UW Kicks Off New Crowdfunding Platform with SEFS Project

The University of Washington has recently launched a partnership with a new crowdfunding platform called USEED, and the first College of the Environment pilot project to test its effectiveness involves a research team at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS).

On Wednesday, October 15, graduate students in the Predator Ecology Lab, led by Professor Aaron Wirsing, kicked off a campaign to raise $12,000 to fund radio collaring deer as part of an ongoing wolf study. Their goal is to better understand how the return of these top predators to Washington may impact other carnivores, deer populations and perhaps even plants.

USEED Launch

SEFS doctoral student Justin Dellinger (left) and Professor Wirsing use radio telemetry to locate collared deer.

After an absence of nearly 80 years, gray wolves are recolonizing Washington State and many other areas of the American West. To date, most studies of the impacts of wolves in the contiguous United States have occurred in protected areas or wilderness. Yet in Washington wolves are moving into managed landscapes where hunting, logging and livestock ranching also occur. “This study offers a rare opportunity to test if the ecological effects of wolves that have been demonstrated in protected areas like Yellowstone National Park also manifest in areas that have been modified by humans,” says Professor Wirsing.

What differentiates USEED from other crowdfunding platforms, such as Kickstarter or Experiment.com, is that all of the money raised goes directly to the project, and researchers can take advantage of a wide range of training and tools. The USEED program is also unique in that funds go to the project immediately regardless of the total raised, rather than the “all or nothing” funding approach of most platforms. USEED ensures that researchers in Professor Wirsing’s lab are able to access and use every dollar they raise in the next 30 days, and that funding will help drive important graduate student research—and also give donors a chance to have a direct connection to research at UW.

Check out the Predator Ecology Lab USEED page, and then learn how you can propose your own project for USEED funding!

Photo © Professor Aaron Wirsing/SEFS.

SEFS to Host Wolf Research Panel on Lethal Management

The School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS), in partnership with the Pacific Wolf Coalition, will be hosting a research panel on Wednesday, October 29, to explore the impacts lethal management may have on wolves, and to facilitate a discussion about how to apply that knowledge to wildlife management in the Pacific Northwest.

Organized by SEFS Professors John Marzluff and Aaron Wirsing, the research panel will highlight the current issues managers face in California, Oregon, Washington and the Northern Rockies as wolf populations have or are in the process of recovering. Panelists will share research findings and the most current science on how various management strategies might impact wolf ecology, pack structure, habitat connectivity, social acceptance and recovery.

Wolf Panel

Wolf caught on a stationary camera near Republic, Wash.

“Our hope is that this panel, which is the first of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, will help to shape policy in Washington that facilitates wolf recovery while minimizing impacts to those who are coming into contact with these top predators,” says Professor Wirsing.

Drawing top researchers from around the region and country, the panel will include Dr. Doug Smith of the National Park Service; Professor Jeremy Bruskotter from Ohio State University; Professor Rob Wielgus from Washington State University; Dr. Scott Brainerd from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game; Professor Adrian Treves from the University of Wisconsin – Madison; Dr. Donny Martorello from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; and Mike Jimenez from U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

Due to limited space, the panel is invitation-only and not open to the public, but you can contact Professors Marzluff and Wirsing to learn more about the event and how to access materials and findings afterwards.

Generous support for the panel has come from the University of Washington, Wilburforce Foundation, Conservation Northwest, and the Pacific Wolf Coalition.

Photo © SEFS.

Record Salmon Surge in Alaska

Every year, hundreds of millions of salmon swim from the Pacific Ocean into streams and rivers up and down the West Coast from California to Alaska. They make their way, with remarkable precision and determination, to spawn in the very grounds where they were born. “It’s one of, if not the grandest migrations in the whole world,” says Professor Aaron Wirsing, who recently returned from two weeks at the Fisheries Research Institute in the village of Aleknagik, Alaska.

