Director’s Message: Summer 2016

Earlier this summer, I headed out to the field with one of my graduate students to conduct some initial soil sampling on a new set of plots in the San Juan Islands. With the assistance of our cooperators, the work went extremely smoothly, and we were able to catch the morning boat off Waldron Island.

Our good fortune on that trip reminded me of the short-term nature of graduate research programs, and how little room for error we often have with our projects. You generally have only two to five years to complete your whole master’s or doctoral program, which means your research efforts have to be meticulously planned and executed, with as little backtracking as possible. Yet these programs are often a student’s first or second serious research effort, so even with the guidance of a supervisor and graduate committee, errors, delays, missteps and revised study plans are the norm.

Tom collecting samples in Sweden.

Tom collecting samples in Sweden.

Research, especially at the graduate level, is a process of trial and error. It’s about generating a hypothesis based on observation or existing knowledge in the published literature, creating a reasonable set of experiments and experimental methodologies to test the hypothesis, and executing the work in the field, greenhouse or laboratory. This process can be excruciatingly slow for someone on a short timeline, and it requires graduate students to be exceptionally focused and nimble—and willing to absorb a fair amount of surprise—in order to nurture their work to completion.

With time and schedules so compressed, after all, our students don’t get to relax or head home for the summer; they head out into the field. Indeed these months, though deceptively quiet around campus, are often the peak season of research for graduate students. They have to maximize their production in the span of several weeks, knowing that even with the best-planned programs, data collection can go terribly wrong. Whether in the lab or far afield, students can be at the mercy of stochastic events, such as a wildfire (especially last year), animal intervention such as elk browsing on electrical wiring, or a simple human error, such as forgetting to start a data recorder.

For my own MS experience in Montana, I was investigating whether elemental sulfur inoculated with acidifying microbes could enhance soil phosphorus availability for plant uptake in alkaline soils. I used a combination of laboratory, greenhouse and field investigation to test my hypotheses. During my second summer (and only full field season), a farmhand plowed right across our carefully laid research plots, eliminating one out of my three field sites. I was fortunate that our missing data didn’t undermine my overall project, but I’ve never forgotten that my first publication included a table where dashes replaced numbers for that one site.

Still, for all the hang-ups and headaches, the stress of a graduate research program is hugely rewarding and beneficial. Our students learn how to be resourceful and innovative while maintaining the scientific integrity of the original project. They discover that no matter how tired, dirty and hungry you might be on those long field excursions, you can never sacrifice the rigor of your research. You might not have another chance to conduct the study, and you can’t predict how cutting corners will impact your findings. While the pressure can be exhausting in the moment, it breeds precisely the discipline that will make your future research and career successful.

So as I look at the travel request forms from our students this summer, I can’t help but muse about the effort and planning that went into preparing for this field season. Dozens of projects are well underway or just getting started, including programs exploring fire, earthworms and phosphorus cycling in northern Japan; fisher reintroduction in northern Washington; carbon cycling in the Columbia river basin; pollution influence on microarthropods of forest canopies of western Washington; epiphytes and canopy soil development on the Olympic Peninsula; influence of salvage logging on site recovery in eastern Washington; the displacement of passerines (songbirds) by various human activities in Denali National Park in Alaska; and numerous other fascinating projects.

The next couple months offer a precious window of research activity for these graduate students. They’ll be learning on the go, adapting to a host of hiccups and hardships, and shepherding their research through it all. That experience, from the development of their projects to their growth as people and scientists, will be priceless.

Tom DeLuca
School of Environmental and Forest Sciences

New Movie, Captain Fantastic, Shot Partly at Pack Forest

This Friday, July 15, moviegoers around Seattle will get their first chance to see Captain Fantastic, a new film starring Viggo Mortensen that is partly set in the old-growth woods of Pack Forest—and shot almost entirely on location in Washington!

2016_07_Captain Fantastic1A drama that challenges the idea of what it means to be a parent, the story tracks a devoted father (Viggo) who has raised his family in isolation—and off the grid—in the forest until a tragedy forces them to leave their secluded paradise and journey into the outside world. Captain Fantastic‘s world premiere was at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in January, and it won the Golden Space Needle Award for Best Picture at the Seattle International Film Festival earlier this spring.

