Director’s Message: Summer 2013

Last December, Forbes magazine published an article on the 10 “worst” college degrees, and a sister article on the 15 “most valuable” college degrees. Even though I immediately disagreed with the reduction of “value” to a dollar figure—and noted that “most valuable” is not a direct antonym for “worst”—the message to readers was unmistakable: A college degree is valued by the employment potential and the starting wages for recent grads.

I sighed in relief as I paged through the article and didn’t find natural resource and forest management or environmental science among the ranks of their list. That said, I was surprised and dismayed to see anthropology (the study of humankind) at the top, and subjects like art, philosophy and history also considered “worst” among our college offerings.

Jennifer Perkins

Jennifer Perkins, a 2011 graduate from SEFS, now works at the UW Office of Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability.

Not long after I read the Forbes piece, a similar story on LinkedIn again pinned the value of a college degree squarely on employment and entry pay. Without question, a college education should lead to a marketable skillset and a living wage. But I couldn’t help thinking that lost in these calculations of “value” is that students might not just want to make a living—they might want to love their living.

When I think about our own programs at SEFS, it’s impossible to miss that during the last six years, our Environmental Science and Resources Management (ESRM) major and Bioresource Science and Engineering (BSE) degrees have seen steady growth. For the past few years, moreover, our BSE graduates have had a 100-percent success rate landing jobs as soon as they’re finished with school, and in many cases long before graduation.

Take Megan James, a senior BSE major who is about to graduate this June. She’s been actively involved in papermaking at SEFS, and last summer she completed an internship with Procter & Gamble. That experience led to a job offer to continue on full-time after graduation as a process engineer at a brand-new paper plant in Bear River City, Utah.

Or consider Jennifer Perkins, who graduated as an ESRM major in 2011. Shortly after she finished school, she landed a position just up the road as the program coordinator for the University of Washington Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability Office. She’s loving her job promoting sustainability projects around campus, and she credits much of her enthusiasm and environmental expertise with her time at SEFS.

I also think of Dr. Brian Kertson, a SEFS alumnus who now works with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. He came through all levels of our program, earning his B.S. in forest resources (wildlife science) in 2001, then an M.S. and then a Ph.D.—and now he has a dream job working with large carnivores, and especially cougars, in the state.

Megan James

Megan James, left, and other members of the student TAPPI chapter during their annual holiday papermaking project.

The list goes on and on, and the more I think about it, the more I see how flawed the metrics are in the Forbes and LinkedIn stories. Nowhere in these articles or analyses is there consideration of “quality of life,” or deep interest or devotion to the topic or craft that might become the focus of the majority of our waking hours. Reflecting on my own degrees in soil science, I know I didn’t enroll in the major for the employment opportunities or high salary potential. Rather, I pursued the natural resources because of my desire to work on something real and tangible, my love for the outdoors, love of science, my awe at the complexity of ecosystems and particularly soils, and for so many creative possibilities of study and exploration.

Passion will carry you a long way toward success, and that starts, in many cases, with enjoying the job in front of you. So as our undergraduate and graduate students head out into the world, I am confident we have not only improved their employability, but perhaps more important, we have enhanced their environmental and conservation literacy, sharpened their critical thinking skills, and prepared them for a lifetime of growth and career satisfaction. They’ll have to chance to do what they know, and in fields they love. I’m not convinced there’s a more “valuable” outcome you can hope to achieve from an education.

Photo of Jennifer Perkins © Jennifer Perkins; photo of Megan James © Megan James.

Thesis Defense: Maria Sandercock!

Maria Sandercock

Sandercock stream sampling with her helper Josie.

As part of a delightful deluge of defenses today, the first of three comes at 1 p.m. in Anderson 107 when Maria Sandercock gives the public portion of her Master’s Defense, “The Role of Patterns of Urban Development on Stream Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity Scores.”

Sandercock’s committee includes SEFS Professors Daniel Vogt and Susan Bolton, along with Marina Alberti.

Come out and support Sandercock, and get excited for an afternoon of graduate student excellence!

Photo © Maria Sandercock.

Thesis Defense: Joshua Simpson!

