This past Friday, June 13, we honored and celebrated with our latest graduating class, sending off an incredibly talented group of students to become the next leaders in their fields—both here at home in the Pacific Northwest, and all around the world. With families and friends packed into Kane Hall, and with professors and graduates in their splendid academic regalia, we heard terrific student speeches from Crescent Calimpong and Tara Wilson, and Professor David Ford had the room in stitches throughout his keynote address. It was a grand affair, and we even managed to wrangle (nearly all of) the graduates for some group photos.
A couple weeks ago, on the first Friday of November, a two-car caravan took off from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences to catch an early-afternoon ferry out to Vashon Island. With nine graduate students in tow, Professor David Ford was leading the third field trip for his “Principles of Silviculture” course (ESRM 428).
Professor Ford, leaning on his cane, touring the first of two forest sites on Vashon Island.
The first trip had taken the students to Pack Forest to see estate forestry, and the second involved an overnight on the Olympic Peninsula to explore wet forests and densely seeded, large-scale operations. For this third excursion, the class would be touring two examples of community forestry, where they’d find small plots, some only a few acres in size, individually owned and managed, and with varying objectives depending on the landowner. Their guide for both sites would be Derek Churchill, a former Ph.D. student at SEFS who now lives on Vashon Island and works as a private forestry consultant.
Vashon Island’s history makes it an especially fertile study site for forest management. At the beginning of the 1900s, old-growth forests of hemlock, firs and red cedars covered most of the island. Smaller trees, such as alder, found room in sunnier open areas along with huckleberries and other shrubs. By the 1920s, though, most of the island’s forests had been harvested and cleared. The story went that you could stand on a high point at one end of Vashon and see pretty much across the entire island—roughly 13 miles long and eight miles across at its widest point—unimpeded by any mature trees.
At the time, Vashon was home to a number of Japanese strawberry farms, but starting in the Great Depression, and then on a broader scale as part of Japanese internment during World War II, many of those farms were abandoned. Fields that had been planted and tended were suddenly left on their own. Into that vacuum, fast-seeding alder began taking hold and spreading across the island in the 1940s and ‘50s.
Churchill, front left, lives on Vashon Island and works as a private forestry consultant.
Today, roughly 15,000 acres, or about 60 percent of Vashon, have returned to forest. A large portion of that regrowth has involved the rise of alder-dominated forests, which, rather surprisingly, can’t naturally regenerate without human interference—and that presents a tremendous opportunity to test management strategies.
In a more diverse forest, and without the unnatural boundaries of neighborhoods and other development, the ecosystem would likely replenish itself. Yet the sudden abandonment of so much cleared land gave alder, once marginalized, an unusual advantage because they seed and grow quickly. They also tend to promote a thick, tangled understory, which largely prevents new trees from taking root. So as the alder age—often beginning their decline after 60 to 70 years—there aren’t new young trees sprouting to take their place.
In turn, if a landowner did nothing to intervene in an alder-dominated forest, eventually the older trees would die and disappear, and, many years later, they’d be left with an overgrown field—but no forest.
That’s where Churchill gets involved. In his role as a forestry consultant, he advises various landowners about how to manage their forest plots, writing prescriptions for long-term planning and timber harvests. His clients have wide-ranging visions for their land, so each prescription is unique to the landowner. One might care most about wildlife viewing, horse trails or general enjoyment of nature. Some might want minimal thinning, maybe 20-30 percent; others are more aggressive and want a higher percentage of aging trees cleared.
The class tours the second forest site, where taller Douglas-fir are outcompeting Pacific madrone, resulting in some dangerously spindly, leaning and unstable trees.
In most cases, profit is not the primary objective of these harvests. More important for Churchill and the landowner is keeping the forest healthy and sustainable without overly affecting the aesthetic enjoyment of the land. If there’s a harvest here and there to make a little money, that ends up being a nice perk—and these trees definitely have market value. For a long time alder was considered a junk wood, but in the 1990s it started becoming prized for furniture (a single tree, with the right dimensions and age, could be worth more than $1,000).
