New Faculty Intro: Sarah Converse

by Karl Wirsing/SEFS

This March, we were enormously pleased to welcome our newest faculty member, Sarah J. Converse, who joins us as an associate professor and the new leader of the Washington Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. The Cooperative Research Unit program was founded in the 1930s to enhance graduate education in fisheries and wildlife sciences, and to facilitate research between natural resource agencies and universities. In Washington the Coop is a partnership between federal and state government agencies, the University of Washington, and the Wildlife Management Institute. While Sarah’s position is technically funded through the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), her role operates in all other ways as a non-tenured faculty member—with her home department in SEFS and a joint appointment with the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.

Sarah with a sandhill crane at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

Sarah, who grew up in Battle Creek, Mich., brings tremendous experience as a quantitative population ecologist with a strong interest in decision analysis and decision science, conservation biology, demographic estimation, hierarchical modeling, integrated population modeling and reintroduction biology. “I build models of wildlife populations, and then I help land managers use those models to make management decisions,” she says.

That element of her research—working with land managers and seeing real-world applications of her models for different species—really clicked for her during graduate school.

Coming out of her bachelor’s in fisheries and wildlife at Michigan State University, Sarah thought she’d probably end up being a lawyer. Then she went on to a master’s program in natural resource sciences at the University of Nebraska, where she got to work on a project she loved involving box turtles and the pet trade. “That really cemented it,” she says. “By the end of my master’s, I knew I would be continuing on and working as a research scientist.”

Her next move was to complete a Ph.D. in wildlife biology from Colorado State University, where she got heavier training in quantitative methods, before accepting a postdoc position at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. Two years later, she accepted a permanent position at Patuxent. For the next 10 years, Sarah worked there as a research ecologist with projects that stretched across the country from Washington to Florida, and also internationally. Most involved studying threatened species, including whooping crane recovery and conservation, management of avian reintroductions in New Zealand, and design and analysis methods for albatross population studies.

Sarah and her husband relocated from Washington, D.C., to Seattle in mid-March, and they have just moved into their new home in Green Lake. Here, she has her hands full with a waved albatross in the Galapagos.

“I really enjoyed my time at Patuxent—so many great people there, an amazing place to work—and 10 years went by really quickly,” she says.

Still, she always thought she’d end up back in academia, and this Coop faculty position struck her as a perfect fit and opportunity. “I like the environment and the energy of a university,” says Sarah, “and I love working with students. I also love the Northwest and always wanted to live here, so when this job came up, I was really excited.”

After the national-level focus of her time at Patuxent, Sarah is also excited to be a whole lot closer to some of her study areas and species in Washington. “For 10 years, my closest project, in terms of where I was working, was in Wisconsin, about 1,000 miles from my home,” she says. “I’m really looking forward to getting to know the state of Washington—ecologically, socially, politically, all those things—so I feel I’m working where I live. To be more immersed in a place is going to be great.”

As that immersion begins, we are thrilled to have Sarah as part of our community, and we encourage you to stop by her new office in Anderson 123A (at least part of the time) or introduce yourselves by email.


Photos © Sarah Converse.

Captured here working on a Florida manatee survey, Sarah will stay involved with a postdoc working on lesser prairie chickens, another with polar bears, and a new one working on marine birds in Europe—so even with her new home in the Pacific Northwest, she’ll have plenty of other national and international projects.


Xi Sigma Pi Research Grants: Apply by May 1!

This spring, the Xi Sigma Pi Forestry Honor Society will award two grants of up to $1,000 each to support graduate and undergraduate research for students currently enrolled at SEFS. These grants are based on merit and financial need and will be applicable for research activities and/or equipment that is otherwise unattainable by the student.

The deadline to apply for these grants is Monday, May 1, by 11 p.m., so learn more about the application process below and get your packets together!

To apply, please include the following items in the grant application packet:

  1. A resume no longer than 2 pages, single-spaced. It should include the following information:
    1. Education history
    2. Work history
    3. Achievements
    4. Volunteer work
  2. Letter of recommendation from an advisor, committee member or influential faculty member. The author must email this document separately to before May 1, 2017, at 11 p.m.
  3. Current transcript (unofficial or official).
  4. Proposal for Research Grant that does not exceed 3 pages, double-spaced (excluding works cited)
    1. Title
    2. PI and Co-PI with contact information
    3. Project description:
      1. Objectives and significance of project
      2. Methods to be employed
      3. Anticipated outcome and effect of project fulfillment
      4. Broader impacts associated with the project
      5. Timeline of the project completion and deliverables
      6. Works cited
    4. Statement of financial need with budget of the specific proposed project

Include in the budget ONLY the expenses for your project, which are to be funded by the XSP grant, including but not limited to: equipment, travel, lodging, material, supplies and/or any other pertinent research activities. If you have received any scholarship or funding to fund the rest of your research, make sure to mention it here. You may want to include a brief narrative of expenses along with a table of individual cost components.

