Director’s Message: Winter 2017

The hardest professional decision I’ve ever faced came last spring when I accepted an offer to take over as dean of the College of Forestry and Conservation at the University of Montana. I struggled enormously with knowing how much I loved my job here, yet also feeling an irresistible pull to return to the University of Montana—to be closer to family, closer to where I started my career, and closer to the mountains I learned to call home. I still feel, without contradiction or cliché, the tremendous fortune of moving from one dream job to another, and as I look back on my four years here, I can hardly process all of the incredible experiences with students, faculty, staff and friends. As I prepare to leave next week, I’ve tried to pinpoint a few poignant memories, and I’ve realized how many of them involve field trips—precisely the hands-on experiences that make this school and our programs so special.

Three trips in particular stand out in my mind. They capture what I’ve enjoyed so much about my time at SEFS, and also what I hope to accomplish at Montana.

2016_12_tomdeluca_winter-2017During my second year here, I asked Professor Susan Bolton to take over as the sole instructor for ESRM 201 (our intro ecosystems course), and in return I offered to help with the soils sections and the weekend field trip.  For that excursion, we headed out over Snoqualmie Pass in a caravan of six Suburbans, stopping at several locations along the way to highlight the diversity, sensitivity and complexity of everything from wet coniferous forests to desert. The students were responsive and engaged, and I’ll never forget the power of the natural laboratory we have here in the Pacific Northwest. It gives our students a nearly infinite range of ecosystems to study and explore, as well as the practical experiences—and inspiration—to continue on in their research and careers. I also never forgot that we had grad students and even undergrads drive some of the vehicles, which sparked my crusade to find a safer, more effective and sustainable way to get our students to the field. (The result, of course, was a small fleet of 30-passenger buses, each with a huge ‘W’ on the back and driven by professional drivers!).

The next year, in the autumn of 2014, I got to participate in a Yakama field course with Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley and Professor Ernesto Alvarado. During this trip, we visited the Yakama Nation and were generously hosted by our friends and alumni on the reservation, including brothers Phil and Steve Rigdon. It was an amazing experience. The students explored some of the knowledge and traditions of Yakama tribal members, and they got a sense of their deep commitment to sustainable resource management—built on a combination of practical savvy, traditional knowledge and cultural devotion. I was struck by the close relationships between our faculty and tribal members, and the depth of knowledge, willingness to share, and the importance of such exposure to our students. I hope to create similar relationships with the many tribes that populate the inland Northwest, and to provide similar opportunities for students at UM.

Then, in 2015 I spent a day touring forest management sites at Pack Forest and with our friends at Port Blakely tree farms. At Pack, we focused on some of the alternative silvicultural practices that Professor Greg Ettl and his students were studying. We also spent time talking with John Hayes about the Mount Rainier Institute, and the crucial work they are doing to cultivate a love of science and the natural world in underrepresented middle school students across Washington. Court Stanley and his colleagues at Port Blakely proudly explained some of the innovative work they were doing on their lands, and the importance of planning 100 years ahead for when their kids’ kids might benefit from the efforts they implemented today. The goal of the trip had simply been to update one another and share ongoing efforts in sustainable forest management, yet I was again overwhelmed by the positive and supportive relationships between our faculty and our partners in industry. I left that day with a profound sense of optimism and pride in the work we were doing, and in our role training the next generation of environmental leaders and stewards. That feeling has thoroughly defined my time at SEFS.

So it’s been hard to take full stock of what I’m leaving behind, and I know many of my experiences at SEFS will continue to shape and influence me for the rest of my life. I’ve been hugely proud to be part of this school, from the Arboretum and Center for Urban Horticulture, to Pack Forest and the Olympic Natural Resources Center, to all of our wonderful students, alumni, staff and faculty, and everyone I’ve had the the privilege of meeting and working with since I arrived. To all of you, please know I’ll never forget my time in Washington, and that you will always have a friend in Montana.

Tom DeLuca
School of Environmental and Forest Sciences

This Week: Four Faculty Candidate Seminars!

This week, you are invited to join us for four seminars featuring faculty candidates for a position as unit leader of the Washington Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. Depending on the selected candidate, the position will be based either at SEFS or at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.

All seminars will run from 4 to 5 p.m., and please pay attention to room locations below, as they vary with each speaker. We hope you can come out to hear from and meet these candidates!

