New Staff Bio: Sarah Thomas

Greetings, SEFS community! I am pleased to be writing to you as the new outreach and events specialist for our school. I’m thrilled to be here, and I’m looking forward to planning some amazing events, showcasing the school’s achievements and strengthening the alumni community to increase involvement across the board. And, furthermore, SEFS seems like an amazing place to cultivate my passion for environmental conservation and sustainable living/playing/building/eating/harvesting—you name it!

Sarah Thomas

Thomas in Central Park.

As a Husky graduate and former School of Medicine employee of six years, I’m no stranger to the UW. I have a BA in Arts, Media and Culture, with an emphasis in Communications, as well as a UW Editing Certificate. I’ve worked in a variety of UW departments and roles—from tracking medical student compliance in the Deans Office, to coordinating events at the Graduate Medical Education Office, to my last role coordinating communications and outreach, planning events and managing office operations at the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center (HIPRC). In addition to my work at UW, I’ve also held communications and event planning positions in state government, nonprofit art organizations, commercial art galleries and real estate.

I left HIPRC this April to pursue professional real estate photography. It was a striking change of pace that gave me a much-needed jolt of creativity. And while it was a fun way to spend the summer, my long-term career goals are firmly rooted in communications and outreach. Joining your community is a little like having my cake and eating it too—I’m able to do something I enjoy, for a school that inspires me.

It’s funny, I’d only been out of the UW system for about a week when I got the call to interview for this position. Even though I’d just left UW, I knew I couldn’t pass this up. I felt like Al Pacino in The Godfather III—say it with me, “Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.” But, not in the terrifying Mafia way. In good way. A great way!

When I’m off the clock, I’m out exploring the world, either on foot as a runner, hiker and urban wanderer, or through an art lens surveying Seattle’s vibrant music, film and art scene. I’m also an occasional freelance writer for Earshot Jazz, a local news magazine. Oh, and I brew beer. And, sure, I like to indulge in a good Netflix marathon here and there too.

My office is located in 107C Anderson Hall. Come stop by and say hello!

Photo © Sarah Thomas.

SEFS Students Present Forest Stewardship Plan to King County

This past spring, 14 SEFS students had the unique opportunity to partner with King County to write a forest stewardship plan for the 645-acre Black Diamond Natural Area, south of Seattle near Maple Valley. Writing the plan was the focus of a new course set up to provide applied, real-world forest management opportunities for students: Applied Forest Ecology & Management (SEFS521/ESRM490).

Black Diamond Natural Area

Black Diamond Natural Area

King County had purchased this forested land through a series of acquisitions during the past decade as part of the King County Open Space Plan. These forests, which were previously managed as industrial plantations, needed a long-term stewardship plan that aligned with King County Parks’ goals of providing recreational opportunities to the public while maintaining the social, ecological and economic functions of the forests. King County has recognized that these dense, 15- to 30-year-old Douglas-fir plantations need active management to provide quality, long-term habitat and recreation. Yet the land is right in the middle of a rapidly developing area where managing forests presents a major social challenge. So to facilitate that planning process, the county partnered with SEFS on this course—co-taught by Research Associate Derek Churchill and Associate Professor Greg Ettl—that would give students direct experience designing a stewardship plan.

Specifically, students were tasked with designing a stewardship plan and stand-level prescriptions for Douglas-fir plantations where the major uses have now shifted to mountain biking, horseback riding and trail running. The quarter was split between field sampling and inventorying forest structure, and also class sessions covering stand dynamics, variable-density thinning, logging systems, FVS modeling and landscape analysis, among other topics. With the heavy field component, students gained hands-on experience with a number of forestry concepts, including mastering the Relaskop, using density diagrams, installing inventory plots and cruising timber, as well as how concepts from forest ecology directly apply to designing forest management treatments. Throughout the quarter, students were able to draw on the expertise of Professor Emeritus Peter Schiess and several SEFS alumni, including Paul Wagner, Paul Fisher and Jeff Comnick.

Sean Jeronimo

SEFS grad student Sean Jeronimo measuring tree heights in the project area.

Students also engaged and interacted with neighboring communities in Maple Valley that are adjacent to the project area—a sensitive social dimension that is essential to successful forest stewardship in the proximity of urban growth boundaries. These neighborly considerations hit especially close to home for one of the students, Mary Starr, who has lived in Maple Valley for four years and knows firsthand the close relationship these communities have to their natural areas. “If you can work with stakeholders to do forestry successfully here, you can do it anywhere,” says Churchill.