Originally from Illinois, Joshua Simpson served in the Illinois Army National Guard from 1999 to 2005, including a 12-month tour in Iraq. He was awarded the Purple Heart and an Army Commendation Medal. He then studied GIS and environmental science at Northern Illinois University and graduated in 2007. He moved to Seattle immediately after and, before enrolling at UW to study applied economics and GIS, he built hiking trails, mapped hiking trails and restored environments in the Puget Sound area.

For the past couple years, Simpson has been completing his graduate study at SEFS, and the public is invited to see him present his thesis tomorrow, May 30, at 2:30 p.m. in Anderson 22: “An Econometric Analysis of Sewer Backup Claims in Seattle.”

Joshua SimpsonAbout Simpson’s Research:
Seattle is known for its high occurrence of rainfall events, and most of them are low-intensity events. When it rains heavily, sewer backups occur and, by all accounts, that’s bad news. Damage claims are filed and, in some cases, the city will cover the amount of damage. Sewer backups caused $8 million of damage from August 2004 to March 2011. Most of the damage claims were due to three major storms that occurred within that timeline.

For his thesis, Simpson examined factors that explain the damage caused by those three storms using a rare events logistic regression model. Sewer backups are rare events in Seattle, as the highest claim-producing storm in the city produced 147 claims, while there are more than 180,000 parcels in Seattle. Simpson used the claims from the three storms and a random stratified sample of parcels throughout Seattle to explain the causes of the backups.

Rainfall and soil saturation variables explain most of the damage that occurred, but other factors such as demographic and sewer system variables explain the cause of backups. Simpson used a spatial econometric model to measure the causes of various levels of sewer backup damage. Rainfall, soil saturation, demographic and sewer system variables, as well as tree density, explain the various levels of damage that occurred within the stated time line.

The results of both models were combined together to produce an expected sewer backup damage amount for the sample parcels. This data, along with the separate results of both models, were used to create three maps that represent probabilities of backups (given the results of a particular storm), potential damage and Expected Sewer Backup Damage.

These maps and data can be used to prioritize preventative maintenance before a storm season. There are many other risks that face utility customers in Seattle, but focusing on this risk allows for the application of two econometric models. Such an approach has not been utilized to analyze the occurrence of sewer backups to date. With the results of Salathe et al. (2010) and Zhu (2012) that suggest that higher frequency and higher intensity storms will affect the Puget Sound area, the accumulation of data and the use of the best information can mitigate future damage caused by these storms.

Simpson’s committee chair is Professor Sergey Rabotyagov, and the other members are John Perez-Garcia, Robert Halvorsen and Terry Martin. So come out and support him tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. as he completes his latest chapter in life!

Map graphic © Joshua Simpson.

Dissertation Defense: Eric Delvin!

Eric DelvinAs part of a tripleheader coming up tomorrow on Thursday, May 30, Eric Delvin will be defending his dissertation at 2 p.m.: “Restoring Abandoned Agricultural Lands in Puget Lowland Prairies: A New Approach.”

In his official public defense, Delvin will discuss his five years of research, share results of seeding and companion planting experiments of Castillej levisecta, and highlight a research design feature of the project called Staged-Scale Restoration.

Delvin’s committee chair is Professor Jon Bakker, and other members include SEFS Professor Kern Ewing along with Peter Dunwiddie, Sarah Hamman and Janneke Hille Ris Lambers.

You can catch his talk at the Center for Urban Horticulture (Isaacson Classroom), so mark it down for 2 p.m.!

Photo © Eric Delvin.

Dissertation Defense: Ailene Ettinger!

In case you’re seeing Megan McPhaden’s defense this morning, the best way to keep your neurons firing when she’s done is to join Ailene Ettinger in the Forest Club at 12:30 p.m. as she defends her dissertation, “Testing the Limits: Understanding How Climate and Competition Affect Species Ranges in a Warming World.”

Mount RainierRising temperatures could result in tree range shifts. Indeed, scientists have already observed that many species ranges have moved upward in latitude and altitude as global temperatures have increased during the past century. However, competition with neighboring trees can also affect species distributions, which means that global warming may not always result in range shifts. Ettinger’s dissertation research investigates these issues by examining how climate (including temperature, rain and snow) interacts with competition to determine the performance of common tree species at Mount Rainier National Park.

