Nov 192008
 
Authors: Scott Callahan

Only a small percentage of people throughout the world can say they have a Ph. D. — CSU ecology professor Dan Binkley, though, can say he has two.

Earlier this year, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, Sweden awarded Binkley an honorary doctorate degree for his work in forest ecology and his study of the effects of acid rain on the trees of forests in Sweden.

The degree recognized the contributions Binkley made to a 15-year plan to save the dying forest areas in Sweden.

“I think it’s an extraordinary reward, especially from colleagues on an international level,” said Joseph O’Leary, dean of the Warner College of Natural Resources. “. This is a very powerful statement of faculty we have here at CSU.”

In October, Binkley received his honorary forestry degree at a traditional style graduation ceremony along with 80 other forestry, ecology and veterinary science professionals. Each degree-winner was given a special doctoral top hat and enjoyed what Binkley said was an elegant moose dinner at the Uppsala castle.

“I feel very honored, very happy, and very special,” Binkley said about the degree. “Maybe more special than I deserve, but I am happy to receive it.”

SUAS asked Binkley to speak at a conference in the early 1990s focused on the current state of the Swedish forests and developing a solution to the crisis. This experience allowed Binkley to make connections with international forestry experts and get on board with the 15-year project.

Collaborating with Swedish professors, Binkley’s endeavors focused on the effects of acid rain in forested areas, which, vital to the country’s economy, cover about 80 percent of the total land in Sweden. Sweden’s economy is based off the harvesting of the trees, and electricity is generated from the left over lumber.

“We collaborated on ideas that are shared among projects even if we were not doing the projects together,” Binkley said.

Acid rain is a mixture of wet and dry components that come from the atmosphere and contain higher than normal amounts of nitric and sulfuric acid, which then precipitate onto the earth in the form of rain, snow or fog, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site.

While acid rain does not kill trees directly, it dissolves and washes away nutrients in the soil necessary to healthy plant growth. As a result, the trees are weakened by nutrient deficiencies and lose leaves and needles.

As part of the study, Binkley stripped the bark around tree’s stems in order to starve them of nutrients in a process known as girdling. He then observed the effects in order to determine the acid rain helped to fertilize the soil by using the nitric acid from the rain.

While Binkley was trying to determine the health and nutrition of the forest, the government wanted to lay down lime on the soil from tree ashes or grinded limestone to fertilize the soil. The results of Binkley’s work convinced the government that lime distribution was not necessary.

In the end, Binkley said he was pleased to see the experiment results showed that acid did not affect forest growth, and growth was increasingly contrary to former predictions.

Binkley’s interest in forestry and tree health was fostered as a young boy when he hiked solo on Ohio trails.

“When I was a kid, I did a lot of hiking, and that made me curious about how forests work,” Binkley said. “I wanted to understand forests better, so instead of just appreciating the beauty of what I was hiking I could understand them.”

One of Binkley’s students, a graduate of forestry student Jeff Lambert, portrayed Binkley as a very laid back and relaxed guy.

Lambert said that Binkley is easy to talk to and has always given him good advice, and added Binkley’s most redeeming quality is his approachability.

“(Binkley) has a lot of experience and a lot to share with his students,” Lambert said. “It is great to have a professor who has that validity.”

Staff writer Scott Callahan can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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