One of the latest is the discussion about face masks being mandatory or voluntary. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

FOREST INK: Using observations until detailed results are available

Reliable test results often includes thousands of subjects and many years of observations.

There is lots of discussion on making science-based decisions for things like climate change or other related health concerns about the recent pandemic.

One of the latest is the discussion about face masks being mandatory or voluntary. During a recent CBC program one of the political decision makers did not feel there was enough scientific data to support a mandatory government order to force people to do so.

The counter argument was that we have laws for seatbelts and harm from second hand smoke why not face masks although it took many years of debate before these laws came into effect.

The scientific road to decision making of any kind can be a long process and will continue to be for some time.

For example, if researchers want to have their work published in a scientific journal they must follow strict guidelines in the design and procedures and apply statistical analysis to their work.

Reliable test results often includes thousands of subjects and many years of observations.

I have been interested in testing some ideas about introducing some grass and legumes into my woodlot as well as the usefulness of adding biochar to my garden.

I have set up some individual pot trials as well as small field trials with and without biochar, compost and different plant species.

There appears to be a significant improvement by adding biochar to my beet patch but none if any in some of the pot trials I set up.

I certainly could not publish my results in any reputable journal but if I continued to see improvements with different levels of additives with specific vegetables I could adjust my experiments in future trials.

If over time I can see consistent improvements then I can start to develop conclusions about my work.

READ MORE: Small scale logging contractors have to be versatile

While we wait for the results of detailed field trials in agriculture and forestry or health studies or a vaccine for COVID-19 we have to live life and make the best decisions with the information available.

If we become too entrenched in a specific approach it may be difficult to change our habits if and when science-based information becomes available.

Keeping an open mind and sharing our experiences with others is a good approach and there are some interesting TED talks about the various approaches. It should be no surprise that there are plenty of ideas coming from the social psychologists about positive ways to deal with the uncertainties of life during the pandemic.

For a start you could look at a video presentation by Jonathan Haidt, who manages to come up with some interesting ways of putting a positive spin on the ongoing health crisis.

READ MORE: Interior city working on forest diversity

In his view we will be much better able to withstand a more serious pandemic by the experience we are gaining from the COVID-19, as well as becoming more resilient by dealing with adversity rather than being sheltered from all forms of stress.

While chronic stress is bad for us, short-term stress is essential for growth in plants and animals (like stress wood in trees which enables them to withstand winds and animals building natural immunities).

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

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