1. Tuesday, December 13, 4 to 5 p.m., FSH 203
Dr. Michelle McCLure
Division Director, NOAA Fisheries

“Science for Salmon Recovery: Building Foundations for Agency Action”
Twenty‐six Evolutionarily Significant Units in five west coast anadromous salmonid species were listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1999. Since that time, a wide range of scientific work to support the recovery of these ESUs has been conducted. I describe how we developed biological recovery goals for Interior Columbia species, as well as population modeling evaluating the impact of anthropogenic actions and environmental conditions on these species. Reintroductions and climate change will almost certainly factor into the long-term recovery of these and other species; I also provide an overview of guidance we developed to inform management and science efforts in both of these areas.

Michelle is currently the division director of the Fishery Resource Analysis and Monitoring Division at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NOAA Fisheries). In this capacity, in addition to sending lots of email, she oversees much of the scientific work that informs harvest management for the West Coast Groundfish fishery. Prior to this position, she worked for 13 years on salmon conservation efforts, including co-chairing the Interior Columbia Technical Recovery Team. Michelle received her Ph.D. from Cornell University, and her undergraduate degree from The Evergreen State College.

2. Wednesday, December 14, 4 to 5 p.m., AND 207 (Forest Club Room)
Dr. Dan Esler
USGS Alaska Science Center

“Conservation Research on Migratory Birds Throughout the Annual Cycle”
Migratory birds are challenging to manage, given their use of spatially discrete and ecologically variable habitats at different annual cycle stages. Identifying when and where constraints on populations are manifested can be very difficult under these circumstances. In this seminar, I lay out some of the challenges inherent in research and management of migratory animals, including (1) delineation of meaningful population units, (2) identification of demographic bottlenecks, and (3) determination of drivers of variation in demographic attributes, including cross-seasonal effects that originate in one annual cycle stage but are expressed in another. I give examples of how my research has addressed these challenges with conservation issues ranging from specific, local habitat alterations to continental-scale concerns about population status.

Dan is a research wildlife biologist with the Alaska Science Center of USGS, where he leads the Nearshore Marine Ecosystem Research Program. Prior to that, he was with the Centre for wildlife Ecology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, where he directed an applied research program addressing sea ducks and other aquatic birds and their prey. Dan’s research utilizes a broad range of approaches and disciplines, with the overarching goal of providing research that is relevant for informed conservation of wildlife populations, habitats, and ecosystems.

3. Thursday, December 15, 4 to 5 p.m. FSH 203
Dr. Julien Martin
Wetland and Aquatic Research Center, U.S. Geological Survey

“Ecological Modeling for Decision Making”
Julien will discuss the role of ecological modeling for making decisions about natural resource management. First, I will describe the role of traditional approaches for conservation, such as population viability analyses, threat analyses and trend detection. Then I will present a more structured approach to decision making. I will consider the example of optimal design of protection zones for marine mammals. I will follow up with the application of an adaptive resource management framework for dealing with sequential decisions and model uncertainty. I will also contrast the role of surveillance and targeted monitoring programs in the context of conservation and management.

Julien is a research wildlife biologist at the US Geological Survey’s Wetland and Aquatic Research Center. He obtained a B.S. in ecology from the University of Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris, France), a M.S. in analysis and modeling of biological systems from the University of Lyon (France), and a Ph.D. in the department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida. As a research graduate assistant at the Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit he was in charge of the Snail Kite monitoring program. He worked as postdoctoral researcher at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research center on statistical modeling and decision analysis. Before joining the USGS, he worked for 5 years as the lead research scientist in the marine mammal program of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation commission (the Florida state wildlife agency). He is a courtesy faculty member in: (1) the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida; and (2) the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida. His expertise includes: wildlife ecology, estimation of demographic parameters, population dynamics, ecological forecasting and the application of decision theory to natural resource management.

4. Friday, December 16, 4 to 5 p.m., AND 207 (Forest Club Room)
Dr. Sarah Converse
USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

“The Interaction of Demographic Estimation, Modeling and Decision Analysis in Threatened Species Management”
Managers of threatened species are interested in identifying strategies to reduce the risk of extinction and to increase the ecological and socio-cultural benefits of these species. To identify optimal management strategies, we must predict how populations will respond to management. To do that, quantitative ecologists work with managers and species experts on two interrelated processes: estimating demographic parameters and relationships from existing data, and using this information to build population models. These two processes alone, however, will rarely be adequate to identify optimal management actions. When using information to make decisions, threatened species managers are often confronted with at least two additional complications: dealing with uncertainty, and negotiating tradeoffs between competing objectives. Therefore, the philosophy and tools of decision analysis are critical to the process of identifying optimal management strategies. Through a series of examples across a variety of threatened  taxa – including polar bears, boreal toads, and whooping cranes – the interrelationships between, and the methods for, demographic estimation, population  modeling, and decision analysis will be illustrated.

