People passionate about nature

Stan Rowe

Ralph Bird Award Recipient 1991

Dr. Rowe received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Alberta in 1941, followed by a Master of Science degree from the University of Nebraska in 1948, and his Ph.D. degree from the University of Manitoba in 1956. Dr. Rowe began his career as a grasslands ecologist, but soon became a forest ecologist with the Canadian Forestry Service where he served from 1948-1966. A gifted teacher, Stan taught plant ecology at the University of Saskatchewan from 1966-1985. Stan’s view of forests as ecosystems spread across the continent by his former students.

In the 1970s, Dr. Rowe was involved with the Ecological Land Classification System and served on the Canadian Committee of Ecological Land Classification, and the Canadian Committee of Ecological Areas. He is the author of many articles and essays, including “The Relic Grassland”, “Wilderness as Home Place”, “The Quintessential Westerner”, “Ecology and Popular Science”, Changing the Global Vision”, “The Lake Athabaska Sand Dunes”, “Goals for Agriculture”, “Transforming Agriculture”, and “Prairie Land and People”. His most influentioal publication may well be his book, Home Place, a collection of previously published essays, including many of the above, centred on the notion of Earth-as-Home-Place. Home Place has been compared with the works of Aldo Leopold. The book crystallizes the idea of “ecosystem meaning home-system – a physical place surrounding us, to which we belong. In contrast, the concept of environment in centred on ourselves, and has encouraged attempts to pull it into the circle of our belongings, as Heritage. In reality, we belong to the encompassing world and sooner or later it claims us”.

Quoting from the preface of Home Place gives a sense of how Dr. Rowe arrived at his perspective on Earth-as-Home-Place: “In 1948 I joined the Canadian Forestry Service and heard of Angus Hills who had the idea of studying forests as “total sites”, his term for ecosystems. A soil surveyor in Ontario’s clay belt, he had noticed that tree growth responded not only to the soils in which their bottoms were rooted, but equally to the aerial climate in which their tops were “rooted”. They were growing within two-layered ecosystems. Landform – the surface shape and kin of geological material – controls both soils and local climate, providing an integrating means of describing classifying “total sites”. We began to study and map forestland ecosystems according to landform and vegetation cover. And so, through research, forestry reports, conferences and land inventories, the ecosystem concept came alive and its implications for seeing the world in a new way became clearer.”

Dr. Rowe’s colleagues have this to say about him: “he has an ability to talk about matters, then write about them in the very sorts of words he verbalizes, making it easy to comprehend. He makes lectures incredibly interesting and can still walk people into the ground, even at the age of 72.”

The following words from the preface of Home Place serve to illustrate the changes in thinking that Dr. Rowe has been advancing and continues to foster:

Home Place is…about people in the world and the world around people, about ourselves astonishingly inside a marvellous Being, enveloped by the Ecosphere. Not only are we in the Earth-envelope, we are parts of it, participants in it, born from it, sustained and reproduced by it. To really grasp this symbiosis in to change radically our appreciation of humanity in the world. In our mind’s eye we will see the Ecosphere, see ourselves as willing constituents of it, appreciating the creative bonds that join us to it. We have yet to learn to make music with the one celestial body that is closest to us, to harmonize with the miraculous sun-circling sphere on which our future rides…what we know – not superficially, but in our hearts and imaginations – has great power over how we act. It is the basis of “political will for change” whose lack today reflects the absence of inspiring visions and elevated goals.

Dr. Rowe has contributed much to the study of natural history in Western Canada, increased our understanding and changed our perspective on how we relate to our planet.