Q&A with Chris May

But one thing that has held constant is the use of science in planning and implementation of projects. May will be speaking at three Conservation Café events this spring sharing how “Science Is Beautiful.”

The Nature Conservancy:

What are you working on right now?

Chris May:

I have one foot in the field and one in the office. In the field, I’m leading progress on our Erie Marsh coastal wetland restoration project, which will improve almost 1,000 acres of wetlands along Lake Erie for plants and animals. In the office, I’m developing a decision support tool that will increase the resilience of coastal communities to flooding by showing them where damage is likely to occur and where wetland restoration projects can be built to minimize flood damage.

The Nature Conservancy:

What have been the most surprising or beautiful results you’ve seen from a restoration project?

Chris May:

I’m always impressed by the resilience of the natural communities where we work. Areas that have been farmed for decades or covered by invasive plants for years – they just need the right conditions to spring back to diverse native communities. Many rare native plants are waiting in the seedbank for the right conditions to germinate, breaking a long slumber to stage a comeback.

The Nature Conservancy:

Do you think beauty and nature’s services typically go hand-in-hand or are they mutually exclusive?

Chris May:

They are generally one in the same. Questions like this remind me of the Fibonacci number, a sequence of numbers named after an Italian mathematician, that can be used to describe, mathematically, the branching of trees, uncurling fern fronds, the spiral of a snail shell and other biological features. The forms created by this sequence of numbers can also be found in computer algorithms, architecture, paintings, etc. I think nature tends towards efficiency in function and efficient function is beautiful.

The Nature Conservancy:

What is a common misperception you’ve heard about restoration?

Chris May:

Restoration is a process and requires long-term commitment. I think many people view restoration as a discreet endpoint – a cost per acre to restore a wetland or a forest. Natural systems are dynamic and changing and often there is a constant threat of invasive species or pollution or some other outside influence. Once an area is “restored” it must receive regular maintenance to keep it healthy.

The Nature Conservancy:

What upcoming projects are you most excited about?

Chris May:

The Conservancy has exciting work all over the state – sustainable forestry in the U.P., reef restoration for native fish off the coast in Lake Michigan, stormwater management in Detroit and influencing agricultural practices around Saginaw Bay. Many of these projects are in the initial stages, but they have potential to change conservation across the Great Lakes and beyond. Our science and partnerships drive innovative solutions to these and other conservation challenges.


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