Sarah is a research ecologist in the Quantitative Methods Research Group at USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, where she has worked since 2007. Previously, she worked as a post-doctoral research associate in the Colorado Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, after receiving her Ph.D. from Colorado State University in 2005. Her research program is built around two themes: quantitative population ecology of endangered species, and decision analysis applications in endangered species management. Her work spans taxonomic boundaries, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects. She has published more than 50 research articles and book chapters. She regularly assists US Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife management agencies in the identification of management strategies for threatened species.

Next Thursday (12/8): IFSA to Host Forestry Panel

On Thursday, December 8, at 5 p.m. in the Forest Club Room, the UW local committee of the International Forestry Students’ Association (IFSA) is hosting a panel, “On the Comparison of American and European Forestry Methods.”

Featuring two SEFS undergrads who recently traveled to a forestry conference in Austria, as well as Professors Greg Ettl and Aaron Wirsing, the panel will explore aspects of forest management that lead to success across nations. The event is free and open to the public, and there will be a light reception afterward.

Visit the IFSA Facebook page or email for more information. Check it out!


SEFS Christmas Tree Sale: Place Your Orders!

This fall, the Forest Club is once again proud to organize one of our most popular community traditions: the annual Christmas Tree Sale!

Founded in 1908, the Forest Club is one of the oldest and longest-running clubs at the University of Washington, and every year the group sells freshly cut noble fir (Abies procera) Christmas trees to folks at UW and throughout the city of Seattle. Former Forest Club president and current master’s student Caileigh Shoot is leading the sale, and this year she’s recruited a wide range of students and clubs—from IFSA to SAF to TAPPI to Dead Elk and more—to help with cutting and delivering the trees. Caileigh and her team will head out to harvest the trees on Saturday, December 3, and then have them ready for pick-up on Sunday, December 4, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Center for Urban Horticulture (3501 NE 41st Street) —on the blacktop on the east side of the property, between the greenhouses and Yesler Swamp.

Xmas Tree Sale

Community members pick up their trees from the Center for Urban Horticulture.

Our beautiful noble firs come from Hunter Farms, and they are typically 4 to 7 feet tall (and, in past years, the larger trees have typically gone fastest, so come early if size is super important to you). All trees, regardless of size, are $45 (and non-refundable), and all proceeds benefit the Forest Club and other partner student groups assisting with the sale.

Trees are available for pre-order starting now through Thursday, December 1.

You can order your tree one of three ways:

1. Use the super-easy online form and pay with credit card.
2. Fill out and mail the paper form with a checkmade out to the UW Forest Club—to: UW Forest Club, Box 352100, Seattle, WA 98195
3. Print and hand deliver the form and payment—using cash, check or card—to Anderson 130, or if no one is available there, Anderson 107.

Remember, all forms must be received by close of business on Thursday, December 1, before the crew heads out into the woods, so don’t delay!

Email if you have any questions, and thank you for supporting the Forest Club!

Undergrad Spotlight: Linnea Kessler

by Karl Wirsing/SEFS

Last winter and spring, SEFS undergrad Linnea Kessler spent two quarters in Tanzania with the School for Field Studies, a study-abroad program that offers students immersive experiences through field-based learning and research. In addition to taking a range of courses, from Swahili to environmental policy and wildlife management, Linnea got to carry out a research study on the chestnut-banded plover, a near-threatened species that’s endemic to the area.

Linnea, back left, and her classmates conducting transects and counting mammals at the Manyara Ranch Conservancy.

Linnea, back left, and her classmates running transects and counting mammals at the Manyara Ranch Conservancy.

Linnea, who grew up in Cheney, Wash., is an ESRM major in the wildlife option, and she says she had always wanted to study abroad in Africa. The field-heavy nature of this program is what especially attracted her, and the students were based in a village near Lake Manyara National Park in central Tanzania. They lived in an enclosed camp that included a dining hall, classroom and six cabins. She had three roommates, slept in a bunk bed, had spotty electricity and took a lot of cold showers. “It was basically like summer camp,” she says, except you were across the world in a totally unfamiliar environment.