Her committee chair is Biology Professor Janneke Hille Ris Lambers, and other members include Martha Groom, Joshua Tewksbury and SEFS Professors Josh Lawler and Tom Hinckley.

Your brain will be hungry, so feed it!

Photo © Ailene Ettinger.

Grad Student Spotlight: Laura Cooper

When Laura Cooper moved from Pittsburgh to Seattle about eight years ago, she was eager for a change of scenery—a better mix of city and nature, skyscrapers and sky. “I was looking for a city on the coast,” she says, “and I was attracted to the idea that in Seattle you could be on a boat and then go skiing later that same day.”

A few years after she arrived, though, the economy collapsed in 2008. Cooper had been working as architect for 13 years at that point, but she suddenly found herself out of work and seriously questioning her career future.

Laura Cooper

After 13 years as an architect and suddenly out of work, Laura Cooper started exploring a career change and options for graduate study–which led to a fortuitous visit with Professor Gordon Bradley at SEFS.

While unemployed and weighing a return to school, she started thinking about sustainability, urban planning and landscape architecture, and she was especially drawn to the interface between the built and natural environments. But when she started looking at schools for graduate study, she had a sense the design community wasn’t adequately grounded in ecology. She began hunting for a more interdisciplinary program where she could learn the basic concepts and language of ecology, yet also marry that background with her own experience and interest in planning.

While scouting the University of Washington (UW), one of the first people she met was Professor Gordon Bradley at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS). He outlined the social sciences element of the SEFS curriculum, that she could explore urban planning and also have the freedom to learn about ecosystem management.

The timing of her visit couldn’t have been better.

SEFS and Professor Bradley have a long-standing relationship and partnership with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR). And around the time Cooper was considering UW, Doug McLelland, assistant region manager for the South Puget Sound Region (and an alumnus of SEFS), had reached out to Bradley to see whether he had a graduate student who could coordinate a large-scale planning project. McClelland needed someone to facilitate the planning process for the new 53,000-acre Snoqualmie Corridor Recreation Planning Area, which stretches along Interstate 90 heading west from Seattle.

Bradley pitched the idea to Cooper, and she was sold.

It sounded like a perfect match. She’d get immersive training in sustainability planning, and also in the public planning process itself. She’d gain experience in ecosystem management and working with multiple state partners and agencies, as well as a citizen advisory committee. Plus, there was the added benefit of familiarity and contributing to a local project. “I’d be working on a landscape I already cared about,” she says.

Cooper soon enrolled as a graduate student with Bradley and began sizing up the scope of the work at hand.

The Snoqualmie Corridor Recreation Planning Area

A Planner’s Pot of Gold

The project involved creating a recreation management plan for DNR-managed lands in the Snoqualmie Corridor near North Bend, Issaquah and Snoqualmie that would guide how DNR manages recreation for the next 10 to 15 years. The planning area is situated in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and includes well-known destinations such as Mount Si, Mailbox Peak, the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley, Tiger Mountain and Rattlesnake Ridge (a few of Bradley’s previous graduate students had helped facilitate similar recreation plans in this area).

Because the DNR lands form part of a continuous landscape of public lands—including Taylor Mountain, Grand Ridge and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, among others—part of the goal was to look for opportunities to connect the landscapes together and improve access to local communities so that people wouldn’t always need to get into their car to get to the forest.

Planning in such an expansive landscape is challenging because it involves a number of different types of DNR-managed lands: working forests or state trust lands that provide revenue for schools, universities and other public institutions; natural resources conservation areas (NRCAs) that conserve scenic landscapes, outstanding examples of native ecosystems and habitat for threatened and endangered species; and small isolated blocks of rural forest lands surrounded by rural residences. All of these landscapes provide opportunities for recreation, and the plan needed to take these multiple goals and contexts into consideration.

Laura Cooper

The Middle Fork Valley, recently designated an NRCA, was one of the areas that needed a new recreation plan (also not a terrible place to be exploring!).

The DNR has fine-tuned a process for gathering citizen input and developing recreation plans, says Cooper, and she felt fortunate to have such a proven system already in place. They have recommendations and guidelines for all aspects of the planning process, including how to involve the public, how to conduct a meeting, and how to solicit constructive feedback and address sensitive subjects. They also draw on the strength of a dynamic internal staff of planners, foresters, naturalists, cartographers and scientists. At the same time, this project represented a massive new undertaking, and it all started with harnessing the ideas and buy-in of diverse communities along the corridor.