He was there was part of a joint project between two units in the College of the Environment—the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences (SAFS) and the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS)—that launched in 2010. Led by Professors Tom Quinn and Wirsing, the research team is investigating coastal brown bear (Ursus arctos) abundance and behavior along sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) spawning streams in Alaska’s Wood River Lakes System.

Salmon Surge

This summer, the total number of salmon in Hansen Creek is already double previous counts.

This field season, while the researchers haven’t seen as many bears, they are witnessing a record salmon run that continues to pour into the system. The latest count for just one of the streams, Hansen Creek, is already more than 50,000 salmon—which is more than double the previous record for the whole summer. Picture those fish, some 20,000 at a time, packed into a two-kilometer stretch of water only four meters wide and barely five centimeters deep. That’s a lot of fins in the water, and it makes for an unforgettable sight. “It’s like salmon soup,” says Professor Wirsing.

Before the salmon embark on that last leg to the spawning ground, they often pool at the entry point to the creek and wait days, even weeks, before venturing into the current. Why they pause at the creek mouth, and what triggers the last desperate dash, isn’t entirely clear, though it’s thought to be partly a response to predation risk, with the salmon entering in huge waves to overwhelm their predators—in this case, brown bears. The presence of fish in the creek, with silt kicked up by spawning salmon upstream, might also be a cue for others to follow.

In the best of years, salmon causalities are still fairly high as they near the end of this journey (and all Pacific salmon perish after spawning). Some lack the energy to make the final surge up the stream, or they get stranded in the shallows, sometimes just feet from their destination; others get snapped up by bears, or they provide a gruesome feast for birds that peck away at the half-exposed fish. This year, as well, the salmon are facing extreme low water levels. In many spots, the sockeye barely have a few centimeters to buoy them up the stream, and they have to muster an even more heroic effort to splash their way to the finish.

Salmon Surge

In many places, the salmon have to make their way through only a few centimeters of water.

It’s too early to know precisely what has fueled this record salmon run, says Wirsing, but it could be linked to favorable oceanic conditions (e.g. lots of food at sea). One clear consequence of the high numbers, though, is higher pre-spawning mortality, due both to stranding and to low dissolved oxygen levels in the crowded streams. These salmon will also bring a huge pulse of marine-derived nutrients, which will bolster freshwater invertebrate and bear populations, and even make their way into riparian plants. One other longer-term effect, too, is that there should be another large run in four years when the offspring of these salmon have matured—provided, of course, that enough fish this year are able to spawn and oceanic conditions are again favorable.

Words and photos can’t fully capture the intensity of the annual run, but luckily Professor Wirsing got some great video (below) of the salmon scrum at the entrance to Hansen Creek. It’s like marathoners jockeying for position before the start of a race!

Photos © Aaron Wirsing/SEFS and Tom Quinn/SAFS; salmon video © Aaron Wirsing.

Undergrad Spotlight: Julie Hower

Julie Hower, a senior Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) major, split her childhood between the two coasts: first out west in the Los Angeles area, and then back east near Tampa, Fla., for her high school years. By the time she started looking at colleges, though, she felt the call of the West once again.

“Because I grew up in LA,” she says, “my dad would take me to Yosemite and Sequoia, so I really missed the West Coast.”

She considered a number of schools, including a few in California, but a University of Washington campus tour in 2008 sealed it for her. “It felt like a great fit,” she says.

Julie Hower

“Each national park is different, but Yellowstone is something else,” says Hower, who has also worked on summer projects at Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks.

Hower arrived on campus originally interested in studying marine biology and fisheries, but later in her freshman year she attended a seminar with Professor Aaron Wirsing involving his research with tiger sharks and dugongs, and wolves and elk. She loved the concept of predator-prey ecology and quickly shifted her focus to the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS). “I knew I wanted to be a wildlife major,” she says.

