Veterans Day Tribute: Thursday, November 13

In honor of Veterans Day, Professor Emeritus Dave Manuwal will be giving a special presentation in the Forest Club Room on Thursday, November 13, from 2 to 3:30 p.m.: “Honoring Ornithologists and Other Wildlife Professionals Who Served in the Military: 1914-2014.”

Manuwal began working on this project several years ago, combing through more than 2,000 obituaries and talking to veterans in person and by email. The resulting collection a powerful tribute to those who have served in the military and made or are making contributions to ornithology, mammalogy and wildlife conservation. These individuals represent academia, governmental agencies, private companies and nonprofits; many made major sacrifices, and some committed acts of extraordinary valor.

The PowerPoint presentation includes about 165 people and last 35 minutes. Each slide includes the person’s name, affiliation, branch of military, a short description of their service and a photo, and all played to a musical background.

After the presentation, we’ll have a casual reception with light refreshments. Hope you can join us!

Veterans Day

Elisabeth C. Miller Library Hosts Rare Book Viewing

On Tuesday, October 14, the Elisabeth C. Miller Library hosted a rare book viewing featuring selections from the private library of Darrell Allen, a botanical book collector and member of the Seattle Book Club.

Rare Book Viewing

Book collector Darrell Allen shared 30 volumes from his private library for the open house.

Allen, who began collecting in 1970, specializes in books produced from 1600 to 1900, a period he describes as the “golden age of botanical and horticultural discovery, created by the great desire to explore the new continents and colonize them. These magnificent books were financed by wealthy landowners, lords, kings and scholars of botany and medicine. Botanists and botanical artists were sent on voyages of discovery. They collected seeds and made sketches of the plants and their habitats. They brought the seeds back to England, France, Holland, Germany and Austria. The seeds were planted on the backers’ estates, and the surplus plants were marketed through nurseries. The sketches were turned into hand-colored engravings and were sold by subscription in bookstores, often in a packet of four to six illustrations.”

Today, Allen’s collection includes 70 titles containing 350 volumes. The books are illustrated with 18,000 engravings and lithographs, many of them colored, and were produced from 1608 to 1892, with the majority created between 1700 and 1850.

For the viewing at the Elisabeth C. Miller Library, Allen selected a sampling of these extremely rare volumes—representing works from Austria, England, France, Germany and Holland—and he was on hand to discuss the books with about 80 visitors who stopped by during the three-hour open house.

Very cool!

Photo of books ©  Brian Thompson; photo of Darrell Allen at the showing (below, second from right) © Jessica Anderson.

Rare Book Viewing

SEFS Alumnus Aaron Johnston Awarded Mendenhall Fellowship

Aaron Johnston, who earned his Ph.D. from SEFS in spring 2013, was recently awarded a prestigious, two-year postdoctoral research position with the U.S Geological Survey’s Mendenhall Research Fellowship Program! Johnston studied competition between eastern and western gray squirrels in the Puget Sound lowlands for his dissertation (working with Professor Emeritus Steve West), and he will be moving to Bozeman, Mont., after the winter holidays to begin the fellowship.

Aaron Johnston

Aaron Johnston’s fellowship will include two field seasons, and he’ll be expected to produce several publications from the research.

Selected through a competitive proposal process, Mendenhall Fellows help USGS staff conduct concentrated research around a number of important areas. Johnston’s proposal, “Extinction dynamics and microrefugia of the American pika,” will pair him with Dr. Erik Beever in Bozeman to explore the effects of climate change on pikas in the Cascades and Northern Rockies, though he hasn’t finalized his study area yet. He’ll have a research budget and be able to bring on a couple assistants to help with the project.

American pikas (Ochotona princeps) are a smaller relative of rabbits and hares. They’re an herbivorous alpine species that spread south with the last ice age, and now they’re holding on in high-altitude mountain areas in western North America. Their dependence on colder temperatures and preferred habitat—talus fields and rock piles at or above the tree line—has generally restricted their range to “sky islands” at the tops of mountains, where movement from one region to another can’t happen quickly, if at all. As a result, a warming climate threatens to shrink or eliminate the habitable range of pikas in the coming decades, and some estimates already suggest that 40 percent of American pikas in the Great Basin have disappeared in the last century, with the remaining populations retreating to even higher elevations.

Aaron Johnston

With their habitat shrinking as the climate warms, American pikas are retreating to higher elevations on the “sky islands” of mountaintops.