Starting this Friday, we hope you get a chance to catch the film, and to spot those early scenes set in the gorgeous old-growth stand down at Pack Forest!

Photo of Mortensen below © Bleecker Street.

(Left to right) Nicholas Hamilton stars as Rellian, Annalise Basso as Vespyr, Samantha Isler as Kielyr, George MacKay as Bo, and Viggo Mortensen as their dad Ben in Captain Fantastic. (Credit: Erik Simkins/ Bleecker Street)

From a scene in Captain Fantastic shot in Pack Forest: (left to right) Nicholas Hamilton as Rellian, Annalise Basso as Vespyr, Samantha Isler as Kielyr, George MacKay as Bo, and Viggo Mortensen as their dad Ben. (Credit: Erik Simkins/ Bleecker Street)


New Faculty Intro: Beth Gardner

Earlier this March, we welcomed one of our newest faculty members, Beth Gardner, who joins us as an assistant professor from the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at N.C. State University. Along with Professor Laura Prugh, Beth is one of two recent additions to the wildlife faculty at SEFS, and she brings enormous experience in quantitative ecology.

Beth grew up near Pittsburgh in Lone Pine, Pa., and as an undergrad at Allegheny College she first explored the intersection of math of environmental science.

When she arrived this spring, Beth jumped right in and taught QSci 381: Intro to Probability and Statistics, and future courses could include some form of statistical modeling.

When she arrived this spring, Beth jumped right in and taught QSci 381: Intro to Probability and Statistics, and future courses could include some form of statistical modeling.

Though she had a deeper personal interest in environmental studies at the time, she thought she was better at math and might settle on that route “by default.” Her compromise was to combine the subjects through a double major, and then to find a senior research project that also drew from both: creating a model of hydroponics and fish growth.

That was a long time ago, so the finer points of her first model are a little hazy, but the experience solidified her academic path. Beth applied to grad school at Cornell University and went on to earn a master’s and Ph.D. in natural resources. She then spent several years as a postdoc at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, where she worked on developing spatial capture-recapture models, which have become one of her core interests.

Her research today generally focuses on using models to assess wildlife populations. Depending on the data, Beth is able to estimate a wide range of demographic rates, such as survival, recruitment, distribution patterns, abundance, resource selection, size of home ranges and other habitat relationships. Put a simpler way, she says, one way to think of models is to imagine a couple people going out on a lake and catching some fish. They might catch 40, which is a good sample, but what they really want to know is how many total fish are in the lake. That’s where Beth’s work begins. “It’s figuring out patterns,” she says. “I take the errors and uncertainty in sampling to build models to tell you what you didn’t see.”

Filling in those data holes can be essential for conservation, management and ecological understanding, she says, especially as climate and land-use changes continue to alter the environment and affect wildlife populations in new and unexpected ways.

Beth reeling in a tuna as part of a project to tag and measure them.

Beth reeling in a tuna as part of a project to tag and measure them.

The next challenge is to figure out where to apply her research in the Pacific Northwest. After all, moving across the country effectively rebooted her research program, she says, so she’s still organizing her lab—the Quantitative Ecology Lab—and lining up her first projects. Broadly speaking, though, her lab at SEFS will address three main areas: the development of spatial capture-recapture models, mostly focused on data collected from genetic surveys (e.g., scat, hair-snares), camera trapping and small mammal surveys; the development and application of site-occupancy models to improve estimation of habitat relationships and species distributions; and the explicit incorporation of spatial auto-correlation into count models.

As she gets fully settled at SEFS, Beth will continue to work on a few other ongoing projects, including one looking at the abundance and distribution of seabirds in the western North Atlantic and the Great Lakes, and how those populations might be affected by the anticipated development of offshore wind energy power installations (she has a half-time postdoc, Evan Adams, working with her on this research). She’s also helping a few graduate students wrap up their degrees back at N.C. State, and she anticipates welcoming her first students at SEFS around January 2017.