In the next few years, she took advantage of a wide range of field courses, including Spring Comes to the Cascades (ESRM 401) with Professor Tom Hinckley, and Wildlife Research Techniques (ESRM 351) with Professor Steve West. Then she took “Wildlife Conservation in Northwest Ecosystems” (ESRM 459), which begins during spring break with an intensive week in Yellowstone National Park. Led by Professors John Marzluff, Monika Moskal and Wirsing, the course focuses on a range of wildlife and management issues in the park, including corvid distribution and wolf predation.

The experience really resonated with Hower, and this past winter she signed up to take part in a long-running study of the wolves in Yellowstone as part of the Yellowstone Wolf Project.

Back in 1995 and 1996, after decades of wolves being completely absent from the ecosystem, 31 were reintroduced to the park. Since then, the Yellowstone Park Foundation has worked with the National Park Service (NPS) to research and closely monitor the wolves, including carrying out two 30-day winter surveys every year—one at the start of the season, and one at the end. Technicians receive a small stipend and free housing, and they operate as volunteers for the NPS.

Julie Hower

Hower sizes up a wolf track in Yellowstone.

This year marked the 19th winter of observations. From the beginning, one of the project leaders has been Rick McIntyre, a biological technician for the Yellowstone Wolf Project who’s been involved with monitoring the park’s wolves since 1996. McIntyre is famous for the countless hours he’s invested in these observations, at one point logging more than 3,000 consecutive days heading out to look for wolves. The survey crews who work with him don’t quite have to match that standard, but they don’t fall too far off that pace.

Each volunteer is assigned to follow one specific pack. Hower and the other members of her crew—which included two graduate students, one from South Dakota and another from Wisconsin—were charged with tracking the seven wolves of the Junction Butte Pack.

For 30 days in March, their weekly schedule involved six days in the field and one day off. Using radio telemetry, they’d drive through their pack’s territory along the main park road and try to locate the wolves, and then hike out for a closer view when they zeroed in on the pack. Their job was to record a number of behaviors, including monitoring interactions with elk, bison and bears, as well as predator-prey encounters: the chase and the attack, noting which wolves did what, whether it was a pup that initiated or the alpha took the lead. They also performed field necropsies of prey to determine the age, sex and condition of the individual.

Julie Hower

Her crew once spotted a grizzly and a wolf in the same area, and Hower says they were jumping up and down with excitement—albeit from a safe distance.

They’d routinely put in 13-hour days, topped off by some paperwork at the end of it. “It’s not a glamorous job,” says Hower, “and the days get very long and tiring. But it’s an awesome and rewarding experience seeing these amazing animals in the wild.”

Of course, finding the wolves in the first place was no easy task. “A lot of people have this ideal that you’re going to see wolves every day,” she says. Yet you’re talking about tracking 80 or so wolves—or actually seven, in the case of this one pack—ranging through Yellowstone’s nearly 3,500 square miles.

Numbers aren’t the only challenge, either. During Hower’s first week in the park, the temperature was about -22 degrees, and the wind was howling with 50-60 mph gusts. Toting their equipment, her crew spent hours hiking to the top of a ridge in pursuit of the wolves, and they didn’t get their first glimpse until the third day. They set up their tripod and spotting scopes, hands shaking in the bitter cold, bracing against the wind and hoping they weren’t blown off the mountain—but they had finally located the pack. “It was a grand introduction,” she says.

From then on, Hower never got tired of seeing the wolves. The excitement was fresh each day, because during the undisturbed quiet of a Yellowstone winter, you never know what’s lurking around the next bend.

“On my very last day, I was getting ready to leave the park and drive back to Seattle, and I decided to reminisce with a drive out to the Lamar Valley,” she says. “Right as I made the turn out of the Tower Ranger Station, a wolf crosses in front of my car about 10 feet ahead of me.”

Julie Hower

After a winter of surveying the wolves from a distance, Hower got to see 889F saunter across the road right in front her on her last day in the park.

It was a female, 889F, that used to be part of the Junction Butte Pack but had separated in February to go with a lone male, 755M. “I was just in shock and laughing,” says Hower. “I couldn’t believe it was happening as I was ready to leave the park.”

