Evening Talks at ONRC: Ben Dittbrenner!

Coming up on Friday, October 23, from 7 to 8 p.m., SEFS doctoral student Ben Dittbrenner will be presenting the next installment in the Evening Talks at ONRC speaker series: “Beaver Relocation: a Novel Climate Adaptation Tool.” Held out at the Olympic Natural Resources Center in Forks, Wash., the talk is open to the public, and light refreshments will be served.

Ben Dittbrenner collecting DNA and determining the sex of a captured beaver.

Ben Dittbrenner collecting DNA and determining the sex of a beaver.

About the Talk 
In recent years, the role of North American beavers (Castor canadensis) in wetland restoration and as a potential climate adaptation tool has garnered widespread attention. Beaver populations have continued to rebound in many areas from near extirpation in the early 20th century due to intensive trapping for fur over much of their historical range. This resurgence has presented management challenges in areas where beaver activity and flooding have caused conflicts with human infrastructure and land use.

Beavers also represent an opportunity, however, as they have been shown to restore aquatic systems with greater efficiency, long-term success and less cost than traditional, human-based restoration. The wetland systems they create increase riparian ecosystem resilience, buffering against anthropogenic and climate-based impacts. Shifting precipitation regimes have already been observed in areas of the Pacific Northwest, and the ecological impacts have often been substantial. In many cases, nuisance beavers—animals that are causing flooding or damage—can be relocated to areas where wetland and hydrologic restoration has been prioritized.

Two beavers on their way to a relocation site.

Two beavers on their way to a relocation site.

Using regional habitat models, Dittbrenner and other researchers have identified areas of the west-slope Cascades where beavers historically existed, but are now absent. Some of these areas are also experiencing substantial hydrologic alteration. During the past two years, they have relocated nuisance beavers into these areas in an effort to encourage beaver pond formation and water retention. In this talk, he will present their results to date, including relocation success, an overview of the work their beavers have been up to, and the hydrologic benefits from those beaverworks.

About the Speaker Series
Evening Talks at ONRC is supported by the Rosmond Forestry Education Fund, an endowment that honors the contributions of Fred Rosmond and his family to forestry and the Forks community. In addition to bringing speakers and interesting research out to ONRC, the series provides a great opportunity for graduate students to gain experience presenting their research to the public, and to a generally non-scientific—though thoroughly engaged—audience. For participating University of Washington graduate student speakers, ONRC will cover travel expenses and provide lodging for the night, as well as a stipend of $200.

If you’re interested in giving a talk or know someone who would be a great fit for this series, email Karl Wirsing or Frank Hanson!

Photos © Ben Dittbrenner.

Alder Lake Fire Near Pack Forest Grows to 150 Acres

Though nowhere near as large as the wildfires raging in central Washington, a small forest fire near Elbe., Wash., has now grown to more than 150 acres. Lightning sparked the blaze on August 11, and the fire has since spread across steep forested terrain on the south side of Alder Lake—and just south of Park Forest (which remains separated from the fire by a lake and highway).

Approximately 60 firefighters from the Department of Natural Resources and the Forest Service are working on the fire, which is known as the Alder Lake Fire, including dropping water from helicopters. No estimates of containment are available at the moment, but you can track progress and updates through The News Tribune in Tacoma, and on an Alder Lake Fire Twitter feed. Also, if you live locally, nearby residents are invited to learn more about the fire at a community meeting tonight, Tuesday, August 25, at 7 p.m. at the Mineral School’s gymnasium building, 114 Mineral Road S.

Photo © Karl Wirsing/SEFS.

 Shot of the Alder Lake Fire taken from Pack Forest on Monday, August 17, when the fire covered only about 25 to 30 acres.

Shot of the Alder Lake Fire taken from Pack Forest on Monday, August 17, when the fire covered only about 25 to 30 acres.

NSF Workshop to Focus on Lower Mekong Research Partnerships

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is sponsoring a workshop series focusing on U.S. research engagement in the Lower Mekong region (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar). The purpose of this workshop is to explore the potential for advancing our scientific knowledge through supporting research partnerships in the region.