The other highlight, of course, was the hands-on research experience. Linnea’s plover project involved looking at the birds’ distribution around Lake Manyara, part of which extends out of the park. Working with Bridget Amulike, a Tanzanian doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts who is working with grey crowned cranes, they discovered a positive correlation between pH levels in the water and abundance of the plovers. Levels in the lake can vary pretty widely, says Linnea, and they found more plovers in areas with an elevated pH (but none within the park). They also found the plovers were more abundant in mudflat habitats, potentially because the tiny birds have short legs and don’t thrive in marshy areas or deeper water. With more time and a bigger team, Linnea says they would be able to test these other variables to determine the drivers of plover distribution, and also compare their findings against data from another lake in northern Tanzania where the plovers have greater numbers.

Linnea’s study area in Lake Manyara National Park, where we took water samples for her plover research.

Linnea’s study area in Lake Manyara National Park, where she took water samples for her plover research.

When they weren’t in the field or in the classroom, the students also got to take a few memorable side excursions, including a camping trip to Tarangire National Park, as well as visits to Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, where Linnea had the incredible fortune of seeing an elusive serval cat.

The program is fairly expensive, she says, but she highly recommends it, from the great people involved to the unforgettable experiences in Africa. “I was worried about not knowing anyone,” she says, “but the other students were awesome and I made some really close friends.”

Now back on campus for her senior year, she’s wrapping up her final courses this fall and might have one or two more classes in the winter—including, if it works out, the weeklong Yellowstone field course during spring break. After that, she’s considering pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree, and her long-term goal is to return to Africa to study one of the big cats (leopards are her favorite).

Whatever path she takes, Linnea has accumulated tremendous field experiences here and abroad, and we are excited to see where she goes!

Photo in safari vehicle © Isaac Merson; photo of Lake Manyara study area © Linnea Kessler; photo below of scat identification exercise © Eva Geisse.

Conducting a scat identification field exercise in a ranch area of Lake Manyara, where wildlife is protected but livestock and grazing are also allowed.

Linnea, second from right, conducting a scat identification field exercise in a ranch area of Lake Manyara, where wildlife is protected but livestock and grazing are also allowed.


Monday (11/14): Introducing Google Earth Engine

As part of Geohackweek next Monday, November 14, you are invited to a free public lecture by Google developers introducing the Google Earth Engine (GEE) platform. The event will run from 3:30 to 4:25 p.m. Anderson 223!

GEE is a tool for geospatial analysis that includes a massive data catalog of satellite imagery and geospatial data. The data catalog is hosted on Google’s cloud, allowing for rapid, on-the-fly calculations over large spatial and temporal scales. Whether you want to build a habitat map for your study area, map malaria risks throughout a country, or monitor global deforestation patterns, Google Earth Engine is an exciting new technology that brings petabytes of free, public data to users’ fingertips from the cloud.

The event is free and open to the public, but organizers request an RSVP to get a headcount beforehand. Contact SEFS doctoral student Catherine Kuhn if you have any questions!


This November: Environmental Justice Symposium

In partnership with the Climate Impacts Group, Urban@UW is hosting a symposium on November 7 and 8 to expand university-wide engagement with the complex issues of environmental and climate justice in the context of urbanization and city growth and decline. The free symposium will feature several SEFS faculty members and affiliates, including Director Tom DeLuca, Professors Peter Kahn and Josh Lawler, and Mary Ruckelshaus from Natural Capital, and you can check out the full agenda online.

What: “Urban Environmental Justice in a Time of Climate Change”
When: November 7 and 8, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: University of Washington Samuel E. Kelley Ethnic Cultural Center

The symposium will explore how communities are drawing on environmental and climate science alongside social sciences to advocate for justice; how human and environmental health are linked in a just city; and how we bring these issues to our classrooms, academic communities and beyond. It will gather academic and civic leaders to collectively learn from each other about the challenging legacies and current issues of environmental injustices, and how we create more just and equitable cities.

Registering for the symposium does not entail complete attendance, and organizers invite you to attend as many sessions and events as your schedule allows. So RSVP if you’re interested, and contact if you have any questions!

(Note: you will need to register separately for Jacqui Patterson’s lecture at 7:30 p.m. on November 7.)

