Alumni Spotlight: Olivia Moskowitz

by Karl Wirsing/SEFS

Shortly after graduating this spring, new SEFS alumna Olivia Moskowitz flew to Chicago to spend a week training for her Chicago Botanic Garden Conservation and Land Management Internship. Through a highly competitive application process, the program matches interns with federal agencies or nonprofit organizations involved in land management work. For Olivia, that meant heading to Idaho Falls, Idaho, earlier this month to begin a five-month assignment—as a full-time employee, paid by the Chicago Botanic Garden—with the U.S. Forest Service.

Olivia at the 2017 SEFS Graduation.

She’ll be working in four different national forests around the region (Caribou-Targhee, Sawtooth, Bridger-Teton and Uinta-Wasatch-Cache), and covering a big mix of projects, from collecting native seeds (like showy fleabane and horsemint) for sage-grouse habitat restoration, to conducting forest inventories, plant population scouting and GPS mapping. Some of her tasks will be completely new to her. Others will feel incredibly familiar, which isn’t surprising considering the number of lab and field experiences Olivia accumulated during her four years as an undergrad!

Olivia, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, wasted no time getting involved in university life when she arrived on campus. In her first year, in fact, she co-founded a student group, Conservation in Style, and organized a highly successful “Conservation Catwalk” to raise money to support wildlife conservation efforts for endangered species, including African elephants, through The Gabby Wild Foundation.

Though no longer involved with that group, she quickly filled her hours by exploring every opportunity as an Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) major. At the end of her sophomore year in 2015, she headed down to Pack Forest to take part in the Summer Crew, a foundational internship experience that entrenched and expanded her interest in forests and field work. “That’s what started it all,” says Olivia, who also minored in Quantitative Sciences. “[Working on that crew] puts you on the right track, and it’s a whole lot of fun.”

Working in Pack Forest with Stephen Calkins, a fellow intern on the 2015 Summer Crew.

Olivia came back energized in the fall and started working with SEFS doctoral student Matthew Aghai on his dissertation research. She had reached out to Matthew earlier in her sophomore year, and now he was able to bring her in as a lab tech. She started attending weekly lab meetings with Professor Greg Ettl and taking trips down to Pack Forest, the Cedar and Tolt River watersheds, and Cle Elum. She completed the rest of her research at the Center for Urban Horticulture overseeing and collecting data for Matthew’s greenhouse studies. “It was a lot of fun and really intense, but also probably the most valuable experience I’ve gotten,” she says. (Her research there would eventually lead to a sub-study for her capstone project this spring, “The effects of varying light and moisture levels on the growth and survival of 12 Pacific Northwest tree species.”)

Last summer, Olivia then got to work with Professor Charlie Halpern on his long-running Demonstration of Ecosystem Management Options (DEMO) study, looking at how different patterns of harvesting trees have long-term effects on the landscape. That study took her down to the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon, near Crater Lake, and also to parts of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in southern Washington.

Most recently, this past quarter Olivia worked with Professor Ernesto Alvarado’s Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory doing a fire-risk assessment report for Washington State Parks out in Spokane. She got to spend several weekends out in the field, as well as plenty of time in the lab working on GIS, writing reports and data entry. “It was great to be a part of something directly useful, and hopefully applied,” she says. She also enjoyed the exposure to how state government works, and getting to meet stakeholders involved in the project at different levels.

Measuring leaf area of destructively sampled seedlings for her capstone project.

Those hands-on research experiences opened doors for Olivia to get some high-level presentation experience, as well. In spring 2016 she presented preliminary results of her capstone research at the 10th IUFRO International Workshop on Uneven-aged Silviculture in Little Rock, Ark., and this May, as part of her Mary Gates Research Scholarship, she gave an oral presentation at the 2017 UW Undergraduate Research Symposium. She will also be presenting twice this summer—first in July at the Forest Regeneration In Changing Environments conference in Corvallis, Ore., and then in September at the IUFRO 125th Anniversary Congress in Freiburg, Germany.

Throughout these many side projects, of course, has been a steady stream of memorable classes. “I’ve made it a point to take as many ESRM classes as I can, which has resulted in very packed schedules,” she says. Among her favorites—and there are many, she says—were Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley’s Spring Comes to the Cascades, and then Professor Jerry Franklin’s ESRM 425 field trip down in Oregon, Fire-Prone Ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest.

Now, at the end of her four years at SEFS, Olivia has some advice and encouragement for other students getting started in the program. “Get involved, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there,” she says. “It was pretty scary to reach out to Matthew and Greg [Ettl] and know you want to get involved, but not what your role would be. But when you talk to the professors, they’ve been so helpful and encouraging, they take the whole scariness away from the process. I don’t think a lot of students realize that undergraduate research is available to them. I think it set the stage for the rest of my life, and my experience certainly wouldn’t have been as wonderful and fruitful as it’s been.”

Good luck, Olivia, and stay in touch!