We are thrilled to have Beth in our school, and we hope you get a chance to meet and welcome her as soon as possible!

Photos © Beth Gardner.

Beth at a field station in Finse, Norway. “Technically, I was hiking,” she says, “but it was early July and the snow was insane.”

Beth at a field station in Finse, Norway. “Technically, I was hiking,” she says, “but it was early July and the snow was insane.”


SEFS Grad Students Contribute “Tree Truths” to Art Exhibition

This summer, local artist Cheryl A. Richey is showcasing a selection of her abstract “tree spirit” paintings and charcoal drawings in the UW Tower’s Mezzanine Gallery. Her show, Arbor Intelligence, explores the subtle power and mystery of trees, and the exhibition includes 30 printed “tree truths” that capture a range of scientific facts and interpretations about trees and forests.

One of Cheryl's "tree spirit" paintings, Pyrophyte 2 (acrylic, collage, burned canvas)

One of Cheryl’s “tree spirit” paintings, Pyrophyte 2 (acrylic, collage, burned canvas)

Cheryl drew from several sources to create the “tree truths,” including Tree:  A Life Story, by David Suzuki and Wayne Grady. For 12 of them, though, she partnered with SEFS graduate students—including Sean Callahan, Sean Jeronimo, Caitlin Littlefield , Korena Mafune, Allison Rossman and Jorge Tomasevic—to produce “truths” from their own research and experiences!

Arbor Intelligence opens today, Tuesday, July 5, and will run through the end of September. The UW Tower is open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and it is accessible to anyone with a Husky card.

We encourage you to stop by and visit the exhibition this summer, and also to take a look through the “tree truths” that will appear with the show (with our graduate students listed in bold below next to the truths they provided!

Tree Truths

1. Trees are the “lungs” of the earth.
2. Trees often have lifelong – ‘best friend’ – relationships with mycorrhizal fungi. Without these fungi, woody plants may never have evolved on land.
3. Forests absorb more than 25 percent of the carbon dioxide produced by human activities.
4. Forests constantly replenish Earth’s supply of fresh water.
5. Forests influence weather patterns.
6. Trees are communal and share sun and water resources via their root systems.
7. Riparian forests are critically important to river ecology, which benefits fish and wildlife. 8. Chlorophyll and hemoglobin are similar in structure with only one atom difference between them: chlorophyll’s one magnesium atom enables plants to capture light, whereas hemoglobin’s one iron atom allows blood to capture oxygen.
9. Trees’ “dynamic spiral” growth pattern is similar to other patterns found in nature, like spiral galaxies and DNA coils.
10. Lodgepole pine cones can wait 50 years for fire to open the cones and release the seeds.
11. Mature Douglas-fir trees can tolerate fire because of their nonflammable, thick bark (up to 12 inches thick).
12. It can take 36 hours for water to move from roots to canopy in a mature Douglas-fir tree.
13. Needles contain little sap, which makes them more resistant to freezing.
14. When invaded by disease, a tree seals off the infected area to control its spread.
15. Because of its smaller surface area, a needle transpires less water than a broadleaf, so conifers do better than deciduous trees in sunny environments with long dry periods.
16. Some evergreens, like the monkey puzzle tree, keep their needles for up to 15 years. 17. Rainforests lift and transpire huge amounts of water every day, creating great rivers of mist that flow across the continent. This water condenses and falls as rain.
18. Bristlecone pine trees regularly keep their needles for 20 to 30 years, and occasionally as long as 45 years. (Sean Jeronimo)
19. Bristlecone pine is the oldest known non-clonal organism in the world. One specimen is older than 4,800 years, and another is older than 5,000! (Sean Jeronimo)
20. The only living tissues of a tree are its foliage, buds and inner bark—which usually make up less than 1 percent of a tree’s biomass. (Sean Jeronimo)
21. The lodgepole pine spans an elevation range from sea level to higher than 10,000 feet, and ranges from swampy wetlands to the near-desert pumice plateau. (Sean Jeronimo) 22. Most trees are monoecious, meaning each individual bears both male and female reproductive organs. However, some tree species, such as Pacific yew, have separate male and female individuals. (Sean Jeronimo)
23. High above the forest floor, organic soils form on branches of Washington’s old-growth rainforests. These ‘canopy soils’ promote habitat for a wide array of unique organisms. It’s a whole new world that has barely been explored. (Korena Mafune)
24. The endangered marbled murrelet spends most of its life at sea, but the bird exclusively nests on mosses growing high in the canopy of coniferous trees near the coastline. (Sean Callahan)
25. About 80 percent of vegetative diversity in a forest lies in the “understory,” including saxifrages, grasses, biscuit roots and roses. These beautiful and unique plants complement the “overstory” structure and composition. (Allison Rossman)
26. Stick your nose into a black crevice between the red-orange bark plates of a big ponderosa pine. Smells like vanilla! (Caitlin Littlefield)
27. In autumn, deciduous trees respond to shorter days and cooler temperatures with colorful foliage caused by the breakdown of green chlorophyll in leaves. But with warmer temperatures and drought conditions lasting longer, some trees are dropping their leaves before they change color. (Caitlin Littlefield)
28. In a forest under attack by a pest or pathogen, you may actually count more trees—lots of young ones—than before the outbreak, because some species make a last-ditch effort to reproduce before death. (Caitlin Littlefield)
29. Dead trees are important for biodiversity. They are a source of food and shelter for insects, fungi, spiders, and many bird species, as well as small mammals, snakes, lizards, and bats. Dead trees are rich with life, and we should celebrate them, too! (Jorge Tomasevic)
30. Pyrophytes are plants, including trees (some species of pine, oak, eucalypts and giant sequoias) that have adapted to tolerate fire. In some species, fire aides them in competing with less fire-resistant plants for space and nutrients.