While each student was assigned to write a section of the final stewardship plan, Abraham Ngu, a Master of Forest Resources candidate, coordinated and edited the final plan as part of his capstone project. The course then culminated with the students giving a formal presentation of their management recommendations to county officials, including the lead environmental coordinators.

Feedback from the county was immensely positive. Officials praised the students and, perhaps most importantly, gave a sincere indication they would like to continue the collaboration. In his post-presentation email to the course instructors, Dave Kimmett, program manager of King County Parks, wrote, “Is it too soon to think about the next class? The students made a very good impression today. ”

Not too soon at all, in fact, as King County Parks administration had a follow-up meeting with SEFS Director Tom DeLuca, Ettl and Churchill this past July, paving the way for another class in the spring of 2015.

Nice work!

Photos © Sam Israel/SEFS.

SEFS521/ESRM490

Record Salmon Surge in Alaska

Every year, hundreds of millions of salmon swim from the Pacific Ocean into streams and rivers up and down the West Coast from California to Alaska. They make their way, with remarkable precision and determination, to spawn in the very grounds where they were born. “It’s one of, if not the grandest migrations in the whole world,” says Professor Aaron Wirsing, who recently returned from two weeks at the Fisheries Research Institute in the village of Aleknagik, Alaska.

He was there was part of a joint project between two units in the College of the Environment—the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences (SAFS) and the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS)—that launched in 2010. Led by Professors Tom Quinn and Wirsing, the research team is investigating coastal brown bear (Ursus arctos) abundance and behavior along sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) spawning streams in Alaska’s Wood River Lakes System.

Salmon Surge

This summer, the total number of salmon in Hansen Creek is already double previous counts.

This field season, while the researchers haven’t seen as many bears, they are witnessing a record salmon run that continues to pour into the system. The latest count for just one of the streams, Hansen Creek, is already more than 50,000 salmon—which is more than double the previous record for the whole summer. Picture those fish, some 20,000 at a time, packed into a two-kilometer stretch of water only four meters wide and barely five centimeters deep. That’s a lot of fins in the water, and it makes for an unforgettable sight. “It’s like salmon soup,” says Professor Wirsing.

Before the salmon embark on that last leg to the spawning ground, they often pool at the entry point to the creek and wait days, even weeks, before venturing into the current. Why they pause at the creek mouth, and what triggers the last desperate dash, isn’t entirely clear, though it’s thought to be partly a response to predation risk, with the salmon entering in huge waves to overwhelm their predators—in this case, brown bears. The presence of fish in the creek, with silt kicked up by spawning salmon upstream, might also be a cue for others to follow.

In the best of years, salmon causalities are still fairly high as they near the end of this journey (and all Pacific salmon perish after spawning). Some lack the energy to make the final surge up the stream, or they get stranded in the shallows, sometimes just feet from their destination; others get snapped up by bears, or they provide a gruesome feast for birds that peck away at the half-exposed fish. This year, as well, the salmon are facing extreme low water levels. In many spots, the sockeye barely have a few centimeters to buoy them up the stream, and they have to muster an even more heroic effort to splash their way to the finish.

Salmon Surge

In many places, the salmon have to make their way through only a few centimeters of water.

It’s too early to know precisely what has fueled this record salmon run, says Wirsing, but it could be linked to favorable oceanic conditions (e.g. lots of food at sea). One clear consequence of the high numbers, though, is higher pre-spawning mortality, due both to stranding and to low dissolved oxygen levels in the crowded streams. These salmon will also bring a huge pulse of marine-derived nutrients, which will bolster freshwater invertebrate and bear populations, and even make their way into riparian plants. One other longer-term effect, too, is that there should be another large run in four years when the offspring of these salmon have matured—provided, of course, that enough fish this year are able to spawn and oceanic conditions are again favorable.

Words and photos can’t fully capture the intensity of the annual run, but luckily Professor Wirsing got some great video (below) of the salmon scrum at the entrance to Hansen Creek. It’s like marathoners jockeying for position before the start of a race!

