Photo Gallery: 2017 Pack Forest Spring Planting!

During spring break last week, three SEFS undergrads—Rachael Cumberland, Paul Heffner and Nicole Lau—took part in the annual Spring Planting down at Pack Forest!

For five days, these intrepid students planted a wide variety of seedlings, including Sitka spruce, Douglas-fir, Pacific redcedar, redwood and larch (among others), in different plots around Pack Forest. It was a productive week, says SEFS doctoral student Matthew Aghai, who worked with the students for most of the break. “Who would have thought this year’s crew of three could perform with the strength and speed of 10!”

Take a look at a photo gallery from their memorable week in the woods!

Nicole, Rachael and Paul doing their best album cover shot from Pack Forest.

Two Alumni Partner to Harness Citizen Science for Owl Research Project

by Karl Wirsing/SEFS

A little more than three years ago, two of our alumni, Stan Rullman (’12, Ph.D.) and Dave Oleyar (’11, Ph.D.)—both of whom worked with Professor John Marzluff—started new roles at two different organizations. Stan accepted a position as research director for the Earthwatch Institute in Boston, Mass., and Dave was hired as senior scientist for HawkWatch International, a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit dedicated to the conservation of birds of prey and their habitats. Working closely together while at SEFS, Stan and Dave always hoped they’d get a chance to collaborate professionally on a raptor project somewhere, and last year they found the perfect partnership for their two organizations: a research project in Utah and Arizona to study the ecology of small forest owls.

Dave Oleyar banding a nestling northern saw-whet owl. Before he came to SEFS, he completed a master’s at Boise State University studying how ski area development for the 2002 Winter Olympics affected the breeding ecology of flammulated owls in northern Utah.

“Despite owls being as culturally popular as they are at the moment,” says Dave, “there are still quite a few knowledge gaps on the breeding ecology and habitat relationships of many small owl species.”

So the project he’s leading aims to document and better understand how populations of small resident and migratory owl species are influenced by climate change and different forest types in western North America—specifically, in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeast Arizona, and the Wasatch mountains in northern Utah. His study species include flammulated owls, northern saw-whet owls, northern pygmy owls and western screech-owls at both research sites, as well as southwestern-specialty elf owls and whiskered screech-owls in Arizona—all of which are usually only five to six inches tall. In all, the Arizona site hosts 12 of North America’s 19 native owl species, making it one of the richest owl hotspots in the world.

The other half of this research involves learning more about the tree cavities, or hollows, these owls depend on for roosting and nesting. “I’m excited about filling in some of those black holes or knowledge gaps about the ecology of these small owl species, and also the contribution of looking at tree cavities as a study ‘organism’ in and of themselves,” says Dave.

Yet surveying for small owls and tree cavities across two mountainous forest areas is intensive work, requiring a lot of time on the ground, eyes on the trees and ears in the night, and that’s how Stan and Earthwatch got involved.

Stan Rullman with a flammulated owl. In addition to being cavity nesters, flammulated owls are migratory and primarily insectivorous, characteristics that could render the species particularly sensitive to forest management and climate change impacts.

Founded in 1971, the Earthwatch Institute specializes in supporting “field research expeditions” that enable volunteers of all ages and backgrounds to work as citizen scientists on research projects around the world. They partner with scientists on important studies and then recruit volunteers to help with data collection in the field. Volunteers commit to one or two weeks at a time and pay their own way to participate, with the majority of fees going to cover the equipment costs in the field, accommodations and food (as Earthwatch is a nonprofit, those contributions to support the research are tax deductible). Right now, Earthwatch has about 60 active projects around the globe, with more than 1,000 volunteers participating in the field every year.

Partnering for the first field season of this owl project last summer, Earthwatch recruited a total of 56 volunteers—ranging in ages from 15 to 83—to take part in six expeditions at sites in Arizona and Utah. Two of the groups came from high schools in Los Angeles through a program called Ignite; other volunteers ranged from a retired NASA scientist to agency biologists, science teachers and even people who had never spent 10 minutes off a trail. “One thing a lot of these folks have in common is that they want a vacation where they’re immersed in something that isn’t just sitting on the beach or jet skiing,” says Dave. “They want an experience. They do this and feel like they’re contributing to important scientific research, and they are.”

Fledgling northern pygmy owl.

