Ecological Lessons from Mt. St. Helens

Tom Hinckley, University of Washington

July 20 23, 2003 at Mt. St. Helens, WA


Note:  This course has a participant fee of $175 (in addition to the registration fee) to cover costs of van transportation, meals and lodging while at sites remote from Seattle.  For course detail and schedule, please see         

Course Description

This 4-day field course provides participants with the background and understanding needed to appreciate the effects that the 1980 volcanic eruption of Mt. St. Helens has had on the forest ecology of that area. Participants will explore the forests of the Pacific Northwest and the ecological lessons they hold, from the Wind River Canopy Crane Research Facility to Mt. St. Helens itself.

We will ride from the forest floor to 70 m above the ground in a gondola at the Wind River Canopy Crane Research Facility to learn about research on, for example,  old-growth forests, carbon sequestration, mistletoe, longevity, succession, El Nino - La Nina, birds, xylem conduits and roots.  The Wind River Canopy Crane is 87 m tall Liebherr construction crane with an 85 m gib.   Its construction was completed in 1994 and is the second forest canopy access to be built in the world.  Pioneering work in global climate change and ecosystem and physiological studies are being conducted at this site (

We will then drive to Mt. St. Helens where we will see first hand the destruction and recovery from the May 18, 1980 eruption.  This out-door laboratory offers an incredible array of lessons spanning from how different forests respond to tephra deposition to how gophers and mycorrhizal fungi interact in forest recovery.  We will see forests where every tree was killed to forests where every tree over 1.5 meters tall was killed.  We will learn lessons about physiological and ecological processes that enable individuals and systems to recover -- we will be able to see and document many of these processes. Although there has only been 23-years since the eruption, one can see a newly formed glacier in the crater and evidence of soil formation.  The lessons from the current eruption will be placed in the context of what the historical landscape around Mt. St. Helens was like and how historical eruptions from this extremely active volcano might have affected forests and forest ecosystems.  Finally, we will spend half a day at Mr. Rainier where we will examine the recovery from a 1947 mudflow and from the 1850 Little Ice Age advance of the Nisqually glacier.

Ideas on how to incorporate this information into classroom activities and field trips (both here and in your own locale) will be included in the program.  Limit, 25 participants.

For high school and college and instructors of ecology and related sciences

Pre-requisites:  interest in the outdoors, ecology; some hiking ability needed.

Tom Hinckley is the Director of the Center for Urban Horticulture and the past Chair of the Division of Ecosystem Sciences. Dr. Hinckley is also a Professor on the faculty of the College of Forest Resources at the University of Washington. He completed a BA degree in Biology in 1966 at Carleton College and his PhD in Seattle at the UW in 1971. His areas of specialization are forest tree physiology, subalpine ecosystems, and short-rotation intensive culture using hybrid cottonwood trees.   He is an avid 4-season mountaineer with extensive climbing experience in North America and Europe.  He is also a member of the University of Washington - Sichuan University joint undergraduate program.


Location information

See above

This course will be held on or near the University of Washington campus. University of Washington dorm accommodations are available for this course. Link to UW Housing/Dorms for more information.


To Register

Please go to the National Chautauqua site at the University of Pittsburgh site to apply. Registrations cannot be confirmed without payment.


Participant Information

Use this link to plan your trip to the Chautauqua Pacific Northwest Field Center.

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