Notes from the Field: Alaska’s Wrangell Mountains

From September 16 to 22, Professor Laura Prugh and her new postdoc, Madelon Van de Kerk, headed to the field in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. They were deploying remote cameras and snow stakes to monitor snow conditions as part of Laura’s NASA ABoVE project involving Dall sheep.

Laura feeling the chill of late September in , the largest national park in the United States.

The largest national park in the country, Wrangell-St. Elias features terrain that ranges from sea level up to more than 18,000 feet.

A major goal of this study is to determine how snow conditions affect Dall sheep movement and survival rates. So they put up 22 snow-monitoring stations in an area of the park where their agency collaborators will be putting GPS collars on sheep later this fall. Each monitoring station consists of a camera mounted on a t-post that will take a photo of a snow stake every hour all winter. Their ground-based snow monitoring will be used to improve a model of snow conditions based on satellite remote sensing and meteorological data. Then, combining this model with the GPS location data from collared sheep will allow the researchers to determine—for the first time—how snow conditions like depth and hardness affect Dall sheep movements.

Joining Laura and Madelon for the fieldwork were her co-PI at Oregon State University, Professor Anne Nolin, and Anne’s doctoral student, Chris Cosgrove. The four of them flew to the Wrangells in a small plane—a Piper Super Cub—to reach their little cabin, well above the tree line on a large, alpine mesa. They then set up the snow-monitoring stations along elevational transects, which Laura says was extremely challenging work due to steep and rocky terrain. Their packs were also quite heavy and awkward, weighing more than 40 pounds, as they had to pack around the steel t-posts, PVC snow stakes, cameras and two 16-pound post drivers.

“We all had pretty sore muscles,” says Laura, “but it was worth it! The scenery was breathtaking, weather was great, and we saw lots of sheep, pikas, ptarmigan and some arctic ground squirrels.”

Take a look at a gallery of photos from their trip, and also a great little video of Laura explaining the project while on site last month!

Photos and video © Laura Prugh.

The Wrangells team (left to right): Madelon Van de Kerk, Chris Cosgrove, Anne Nolin and Laura Prugh.

The Wrangells team (left to right): Madelon Van de Kerk, Chris Cosgrove, Anne Nolin and Laura Prugh.


A Dedication for the Dedicated: John Wott Way

On Sunday, October 2, some 200 friends and colleagues gathered in the Washington Park Arboretum to celebrate Professor Emeritus John Wott at the dedication of a trail—John Wott Way—in his honor. The afternoon dedication included a Scottish bagpiper, speeches, ribbon cutting, cake and champagne, and a procession along the trail, which runs through the New Zealand Forest in the Pacific Connections Garden.

John Wott with Paige Miller from the Arboretum Foundation.

John Wott with Paige Miller from the Arboretum Foundation.

John, who earned his bachelor’s in agricultural education from Ohio State University in 1961, and then his master’s (1966) and Ph.D. (1968) in ornamental horticulture from Cornell University, joined the faculty of the College of Forest Resources in 1981. He took over as director of the Arboretum from 1991 to 2004 and continues to serve—as director emeritus, long after his retirement in 2006—as a passionate leader, teacher and advocate for the park.

Guests and speakers at the dedication ranged from Harold J. Tukey, who became the first director of the Center for Urban Horticulture in the spring of 1980 (John was one of his first faculty hires); to Paige Miller, executive director of the Arboretum Foundation; to Michael Shiosaki, director of planning and development for Seattle Parks and Recreation; to Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley and many other friends, students, staff and faculty from SEFS.

Congratulations, John, for so many years of wonderful leadership and support for the Arboretum—and now literally offering a path for others to follow in your footsteps!

Photo of John and Paige © Ellen Hecht; photo of trail procession © Auslaug Harralsdottir.

John Wott and Fred Hoyt leading the procession along John Wott Way.

John Wott and Fred Hoyt leading the procession along John Wott Way.


Photo Gallery: 2016 Salmon BBQ!

Last Wednesday, October 5, we hosted the largest Salmon BBQ we can remember! The weather turned beautiful after a dodgy forecast in the morning, and record numbers turned out—and waited patiently in line for a shot at the salmon!—for a joyful afternoon among friends and colleagues. Seriously, such a good time, and a huge thank you to everyone who chipped in to make our annual feast a wonderful success.

In case you missed the fun or want to spot yourself in the crowd, take a look at some photos from the afternoon!

Photos © Karl Wirsing/SEFS.


The grillmasters: Phil Hurvitz, Andrew Cooke, Luke Rogers and Jeffrey Comnick.