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Feature Story
Europe's Black Triangle Turns Green
Page 4

The culmination of the week comes at a meeting in the offices of the Czech forest service in the Horni Blatna town hall. Forest managers from across the country, most dressed in their dark green uniforms -- collarless jackets with satin piping around the lapels that appear to have been fashioned a century ago (and then for a marching band) -- sit at long folding tables. On the walls hang mounted elk antlers, ram horns, and boar hides.

Albrechtova has changed from jeans to a tailored dress suit. She is introduced, strides with her usual forcefulness to the podium, makes her formal acknowledgments to the director of the service, and, switching between English and Czech, describes the results of the present fieldwork. "The good news," she says, "is that there has been no acute damage to the needles since 1991."

She explains that she and Rock and their associates have been able to identify the chemical changes that take place in the needles of spruce trees under stress. Further, since Rock's on-site spectral analyses match up with her off-site laboratory studies, they know they can quickly find out a forest's state of health.

"The not-so-good news is that the forests are still not ecologically stable." This, because of the effects of 40 years of acid precipitation on the soil.

The foresters appear to listen carefully. They look like a tough crowd, and Albrechtova has told me that many of them long ago concluded that the only way to counteract the acidifying of the forest was aerial dusting with lime. "Some of them are very dedicated to liming," she tells me after the meeting. "But the liming may not be having the effects they think and it's very expensive. Still, now that they've been doing it for a couple of years, they're suddenly glad to hear that we found the forests have improved."

She feels she had to make the case, first, that even aside from the liming, the forest chemistry is changing and the forest improving due to cleaner air; and, second, that the techniques she and Rock have developed will allow them to monitor the forest's continued improvement. Monitoring is key, and whether the foresters believe it's being done to measure the effects of liming or just changes in pollution is, at this point, not important.

After Albrechtova speaks I look around the room and there seems to be general approval. The scientist sitting next to me says how important he considers the work that Rock and Albrechtova are doing. Rock is pleased as well, both with their findings and with the meeting. His only concern now, he says, is getting his samples of tree branches past customs when he returns home.

Who Owns This River?
Who Owns This River?
Alexander's Marvelous Machine

Click to enlarge

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Map: Blue Marble Maps
Photo: Antonin Kratochvil

OnEarth. Spring 2005
Copyright 2005 by the Natural Resources Defense Council