Photos © Aaron Wirsing/SEFS and Tom Quinn/SAFS; salmon video © Aaron Wirsing.

Student Technology Fee Grant Winners for SEFS!

Marc Morrison was very pleased to report that four SEFS proposals—all student-driven—were recently funded by Student Technology Fee (STF) grants!

STF is funded by UW students with a $41 fee assessed each quarter. Every year, in turn, university departments and students can send in requests for grants from this fund to help cover a variety of technological ventures around campus, such as acquiring lab equipment or gear for field research. As the name of the program suggests, these grants must be geared toward student use, and last year STF funded nearly $5 million in projects.

This year, SEFS students helped secure nearly $250,000 in funding, so check out the winning proposals below! (Also, if you’d like to apply for STF funding next year, find out what kinds of projects are eligible.)

2014 Grant Winners for SEFS

Process and Analytical Equipment for Biofuels Production

The Biofuels and Bioproducts Laboratory (BBL) , which explores all aspects of the bioconversion/thermochemical conversion of lignocellulosic materials into biofuels and bioproducts, requested a grant to purchase state-of-the-art analytical tools, including Raman Spectroscopy (RS) as a real-time fermentation measurement technique; GC-MS (Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry) for quantitative product identification; high-pressure syringe pumps for supercritical fluid applications; and powerful, high-speed computers to run simulations to verify and complement experimental results. The computers and process and analytical equipment the lab requested will be a great benefit to not only the BBL graduate and undergraduate students, but to the entire SEFS undergraduate community, because every graduating junior and graduate student in the Bioresource Science & Engineering (BSE) program of SEFS takes BSE 426, which would include experiments to convert ethanol into gasoline using the high-pressure pump, and analysis procedures with the GC-MS and new computers.

Total grant award: $169,909.71

Natural Resources Field Tool Kits
To assist field research capabilities for SEFS graduate and undergraduate students, this grant requested funds to acquire tablet computers with rugged cases and other associated measurement tools, or a “Natural Resources Field Tool Kit” that students can reserve and check out for field-based data collection. The tablets will optimize student information management by allowing direct data input, photography/videography, spatial and mapping inference, as well as access to field guides and scientific literature while in remote settings. The equipment will be available to students campus-wide and will set UW students apart by giving them expertise and opportunities for unexpected innovations using these developing technologies, as opposed to continued reliance on outdated tools and techniques for field research.

Total grant award: $30,437.95

College of the Environment Field Research Equipment
A group of SEFS graduate students requested this grant to purchase wildlife field research equipment that has the potential to benefit many students studying in the College of the Environment. This grant will cover the purchase of remote cameras—currently unavailable to most students—and field equipment to run at least two camera-based wildlife research projects, or provide a College field course with enough equipment to run a thorough wildlife research project. Other items to be purchased, including field laptops, wildlife camera traps, portable GPS units and SPOT receivers (satellite positioning and tracking devices used for emergency communications), will provide students throughout the College with access to state-of-the-art equipment that will allow them to apply what they learn in the classroom to rigorous wildlife field research—including as part of senior capstone projects.

Total grant award: $44,009.62

Restoration Ecology Network GPS Units
The University of Washington Restoration Ecology Network (UW REN) Capstone in Ecological Restoration, a 13-year-old program that continues to grow each year, currently involves 63 students. This grant will allow for the purchase of badly needed equipment—specifically, six GPS units—for ESRM seniors and graduate students to ensure they have the tools to create professional, computer-based maps for their restoration planning documents related to their UW REN Capstone project.

Total grant award: $3,889.05

“Farm 5” Picnic Reunites UW-WSU Collaborators

On Tuesday, July 29, a group of researchers and their families met for a picnic outside of Puyallup, Wash., to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a research collaboration between the University of Washington and Washington State University—a program that laid the foundation for the current biofuels research at SEFS.

Organized in large part by Professor Emeritus Reinhard Stettler, the gathering brought together some of the core members of a research team that has spent several decades exploring the unusual potential of growing hybrid poplars.

Farm 5 Picnic

The hybrid poplars, marked here with ribbon, quickly proved their unusual growth potential compared to non-hybrid neighboring trees.

In 1968, Stettler published a paper in Nature in which he described a mechanism to overcome a major barrier to hybridization in native cottonwoods—and he needed a place for the hybrids he had produced to grow. He turned to Professor Paul Heilman, based at WSU’s Puyallup Research & Extension Center, who agreed to plant the hybrids as well as the female Populus trichocarpa parents.

