BBQ, I would have felt right at home.
Western Australia | May 2023
Spending a week in Western Australia to follow-up on previous research efforts, meet with colleagues, explore some unique forest types and visit one of the largest truffle producing orchards in Australia. Very excited to experience a part of Australia that I have never visited. I was welcomed to the area with a beautiful sunset over the Indian Ocean in a small town outside of Perth. Fantastic.
Western Australia | May 2023
One of my goals for my time as a Fulbright Scholar in Australia was to visit a Jarrah Forest in southwestern Western Australia. Jarrah Forest are recognized globally as a hotspot for plant biodiversity and is a priority for conservation and restoration. As with many of the forest types we work on, Jarrah Forests have a long history of disturbance from resource extraction in the form of logging and mining. The Jarrah Forest is a tall, open forest in which the dominant overstory tree is jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata). Unfortunately, efforts to restore jarrah forest are complicated by the presence of a plant pathogen called Phytophthora cinnamomi that are found in the region’s soil. Phytophthora cinnamomi causes a root rot that can affect both mature forest stands and replanted or regenerating trees. It turns out that this same pathogen can also infect American chestnuts that we are trying to return to Appalachian forests. Two of my former students, Katy Adank Ward and Kenton Sena, performed research on developing eDNA approaches for the rapid detection of P. cinnamomi in water and soil samples (Katy actually spent some time at Murdock University in WA working on this). The use of these genetic techniques would quickly allow us to determine if a site is a good candidate for restoration, or not, based on the presence or absence of the pathogen’s DNA in soil or water samples. The eDNA method was successfully developed and we are hopeful that it will be another tool for the successful reestablishment of these important forest species.
Western Australia | May 2023
In my pursuit of becoming a “Gentleman Farmer,” I visited another Australian truffle orchard to learn a bit more about the industry. I met Gavin and Mel Booth, owners and operators of Australian Truffle Traders, at their farm in the town of Manjimup, Western Australia. Australian Truffle Traders (https://www.australiantruffletraders.com/) is one of the largest producers of black truffles in Australia and Gavin and Mel are well known for their expertise in both truffle cultivation and training truffle hounds. I had met Gavin years earlier at a conference for the North American Truffle Growers Association but never imagined that I would visit him at his farm in Australia. We had a great day exploring various plantations on their farm and even found a few truffles nearly erupting out of the ground in anticipation of harvest in a few weeks’ time. I appreciated their hospitality and willingness to share some of their experiences about a business shrouded in secrecy.
South Island, New Zealand | May 2023
J.R.R Tolkien wrote “Not all those who wander are lost” and I think it is a fitting statement for anyone planning to visit New Zealand. May May, my son (John), my sister, and her husband (Meg and Mark) made the long journey over to visit me in Australia and join me on a trip to the South Island of New Zealand. In preparation, I asked anyone and everyone I bumped into about what we should do during our visit and the answer was a fairly universal “just go and explore all that the country has to offer!” Not a very satisfying recommendation, but it proved to be spot on. We explored the Lake Tekapo area, spent several days in Queenstown, and hiked in the Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park. The landscape is breathtaking, and it is certainly a mentally, physically, and spiritually fueled endeavor to wander (and wonder) in this land.
Baiame Cave, Hunter Valley, NSW | June 1, 2023
We visited Baiame cave near the town of Broke in the Hunter Valley of NSW and observed some indigenous artwork that was created by the Wonnarua People. The painting is a depiction of Baiame the “Maker” or “Creator” of all things. The image depicts a male figure, in white and red pigment, with both arms outstretched. The figure is surrounded by images of boomerangs, an axe and possibly a spear. The long arms are thought to represent that of the protector of the area and protector of the people. The large eyes also represent that he could see all, and exhibited all knowledge. An interesting relic in a beautiful part of Australia.
Sydney, NSW | June 9, 2023
VIVID – Sydney Light Walk. No shortage of energy in this country! Three weeks of lights, music, food and ideas.
Lexington, Kentucky | June 23, 2023
Back in the United States...just in time for this unexpected encounter! Thanks to everyone who helped me along my journey...it was a great adventure.