According to a recent article on CNN’s website, many regions on the East Coast are experiencing an absence of acorns this year. I promise this relates to procurement-I’ll get to it. Many residents of normally acorn-rich areas are baffled by the phenomenon. They worry that this, along with the disappearance of honey bees, could be signs of underlying problems in the ecosystem. Some scientists argue that the production of acorns is cyclical, and last year’s “bumper” crop, combined with this year’s abnormally wet spring are to blame for the lean season. Either way, one fact remains certain. Squirrels will have to find something else to eat.

While Alonso Abugattas of the Long Branch Nature Center in Virginia expects the number of deer and squirrel will “certainly go down”, other scientists like the National Wildlife Federation’s Doug Inkely argue that animals can be resilient when their usual food sources go away. He cited the adaptations squirrels, deer, and turkeys made during a 40 year blight that wiped out 3.5 billion chestnuts. Are you seeing the connection yet?

Whether it’s from cyclical aberrations or fundamental market changes, companies, and sometimes industries, occasionally have to change the materials they use in order to remain viable. Take the Portland based company Myhre Group Architects for example. In response to rising costs of steel last year, the Myhre Group began taking advantage of a two-year-old code amendment that allowed them to substitute steel with untreated wood for certain types of buildings. Allen Tsai, a project manager for Myhre said, “I’d like to go with steel…but because wood is less expensive to build with, that’s a developer’s choice for a five-to-six story apartment.” This substitution was made in response to a temporary trend in pricing.

The introduction of plastic was more of a fundamental shift that caused myriad companies to substitute plastic for a variety of materials to improve profitability. On an industry level, consider how a great deal of automobile manufacturers are responding to customers’ environmental and fuel economy concerns by producing vehicles that use less gas or substitute gas completely.

When steel became too expensive, the architects switched to wood. When plastics were more profitable, companies shifted to them. Now that gas-guzzling cars are no longer marketable, the smart auto-makers are looking for alternatives. It sounds silly, but we can learn from the resilience of squirrels. Your go-to materials (acorns) may not always be around. If they are around, they may become too hard to gather. Or, in the positive case, another nut that is easier to gather may come into existence. While you should stock up on acorns for a rainy day, you should always keep an eye on the other nuts in your environment. You never know when you may need them to survive.
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Steve Tatum

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