It was the early 1970s, and the Middle East oil embargo was driving up gas prices and threatening supply, so the U.S. Department of Energy put out a request for proposals on using biomass as a potential energy source. Stettler and Heilman secured one of the first grants through that program in 1978—a grant that would fund research for 20-plus years—and forged a partnership with WSU to conduct research on the genetic and environmental factors responsible for growth and disease resistance in the native black cottonwood and its offspring with known parents from eastern cottonwood or Populus deltoides.

“It was an important and model partnership between the state’s two major research institutions, WSU and UW,” says Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley, a long-time collaborator on the project. “Without the one, the other would have failed.”

The July picnic brought many of the collaborators together at that original site, known as Farm 5, and included an update and field tour about ongoing research there involving a new generation of poplars. Hinckley especially enjoyed the opportunity to get reacquainted with former colleagues and students. “For me, it was the first time back there since 1992 or 1993, and it just brought back a flood of memories,” he says.

Photos © Tom Hinckley & Nico Stettler.

Farm 5 Picnic

At the picnic (alphabetical): Curt Bod, former staff, WSU; Toby Bradshaw, former postdoc and research assistant professor, biology; Michael Carlson, former graduate student; Lynn Catlett, former staff, UW (+ Tony Ferruci); Reinhart Ceulemans, former visiting scientist (+Hedwig); Tom DeLuca, SEFS Director; Sharon Doty, SEFS Professor; Joan Dunlap, former graduate student; Gordon Ekuan, former staff, WSU; Ruth Fenn, former graduate student & staff, UW (+Lauren); Arturo Figliola, former graduate student (+Nino); Dylan Fischer, current faculty, Evergreen State College; Diane Fogle, former staff, WSU; Alex Friend, former graduate student; Paula Glackin, former staff, UW (+Jim); Barri Herman, current staff scientist at WSU and head of Poplar Program; Tom Hinckley, SEFS Professor Emeritus and former graduate student (+Arline); Jud Isebrands, former visiting scientist, former research scientist, USFS (+Sharon); Jeff Kallestad, current research staff, WSU; Carrie LeRoy, current faculty, Evergreen State College; Randi Luchterhand, current staff, WSU; Don Rice, current staff at Greenwood Industries (+Fran); Giuseppe Scarascia, former visiting scientist and graduate student) (+Elisa, Costanza, Tommaso); Barbara Smit, former faculty, SEFS (+Jim); Brian Stanton, current staff, Greenwood Industries (+Carol); Reini Stettler, former faculty, SEFS (+Dan, Nico); Liz VanVolkenburgh, professor, biology; Marc Villar, former visiting scientist (+Pascale); Brian Watson, former staff, UW (+Do); Jack Whisler, former staff, UW; Brenda Wiard, former graduate student (+Mark).

David G. Briggs: 1943-2014

We were extremely sad to learn last week that a wonderful member of the SEFS family, Professor Emeritus David Briggs, passed away at his home on Saturday, July 26.

Briggs was born on July 3, 1943, in North Brookfield, Mass. He earned his bachelor’s at the University of Massachusetts, a master’s from Yale University, and his doctorate from the College of Forest Resources (CFR). He first joined CFR as a graduate student around 1968, but in the early 1970s he briefly left the university to work as an analyst for Washington Iron Works in Seattle. After returning and finishing his dissertation in 1980, Briggs joined the CFR faculty and taught operations research and forest products for more than three decades until his retirement in 2011.

David G. BriggsIn his many distinguished years with our school, he simultaneously served as director of the Stand Management Cooperative and the Precision Forestry Cooperative, and also directed the UW site of the National Science Foundation’s Center for Advanced Forestry Systems. Briggs was respected as a great leader and collaborator, and he was appointed as the Corkery Chair in recognition of his scholarly and professional contributions. He mentored dozens of graduate and undergraduate students, as well as young professors, and was especially known for his enormous generosity and kindness. Even as his health started to slow him down, he continued participating in school affairs and kept an active research profile.