Painting © Cheryl A. Richey

Pack Forest Summer Crew Gets to Work

Last week, five undergrads embarked on an eight-week internship as part of the annual Pack Forest Summer Crew! For the next two months, these students—Paul Albertine, Dana Chapman, Dana Reid, Chris Scelsa and Robert Swan—will be getting immersive, hands-on field training in sustainable forest management in the 4,300 acres of Pack Forest. They’ll be developing skills from forest mensuration to species identification, working on projects from repairing roads and trails to assisting with research installations, and also taking some field trips. In short, it’s going to be an unforgettable summer for these students!

Take a look at some photos from their first week of action, and we’ll put together a slideshow of their experience at the end of the summer.

Photos © Emilio Vilanova.

2016_06_Pack Forest Summer Crew

Climate Change Video Awards: Watch the Winning Videos!

At the conclusion of our second UW Climate Change Video Contest, we screened the 10 finalists at an awards show on Saturday, May 14, at Town Hall in downtown Seattle. We now have the winning videos uploaded and ready to share, and we invite you to enjoy the creativity and vision of the top three entries in each category—high school and undergraduate—all three minutes or shorter!

High School

First Place: Yuna Shin
Henry M. Jackson High School

Second Place: Naveen Sahi, Vibha Vadlamani, Allison Tran and Suraj Buddhavarapu
Nikola Tesla STEM High School

Third Place: Luke Brodersen
Shorewood High School


First Place: Tommy Tang and Audrey Seda
UW-Bothell and Eastern Washington University

Second Place: Charles Johnson, Ben Jensen and Anthony Whitfield
University of Washington

Third Place: Aaron Hecker
University of Washington

The second-place winners in the undergraduate category, including Charles Johnson, Ben Jensen and Anthony Whitfield.

The second-place winners in the undergraduate category, including Ben Jensen, Anthony Whitfield and Charles Johnson.

Photo Gallery: 2016 SEFS Graduation Celebration!

At the SEFS Graduation Celebration on Friday, June 10, we honored and bid farewell to an incredibly talented group of graduates—including 91-year-old Greg Lambert, who received his long-awaited Master of Forestry! SEFS alumnus Phil Rigdon (’96, B.S.) gave the keynote address, Allison Rossman and Stephen Calkins delivered great student speeches, and we reveled in the proud, boisterous energy of a packed house in Kane Hall.

If you’d like to recapture the fun of the day’s festivities—and also download any photos you’d like to keep—then check out our graduation photo gallery!