Johnston says there are competing hypotheses about why this large-scale extinction is occurring. One widely supported theory revolves around the fact that pikas can’t survive prolonged exposure to high temperatures (more than a couple hours above 80 degrees, in fact, can kill them). Yet in a few regions, where temperatures far exceed that maximum—such as Craters of the Moon and Lava Beds national monuments—some pika populations have found a way to survive using microrefugia to escape the heat. Other hypotheses focus on phenology, and whether changing temperatures will reduce available vegetation for pikas, or if warmer winters will reduce available snowpack for insulation and expose pikas to extreme cold.

To address these questions and help design effective conservation strategies, Johnston’s project will involve modeling and mapping pika habitat topography using LiDAR. He’s been working in Professor Monika Moskal’s Remote Sensing and Geospatial Analysis Lab, and he sees powerful applications of LiDAR for wildlife management. “I think it’s a really exciting new technology that has enormous potential we’re just starting to realize,” says Johnston.

Project Summary
The objectives of this study are to:

1. Develop broad-scale maps of talus at high-resolution through fusion of LiDAR and multispectral imagery;
2. Develop predictor variables for untested hypotheses about substrate, snowpack and phenology;
3. Evaluate regional variation in extinction mechanisms by incorporating new data on extirpations outside of the Great Basin; and
4. Evaluate differences in habitat and connectivity maps created by models with and without microclimate and microhabitat variables.

This project will use limited field work to characterize substrate at selected sites for development of talus maps, and supplement existing data on pika persistence at historical sites of occurrence. Results of this study will increase understanding of pika responses to climate change, inform conservation strategies, and provide map products widely applicable to many research areas, including wildlife ecology, plant ecology, geomorphology, hazard assessment and hydrology.


Congratulations, Aaron, and good luck with this tremendous opportunity!

Photo of Johnston © Aaron Johnston; photo of pika © Justin Johnsen.

Field Research Kits Now Available for Students

No matter the remoteness of your field site, and no matter how much icy rain is lashing your face and hands, you can now thumb your nose at the obstacles and elements and carry on bravely—and ever so ably—thanks to an impressive arsenal of equipment available in 10 new field research kits!

Field Kits

SEFS grad students Matthew Aghai (right) and Kiwoong Lee try out the field kits at Cedar River Watershed.

Purchased this past spring through a $30,437.95 grant from the Student Technology Fee (STF), these field kits are designed to make collecting and sharing data in the field immensely more efficient and effective. The kits are available for students to check out and use for free, and they feature a wide range of gear, including iPads with solar keyboards, clinometers, 30-meter Spencer® tapes, digital waterproof calipers, rangefinders, portable power packs, Garmin™ GPS units and other tools to aid research on the go. Five of the kits are more basic, and five are more advanced, and they are all stored in Winkenwerder Hall on the main UW campus.

“They’ve been hugely useful,” says SEFS graduate student Matthew Aghai, who was involved in securing the STF grant and has already put the kits to work this summer.

So who can use them?
The kits are tailored for College of the Environment graduate and undergraduate students conducting field research, but they are open to all students at the University of Washington.

How do you get started?
Whether you’re heading out for a weekend or an entire field season—or even as part of a class with a field component—the kits are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Also, after you’ve examined and decided to check out a kit, make sure to factor in some time to meet with SEFS IT to load the software and apps you’ll need for your research, because you won’t be able to add new programs from the field.

Email Matthew Aghai to learn more and check out a kit!

Photo of kits in action © Emilio Vilanova; photo of opened kit © SEFS.

Field Research Kit

New Faculty Intro: Peter Kahn

Unlike our two other new faculty members, Professor Peter Kahn joins us from just up the road on campus in Guthrie Hall, where he continues to hold a joint appointment with the Department of Psychology—and where he is director of the Human Interaction With Nature and Technological Systems (HINTS) Lab. Yet there is nothing short or linear about the path he followed to become a professor, and how his research has aligned with SEFS.

Peter KahnProfessor Kahn had what he calls a rather unusual childhood and professional trajectory, and he can trace many of his current research interests to his teenage years. At age 13, while living in the San Francisco Bay Area, he decided to drop out of his school to pursue carpentry for several years. Then, from ages 16 to 20, he ventured to a 670-acre community-run cattle ranch five hour’s drive north of San Francisco. Kahn lived communally on the ranch and guided people into the wilderness on horse trips. Sometimes he’d ride for a week at a time, unencumbered by property boundaries and fence lines. “I came of age with a lot of space, and that’s very deep within me,” he says.

At age 20, Kahn headed to Bozeman, Mont., to attend farrier school and become a specialist in equine hoof care, and then he used that trade to work his way through Santa Rosa Junior College in California. A few years later, he transferred to U.C. Berkeley and—having discovered a special fondness for Milton and Shakespeare—graduated in 1981 with a bachelor’s in English.