His decorated career as a professor is only part of what his many friends and colleagues remember so fondly. With a tremendous zeal for life and the outdoors, Briggs was an avid climber and mountaineer, and was famous for his storytelling—such as tales of climbing peaks, up and back, early in the morning before the rest of his party had even woken up. He loved traveling and had only recently returned from a trip with his wife Anne to Mongolia and the Gobi Desert. He also had an affinity for animals, at various times keeping llamas, chickens, geese, dogs, cats and a horse on his land.

Briggs will be sorely missed by his mother, Georgia Briggs, his wife, Anne Briggs, his son Jeremy Briggs, his stepdaughter Laura Shepard, many other family and friends, and the countless students and faculty he guided and influenced during his long career at the University of Washington.

A celebration of his life will be held at The University of Washington Club (4020 E. Steven Way) on Sunday, August, 17, from 4 to 7 p.m.; parking on Sundays is available in the Padelford Parking Garage. The family asks that remembrances may be donated to the American Alpine Club or Washington Trails Association.

David Briggs

Interactive Arboretum Map is Now Live!

Tracy Mehlin, information technology librarian for the Elisabeth C. Miller Library, passed along the exciting news that the new Washington Park Arboretum Interactive Map has officially launched!

The project started in August 2012 with a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to survey the Arboretum and digitize paper inventory maps. Now, the online, interactive map identifies landmarks, trails, gardens and every woody plant growing in the Arboretum. It can be browsed or searched, and users can turn layers on and off, measure distances, draw a custom route and print out a custom map.

It’s an incredibly comprehensive resource, with applications for everyone from faculty and students to visitors and researchers around the world, so get in there and start exploring!

Arboretum Interactive Map

Steven D. Stinson: 1961-2014

We were deeply saddened to learn last week that one of our alumni and great friends, Steve Stinson, passed away on Wednesday, July 16, after a two-year battle with cancer.

Steve StinsonBorn December 10, 1961, Stinson grew up working on his family’s Cowlitz Ridge Tree Farm in Toledo, Wash., and was a tireless advocate for forestry. He was particularly known for his support of small family forest owners, and he was an integral part of the Washington Farm Forestry Association (WFFA).

Stinson earned his bachelor’s from Evergreen State College and was a master’s student under Professor Chad Oliver at the College of Forest Resources. He was among the first students working on the landscape management system (LMS) developed in the Oliver Lab, and his thesis was on dynamic habitat-based forest planning for small forest landowners. At a national Society of American Foresters meeting, one of Stinson’s posters demonstrating the LMS won a blue ribbon award; the poster and award were displayed outside the silviculture lab for many years. After graduating in 2000, he went on to direct the Washington Department of Natural Resources’ Small Forestland Landowner Office, established as part of Washington’s Forest and Fish Law, and he later contributed to the Denman Forestry Issue Lecture Series.

StinsonEarly in his career, Stinson had the foresight to see that small family forest owners were being left out of the policy discussion largely because there was no database to identify how many there were, where they were located, and how much they managed. So he worked with the Washington delegation to secure funding for the University of Washington to create a database of small tree farm family ownership through the Rural Technology Initiative (RTI), currently managed by Luke Rogers at SEFS. As a result, the Washington State Parcel and Forestland Databases—both projects now into their 10th years—provide comprehensive GIS data on tree farm land parcels and a wealth of other information. Among many other long-term benefits, these resources more accurately document the significant contributions of small forest owners, including their role in providing riparian protection in the lowlands and population centers of the state.

Stinson’s life and work touched countless lives, and he is fondly remembered at SEFS as a great friend and champion of the forestry community. He was widely respected for his pragmatism, genuine concern for other people, and a relentless pursuit of science-based decision-making. He invested so much of his time and passion in the forestlands of Washington State, and helping landowners navigate the complexity of modern forest management. He will be greatly missed.

***

A celebration of Stinson’s life will be held at the family tree farm in Toledo on Saturday, July 26, at 5 p.m. The Stinson family has chosen to have a potluck, so please bring a dish and beverage of your choice. They will provide plates and cutlery. There will be a bonfire and live music by Joe Batt, Tom Barbara, Joe Green and Richard Roth. If you have questions, please email Ann (amstinson126@comcast.net) or Julie (julieintheyukon@gmail.com). No phone calls please.