That was a fine send-off after five incredible weeks in the park, and she’s now back on campus wrapping up her final quarter before graduation this June. Graduate school might be down the road, yet for now she wants more field experience. In fact, she just accepted a position as a Wildlife Biological Sciences Technician with Helena National Forest, where she’ll be surveying wolverines, Canada lynx and snowshoe hares. She’ll be living in Lincoln, Mont., and can’t wait to get started shortly after graduation.

Given her many field courses and hands-on research training, as well as field tech jobs and internships at Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park, Hower has put herself in an excellent position to thrive as a wildlife researcher—and she’s already well on her way!

“I’m so happy I came up here,” she says. “It’s one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Photos © Julie Hower.

Julie Hower

Video: The Ecology of Fear

Want to know how wolves are shaping local ecosystems in the forests of eastern Washington? Then check out this great new video from QUEST, which features Professor Aaron Wirsing, one of his graduate students, Justin Dellinger, and some of their research exploring why wolves and other top predators are crucial for healthy ecosystems and biodiversity.

A collaboration of six public broadcasters around the country, QUEST is a multimedia series that addresses pressing sustainability topics through articles, videos, radio reports, television broadcasts and educational materials.

In this seven-minute segment, you’ll get to see some fun footage from “deer cams” that provide a unique perspective on predator-prey relationships—not to mention some of the incredible field research going on here at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. Take a look!

Wildlife Science Seminar: Winter 2014

This afternoon, the Wildlife Science Seminar for the Winter Quarter kicks off with Professor Aaron Wirsing of the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS). Professor Wirsing will introduce the course and then give the opening talk, “Noninvasive exploration of brown bear behavior along salmon spawning streams in the Wood River Lakes System, AK.”

You can catch the seminars on Mondays at 3:30 p.m. in Kane Hall 130. The public is invited for each talk—there will be eight total—and students may register for course credit (undergraduates under ESRM 455, graduate students under SEFS 554).

Check out the full schedule below, and mark your calendars!

Wildlife Science SeminarJanuary 6
“Noninvasive exploration of brown bear behavior along salmon spawning streams in the Wood River Lakes System, AK.”
Professor Aaron Wirsing, SEFS

January 13
“Linking large carnivores to Yellowstone’s ecosystem via trophic cascades.”
Professor Emeritus Robert Beschta, Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University

January 20
No class

January 27
“The big bad wolf and baby stealing dingo: a cross continent comparison of two controversial top predators.”
Dr. Thomas Newsome, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University

February 3
“Occupy Elwha: Monitoring wildlife distributions relative to dam removal in the Elwha Valley.”
Dr. Kurt Jenkins, Research Wildlife Biologist, USGS-Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, Olympic Field Station, Port Angeles, Wash.

February 10
“The Cascades Carnivore Connectivity Project—Using noninvasive survey methods to study carnivores in the North Cascades of Washington.”
Dr. Robert Long, Senior Conservation Fellow, Field Conservation Program, Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, Wash.

February 17
No class

February 24
“A whale tale: The near extinction and partial recovery of Antarctic blue whales.”
Professor Trevor Branch, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington

March 3
“Wildlife Management in Alaska: Native Rights and Western Priorities.”
Professor Robert Anderson, University of Washington School of Law

March 10
“Carnivore conservation’s bigger picture: consequences of wildlife decline in West Africa.”
Professor Justin Brashares, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley

The Bear Essentials

When you think about salmon in Alaska, you might picture grizzly bears standing in a gushing stream and snapping up spawning fish as they leap against the current. (Even a Steamfresh® Chef’s Favorites frozen dinner commercial plays off this image, as does this John West Red Salmon clip).

But for all the iconic footage of salmon runs, this annual rite of passage and predation has gone largely unstudied from the point of view of individual bears—especially outside of easily observable areas.

The challenge is that observations of bears are generally too few and too close to reveal natural feeding behavior, so most of what we know about the bear-salmon relationship comes from fish carcass surveys: We see what’s been eaten, but not always who did the eating, or how often or where or when. That leaves a lot of unknowns, including how many bears hunt along salmon spawning-streams, and whether bears return to the same stream year after year.