He continued on to graduate school at U. C. Berkeley, as well, and shifted his studies to social and moral development for his master’s in 1984, and then earned his Ph.D. in 1988.

Since then, as his research interests have branched in a number of directions, Kahn says his experience on that communal ranch—which he remains a part of—continues to shape some of his intellectual activity. “In our community,” says Kahn, “the younger generation has shifted perspectives of what we think is big space and adequate space for healthy living. We adapt to more congested and degraded environments, but just because we adapt doesn’t mean we do well.”

Peter Kahn

Part of what drew Kahn to affiliate more closely with SEFS was an interest in exploring why conservation is not just important for ecosystems, but also for human beings.

Part of what drew him to affiliate more closely with SEFS was an interest in further exploring our connection to the outdoors, and how you can’t interact with something, like nature and open space, that isn’t there anymore—in other words, why conservation is not just important for ecosystems, but for human beings. Some of his research themes include environmental generational amnesia, and shifting baselines about what counts as an optimal environment; the loss of language to express the richness of our experiences in nature; and what he calls interaction pattern design, and how we can construct a building or urban space that doesn’t just incorporate visual or structural elements of nature, but actually facilitates closer interaction and engagement with it.

His recent books (with MIT Press) highlight some of his related interests: Technological Nature: Adaptation and the Future of Human Life (2011); The Rediscovery of the Wild (2012); and Ecopsychology: Science, Totems, and the Technological Species (2013).

For now, you can reach him by email or at his office in Guthrie 308, and he will have an office in Anderson by the beginning of next quarter. He’s looking forward to collaborating with SEFS faculty, so start dreaming up research partnerships and welcome Professor Kahn to the SEFS community!

Photos © Peter Kahn.

SEFS Grad Students Help Judge “Big Tree Contest”

On Friday, September 26, two SEFS graduate students, Sean Jeronimo and Nichole Studevant, spent an afternoon serving as judges in the first-ever Waskowitz Big Tree Contest. Their job was to take measurements of six Douglas-firs around Burien, Wash., to determine which one was the biggest—and these weren’t just any trees, either. They were “Waskowitz Trees,” the fruits of a great tradition at Camp Waskowitz that started back in the 1960s.

Waskowitz Big Tree ContestLocated in North Bend, Wash., Camp Waskowitz was originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) in the 1930s. It was later renamed in honor of Fritz Waskowitz, a former University of Washington football player who as a pilot was shot down and killed during World War II. (Today, Camp Waskowitz is one of only two remaining CCC Camps in the country with all of the original buildings still standing.)

In 1947, Highline Public Schools—a district serving the communities of Burien, Des Moines, Normandy Park, SeaTac, Boulevard Park and White Center—started sending sixth-graders to spend a week at Camp Waskowitz, where they would learn about the outdoors, forestry and conservation. For many years, from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s, the students would come home from camp with a Douglas-fir seedling to plant in their yards. Weyerhaeuser donated some of the trees from their nursery, while others were transplanted from along Interstate 90, and now thousands of those Waskowitz Trees are still thriving as part of the local urban forest.

The tree contest came about as a fun way to reconnect with former campers and determine which of those trees had, in fact, thrived the most!

Waskowitz Big Tree Contest

Kent Horton, left, with Sean Jeronimo and Nichole Studevent.

Kent Horton, president of the Waskowitz Foundation and one of the chief organizers, reached out to SEFS last spring to solicit help judging the finalists. He then spent the summer working with Barbara McMichael at the Highline Historical Society, which co-sponsored the contest, to collect submissions from campers who had either planted a Waskowitz Tree or who knew of one growing near them. The entry fee was $5, and submissions had to include specific information about the tree—location, who planted it and when, rough dimensions, and any other backstory or memories about why the tree was important. In turn, the owner of the winning tree, as well as the student or family who planted it, would each receive a $150 prize and a plaque to commemorate the achievement.

After the deadline on September 1, Horton says they were able to narrow the field from about 20 entries to the top six potential winners. That’s when he called in Jeronimo and Studevant—armed with Spencer® tapes, clinometers and laser rangefinders—to take more precise measurements and determine a grand-prize winner.

It took a couple hours for them to locate and size up all of the trees, some of which had been planted in tricky spots or wedged up against a house, but Jeronimo and Studevant were eventually able to declare a clear winner. Using the American Forests Big Tree Program measurement guidelines, they measured one Douglas-fir at 101.5 feet tall, with a diameter at breast height (DBH) of 32.7 inches and crown spread of 51.1 feet.