From May to July, these citizen scientists helped search for and map tree cavities; survey for, trap and band adult owls; monitor owl nests found in cavities; and measure vegetation around the cavities. They gathered more owl and cavity data than expected the first season, in fact, and spaces are already filling for eight expeditions this coming summer, along with eight more in 2018.

That continuity has Dave excited for the long-term potential of this study. On average, Earthwatch is able to support projects for around seven years, so Dave plans to conduct these surveys multiple times to get a strong estimate of productivity for each owl species and the different forest types they use, ranging from high-elevation sky islands to riparian canyon forests and old-growth aspen, among others. He’ll also start developing a clearer picture of how frequently the same owl individuals are encountered over the years, and how the timing of these events is shifting in response to climate change.

For Stan, the broader scientific impact of these expeditions is hugely important. Earthwatch volunteers have contributed data to more than 2,000 peer-reviewed publications, and the projects often directly influence management plans at all scales, from local park or species up to national and international-level policy decisions. “As a scientist,” he says, “I’m passionate about being able to use this model at Earthwatch to support scientific research that is rigorous, relevant and impactful. With more than 45 years of supporting researchers through this model, we’ve got an amazing track record of scientific and policy impacts in very diverse areas of science.”

Volunteers checking a tree cavity with a camera on a pole.

Stan also loves seeing the changes in volunteers after an expedition. “The experience they have in the field when they’re with someone like Dave, lifting a camera and poking it in a hole 20 feet up in a tree, and suddenly they can see a little face looking back at them—I bet they never look at tree cavities the same way,” he says. “The transformation of that experience gets them better connected to the world around them, and hopefully gets them better connected to those policies, decision makers and other stakeholders who are influencing that species and landscape.”

The same feeling drives Dave, as well. “I know I’ve done my job when multiple people yell out that we have to stop to take a look at a hole in a tree as we’re driving down the road—and it happens each trip. They’ve been reprogrammed to think about tree cavities as an important habitat feature, and they’re leaving with a little bit better picture of forest systems and the different owls that live in them. Conservation is 30 to 40 percent science, and the rest is a conversation you have with people to get them to buy into the science and why it matters. That’s just as important as the data we’re collecting.”

Want to Get Involved?
Earthwatch expeditions are open to people of all interests and backgrounds (ages 15 and up), and they can be terrific opportunities for undergraduate students, for instance, to gain valuable field research experience. If you’d like to learn more about upcoming owl research opportunities with Dave and his team—or other projects around the country—feel free to contact Stan anytime, and also check out either the HawkWatch International or Earthwatch website. Similarly, scientists interested in partnering with Earthwatch can be added to the annual RFP announcement list by sending an email to

Photos © Stan Rullman and Dave Oleyar.

Professor John Marzluff (left) and his lab several years ago, including Stan (second from left) and Dave (second from right). “I thinks it’s wonderful that Stan and Dave are working together,” says John. “Their collaboration shows how important connections made during grad school are to our future professional endeavors, and in this particular case they highlight the attainment of our program’s goal to promote joint problem solving. Learning to work together as grad students kindled a love of collaborative research that both Stan and Dave are now in position to capitalize on. I couldn’t be prouder.”



Science and a Movie with Anna Simpson

Two nights ago, SEFS grad student Anna Simpson was one of two speakers at Central Cinema’s “Science and a Movie” night, featuring the classic Aliens. Anna gave a short presentation before the screening and then answered some audience questions afterward—including explaining what it might take for extraterrestrial life to be compatible for interactions with humans. She learned about this fun outreach event through the Pacific Science Center (where she participated in the Science Communication Fellowship program in 2015), and we hear Professor John Marzluff will be part of the next “Science and a Movie” night on April 17. The film that night? Naturally, The Birds!

Anna, at left, discussing space microbes and why extraterrestrial life, if intelligent, might not be so friendly to humans.

Join the Pack Forest and ONRC Summer Crews!

Every summer, a hardy crew of SEFS student interns heads down to Pack Forest for two months of hands-on field training in sustainable forest management. It’s one of our oldest field traditions, and also one of the most memorable, and this year there’s an exciting twist: We’re creating a second crew that will based out at the Olympic Natural Resources Center (ONRC) in Forks, Wash.!

Specifically, we are looking for five to six Forest Resource Interns, who will assist with the management and stewardship of Pack Forest’s timber resources, research installations, roads and trails. These students will develop forest mensuration skills, practice species identification, participate in research programs, and participate in sustainable forest management. Also, for the first time we are looking for up to five ONRC interns to support forest and riparian research on remote watersheds in the Olympic Experimental State Forest.