The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to:

Washington Farm Forestry Association
P.O. Box 1010
Chehalis, WA 98532

(Port Blakely is establishing a scholarship in Stinson’s memory; more details will be available soon about designating donations to WFFA for this particular fund.)

or

Assured Home Health & Hospice
2120 North Park Street, Suite A
Centralia, WA 98531

Photos of Steve Stinson © Courtesy of Rick Dunning and Luke Rogers.

Steve Stinson

Tell Us: Favorite Field Trip as a Student

In the inaugural issue of Roots, our new alumni e-newsletter, we asked alumni to tell us about their favorite field trips as a student. Here’s what Marion “Bud” Fisk (‘58), who lives with his wife of 56 years in Tieton, Wash., shared with us:

Marion "Bud" Fisk

Marion “Bud” Fisk

“I don’t know if students still get to go to Pack Forest or spend their last quarter in the woods or not. But the class of ’58 spent the first half of the last class quarter helping the DNR inventory the Capitol State Forest. We got lots of experience, made some good friendships and helped the ol’ DNR a bit.

For the second half of the quarter, we went to Glenwood, where St. Regis Paper owned several thousand acres of pine/fir mix. Sleeping in our bags in wood-floored tents, eating in the loggers’ mess hall, jumping over rattlesnakes out on the plateau, and getting dunked in the log pond created a whole bunch of lifelong memories. One of our small group, Doug Daniels, stayed on and worked for the DNR out of Glenwood for his entire career. The next class produced Len Rolph, who stayed on with St Regis for his career and ended up as chief forester of the Klickitat block. Len and I have hunted that area out of his backyard for the last 50 years and have fed our families on the venison and elk we harvested. Quite an extended field trip.”Great stuff, Bud—thanks for writing!

For the next issue of Roots, we’re asking alumni to tell us: Who was your favorite professor, and why did he/she have such a big impact on you? We’ll feature one or more response in the next issue of Roots, and also right here on the “Offshoots” blog. Please email submissions—of no more than 250 words—to sefsalum@uw.edu, and we’ll follow up to ask for a photo if your letter is accepted and published.

Photo of Bud Fisk © Bud Fisk.

Alumni (and Staff) Spotlight: Wendy Gibble

While volunteering with the Falcon Research Group in the San Juan Islands a number of years ago, Wendy Gibble remembers repelling down a cliff to reach a peregrine falcon nest. She’d been taking part in a raptor study for several years, and her job was to put bands on the young birds. With each subsequent season visiting a nest, Gibble says the adult falcons grew less tolerant of the intruders—and also far less timid. At first, they would swoop nervously yet stay about 10 feet above the researchers’ heads. After a few years, though, some of them would actually make contact. “You’re hanging on a rope, banding a young falcon, and all the sudden you get this “thwack” on your helmet,” she says.

Wendy Gibble

Before returning to graduate school after 13 years in environmental consulting, Gibble volunteered on a wide range of conservation projects, including several raptor studies.

Armored with that helmet and a sturdy jacket, Gibble didn’t feel in danger, and in fact she loved the excitement of working hands-on with wildlife research and conservation. So much that she regularly sought out similar volunteer projects with several organizations, including Hawkwatch International, and ended up participating in raptor studies at far-flung sites around the world, from Cape May, N.J., to Chile and the Falkland Islands.

She managed all of that, incredibly, on top of her full-time career as an engineer. But her side passions were increasingly elbowing for more room and attention.

Gibble had grown up in Chatham Township, N.J., about 30 miles west of Manhattan, and later studied civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University in New York. She briefly returned to New Jersey after graduation before heeding the call of the Pacific Northwest and its many natural offerings.

“I came for the mountains,” she says, and ended up working in environmental consulting for 13 years, splitting time between a couple firms, including Herrera Environmental Consultants. Some of her work involved construction management for water resource projects, such as drinking water supplies, fish rearing and passage projects. Gibble did some flood modeling and work on landfills, as well as projects on the Columbia and Snake river systems designing hatcheries and fish screens (to prevent fish from getting sucked out with irrigation withdrawal). She also spent time designing water treatment plants, pipeline transmissions, pump stations and other infrastructure related to our drinking water system.

Through she generally enjoyed all of those projects, Gibble felt a growing desire to spend her days working more directly with habitat management and conservation. She’d experienced that world firsthand through her volunteering, but only for a few weeks a year. The tease was too much to keep ignoring.