If you are interested in research engagement in the Lower Mekong, you are encouraged to take a look at the RFP for the workshop. The NSF is looking for broad and diverse contributions from multiple disciplines, science and technology domains, and regional expertise.

The first workshop is coming up this September 25-26 at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md. The second workshop will be held in Vietnam at the end of November (with a separate RFP for that workshop coming later).

Also, don’t be discouraged by the travel distance: Invited attendees from outside the Washington, D.C., region will be provided with a stipend up to $1,200 to offset the costs of attending.

To be considered for invitation, please submit a position paper by email to the workshop chair (herbert.covert@colorado.edu). Due to time restrictions, the deadline to submit a paper is fast approaching on Sunday, August 23, and please share the RFP with anyone you think may be interested.

Tribal Interns Assist Bear Study in Alaska

Based at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences (SAFS), the Alaska Salmon Program conducts research on ecology, biocomplexity, fisheries management and other studies relating to Alaska salmon and their environment. Part of this research, led by Professors Tom Quinn from SAFS and Aaron Wirsing from SEFS, involves investigating coastal brown bear (Ursus arctos) abundance and behavior along sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) spawning streams in Bristol Bay, Alaska—including monitoring individual brown bear behavior through remote cameras and collecting hair samples for DNA analysis.

The program involves a number of partners, including the Bristol Bay Native Association (BBNA), a consortium of 31 tribes whose mission includes providing educational opportunities to the native people of the Bristol Bay region. Each summer, BBNA research interns contribute to the Alaska Salmon Program, and this year Nadezdha Wolcott (below left) and Malcolm Upton assisted with hair sample collection as part of the noninvasive genetic component of the research.

“The bears were really active this year, the fourth of our study,” says Professor Wirsing, who recently returned from a field trip to Alaska. “So we really appreciated the interns’ help in collecting all of the hairs snagged on our barbed wires!”

Photo © Aaron Wirsing.

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New Faculty Intro: Laura Prugh

This past spring, we were thrilled to hire two new wildlife faculty members, Professors Beth Gardner and Laura Prugh. Though Gardner won’t be joining us until spring 2016, Prugh has already arrived in Seattle and is getting a jump on organizing her research program and lab for the fall. She and her husband moved down with their 4-year-old daughter earlier this summer, and they’re renting a place in Green Lake while they get to know the city. She has set up a temporary office space in Professor Aaron Wirsing’s former lab, which will be her lab starting in the fall. She’ll then move into her permanent office space in Winkenwerder 204.

Laura Prugh doing wolf captures in Denali in 2014.

Laura Prugh doing wolf captures in Denali in 2014.

Originally from Gaithersburg, Md., just outside of Washington, D.C., Prugh joins the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS) as a wildlife ecologist—with a special interest in the quantitative analysis of species interactions—after 3.5 years with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She earned a bachelor’s in biology from Earlham College in Indiana, and then her Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia (UBC), where she studied coyote-prey relations in Alaska with Professor Charlie Krebs as her advisor. Prugh continued on at UBC for a postdoc with Professor Tony Sinclair, and she then headed to California for a postdoc position with Professor Justin Brashares at UC Berkeley.

Since arriving on campus, Prugh has been settling in and taking a couple trips back to Alaska, where she still has five graduate students finishing up their degrees. Two new grad students, along with a postdoc, will then be starting with her at SEFS this fall, and she will be carrying over a few of her long-term research projects. In particular, Prugh has a study in Denali looking at how wolves affect smaller carnivores like coyotes, foxes and lynx (she just submitted a proposal to continue and expand that research). And she has another project in California looking at grassland community dynamics related to precipitation and climate change—basically how kangaroo rats alter the impact of climate change on plants in the ecosystem.

She has begun preparing for her new courses, as well, which will start this spring with ESRM 351 (Wildlife Research Techniques), and then ESRM 150 (Wildlife in the Modern World) the following fall.

Trapping giant kangaroo rats as part of an ongoing study in California.