The process kicked off with a big public meeting at Snoqualmie Middle School back in February 2012. Cooper says there was tremendous energy in the room. After listening to a 30-minute presentation, attendees were able to visit different stations with maps of the various landscapes and ask questions and say what they would like to see—and then they could actually draw their ideas on the maps.

At the meeting, a group of invested residents and other interested parties filled out cards to be considered for a citizen planning committee. The DNR ended up selecting 17 members, who would then be dedicating more than a year of their time for monthly meetings. “That’s where the real planning happens,” says Cooper, and her role would be to help facilitate those meetings and keep the process moving, making sure everyone’s voice was heard and included, and basically hold all the pieces together.

Marching Orders

The process was perfectly timed with the seasons. Starting in March, the first few months of committee meetings were held indoors. Members learned about the planning area, DNR’s mission and different types of recreation, and studied suitability maps that identified sensitive areas based on biological, geological, soil and management criteria.

Laura Cooper

Cooper and her “big red truck,” which she rumbled all over the 53,000-acre corridor.

Some of the landscapes already had existing management plans that needed to be updated, while others needed new plans. The Middle Fork Snoqualmie block was recently designated an NRCA and needed a new management plan, and the Raging River State Forest was recently acquired and did not have any established trail systems in place—representing a tremendous opportunity to be part of the first team to develop a recreation plan for it.

All the background work was completed in time for a summer of field trips. In May, Cooper started scheduling field trips to explore the 53,000-acre planning area, and throughout that summer she organized roughly 23 excursions. “That was probably the most fun of all of it,” says Cooper, “and the best part is they gave me a big red truck to drive around, and the keys to all the logging roads.”

Cooper’s crews scoured the territory and imagined a range of possibilities: identifying views, finding connections and looking for areas that would be good for river access, picnicking and different types of recreation and experiences (such as environmental education, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking or equestrian paths). They found a little waterfall that had been written about by Harvey Manning, an environmental activist and author of many hiking guides. They even explored the site of an old abandoned logging town, finding remnants of saws, boilers, kitchen equipment and glass bottles.

After a summer of exploration, it was time for the team to sit down and start drafting proposals. Cooper had prepared a survey that was administered in August to gain further public input, and she incorporated those results into their field research. In September, the committee started brainstorming and drawing ideas on maps. In these proposals, says Cooper, they were blocking out areas for different recreational uses, identifying key connections and access points. After several iterations, working through a number of alternatives during the course of several planning meetings, the committee successfully closed out the year in December with a final preferred version, known as Concept F.

Laura Cooper

One of the great takeaways for Cooper–in addition to gaining invaluable experience with the planning process–was discovering incredible natural areas so close to Seattle.

In January, Cooper began wrapping up the entire process, taming and analyzing a beastly set of data and surveys, and enough maps to give a seasoned cartographer panic sweats. She emerged from the maelstrom with a detailed document and concept maps for the recreation plan, which she and McClelland are presenting back to the committee this month, and later to the public for final review and comment.

After that, implementation could start as early as this fall. Cooper is excited to see the concepts she and her committee put together take real shape in the coming years—to see trails get designed and built, and eventually see people out trekking the same paths she helped envision and blaze. One of the amazing takeaways for Cooper, after all, was getting to discover some incredibly beautiful natural areas within about 45 minutes from Seattle. They’re so easy to reach, and this recreation plan will soon open up new territory for countless others to enjoy and explore.

Another more immediate payoff after completing this plan, of course, is that Cooper will be wrapping up her Master’s Degree here at SEFS. She’s defending her thesis on Friday, June 7, so you can come out and see the fruits of her academic labors—on a different project, interviewing family forest owners about how they approach their land—in person at 10 a.m. in Anderson 22!

Photos © Laura Cooper.

Thesis Defense: Megan McPhaden!

Megan McPhadenAre you interested in local agriculture? Salmon? Clean water? Want to hear about ditches?! Then come out to Megan McPhaden’s Master’s Thesis Defense this Wednesday: “Effects of Agricultural Drainage Ditch Maintenance on Water Quality in the Snoqualmie River Valley.”