Graduation photo © Karl Wirsing/SEFS; Pack Forest pic © Olivia Moskowitz; lab shot © Matthew Aghai.

2016 McIntire-Stennis Research Grant Winners

This fall, the SEFS Research Committee awarded five Graduate Research Augmentation Grants through the McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry Research program, totaling $72,209 in funding.

This special round of grants was designed to support graduate student research, with awards targeted for Spring 2016 or Summer 2016 (and with all funding to be spent in full by September 30, 2016). Read more about the funded projects below!

Awarded Projects

1. Nisqually Garry Oak Habitat: Cultural and Ecological Considerations for Successful Restoration in the Nisqually Tribal Reservation

PI: Professor Ernesto Alvarado, SEFS
Co-PI: Professor Steve Harrell, SEFS

Garry oak (Quercus garryana) ecosystems are a designated Priority Habitat for management in Washington State (Larsen and Morgan 1998). Although there are many research projects that examine how to restore Garry oak ecosystems for the purposes of establishing more habitat for endangered and threatened species like the golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) and Mazama pocket gopher (Thomomys mazama), respectively (Larsen and Morgan 1998), there are few studies that look at restoration for the objective of developing an environment for the purpose of cultural restoration, specifically agroforestry. We intend to evaluate whether Garry oak ecosystem restoration for the intended purpose of cultural activities (traditional medicinal and edible plant harvests, inter-generational education) will greatly change the components of the restoration and management plan of the Garry oak ecosystem.

Award total: $13,232

2. How Do Conclusions About the Effectiveness of Fuels-reduction Treatments Vary with the Spatial Scale of Observation?

PI: Professor Jon Bakker, SEFS
Co-PI: Professor Charles Halpern, SEFS

Restoration of dry-forest ecosystems has become a prominent and very pressing natural resource issue in the western U.S. Although mechanical thinning and prescribed burning can effectively reduce fuel loads in these forests, scientists and managers remain uncertain about the ecological outcomes of these treatments. This uncertainty reflects the short time spans of most restoration studies and a limited consideration of how ecological responses vary with the spatial scale of observation. This funding will support graduate student research that explores how ecological responses to fuels-reduction treatments vary with the spatial scale of observation, and will complement ongoing research on the temporal variability of responses.

Award total: $15,114

3. Growth and Physiological Response of Native Washington Tree Species to Light and Drought: Informing Sustainable Timber Production

PI: Professor Greg Ettl, SEFS
Co-PIs: Matthew Aghai, third-year Ph.D. student at SEFS; Rolf Gersonde, affiliate assistant professor with SEFS and Seattle Public Utilities Silviculture; and Professor Sally Brown, SEFS

Intensive management of the conifer-dominated forests of the Pacific Northwest has resulted in millions of acres of largely mono-specific second- and third-growth forests. These forests have simple vertical structure and low biodiversity, and consequently much lower value of non-timber forest products. Research on establishment of underplanted trees in partial light is needed to increase structural and compositional diversification of Douglas-fir plantations undergoing conversion to multispecies stands. However, the ecology of seedling establishment under existing canopies is poorly understood. The general aim of our research is to address the need for improved structural diversity in managed forest systems through a better understanding of species-specific performance potential of underplanted seedlings. This proposal extends ongoing research; in this phase we will document physiological differences in seedling performance.

Award total: $17,004

4. A Novel Reactor for Fast Pyrolysis of Beetle-Killed Trees

PI: Professor Fernando Resende, SEFS

In this project, we will optimize the production of pyrolysis bio-oil from beetle-killed lodgepole pine using a technique called ablative pyrolysis. We developed a novel and unique system for pyrolysis of wood that has the capability of converting entire wood chips into bio-oil. This characteristic is important for mobile pyrolysis units, because it eliminates the need of grinding wood chips prior to pyrolysis.

Award total: $15,887

5. Modeling the Effects of Forest Management on Snowshoe Hare Population Dynamics in Washington at the Landscape Scale

PI: Professor Aaron Wirsing, SEFS

The Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) is already listed as Threatened in Washington and, following an ongoing status review, likely to be designated as Endangered because much of its habitat has been lost to a series of large wildfires since 2006. Lynx subsist on snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus), and it is widely acknowledged that habitat quality for lynx is tied to the availability of this prey species, so forest management with the goal of promoting lynx conservation requires an understanding of the relationship between silvicultural practices and hare abundance. Accordingly, we are requesting summer 2016 funds to complete the third and final phase of a graduate research project whose objective is to assess the impacts of forest management on hare numbers across a large landscape in north-central Washington. By sampling a network of snowshoe hare fecal pellet transects spanning protected and harvested portions of the Loomis State Forest for a third consecutive summer, we will produce a model of hare relative abundance that will enable managing agencies to tailor their harvest plans such that they promote snowshoe hare availability and, as a result, lynx population persistence.

Award total: $10,972