Trapping giant kangaroo rats as part of an ongoing study in California.

Future Research
As she gets to know more students and colleagues at SEFS, Prugh is excited to develop new collaborations and projects. One of those research interests with great potential applications locally relates to how cougars might affect deer-vehicle collision rates on Washington roads.

In her graduate course last year, she had her students organize a hypothetical research study to test whether the presence of cougars could reduce deer collision rates, and then model the likely economic implications of those reductions. They pulled together all sorts of data, from actual deer-vehicle collision rates in North and South Dakota, to deer population models and cougar predation rates, and ran a number of simulations. They also brought in an economist to calculate the potential savings of seeing fewer accidents. “It was pretty substantial,” she says.

One of the most promising results came from doing before-and-after analyses in some counties in South Dakota where cougars had recolonized in the past 10 years. Prugh says they found that cougars, once established, reduced deer collision rates by about 10 percent, which resulted in savings of $1.1 million annually. “That was really interesting,” she says, “but because it was such a large-scale and hypothetical situation, there were a lot of details we couldn’t look at, like traffic on roads, and variation and density in cougar movements.” (She has a paper on this research in revision with PNAS.)

Now, she’d love to follow up that initial work with a more detailed case study in Washington, where local partners—including Brian Kertson, a wildlife research scientists with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (and a SEFS affiliate professor)—have already generated a wealth of data with collared cougars and deer.

Prugh’s arrival in Seattle earlier this summer felt a little different than when she moved to Fairbanks her first January, when it hovered around -40 degrees the whole month.

Prugh’s arrival in Seattle earlier this summer felt a little different than when she moved to Fairbanks her first January, when it hovered around -40 degrees the whole month.

With other research, Prugh is looking to start some work on the Olympic Peninsula to see whether coyotes—enabled by warmer winters and easier access to alpine areas—are driving the decline in Olympic marmots. She will also be setting up a non-invasive genetics lab within the school as a shared facility that will be available to students and faculty to use for genetic research.

Outside of Washington, Prugh just found out she’s been awarded two new grants from NASA’s Terrestrial Ecology Program as part of the Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE). She will be the principal investigator (PI) for one project, “Assessing alpine ecosystem vulnerability to environmental change using Dall sheep as an iconic indicator species,” which will involve synthesis and modeling of Dall sheep population and movement data throughout their range, developing new remote sensing layers of snow characteristics, and conducting fieldwork in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. The research will be funded for $1 million over four years.

The second project, for which she will be a co-PI with Professor Natalie Boelman of Columbia University, will synthesize and model movements of moose, caribou, wolves and grizzly bears throughout Alaska and western Canada. Prugh’s role in this research, “Animals on the move: Remotely based determination of key drivers influencing movements and habitat selection of highly mobile fauna throughout the ABoVE study domain,” will be to model the wolf and bear movements, and there is a $200,000 sub-award in the grant for her to hire a postdoc for two years to lead that work.

In the meantime, Prugh is planning a family camping trip to the Olympic Peninsula, and then heading back to Alaska at the end of August to do more hare pellet counts. So keep an eye out for her this summer, and please join us in welcoming her to the SEFS community!

Photos © Laura Prugh.

Prugh especially enjoys winter fieldwork and studying carnivores in the snow. “I love snow tracking,” she says. “It’s one of my favorite things; you can see everything they’re doing. In the summer, it’s like you have a blindfold on. But in the winter, every animal around leaves a track in the snow. You can see where wolves are rolling around or playing in the snow, all kinds of things. When I was doing my graduate fieldwork up there, I would even have nightmares of it raining and all the snow melting away.”

Prugh especially enjoys winter fieldwork and studying carnivores in the snow. “I love snow tracking,” she says. “It’s one of my favorite things; you can see everything they’re doing. In the summer, it’s like you have a blindfold on. But in the winter, every animal around leaves a track in the snow. You can see where wolves are rolling around or playing in the snow, all kinds of things. When I was doing my graduate fieldwork up there, I would even have nightmares of it raining and all the snow melting away.”