Two weeks ago, on March 6 and 7, six SEFS students headed up to Canada to compete against the University of British Columbia (UBC) in the 9th Annual International Silviculture Challenge. Professor Emeritus David Ford and former UW Professor Bruce Larson, who is now at UBC, first organized the contest, and this year marked the ninth consecutive year the two schools have come together in the spirit of academic competition. Host sites alternate between the United States and Canada, and UBC staged the 2015 challenge in the 10,000-acre Malcolm Knapp Research Forest (MKRF).
Professor Greg Ettl, who coaches the SEFS crew, started recruiting his team about six weeks ago. He prioritizes undergrads who have taken a silviculture class but often mixes in one or two master’s students. This year’s team ended up featuring four undergrads, Jack Armstrong, Colin Kirkmire, Emily Richmond and Audrey Riddell, and two grad students, Hollis Crapo and Ben Roe.
For the competition, each university divides its students into two teams of three to tackle a particular silviculture assignment, and this year’s challenge ranked among the most difficult and comprehensive to date, says Professor Ettl.
The core of the challenge was to plan a harvest on a highly sensitive site next to the Loon Lake Lodge. The lodge hosts students and corporate retreats, with many high-paying clients expressing some concern over viewing harvested forest clearings. So the students’ task was to develop a harvest strategy that would net a profit of $100,000 for UBC while also preserving the aesthetics of the site. Due to the topography and accessibility constraints, the site would have to be harvested by helicopter and hauled across the lake to landings.
The teams had 24 hours to visit the site and prepare a plan for the 60-acre block—including the short-term helicopter logging and also a medium- and long-term silvicultural plan—and then present their findings on Saturday to a panel of three judges: Bryce Bancroft, principal of Symmetree Consulting in Victoria; Hélène Marcoux, instructor in sustainable resource management at the British Columbia Institute of Technology; and Paul Lawson, director of UBC Research Forests.
Located near Maple Ridge, B.C. (about 60 kilometers east of Vancouver), the MKRF is a mixture of 145-year-old western hemlock, western red cedar and Douglas-fir, with some remnant old-growth veterans tucked into the mix. The forest is managed by UBC for a variety of research, social, ecological and timber needs, and it’s also home to the Gallant Enterprises sawmill, which specializes in high value-added wood products, and the Loon Lake Research and Education Center, which provides wilderness recreation and education opportunities.
Elevation throughout the MKRF is highly variable, ranging from 1,000 meters to near sea level, and several other specific site conditions complicated the assignment—most notably a steep slope of up to 60 percent, and proximity to the lake, which provides the lodge’s drinking water supply. The section to be harvested also sits in direct view of lodge visitors from the new Bentley Dining Hall.
Professor Ettl says all four groups produced excellent harvest plans given the constraints, but one of the teams from UBC—with students Carrie Huang, Anita Li and Mikayla Roberts—ended up edging ahead for first place in a very tight competition.
The SEFS teams had prescribed a general thin through most of the stand to minimize observable impacts and preserve the overall aesthetic feel of the forest for lodge visitors. The winning team from UBC won on a plan that involved patch cuts and then snap-and-fly selection logging of high-quality cedar logs to reach the $100,000 threshold. This group also offered ideas for future research in the stand, ways to possibly involve visitors in the site and its operations, and an idea for increased recreational value.
Despite the result, the SEFS team thoroughly enjoyed the experience. “I learned a lot,” says undergrad Emily Richmond, whose first experience with silviculture was as part of the Pack Forest Summer Crew. “I’m in the wildlife conservation focus of ESRM, so I focused on the aesthetics and wildlife aspect of the challenge. It was a huge learning experience for me and gave me some insight into what I might have to incorporate in my wildlife endeavors in terms of forestry management.”
Hollis Crapo, a Master of Forest Resources student, came away feeling equally positive. “I enjoyed myself immensely,” he says. “Each team had a slightly different approach to their prescription, and what ultimately decided the winner was their ability to tie the project back to larger cultural values, both of the region and the Malcolm Knapp Research Forest. It reminded us that we don’t do forestry in a vacuum. Especially if we’re working as a public entity, we all have to deal with a social license to practice forestry, and the little things we can do to tie our work to others in our community, work done in the past, and work done in the future, the better we’ll be able to remain sustainable in our practices.”
After this year’s results, UBC now holds a 6-3 edge, but there’s no time for licking wounds. Next year, SEFS will be the host, and the UW silviculture program is already planning for the challenge—which will be 10-year anniversary of the contest!
Photos © Courtesy of Greg Ettl.