SEFS Seminar Series: Week 9 Preview

SEFS Seminar SeriesDo you want to hear what it’s like to do research in some of the most beautiful and remote corners of the planet? Are you interested in conservation strategies for the Amur tiger or the Patagonian cypress? Or finding out why the blue whale is blue? Well, Professor Sándor Tóth says not to expect such treats from his presentation this Wednesday, March 13, in Week 9 of the SEFS Seminar Series, “Modeling Green-up Constraints in Spatial Forest Planning.”

“We will do math,” he says. “In particular, I will show you how conservation or resource management decisions can be optimized using simply mathematical expressions such as functions and inequalities. I will give you examples of why such highly abstract decision models can have a great impact on the ground. The coverage of the presentation will be much broader than what the title suggests.”

Professor Tóth often has tough questions for other presenters, so now’s your chance to return the favor! Plus, this Wednesday will be the final seminar for the Winter Quarter, so come out and send the series off in style.

The seminars are held in Anderson 223 on Wednesdays from 4 to 5 p.m., and are open to all faculty, staff and students. Stop by afterward for a reception in the Forest Room from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

Undergrad Spotlight: Max Sugarman

Max Sugarman

Max Sugarman sizes up the local wildlife in South Africa.

This past fall, Max Sugarman, who grew up in Issaquah, Wash., strayed far from the familiarity of the forested Pacific Northwest and spent a semester studying abroad on the sprawling grasslands of the South African savanna.

“Coming from a forestry-focused program [at UW], it was incredibly different,” says Sugarman, a junior Environmental Science and Resource Management major at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. “The savanna is much more vast, it’s a different climate with different ecosystem drivers and forces, and there’s a lot of megafauna and biodiversity you don’t really encounter here.”

The study abroad program Sugarman chose, “South Africa Semester: African Ecology & Conservation,” is run through Duke University and the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS). Founded in 1963, OTS is a nonprofit consortium dedicated to the study of tropical biology and ecosystems. It has grown to include 63 universities, including the University of Washington, and research institutions from Australia, Latin America and the United States.

As part of the Duke program, Sugarman joined a group of 25 students from August to December for 100 days of research in different savanna ecosystems. Their group was based in Kruger National Park, but they ventured to a number of other sites around the country, including Cape Town and some small villages. “We covered a whole swath of South Africa,” he says.



And they didn’t go about their work leisurely. Sugarman says the program was highly intensive, often with eight hours of lecture followed by several full days in the field—rising at 5:30 a.m.—to learn through inquiry and observation. Their primary work during the semester included two projects where they’d develop a question and then carry out the research and analysis in the field. “It was almost entirely hands-on,” he says, “and there was a lot of time to embrace the savanna.”

When they weren’t in the classroom or in the field working, the students occasionally got to go on game drives through the national parks. They’d regularly see baboons, elephants, rhinos and all sorts of incredible creatures, and Sugarman says the savanna landscape actually turned him into a birder.

The fast pace of the program was a challenge, however, as was living in close quarters with his classmates, comprised of 22 Americans and three South Africans. Sometimes they’d stay in upscale quarters; other times they’d be in dorms with 12 to a room; and rarely were there idle moments.


A leopard lounges in Kruger National Park.

At the same time, Sugarman says the small group size and close contact with professors were also some of the program’s greatest strengths.  They had four faculty members for 25 students, as well as a logistics manager and several other support staff. “The really cool thing about the program,” says Sugarman, “is that because you have such a good connection with the faculty, you’re able to mold the program to whatever you want it to be. People there are trying to help you learn and succeed, and you’ll have these professors as long-time supporters.”

Sound like something you’d like to try? Sugarman says the price can look a little daunting on paper, but the program was generous with funding aid and assistance—and he will be the first to recommend it.

“On a personal growth level, it was really invigorating and motivated me to come back to the U.S. and lead a vibrant life,” he says. “On the professional side, going out and doing field research, working with cool faculty, meeting leaders in the field in South Africa and around the world—it has me thinking of doing graduate work in landscape ecology.”

Photos © Max Sugarman.