All internships run throughout the summer quarter, from June 19 to August 18. Four ESRM credits are available, and all students receive a $200 weekly stipend along with free housing.

To apply, send your resume and cover letter—by Sunday, April 9—describing how the internship will fit into your program to Professor Greg Ettl.

Wildlife Science Seminar: Spring 2017 Schedule

Professor Emeritus Christian Grue from the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences is leading the Wildlife Science Seminar this spring, and he has lined up another compelling slate of speakers and topics, ranging from Magellanic penguins and beluga whales to the need for critical thinking in an era of alternative facts, fake news and fake science!

The public is always invited, and the talks are held on Mondays from 3:30 to 4:50 p.m. in Kane Hall 120. (Undergraduates may register for credit under ESRM 455; graduate students under ESRM 554).

So check out the schedule below, and join us for as many talks as you can!

Week 1: March 27
“Resource waves, time constraints, and predator-prey interactions in a landscape context”
Professor Daniel Schindler, School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences

Week 2: April 3
“Bachelor birds: Female-biased mortality contributes to Magellanic penguin population decline”
Natasha Gowarnis, Research Associate, UW Department of Biology

Week 3: April 10
“Derelict fishing gear in Puget Sound: Environmental impact and prevention”
Rich Childers, Director, Northwest Straits Commission

Week 4: April 17
“Working to conserve and protect wolves and their habitat”
Diane Gallegos, Executive Director, Wolf Haven International

Week 5: April 24
“Modeling management: Population estimation and simulation for decision making”
Sarah Converse, Leader, Washington Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, University of Washington

Week 6: May 1
“Alteration of prey behavior by a novel predator: The case of the federally threatened Oregon spotted frog and the American bullfrog”
Marc Hayes, Senior Research Scientist, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Week 7: May 8
“Shifts in beluga whale migration, habitat and behavior in a changing Pacific Arctic”
Donna Hauser, Research Associate, Applied Physics Laboratory, Polar Ice Center, University of Washington

Week 8: May 15
“Efforts to recover large carnivores in Washington state”
Mitch Friedman, Executive Director, Conservation Northwest

Week 9: May 22
“Critical thinking in an era of alternative facts, fake news and fake science”
Professor Carl Bergstrom, UW Department of Biology, and Professor Jevin West, UW Information School

SEFS Students Win Academic Competition Against University of British Columbia

Twenty-four hours is all the students were given to assess the forest and develop a stewardship plan for a 35-acre, 100-plus-year-old forest tract on King County Parks land. That was the task this past weekend at the 10th Annual International Silviculture Challenge, which pitted six students from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS)—Paul Albertine, Aoife Fae, Anthony Martinez, Timothy Seaman, Chris Scelsa and Brendan Whyte—against six students from the University of British Columbia (UBC)—Devon Campbell, Alexia Constantanou, Shawna Girard, Flavie Pelletier, Codie Sundie and Cole Troughton.

Professor Greg Ettl led this year’s group for SEFS and has been involved in the challenge since its inception. In addition to Professor Larson, the UBC team was led by Professor Steve Mitchell and doctoral student Adam Polinko.

SEFS undergrad Aoife Fae, who was part of the winning team with fellow students Paul Albertine and Timothy Seaman.

To kick off the challenge on Friday, March 3, the students—broken into two teams per university—met with King County Parks Forester Bill Loeber at noon to learn the specifics of competition. The students then spent three and a half hours taking forest measurements on the plot to inform their management plans.

David Kimmett, natural lands program manager for King County Parks, designed this year’s challenge, which asked the students to design a canopy walkway for the public, and silviculture treatments that would maintain ecological health of the forest and also provide opportunities for recreation and education. One of the key considerations was that the forest needed to provide between $100,000 to $200,000 in funds to support building the canopy walkway, and then annual revenue to maintain the facility. Another was that the canopy walk had to be constructed from materials harvested on site.

At 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 4, the four student groups presented their plans to a distinguished panel of judges, which included Loeber, King County Parks Environmental Program Manager Richard Martin, and SEFS Affiliate Professor Rolf Gersonde. The competition was close, as all of the prescriptions were strong, and the judges deliberated for more than 30 minutes. But in the end, the SEFS team of Paul Albertine, Aoife Fae, and Timothy Seaman delivered the winning plan!