To answer these questions and others, two units in the College of the Environment—the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences (SAFS) and the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS)—have launched a coordinated research project.

Professors Wirsing and Quinn

Professors Aaron Wirsing, left, and Tom Quinn. Since 1993, Quinn’s research has explored a number of dimensions of the salmon-bear relationship, including the effects of stream characteristics on bear predation rate, size selectivity, density dependence, evolutionary consequences and links to nutrient cycling.

Led by SAFS Professor Tom Quinn and SEFS Professor Aaron Wirsing, this new study is investigating coastal brown bear (Ursus arctos) abundance and behavior along sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) spawning streams in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Their project draws from decades of existing salmon research and introduces a completely new perspective by exploring individual brown bear behavior, including monitoring bears through remote cameras and collecting hair samples for DNA analysis.

The research team is housed at the Fisheries Research Institute, a program within SAFS, and based in the village of Aleknagik. In addition to Professors Quinn and Wirsing, the crew includes SAFS graduate student Curry Cunningham and Professor Lisette Waits from the University of Idaho.

Their work began in 2010 by placing the first cameras along salmon-spawning streams in the Wood River Lakes System. In July 2012, they then deployed barbed wire across three streams to begin snagging tufts of hair from foraging bears. This past summer, they expanded the research area and deployed two barbed wires each on six streams. One wire per stream is paired with a remote camera trap to document what happens when bears encounter the wires. The wires are set just high enough—55-60 centimeters—for bears to step gingerly over them, often leaving small tufts of hair behind (when good samples are collected, they call it a “good hair day”). The hairs, in turn, yield DNA samples that help researchers identify individual bears.

Hair Tuft

A tuft of brown bear hair snagged on a wire.

The study is designed to be noninvasive, so among the questions to answer was whether the wires would impact or otherwise disrupt bear behavior and hunting. Judging from the camera images so far—including many taken at night (see slideshow below)—the bears appear largely unconcerned with the wires, often stepping over and under multiple times in a single encounter (in the process, of course, leaving collectible tufts of hair).

In the first year of hair sampling last summer, the team collected 74 tufts from wires along Bear, Happy, and Hansen creeks. They have analyzed 41 of the samples so far and have successfully identified 15 different individuals—eleven females, four males, and all brown bears.

Field work is just winding down for this summer (at left, check out a slideshow of photos Professor Wirsing took a few weeks ago). They plan to continue the project for a few more years, and as researchers sort through several hundred new samples to analyze, they’re excited to open this window into a largely unseen and unstudied realm of bear behavior.

“Outside of a few highly visible areas, such as the McNeil River, the behavior of brown bears foraging on salmon has been largely shrouded in mystery,” says Wirsing. “We hope our work will reveal how feeding and social behavior of individual bears are shaped by the arrival of migrating salmon—and by extension how coastal brown bear populations might be affected by changes to the size and timing of salmon runs.”

***
Super Salmon
In the short video clip below, Professor Wirsing captures sockeye salmon swimming up Hansen Creek, which in some places is only a couple inches deep as it approaches Lake Aleknagik. You’ll get a glimpse—a tiny glimpse, mind you—of the herculean effort it takes for salmon to reach their spawning grounds. Their exertion is nothing short of heroic during this brutal slog. After all, even when they manage to dodge the maw of a hungry grizzly, they still have to muscle their way through narrow, shallow streams to reach their final destinations. In some cases, a few of the larger males get too fatigued to maneuver through the shallowest sections and end up stranded. Those beached souls then sometimes have to suffer through gulls pecking their eyes out as a final insult. No question, it’s an unforgiving business.

Slideshow photos, hair tuft and salmon video © Aaron Wirsing; all other photos © Tom Quinn.

Alumni Spotlight: Christina Galitsky

Christina Galitsky

After nearly a decade as an engineer, Galitsky changed course and headed to graduate school to study wildlife ecology at SEFS.