Waskowitz Big Tree Contest

The winning tree, which had grown to 101.5 feet since it was planted in 1968!

Jeronimo and Studevant thoroughly enjoyed the judging, and their favorite part was getting to meet folks who had such a special attachment to their trees. “It was a lot of fun,” says Jeronimo, a second-year master’s student working with Professor Jerry Franklin. “We got to talk to some interesting residents, some of whom had planted the trees themselves, which was pretty neat.”

Horton also showed them one submission that came from a woman who had included a photo of herself next to the 3-foot-tall seedling, and then one of herself standing next to the mature tree today. Her entry didn’t make the cut as a finalist, but it was a powerful image of a lifelong relationship with the Waskowitz Tree. “It was great to see people who were really connected to their trees, and who had loved and protected them,” says Studevant, who is in her final quarter of the Master of Forest Resources program.

The woman who had planted the winner, as it happens, had a forestry background, and her tree—planted in 1968—had definitely made the most if its years. Now she can proudly claim to have the biggest Waskowitz Tree around, and thanks to Jeronimo and Studevant she has the official numbers to prove it!

Photos © Barbara McMichael.

Fall Alumni Hike: Methow Valley

On October 3 and 4, Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley led his annual alumni hiking trip to explore the Methow Valley and its incredible fall foliage—which did not disappoint! Splitting the weekend into two hikes, Hinckley set off on Saturday to hike the Maple Pass Loop with Kyla Caddey, Graeme Riggins and Tom Friberg. On Sunday, Leahe Swayze joined Hinckley for a trek from Hairpin Curve to Kangaroo Pass, and up the south ridge to about 7,140 feet.

So as the damp chill of autumn begins to blanket the city, you can warm up to the season with a slideshow of spectacular mountain foliage!

All photos © Tom Hinckley.

UW Kicks Off New Crowdfunding Platform with SEFS Project

The University of Washington has recently launched a partnership with a new crowdfunding platform called USEED, and the first College of the Environment pilot project to test its effectiveness involves a research team at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS).

On Wednesday, October 15, graduate students in the Predator Ecology Lab, led by Professor Aaron Wirsing, kicked off a campaign to raise $12,000 to fund radio collaring deer as part of an ongoing wolf study. Their goal is to better understand how the return of these top predators to Washington may impact other carnivores, deer populations and perhaps even plants.

USEED Launch

SEFS doctoral student Justin Dellinger (left) and Professor Wirsing use radio telemetry to locate collared deer.

After an absence of nearly 80 years, gray wolves are recolonizing Washington State and many other areas of the American West. To date, most studies of the impacts of wolves in the contiguous United States have occurred in protected areas or wilderness. Yet in Washington wolves are moving into managed landscapes where hunting, logging and livestock ranching also occur. “This study offers a rare opportunity to test if the ecological effects of wolves that have been demonstrated in protected areas like Yellowstone National Park also manifest in areas that have been modified by humans,” says Professor Wirsing.

What differentiates USEED from other crowdfunding platforms, such as Kickstarter or, is that all of the money raised goes directly to the project, and researchers can take advantage of a wide range of training and tools. The USEED program is also unique in that funds go to the project immediately regardless of the total raised, rather than the “all or nothing” funding approach of most platforms. USEED ensures that researchers in Professor Wirsing’s lab are able to access and use every dollar they raise in the next 30 days, and that funding will help drive important graduate student research—and also give donors a chance to have a direct connection to research at UW.

Check out the Predator Ecology Lab USEED page, and then learn how you can propose your own project for USEED funding!

Photo © Professor Aaron Wirsing/SEFS.

Director’s Message: Autumn 2014

Last month, we marked the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law on September 3, 1964. In defining wilderness and ultimately protecting more than 109 million acres of federal land, the act was a brilliant and far-reaching piece of legislation. It designated huge tracts of land where the American public could experience nature with minimal human presence or interference, where “… the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain … without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.”

Sawtooth Wilderness

Sawtooth Wilderness Area in Idaho.

For me, “wilderness” has always been one of the most beautiful and charged words in our language. It carries so much meaning and mystique, from our primeval roots to the allure of undiscovered wilds. To be in wilderness brings a deep sense of humility, something we experience too infrequently in our constructed landscapes, reminding us that we are part of something much larger than ourselves—and that we fit into this complex puzzle of ecology and evolution.