McPhaden’s research is in partnership with the King Conservation District and contributes to the question of how agricultural waterways can be managed to support the needs of both local farmers and endangered salmon. There will be refreshments and treats from farms in the Snoqualmie River valley.

McPhaden’s talk begins at 10 a.m. in Anderson 22 on Wednesday, May 29; Professors Darlene Zabowski and Susan Bolton are co-chairs of her committee.

Rally your friends and classmates to give her a proper send-off from SEFS!

Photo © Megan McPhaden.

Thesis Defense: Lindsey Hamilton!

Lindsey HamiltonThere’s a thesis doubleheader this Tuesday, May 28, so after Lauren Grand kicks things off at 8:30 a.m., head over to the Center for Urban Horticulture to see Lindsey Hamilton present her Master of Environmental Horticulture research at 10:30 a.m. in the Isaacson Classroom!

“Skokomish Savanna Fire Restoration and the Effects on Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinium) and Salal (Gaultheria shallon), Olympic National Forest, Wash.”

All along western Washington, fire has been used for thousands of years by Native American tribes in order to maintain open landscapes that in effect promote particular plant communities and grazing habitat. This study takes place in the southeast Olympic Peninsula, on land that was traditionally burned, likely every 2 to 10 years by the Skokomish Tribe. In this moist Mediterranean climate, a fire regime not imposed by humans would have occurred only every 90 to 300 years. With fire suppression beginning in the late 1800s, a Douglas fir – salal (Pseudotsuga menziesii – Gaultheria shallon) forest established in a once prairie/savanna/ woodland matrix. In 2002, the Olympic National Forest began to restore a 32-acre portion with the intent to enhance landscape and biological diversity and to restore a culturally significant ecosystem.

Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinium) and salal plants were once managed by the use of fire by the Skokomish Tribe in this matrix ecosystem, because of their important food value. Studies suggest that they can co-dominate a fire-managed system in the Pacific Northwest. The objective of Hamilton’s research is to understand how restoration efforts using controlled fires have affected the distribution of bracken fern and salal with respect to environmental factors in order to better understand how to manage for a savanna with a co-dominant understory of both.

Hamilton’s committee chair is Professor Kern Ewing, and other members include James Fridley and David Peter.

Photo © Lindsey Hamilton.

Thesis Defense: Lauren Grand!

Lauren Grand

One of the red-legged frogs Grand found in the field.

This coming Tuesday, May 28, fresh off the holiday weekend, you should leap at the chance to hear Lauren Grand give the public defense of her Master’s Thesis, “Identification of Habitat Controls on Amphibian Populations: The Northern Red-Legged Frog in the Pacific Northwest.”

Join Grand, her committee chair Kristiina Vogt, and committee members Daniel Vogt and Marc Hayes to discuss Rana auroa‘s population controls and habitat needs in an urbanizing landscape.

Her talk begins at 8:30 a.m. in Anderson 22. Refreshments will be served, so come with a hungry tummy!

Photo © Lauren Grand.

Thesis Defense: Mahsa Khorasani!

Masha KhorasaniThis Friday, May 24, at 11:30 a.m. in Anderson 22, Mahsa Khorasani will be defending her Master’s Thesis: “Cylindrocarpon species in Pacific Northwest Douglas-fir Nurseries: Phylogeny and Effects of Temperature and Fungicides on Mycelial Growth.”

Douglas-fir nurseries play an important economic role in the Pacific Northwest timber industry. However, there are various types of fungi that cause the early death of seedlings and influence regeneration success. One of the destructive fungus root rot pathogens, Cylindrocarpon, causes the loss of seedlings in early stages of their growth.  The objectives of this study were to: (1) identify the species of Cylindrocarpon occurring in three different nurseries in the Pacific Northwest, (2) investigate the effect of temperature on the growth rate of the mycelia of these fungus pathogens in vitro, and (3) determine the influence of some major fungicides on the control these pathogens.

Khorasani’s results have implications for nursery pathology in the identification and control of seedling root rot of Douglas-fir, so come out and learn what she discovered!

Her committee chair is Professor Emeritus Bob Edmonds, and other committee members include Professor Sharon Doty, along with Joseph Ammirati, Willis Littke and Rusty Rodriguez.