The diplomat ecologist

  • Conrad Istock

    Courtesy University of Arizona
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, Making a mountain into a starbase.

"I came off the mountain saying probably the best way to save this place is to build an observatory ..."

Conrad Istock is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology in the U of A's College of Arts and Sciences. In the mid-1980s, when he chaired his department, the university asked him to organize an advisory team to study the ecology of the telescope project.

"The university wanted some biologists on (its) side. I wasn't sure I wanted to do it. So I went (to the mountain) with my wife and daughter. We drove right to the top. We hiked, spent the weekend there. One could see the way the mountain had been used. It had been heavily logged. There's something like 100 cabins up there. There's a Bible camp. There's a lot of hunting, a little fishing. It's been a heavily used natural area. I came off the mountain saying probably the best way to save this place is to build an observatory ...

"In the Forest Service's plans for the next century, another 12,000 acres was going to be (logged in the mountain range) - and that was brought to a screeching halt in 1987 because of the project ... People don't know this ...

"It was a mistake for the university to give the impression (that it was) against the listing of the squirrel. I said to the administration, 'You shouldn't say those things. Let the process go. Work within the framework.'

"There's big science and big money involved for the university ... (But also) the activity the astronomers are engaged in is one of the highest-level activities we have; it's part of the culture of the coming centuries ... I for one am curious about everything in the cosmos ..."

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