Yet one of the great hallmarks of our wilderness areas—their seclusion and reduced access—has also proven to be one of their greatest vulnerabilities. Visitor numbers have steadily declined in the past few decades, and while nearly everybody can name or locate a national park, far fewer can point out a wilderness area, or have ever been to one. Moreover, while the boundaries of our wilderness areas have remained mostly intact, human development has pressed in on the semi-natural, less protected lands that surround them. Large tracts of what was wild half a century ago are now a neighborhood or a suburb, and the very idea of wilderness has become increasingly distant and abstract.

You could argue, of course, that light use of our nation’s wilderness areas is a good thing. These lands do not need crowds to be successful, as fewer visitors generally means fewer impacts, and thus retention of an untrammeled landscape. Yet low foot traffic also means low visibility, to the point that the importance of wilderness starts losing its foothold in cultural and political discourse. Lack of use too-easily implies lack of economic value, and lack of economic value often yields a lack of congressional support, which threatens not only the wilderness, but the retention of any natural and semi-natural landscapes that also provide forest and non-forest products.

Yet wilderness doesn’t—and shouldn’t—need to generate paychecks or ticket stubs to prove its worth. As our footsteps and fingerprints have touched nearly every corner of the planet, I would argue the value of protected lands has become almost incalculable, especially from an educational and management perspective.

Wilderness areas, after all, aren’t idle spaces. They are living laboratories, offering windows to our ecological past and clues to future changes and adaptations. They provide crucial environmental baselines and test grounds for understanding how healthy ecosystems operate. Most important, especially at zones of convergence with human development, they can help provide blueprints for designing sustainable land-management strategies that provide for our needs without destroying the very systems that sustain our well-being.

So as we reflect on the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, I hope we can restore the promise and purpose of our wilderness areas, and make sure the next 50 years of wilderness management prove equally farsighted.

Tom DeLuca
Director, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences

New Faculty Intro: David Butman

Professor David Butman, one of three new faculty members with the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS), has been on campus a few weeks now, and he and his family are settling into their new city and neighborhood in Maple Leaf. Like Professor Patrick Tobin, who relocated from West Virginia, Professor Butman comes to us from across the country at Yale University, where he was working as a postdoctoral associate.

David Butman

Perhaps the easiest part about moving across the country to Seattle? Butman, who grew up in a fishing community, will still have tremendous access to water!

New England has been home to Butman for most of his life. He grew up in the historical fishing community of Gloucester, Mass., where most of his family still lives. (His first job out of undergrad, in fact, was working on a commercial fishing boat as an observer with the National Marine Fisheries Service to monitor bycatch for the Marine Mammal Protection Act.) He earned a bachelor’s in economics and environmental studies from Connecticut College, a master’s in environmental science from Yale, and then his Ph.D. in forestry and environmental studies from Yale in 2011.

Switching oceans and coasts, Butman joins us as part of a cluster hire in freshwater science, and he holds a joint professorship with Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and SEFS—though his office is based in our school. The vision for the Freshwater Initiative involves interdisciplinary collaboration across a number of programs and units in the College of the Environment, including CEE and SEFS, as well as the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and UW Tacoma. Among the initiative’s research themes are ecohydrology, watershed ecology and river restoration, fluvial geomorphology, urban water quality, aquatic biogeochemistry and continental hydrology.

David Butman

Butman already has a few projects in the works, including a collaboration with Professor Christian Torgersen out on the Olympic Peninsula.

As part of this broader freshwater research portfolio, Butman brings a strong background in aquatic biogeochemistry and remote sensing, including the application of new sensors to monitor the environment. He studies the influence of humans and climate on carbon cycling at the intersection of terrestrial and aquatic systems. Specifically, he measures the capacity of ecosystems to change as a result of anthropogenic carbon emissions; human landscape alteration, like logging or development; and the effects of climate change, in order to identify environmental stressors within watersheds and mitigate long-term resource degradation.

Butman already has a few projects ramping up, including one down on the Columbia River to measure carbon cycling around The Dalles Dam. He’s been working closely with the Army Corps of Engineers, and he’s looking to expand the project and do more field work over the next couple summers. Also, in collaboration with Professor Christian Torgersen, he’s secured funding for a student to do carbon sampling in the Sol Duc River out on the Olympic Peninsula.

As he gets his research and lab up and running, Butman will likely start teaching this winter or spring, including the possibility of a remote sensing survey course. We’re extremely excited to have him and his expertise as part of the SEFS community, and we hope you’ll introduce yourselves as soon as you can. You can reach Butman by email or stop by his office in BLD 264 (though we’re still working on his nameplate!).

Welcome, David!

Photos © David Butman.

David Butman