“Ecology is so much harder than engineering, despite what the majority of the population might think,” says Christina Galitsky, who recently earned a Master of Science from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS). She would know: After nearly a decade as an engineer, Galitsky moved to Seattle in 2009 to begin graduate study in wildlife ecology—trading factories for field work, and lab goggles for binoculars.

What prompted this turnabout was many years in the making, and it started with a simple desire to feel more energized by her work.

Originally from Allentown, Pa., Galitsky moved to California in 1996 to attend graduate school at Berkeley. She had always excelled at math and science and felt it was a natural fit to study chemical engineering. After school, she spent the next nine years as a full-time engineer, first with an environmental consulting firm in Oakland and then with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Her work involved solving basic engineering problems for some of the poorest people in the world. No question, she says, the projects were immensely important and rewarding. Yet she got to a point where she’d be in a meeting and watch her colleagues be giddy and raving about a tiny engineering tweak, like getting a minute increase in efficiency, and she realized she wanted to share that same pulse of excitement with her job someday—and it wasn’t going to happen as an engineer.

Christina Galitsky

In her free time, Galitsky is an accomplished rock climber, mountaineer, snowboarder and lover of all things outdoors.

Galitsky decided to take some time off work to figure out her next move. She spent a summer interning with the U.S. Geological Survey on the Olympic Peninsula and researched graduate programs and professors studying wildlife biology, conservation and related areas.

She soon discovered SEFS and was particularly attracted to the work Professor Josh Lawler was doing with climate change and landscape ecology. She wanted to be involved in research that would directly influence policy or on-the-ground management, and when she met Lawler and visited campus, she felt a strong connection. “At first it was his research, and then our conversations,” she says. “I really liked his lab and the way he has his students weigh in on potential next students, which I think is really unique and special. Josh was clearly passionate about what he does and wanted to make a difference in the world. I liked all of those things about him.”

After so many years in the workforce, Galitsky wasn’t eager to take out new student loans and debt, so she was relieved to find that Lawler had funding for another Master’s student. Plus, he was open to her doing field work, which became the heart of her graduate program.

For her thesis, “Effects of Local Vegetation and Landscape Patterns on Avian Biodiversity in the Threatened Oak Habitat of the Willamette Valley, Ore.,” she spent several field seasons meticulously documenting birds, learning to recognize species by sight and sound, patiently listening and watching for long hours.

Christina Galitsky

Galitsky out birding.

“I found field work really hard, frustrating and amazing, all at the same time, every day,” she says. “Getting to see the sunrise every day and hear the birds in the morning was great. But having to get up at 3 a.m., not so good.”

The stress of field work, too, was different from her previous office deadlines. If things don’t go right in a field season—if your research doesn’t come together, or you need to adjust your methods—you’re in school for another year. “There’s more urgency to figure out how to make it right,” she says.

Galitsky persevered, of course, and she credits her committee, which included SEFS Professors John Marzluff and Aaron Wirsing, for their critiques and encouragement in building her confidence as a researcher. Above all, she’s grateful for Lawler’s support as her advisor. “Working with Josh was the highlight for me,” she says. “He just blew me away with how understanding, helpful and encouraging he was. He always seemed to have time for me, and he really helped me through grad school, probably more than he knows.”

Now, her transition from engineer to ecologist is complete: As of May 1, 2013, Galitsky is the program coordinator for Tree Kangaroo Conservation at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.

Not quite two months into her new gig, she says she feels privileged to have found a home at the intersection of so many of her interests. “The tree kangaroo program has both a wildlife and a people component, which was exactly what I wanted,” she says. “I think that’s why this project hits home to me. It’s been really fun working in a place where everyone has the same passions about animals and conservation.”

Tree Kangaroo

This photo, taken by Bruce Beehler, captures an incontrovertible truth about tree kangaroos: their incredible stuffed-animal cuteness.