Please join us congratulating these students when you see them. And students, if you’d like to participate in next year’s challenge, you can start preparing by signing up for ESRM 323 this spring!


The Silviculture Challenge was created in 2005 when Professor Emeritus David Ford from SEFS made a phone call to Professor Bruce Larson at UBC and challenged him to an academic silviculture competition. The challenge was born out of a spirited debate as to which faculty and university possessed the best silviculture students and program. The two universities have since alternated hosting the challenge, with UBC winning the past three before SEFS broke the streak this year and returned the award plaque to our campus.

Photo © Greg Ettl.

The Publication Power of Collaboration in Ecology

by Karl Wirsing/SEFS

More than 10 years ago, a group of researchers launched an international collaboration that is now known as the Nutrient Network (NutNet). Their intent was to explore the relationship between productivity and diversity in grasslands—how much plant matter there is in an area, and how many species it contains. NutNet researchers would each carry out the same simple measurements and then pool their data. By combining information from many more sites than one researcher could realistically study, the collaborative could rigorously examine the effects of climate, soils and human land use on the productivity-diversity relationship. Researchers also agreed on an experimental design—manipulating soil nutrients and herbivory—to impose on sites. Sharing data from these experiments would provide a strong ability to distinguish the impacts of these factors on productivity and diversity.

NutNet sites around the world. Jon supports his own site on Whidbey Island in part through funding from the The David R.M. Scott Professorship.

From its earliest conversations, NutNet has since grown into a global collaborative comprised of almost 100 sites. It’s open to any researcher willing to support his or her own site, share data freely, and follow the same basic protocols. These protocols govern details like the size of plots, how to measure plant abundance, and how fertilizer and herbivory treatments are applied. Yet while these steps are consistent across the world—and the sites themselves are all grasslands—the study areas differ strongly in terms of the environments in which they occur, and in their response to treatments.

Professor Jon Bakker joined NutNet soon after it began and has collected data annually since 2007. Together with Professor Janneke Hille Ris Lambers from the UW Department of Biology, he measured the productivity and diversity of three grassland sites in western Washington (Janneke was a key participant for the first few years but is no longer actively involved). They decided to conduct the NutNet experiment at one site, Smith Prairie, located near Coupeville on Whidbey Island, Wash., on land owned by the Pacific Rim Institute for Environmental Stewardship. “This site is a low-elevation grassland, and it’s dominated by European invasive species,” he says. “There are other sites that are alpine, high-elevation grasslands; my site is cool, others are hot and humid.”

The experimental area at Smith Prairie is divided into plots, some of which are fenced to keep herbivores like rabbits and deer out, and all of which receive varying fertilizer treatments. “What we’re doing at Smith Prairie is a small experiment,” he says, “but the power comes when you have that same experiment repeated at multiple sites around the world—and you can start to look for global patterns.”

Two fenced plots at Jon’s site, Smith Prairie. Both are fenced to keep large mammals out; the only difference is that the plot on the right is fertilized with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, while the plot on the left is unfertilized.

With these ever-growing data sets, and with its open collaborative mission, NutNet has spurred a large number of publications. To date, 30 NutNet-related papers have been published in the peer-reviewed literature, and Jon has co-authored about half of these, including four in 2016.

Those 2016 papers appeared in several high-impact journals. In February, James Grace led a paper in Nature, “Integrative modelling reveals mechanisms linking productivity and plant species richness.” In May, Andrew Tredennick led a “Technical Comment” in Science, “Comment on “Worldwide evidence of a unimodal relationship between productivity and plant species richness.”” That same month, Habacuc Flores-Moreno led a paper in Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences, “Climate modifies response of non-native and native species richness to nutrient enrichment.” Finally, in September, Stanley Harpole led another paper in Nature, “Addition of multiple limiting resources reduces grassland diversity.” (Each of these papers has involved a large group of authors, whose roles in the paper are identified in a table that accompanies the publication.)

Other papers are in preparation, including one that Jon is leading. In addition, new sites are being added to NutNet continually, and the sheer volume of plots worldwide enables researchers to explore countless angles and collaborations. Jon recently joined ecologists and computer scientists from Australia, for example, on a project testing the effectiveness of automated estimates of ground cover.