Wendy Gibble

Getting to do field research across the state, including recently in the Wenatchee Mountains (above), is one of Gibble’s favorite parts of her job with Rare Care.

“I had that moment of, ‘What am I doing?’” she says. “I was running into people all over South America who were doing really cool research projects and wildlife studies, and I just thought it was time for a career change.”

Since she didn’t want to leave the West Coast, Gibble started researching potential graduate programs in California and Washington. She says she had a really good feeling about coming to the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS) and ended up pursuing a master’s with Professor Kristiina Vogt as her advisor. Within her overall emphasis on plant ecology, Gibble studied plant invasion in the Puget Sound prairies for her thesis (her other committee members included Professors Charles Halpern and Peter Dunwiddie). She got to be in the field. She got to organize her own research program. She’d found a shared outlet for her personal and professional aptitudes.

As it happened, a few months before Gibble had even earned her M.S. in March 2006, the program manager position opened up with the Washington Rare Plant Care and Conservation Program, or Rare Care, with the UW Botanic Gardens. Gibble had taken a seminar with Professor Sarah Reichard, the director of UWBG, and knew a little bit about the Rare Care program. The timing was hard to beat, and Gibble knew positions like this one didn’t pop up every day in this field, so she jumped at the opportunity and started working while she wrapped up her thesis.

The Rare Care program, housed at the Center for Urban Horticulture, is dedicated to conserving Washington’s rare native plants. It has four main areas of emphasis: researching rare native plants and engaging graduate students in those studies; organizing statewide citizen science monitoring of rare plants (including more than 200 volunteers who do around 5,000 hours of work each year); managing the Miller Seed Vault, a seed banking effort that preserves the seeds of rare plant species; and conducting other outreach projects.

Wendy Gibble

Gibble, center, at the 2014 SEFS Alumni Spring Gathering, held April 27 at the Center for Urban Horticulture.

A big part of what Gibble loves about her role as program manager is that she gets to have a hand in all of these activities, and a couple years ago she took on the additional responsibility of managing the education programs and a seven-person staff. She especially enjoys working closely with students, and getting to spend a lot of time traveling to field sites around the state. “I really like going new places,” she says, “and that’s one of the things I really love about my job. I’ve gone to places I probably never would have seen.”

Some of those excursions include gathering collections for the seed vault, or leading a range of research and monitoring projects. Gibble recently spent a week in the Lake Quinault area working with the Forest Service to map populations of the rare Quinault fawn lily. She’s also been collecting seeds with the Bureau of Land Management out in Washington’s shrub steppe regions, and monitoring Whited milk-vetch south of Wenatchee. “It’s all very cool,” she says.

Of course, even the most satisfying work week still leaves plenty of spare hours, and Gibble isn’t one to wear out a couch. “If I’m in the wilderness, I’m a happy person,” she says, and that means hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, bird watching, gardening, skiing, canoeing, kayaking, you name it—including rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

Wendy Gibble

Gibble on a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon.

Two summers ago, she added salmon fishing. Gibble and some friends chartered a boat on the west side of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, where she hooked her first Chinook salmon. She doesn’t remember how long she fought the 28-pounder—it was a bit of blur—but she definitely recalls the thrill of the catch, and then the four or so months it took to work her way through all the meat. “It was a ton of fun,” she says.

Not to limit herself to terrestrial and marine adventures, Gibble used to have a pilot’s license, as well. “It was a bucket list kind of thing,” she says, and she flew herself to a number of local destinations, including to Portland, Ore., and out to the San Juan Islands. Yet since flying requires a lot of time and money to stay current and safe, Gibble didn’t keep her license up to date. Plus, as fun as it was to cruise through the sky, she says most of her outdoor passions involve closer contact to nature. “In the end,” she says, “I just want to be on the ground.”

For all the ground she’s covered so far—New Jersey to Washington, Cape May to Chile, engineering to ecology, and countless trips along the way—Gibble knows there’s plenty yet for her to do and explore in the Pacific Northwest and around the world. Best of all, she no longer has to wait for vacations and volunteer projects to get there. With Rare Care and the broader SEFS community, she gets to travel regularly and work at the leading edge of environmental research and education every day.

And that, says Gibble, is a rare find indeed.

Photos © Wendy Gibble.

Wendy Gibble