This year the grants are worth up to $1,000 dollars each, and the application process will run until May 1, 2017 (11 p.m).

The complete grant application packet can be dropped off in person to David Campbell or Lisa Nordlund in Anderson Hall rooms 116/130, OR uploaded directly onto catalyst by the due date.

If you have any questions about the grant process, email!

You’re Invited (4/25): Toward Renewable Energy & Ecosystem Services (TREES) Summit

On April 25, you are invited to join Advanced Hardwood Biofuels Northwest (AHB) and GreenWood Resources for a day of talks, workshops and a field trip that will explore the use of poplar tree plantings as a means of linking bioenergy and biomass production with ecosystem services to improve water, soil, air, climate and wildlife habitat.

The summit, Toward Renewable Energy & Ecosystem Services (TREES), is free and open to the public, and it will be held at the Brightwater Education and Community Center in Woodinville, Wash., from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

If you’d like to attend, please register by April 15, and email Noelle Hart if you have any questions.

SEFS Year-End Celebration: Tuesday, May 23!

We’re excited to announce the date for our annual SEFS Year-End Celebration is set for Tuesday, May 23, from 3 to 6 p.m. in the Anderson Hall courtyard!

For those who haven’t been before, the Year-End Celebration is a high-spirited occasion to recognize students and colleagues—including retiring faculty—who have made exemplary contributions to the school and academic community. After the short awards portion up front, though, we dive into the catered snacks, an expansive wine tasting, a silent auction to raise money for the SEFS student scholarship fund (more on that to come!), and general merriment. This year, as well, we’re planning to make the party more of a spring picnic in the Anderson courtyard, so cross your fingers for a sunny afternoon (assuming such a vision still survives in your memory).

Remember this guy last year? SEFS doctoral student Matthew Aghai went home the big winner in the Silent Auction—to us, anyway—when he bid on this greater kudu head, donated by Professor Laura Prugh.

We always kick off the fun with the awards, and we’ll be presenting a range of student, staff and faculty honors. For students, the awards include the John A. Wott Fellowship in Plant Collection and Curatorship, and the Richard D. Taber Outstanding Wildlife Conservation Student Award. We will also present two Director’s Awards, one each for staff and faculty service.

After that, we depend on all of you to determine the final four awards, which are based entirely on nominations: Faculty Member of the Year, Staff Member of the Year, Graduate Student of the Year, and Undergraduate Student of the Year. We launched these awards three years ago to recognize the highest honor for a year of achievement and service, and they are open to nominations from all faculty, staff and students. Honorees will have their names engraved on the plaques in the Anderson Hall display case.

Submitting a Nomination
Nomination letters do not need to be long—a good paragraph or two will suffice—but they should be specific and clearly demonstrate the qualities your candidate exemplifies. Nominations can call out a wide range of qualities and accomplishments, whether in one area or across many, in one instance or sustained throughout the year. You may nominate more than one individual for each category, and all nominations will be reviewed by a panel of students, staff and faculty. You are not expected to know grant totals or grades or precise figures, though the selection committee may use these metrics as part of the selection process. Most important, all nominations must be emailed to Sarah Thomas no later than Friday, May 5!

Below are some criteria and characteristics to consider:

1. Faculty Member of the Year
Exemplary attributes can include, but are not limited to: Quality of teaching, advising and mentoring; student success in the field; new research grants and programs; recent publications, books, patents and invited lectures; contributions to the SEFS community and administration; preeminence in his/her field of study; etc. (Previous winners include Professors Sharon Doty, Jon Bakker and Patrick Tobin.)

2. Staff Member of the Year
Exemplary attributes can include, but are not limited to: Outstanding commitment to the school and supporting students, faculty and other staff; contributing to the positive spirit and cohesiveness of the school; outstanding, creative and/or innovative performance of duties; community participation and outreach; commitment to professional growth and development; etc. (Previous winners include Amanda Davis, Sarah Geurkink and David Campbell.)

3. Graduate Student of the Year
Exemplary attributes can include, but are not limited to: Academic excellence and accolades; quality of teaching; outstanding thesis/dissertation research and progress; extracurricular projects, collaborations and activities; conference presentations and other professional engagements; community participation and outreach; outstanding promise in his/her field of study; etc. (Previous winners include Hyungmin “Tony” Rho, Samantha Zwicker and Allison Rossman)

4. Undergraduate Student of the Year
Exemplary attributes can include, but are not limited to: Academic excellence and accolades; outstanding research projects; conference presentations and other professional engagements; extracurricular projects, collaborations and activities; community participation, leadership and outreach; outstanding promise in his/her field of study; etc. (Previous winners include Alison Sienkiewicz, Sophia Winkler-Schor and Stephen Calkins.)

Remember, nominations are due by Friday, May 5, so send them to Sarah as soon as possible!

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 track 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.