Tree kangaroos are found only in one small region of Papua New Guinea, and Galitsky hopes she’ll get a chance to travel there in the next year or two with her boss, Dr. Lisa Dabek. Her current position, though, is not as a field research biologist, and she’s been focusing on fundraising, program management and outreach. “I’m probably most excited about the outreach,” she says. “We scientists aren’t always the best communicators, and I enjoy the challenge of being the link between scientific research and the public.”

As she settles into her new role, Galitsky has no regrets about her past career. Her new work, she says, isn’t more worthwhile; it’s just more her. Unlike her years spent in cement plants or steel factories, where she felt invested if not inspired, these days she finally has her passions and profession in tune. How can she tell? This time, the line between work and play is awfully fuzzy.

“I still love going out and watching birds and trying to identify them, probably to the dismay of my boyfriend and everyone around me,” says Galitsky. “I can’t shut it off!”

Photos of Christina Galitsky © Matt Gerhart; photo of tree kangaroo © Bruce Beehler.

Tree Kangaroo (Photo by Bruce Beehler)

Thesis Defense: Kristen Richardson!

As part of the Wildlife Seminar this Monday, June 3, Kristen Richardson will be defending her Master’s Thesis, “Using non-invasive techniques to examine patterns of black bear (Ursus americanus) abundance in the  North Cascades Ecosystem.”

Her talk begins at 3:30 p.m. in Kane 130 and is open to the public, so come support the culmination of her research at SEFS!

And what will Richardson be talking about?

Kristen Richardson

Kristen Richardson removing survey sites on her last trip to the field.

From 2008 to 2011 a large, multi-agency project deployed barbed-wire hair-snag corrals to collect DNA samples from black bears (Ursus americanus) in the North Cascades Ecosystem (NCE) of Washington State. Using the genetic and detection data, Richardson examined the influence of human activities and habitat characteristics on bear abundance across heterogeneous landscapes of the NCE.

No other research to date in Washington State has examined the influence of habitat and anthropogenic variables on black bears across such a large geographic expanse, and the results of her study should help guide management of black bear populations in the NCE. This research is especially important given the challenge of maintaining viable populations of a long-lived species with relatively low fecundity.

Richardson’s committee chair is Professor Aaron Wirsing, and the other members are Bill Gaines and Josh Lawler.

Photo © Kristen Richardson.

SEFS Students Descend on Yellowstone

Yellowstone

Clear blue skies greeted the research crew on a morning snowshoe hike to a wolf kill site in the Lamar Valley.

Before the crack of dawn this past Saturday morning, March 23, a caravan set off on the long, long drive to Gardiner, Mont., at the edge of Yellowstone National Park. On board were 15 students and three faculty members from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS), all heading out to spend roughly a week of field study in the northern Rockies as part of a spring course, “ESRM 459: Wildlife Conservation in Northwest Ecosystems.”

Led by SEFS Professors John Marzluff, Monika Moskal and Aaron Wirsing, the group will be using the Northern Range of Yellowstone National Park, between Gardiner and Cooke City, as a staging area to explore patterns of corvid, and especially raven, distribution; elk anti-predator behavior (vigilance); and wolf predation. The class also addresses regional management issues, including wolves and bison leaving the park.

It’s a glorious time to be trekking through the Yellowstone backcountry. The group has special access to remote research areas, tourists are few and far between, scores of bison are out hoofing through the snow, and students occasionally catch glimpses of wolves, grizzlies and other wilderness gems.

Yellowstone

Professor John Marzluff helps orient students during their first full day in the park.

Of course, it’s a working research visit, and students spend long days trudging through the park—often at the mercy of the elements, which at this time of year can be ornery, if not downright savage. Then, after they return to campus on March 30, they begin working on group projects based on data collected. They will present their findings to the public at the end of spring quarter.

But even in the worst weather conditions, when even your expedition thermals can feel threadbare and drafty, how could you say no to this kind of hands-on experience in the wilds of Yellowstone?

Photos of Yellowstone trip © Monika Moskal/SEFS.