Magical Microbes: Using Natural Endophytes to Remove Environmental Pollutants

A few weeks ago, we reported about a new publication in Environmental Science and Technology that involves several authors in Professor Sharon Doty’s Plant Microbiology Lab. In the paper, “Degradation, Phytoprotection and Phytoremediation of Phenanthrene by Endophyte Pseudomonas putida, PD1,” Research Scientist Zareen Khan and her co-authors—David Roman, Trent Kintz, May delas Alas, Raymond Yap and Professor Doty—demonstrate the ability of willow trees and grasses, inoculated with a specific bacteria, to remove a serious pollutant from the environment.

It’s exciting research, and one of the most impressive angles is that four of the paper’s authors were undergraduates in Doty’s lab while contributing to the project.

Zareen Khan

Research Scientist Zareen Khan, lead author on the recent publication, joined the Doty lab in 2010.

One of those students, David Roman, graduated in 2012 and is now working at an analytical testing laboratory in Seattle. When he first came to SEFS six years ago, he was an older student and says he was eager to get involved in research as quickly as possible. Yet since he was transferring from North Seattle College, he was one of the last to pick courses during his first quarter. That delay ended up being a fortuitous break, though, as he found a late spot in one of Professor Doty’s classes, where he learned about phytoremediation—the use of plants to clean up pollutants from soil and water.

The success of phytoremediation depends on a number of factors, from the type of plant being used to the level of toxicity in the soil, which can stunt or kill a host plant before it can be effective. But one emerging strategy to enhance and accelerate the process—the subject of the paper, and a major focus of the Doty lab—involves inoculating the plants with naturally occurring microbes (endophytes) that live inside plants to create a powerful and mutually beneficial relationship.

Like microorganisms that live within humans, microbes within plants are important for plant health, providing nutrients and increasing stress tolerance, and in some cases detoxifying pollutants the plants take up. Endophytes are a subset of this microbiota that live fully within plants; they do not cause disease, but rather act as symbiotic partners. These microbes have fast generation times and can rapidly evolve abilities to detoxify or metabolize chemicals. Trees like willows and poplars have much slower generation times, but they can use partnerships with these bacteria to help them survive in harsh environments. Specifically, endophyte-assisted phytoremediation couples the better pollutant degradation abilities of microbes with the plant’s ability—via extensive root systems and uptake of air pollutants through leaves—to absorb pollutants from a wide area.

The result is a completely natural environmental scrub, and the concept immediately hooked Roman. “So many people in the environmental science fields are trying to find some way to stave off the carbon wave that is coming—that is already here,” he says. “The thing about phytoremediation is that we’re cleaning up the messes we’ve already made and taking back land we’ve lost.”

David Roman

Roman was especially drawn to the power of these microbes to help reclaim polluted landscapes. “We don’t need to point a finger at anybody,” he says. “The trees don’t care who was here beforehand; they’re just here to help.”

Halfway through his first quarter, Roman approached Doty to see she if needed any extra help in the lab. By the next quarter, she was able to bring him in to assist with a number of projects, and within a month she’d hired him as a lab assistant. Soon he was fully immersed in phytoremediation, spending about 30 hours a week on independent research (ESRM 499), while also going to school full-time and working another 30 hours a week in the Doty lab.

Roman couldn’t get enough of the research, and he especially loved the simplicity and sustainability of using poplars and willows as natural cleaning agents. “The way you plant them,” he says, “is to cut a branch off an existing tree, stick it in the ground, and in a couple months you have an actively working, phytoremediating tree. You’re talking about a very sustainable and functional natural process that doesn’t take a lot of machinery or extra fuel—and it works.”

The subject alone was enough to motivate Roman. But a big part of what makes working in the Doty lab so special, he says, is that undergraduates are given all the tools and freedom to thrive as researchers, from hands-on guidance to collaborative opportunities with fellow students. “Sharon and Zareen really mentored me and were always open for discussions and ideas. You felt supported, and that confidence in your work and really pushes you to do as much as you can.”

By the end of his time with SEFS, in fact, Roman had produced a 26-page research paper of all the experiments he had completed in two-plus years of work—and, of course, gotten his name on his first scientific publication.

“It took me six years to graduate,” he says, “which was wonderful in every way but the bill I got afterwards from Sallie Mae. Yet I wouldn’t have traded my time in the Doty lab for anything.”

Local Applications
Another exciting dimension of phytoremediation is the potential for using the technology right here in Seattle (not to mention its applicability to other polluted and brownfield sites around the world). Managed by Seattle Parks and Recreation, Gas Works Park was originally home to a coal gasification plant that operated from 1906 to 1956. The soil and groundwater at the site remain contaminated by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), including phenanthrene, which the Environmental Protection Agency has listed as a “priority pollutant” because of its carcinogenicity and toxicity.

Gas Works Park

Seattle’s Gas Works Park, where a coal gasification plant operated for 50 years until 1956.

Carcinogenic pollutants like phenanthrene are widespread in our environment, but effective technologies to remove them are limited. Common mitigation solutions involve excavation and indefinite storage of the contaminated soil, or capping a site to cover up contaminated areas; both approaches can be expensive, and the latter often involves repeated rounds. Gas Works Park, for instance, was initially capped with 1.5 feet of clean soil, which provides a buffer and removes the threat to park visitors. But occasionally the pollutants seep up near the surface, and the park has to be closed for recapping—which is happening right now—to make it safe again.

That’s what makes Gas Works Park such an ideal test ground. Doty’s lab has isolated a natural microbial endophyte that is able to tolerate and break down phenanthrene while also preserving the host plant. So if willow shrubs are colonized with this bacterium and planted at the park—either all at once, or in sections for several-year intervals—they should be able to solve the park’s contamination problem naturally, permanently and far more cheaply than capping.