Jon sees great potential to revisit earlier analyses, and to continue drawing new collaborators from other areas of the world. After all, each new site, along with each new data set, adds nuance and breadth to the global experiment—and helps all of the researchers bring greater clarity to the questions driving NutNet.

Photos © Jon Bakker.

Each summer, NutNet hosts a workshop at the University of Minnesota, where Professors Elizabeth Borer and Eric Seabloom anchor the program with funding for a postdoc to manage the data and for travel by researchers who do not have their own travel support. “The workshops are invigorating in part because of the international mix of perspectives, and they are where a lot of ideas are generated that translate into papers,” says Jon, who has attended multiple workshops. Above (second row, far left), Jon at a NutNet workshop in 2016.


2017 Sustaining Our World Lecture: Anthony Sinclair

Coming up on Tuesday, April 4, from 6 to 7 p.m. in Anderson Hall – Room 223, we are very pleased to welcome Professor Emeritus Anthony R.E. Sinclair from the University of British Columbia to give the annual Sustaining Our World Lecture, “The future of conservation: Lessons from the past and the need for rewilding of ecosystems.”

The talk is free and open to the public, but please register in advance to make sure we have enough seating. (Anderson Hall is one of the older buildings on campus and has no elevators to the second floor or ramp access at any entrance; our sincere apologies for any difficulty in accessing the room.)

Register today!

About the Talk
Three themes emerge from long-term research around the globe. First, the diversity of species is important in maintaining stability in the system. So if we lose species, as in agriculture, we create instability. Second, due to continuously changing environments, ecosystems are always changing. That means that static boundaries around Protected Areas will not be sufficient for long-term conservation. Third, disturbances in ecosystems (fire, floods, agriculture) can cause a rapid change in state from one species community to another. Consequently, Protected Areas are necessary but not sufficient for the conservation of biota. Restoration of human-disturbed landscapes must now become a priority. I present the rationale and a method for predicting the success of rewilding to a pre-determined state using a rewilding index. This approach tells us when rewilding has been achieved and whether the envisioned community of species and their interactions can be restored. The method can be used to guide restoration of both the type and number of species, and the rate of change of ecosystem processes.

About the Speaker
Anthony is currently professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Previously, he served as director of the Centre for Biodiversity Research, University of British Columbia, and was a professor at the Department of Zoology for 34 years. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and the Royal Society of Canada. Anthony was a Killam Senior Fellow in 2004-2006 and was awarded the Aldo Leopold medal from The Wildlife Society in 2013.

He has conducted ecological research on the role of biodiversity in the functioning of many ecosystems around the world, including Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. He has worked with many different types of organisms to put together the food webs and their dynamics that cover several decades. This work included the regulation of mammal populations, food supply, nutrition, predation and disease. Anthony has examined the causes of migration and its consequences on ecosystem processes, and he has documented multiple states in the Serengeti savannah and grassland communities for almost 50 years. He has expanded these interests to include bird, insect and reptile faunas as part of the long-term dynamics of ecosystems; these studies have been synthesized in four books. He has worked in Canada on boreal forest ecosystems, in particular on cycles of snowshoe hares for 20 years. He has also worked on endangered marsupial mammal populations and predation by exotic carnivores in Australia and similar systems in New Zealand.

This Saturday (3/4): SEFS to Host Annual Silviculture Challenge

Coming up this weekend, SEFS will welcome a team from the University of British Columbia (UBC) to compete against our students in the 10th annual International Silviculture Challenge!

This year’s challenge will focus on Preston Ridge Forest (marked in yellow), located 20 miles east of downtown Seattle along Interstate 90.

Professor Emeritus David Ford and former UW Professor Bruce Larson first developed the contest when Bruce left for UBC. In the decade since, the two universities have alternated hosting the challenge, and this year SEFS is partnering with King County Parks to have the students create a management and prescription plan on a forest site near Preston, Wash. King County Parks personnel Dave Kimmett, Bill Loeber and Richard Martin have all been involved in designing the challenge, and Richard and Bill will join SEFS Affiliate Rolf Gersonde as judges Saturday afternoon.

Led by Professor Greg Ettl, the team from SEFS includes five undergraduate students: Paul Albertine, Aoife Fae, Anthony Martinez, Timothy Seaman and Chris Scelsa. We wish them good luck as they face off against their UBC counterparts, and we’ll share the results—as well as more specific details about the challenge—next week!