All photos © SEFS.

2016_06_SEFS Graduation

Professor Wirsing Helps Launch Interactive Video Lesson

Last week, in collaboration with Dr. Michael Heithaus from Florida International University and Patrick Greene from SymbioStudios, Professor Aaron Wirsing helped complete and launch an interactive video lesson based on the Washington Wolf Project.

Funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation, the lesson is designed for use at multiple grade levels—from elementary to high school—and facilitates learning about ecosystems, animal behavior, the importance of predators, and how ecosystems and animals respond to environmental changes by allowing the students to be the scientists. The video, which focuses on how wolves are impacting deer behavior in Washington, spurs students to form their own hypotheses about the research, and it also includes a teacher packet with suggestions for how to extend the exercise and differentiate instruction.

Aaron says they anticipate the video will reach thousands of students as part of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s ScienceFusion program, which aims to build inquiry and STEM skills.

It’s a pretty fun lesson—only about 8:30 minutes long—so take a look!

2016_06_Interactive Video

Wildlife Research Techniques: Photos from the Field!

This past spring, Professor Laura Prugh took her first turn teaching ESRM 351: Wildlife Research Techniques, a field-intensive course that involves several weekend trips to sites around the state.

Professor Prugh handling a garter snake.

Professor Prugh handling a garter snake.

Through a combination of classroom time and field excursions, the course introduces students to common techniques used to assess wildlife populations and their habitat, and also how to communicate observations through field journals. Students gain hands-on experience with species identification, non-lethal methods of capturing and handling a variety of wildlife species, and non-invasive methods of wildlife research that do not involve capturing animals. By the end of the quarter, they should be able to identify a host of regional birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and plants, and they should be proficient at keeping detailed field notes and have a basic understanding of the scientific writing and the publication process.

The four primary field trips included overnights at Friday Harbor Labs on San Juan Island and the Olympic Natural Resource Center in Forks, Wash., as well as camping at Teanaway and Mount Rainier. While at these field sites, students get to experiment with all sorts of skills and techniques, including radiotelemetry, learning regional birds by sight and sound (call/song), conducting rabbit burrow counts and small mammal trapping, field identification and capture methods for birds, amphibian surveys in terrestrial and aquatic habitats, and much more.

It’s an incredibly popular and memorable course, and one of the students in this year’s class, Kacy Hardin, set up a public Facebook group to capture scenes from their trips. The page offers a fun photo journal of their various research endeavors, with loads of great shots and clips, so check it out!

Photo of Laura Prugh with snake © Laura Prugh; photo of Laurel Peelle handling a Keen’s mouse (below) © Andrew Wang.


WPPF Holds 47th Annual Meeting

The Washington Pulp and Paper Foundation (WPPF) recently held is 47th annual meeting and banquet on Thursday, May 26. The event was highlighted by the Foundation awarding its most prestigious honors to Gary Jergensen (PSE, ’72) with the year’s “Outstanding Alumni Award,” and to Dr. Tom Wolford for his induction to the WPPF “Wall of Fame.”

Tom Wolford, center, was honored with a spot on the WPPF Hall of Fame.

Dr. Tom Wolford, center, was honored with a spot on the WPPF Wall of Fame.

After opening the day with a board meeting and luncheon, this year’s attendees participated in a comprehensive poster session by BSE’s graduating seniors, with projects featuring accomplishments in papermaking and the production of polylactic acid from wheat straw. Following the poster session, attendees toured the Paper and Bioresource Science Center, where students were running the program’s paper machine to make “Ol’ Dawg Bond.” (If you want some unique paper for an event—such as for invitations—contact Kurt Haunreiter in the pilot lab to see if our students are available for the job!)

The day wrapped up with a social hour and banquet at the University Club, where Gary, Tom and SEFS Director Tom DeLuca were recognized.

Learn more about WPPF and its legacy of support for students in the Bioresource Science and Engineering program!

Photos © Juliet Louie and SEFS.

Attendees interact with BSE students during the poster session.

Attendees interact with BSE students during the poster session in the Forest Club Room.