Willows are particularly well-suited for the job since they are native to Washington, highly adaptable and can grow five to six feet a year, with rapidly spreading root systems to maximize their reach in absorbing pollutants. Plus, after several years of work, they could be removed and the park restored to its former condition—minus much of the contamination. Yet even if people are adamantly opposed to planting willows, says Doty, they could still inoculate the grass with the same endophytes. The grass might not be as effective as the willows, but it would still begin removing some of the soil contaminants.

Before implementing any of these strategies, though, several big questions would need to be resolved, starting with figuring out what the public and other stakeholders would think about having phytoremediation introduced at Gas Works Park.

Ellen Weir

“The most exciting part for me, by far, is the ability of plant-microbe interactions to accomplish all these different things,” says Weir.

That’s a question one of Professor Doty’s doctoral students, Ellen Weir, is hoping to answer with her research into the social acceptability of phytoremediation. She’s currently collecting direct public input and determining whether the community would be okay with allowing phytoremediation at Gas Works Park—and, if so, under what conditions.

“If we had the same piece of land outside the city, it would be way easier to implement phytoremediation,” she says. But with an iconic park in the heart of Seattle, accounting for the social environment makes the task immensely more nuanced and delicate.

Weir set out several months ago by contacting community groups and putting out bulletins to organize focus groups of four to eight people. She sat down with these groups and had conversations about what phytoremediation is and how it might be implemented at Gas Works. She recorded their thoughts and concerns and used that feedback to develop surveys for a broader subset of the population. She then distributed those surveys by handing them out to park visitors at different times, as she wanted to make sure she was hearing responses from actual users.

So far, she’s heard back from about 140 responders, and Weir says that despite seeing some trepidation about implementing an unfamiliar solution, the reactions overall have been positive and do not preclude the use of phytoremediation. Some of the biggest concerns include whether phytoremediation is a contamination risk to park users, or whether the technology involves the use of any genetic modification (no and no, incidentally). Another worry is that the willows will obstruct the view and traditional experience of the park. More than anything, though, she has learned how invested people are in the long-term health and use of the park, and how much they want to be involved in important decisions regarding its future. “That’s why it’s so critical to take into account the views and perspectives of all stakeholders,” she says.

As she continues to collect the final surveys and analyze her data, Weir hopes to have more concrete results in the next couple months—and when she’s done, she will have filled a major hole in the decision-making process. When she started her research, after all, no one knew what the public thought about phytoremediation as an alternative to capping at Gas Works Park. Now, when Weir’s research is complete, managers will have more information to guide future management decisions at the park, and that could open the door for some magical microbes to do their work.

Photo of Zareen Khan © Sharon Doty; photo of David Roman © Sharon Doty; photo of Gas Works Park © Wikimedia Commons; photo of Ellen Weir © Ellen Weir; photo of lab experiment (below) © David Roman.

Endophytes

Xi Sigma Pi Presents “Tour de Labs”

Coming up next Friday, November 21, Xi Sigma Pi will be hosting “Tour de Labs” to showcase some of the incredible research going on at SEFS!

Xi Sigma PiThe event will begin with brief lab presentations in Anderson 22 from 3 to 3:30 p.m., followed by guided lab tours from 3:30 to 4:30, and then a pizza party and social hour back in Anderson 22 from 4:30 to 5:30.

All students, staff and faculty are invited to take part, and Tour de Labs is an especially great opportunity to network and learn about research opportunities—including ideas for capstones. The Bakker, Bura, DeLuca, Ettl, Franklin and Resende labs are all participating, so come out and see what your colleagues are up to!

Email xsp@uw.edu to learn more about the event.

Farm to Table Dinner Sells Out, Draws Nearly 200

The UW Farm’s fundraising dinner on Thursday, October 23, was a huge success! Nearly 200 people filled NHS Hall at the Center for Urban Horticulture, and the event raised more than $3,000 for the UW Farm.

Farm to Table Dinner

Guests took part in autumn festivities like pumpkin carving and cider pressing.

The menu, prepared and mastered by Chaco Canyon Organic Café chefs, featured the dinner’s guest of honor—farm-fresh local produce from the UW Farm, Nash’s Organic Produce and Alvarez Organic Farms. Attendees enjoyed veggie-forward dishes like squash and eggplant curry, beet and parsnip salad, collard greens, Field Roast BBQ and lentil dhal.

The Bitterroot String Band dished out bluegrass and old-timey tunes while guests dined and sipped on local microbrews and wine, kids (and kids-at-heart) carved pumpkins, and folks made herb medleys to take home from the fragrant herb table. There was even a cider pressing station where you could press apples for cider made on-site. How cool is that?!

Farm to Table Dinner

An assortment of delicious desserts were served.

The event’s success was largely due to UW Farm Manager Sarah Geurkink’s hard work and leadership. Geurkink garnered massive community support, securing donations from nearly all of the vendors—from the chefs at Chaco Canyon Organic Café and the brewers at Hilliard’s Beer, to the hundreds of apples donated by City Fruit and the produce from local farms, to the catering supplies from The Upper Crust Catering Co.

In her first large-scale event, Geurkink gathered both old and new friends of the farm for an inclusive opportunity to celebrate its achievements. She also wanted to share the program with folks who might not know about the farm, or who may have been curious but didn’t know how to get involved. She was thrilled with the turnout and the great show of community support, and would like to make it an annual event. Check out the UW Farm’s Facebook page to stay connected, or get involved in one of the many other events they host throughout the year.

Photos © Anisa Jackson.

Farm to Table Dinner_Herb Table

Guests assembled canisters of their favorite herbs to take home.


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.