2013 Distinguished Staff Awards: SEFS Nominees!

Distinguished Staff Awards

UW Awards of Excellence

This year, we are proud to have three members of our incredible staff nominated for the 2013 Distinguished Staff Awards at the University of Washington!

Anita Smith and Amanda Davis were each nominated in the individual category, and Davis and Michelle Trudeau were nominated in the team category for their work in the Office of Student and Academic Services. Congratulations to each of you!

You can come support our nominees on Tuesday, March 26, at a reception in the HUB Ballroom from 2:30 to 4 p.m.!

The Distinguished Staff Awards honor those who have exemplified innovation and excellence in their work while promoting a culture of collaboration and respect. After the reception in March, the awards committee will select up to five individuals or teams to receive the annual honor, along with $5,000. Awardees will be notified in April and are invited to the University’s Annual Awards of Excellence ceremony in June.

Where Cows Meet Clams: Forest Stewardship Workshop

Where Cows Meet ClamsSEFS alumna Lindsay Malone, director of member services for the Northwest Natural Resource Group, passed along this heads-up about an upcoming workshop, “Where Cows Meet Clams.”

This workshop series is designed to help forest landowners, and those interested in becoming forest landowners, build longevity and success with their resource businesses while protecting important natural assets using tools, trends and practices that have been demonstrated to work. Specific topics include building healthy soil, water and habitat; forest inventories and management plans; Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) marketing; cost-share opportunities; incorporating stewardship into outreach and education; low-impact development; marketing tools and how tourism and economic development trends can generate new revenue.

The next workshop is scheduled for this Saturday, March 9, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Camp River Ranch in Carnation, Wash.

Field Notes From Kenya


Sunset over Tsavo East National Park, near Banks’ research site.

A few weeks ago we heard from John “Buck” Banks, a professor of Environmental Science in the Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences program at UW Tacoma, and an adjunct professor with the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS).

Banks has just wrapped up a month in East Africa conducting field research at a forest regeneration site on the Kenya coast. The work is part of an ongoing, interdisciplinary project in collaboration with local ornithologists and a forestry faculty member from Michigan State. “We were doing a second expedition to look at the recovery of the restored forest during the dry season,” says Banks. “We did a wet season sampling back in May and June.”

The project site is a five-hectare section of forest about three miles inland from the ocean. It had previously been farmland until 20 years ago when the area was replanted with native tree species. After two decades, the forest looks fairly mature and developed, says Banks, but it has fewer birds and insects, and generally hasn’t recouped the biodiversity of surrounding healthier forests.

Sykes monkey

A Sykes monkey lurks around their field site.

Using 27 test plots, Banks and his collaborators were looking at different components of the forest’s biodiversity, including tree recovery rates, arthropods and birds. Among the questions they’re trying to answer is why the bird and insect populations haven’t returned to the levels they find in nearby reference forests.

In the next few years, Banks plans to broaden the project and continue monitoring the forest’s growth and recovery. It follows similar research he’s previously conducted during the past few years looking at the links between forest birds and the arthropods they eat, and elephant disturbance in nearby Arabuko-Sokoke Forest.

Banks posted regular updates on his blog, so check out some of his recent notes and photos—including their struggles with forest antelopes and “rambunctious” monkeys sabotaging their fieldwork!

Photos © Buck Banks.

This Friday: Graduate Student Symposium!

Graduate Student SymposiumThe 10th Annual Graduate Student Symposium (GSS) begins bright and early this Friday morning, March 8! It’s an all-day affair from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. in the Forest Club Room, so come early and stick around if you can.

The event kicks off with breakfast and presentations from this year’s panelists, and we are excited to welcome Dale Blahna, a research social scientist with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station; Phil Rigdon, deputy director of natural resources with the Yakama Nation; and Laura Six, a plant ecologist working in international environmental research with Weyerhaeuser.

Following the panel discussions, we will have the main event: our graduate student presentations, along with some special activities this year to celebrate 10 years of GSS. The theme is The Future of Forestry (which of course includes natural resource management, environmental science and the full range of the work we do here at SEFS).

We invite you to join us, relax, enjoy yourself and catch as many sessions as you can. We will be serving a pizza lunch at noon along with the poster presentations. Check out a tentative schedule of events, and we hope to see on Friday!