As Churchill’s work has gained attention and traction around the island, more residents have recognized the importance of actively managing their forests. In fact, to handle an increasing project load more efficiently and sustainably, several years ago Churchill helped found the Vashon Forest Stewards, a nonprofit community forestry business whose mission is to “restore, enhance and maintain healthy native forest ecosystems, and to manage a sustainable ecological business that provides forestry services and island-grown wood products.” The stewards established a local mill, and they also offer educational workshops on forest planning and management, forest ecology and sustainable forestry techniques.
Showing students some of Churchill’s operation and projects, says Professor Ford, is a great way to introduce them to the viability of smaller-scale forestry. With his clients on Vashon, as well as in Seattle and surrounding communities, Churchill isn’t banking on huge harvests for an income. For him, the forests come in smaller patches and plots, and the work is more incremental and less predictable—but it is certainly viable, and plenty creative!
Check out the slideshow below to see more from their trip to Vashon.
What is it that makes Pacific silver fir and western hemlock shade-tolerant trees? And how is it that they can both out-compete Douglas-fir in the ‘twilight’ of the Olympic Peninsula? In Week 6 of the SEFS Seminar Series this Wednesday, Professor David Ford will describe the particular properties of photosynthesis of these species and discuss some general implications for how we measure and model photosynthesis.
So whether you’re on Team Edward or Team Jacob, one thing will be perfectly clear: There’s more competition on the Olympic Peninsula than just between werewolves and vampires!
What: “The dynamics of photosynthesis and its significance for modeling plant growth.” When: Wednesday, May 8, 3:30-4:20 p.m. Where: Anderson Hall, Room 223 Who’s Invited: It’s open to the public, and all faculty, staff and students are encouraged to attend!
Come out and support your colleagues, and then head over to the Forest Club Room afterward for a casual reception from 4:30-5:30 p.m.
Members of the Chinese forestry delegation join SEFS faculty in front of Anderson Hall.
Last week, a delegation from the Chinese Academy of Forestry (CAF) visited the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS) for two hours of short presentations and discussions on April 3. The delegation included members from the research section of the State Forestry Administration (the equivalent of the U.S. Forest Service), and from the Gansu Province Forestry Department.
On the agenda, SEFS presentations included introductions from SEFS Director Tom DeLuca and Professor Indroneil Ganguly; Professor Greg Ettl (“Sustainable Forest Management at Pack Forest”); Professors Stevan Harrell and Tom Hinckley (“Forest Expansion onto Meadowlands, U.S. v. China”); and Professor David Ford (“Overview of Sustainable Forest Management at the Olympic Natural Resources Center”). Madam Hu Zhangcui from CAF then followed with “PRC-GEF Partnership on Land Degradation in Dryland Ecosystems: Current Progress, Achievements and Prospects” before a final discussion session.
Professors Tom Hinckley, foreground, and Steve Harrell coring trees in Yangjuan-Pianshui villages, Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, August 2008.
SEFS’ collaboration with Chinese researchers began in 1999, when the UW established a joint program to study environmental challenges in the two countries. Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley had joined several exploratory trips to Sichuan around that time, visiting a future research site at Jiuzhaigou National Park in the northwestern part of the province.
When the university began an undergraduate student exchange, Professor Hinckley joined Anthropology Professor Steve Harrell and Biology Professor Dick Olmstead in leading a multinational team to Yangjuan Village in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in the summer of 2002 to conduct joint research on forest ecology, agriculture, plant biodiversity and local history. Several SEFS (and previously CFR and SFR) students have since conducted research there.
Feeling uninspired on Wednesday afternoons lately? Craving intellectual stimulation—that first shiver of excitement when a brave new idea courses through you? Well, crave idly no more, as the SEFS Seminar Series is back for the 2013 Spring Quarter!
Starting tomorrow, April 3, the series kicks off with a scorcher: “The Second Solution to Climate Change: Mobilizing Nature to Reach Target 350 ppm.” For this talk, we’re especially pleased to welcome Rhys Roth and Patrick Mazza from Climate Solutions, and Amanda Stanley from the Wilburforce Foundation.
Held on Wednesdays from 3:30-4:20 p.m. in Anderson 223, the seminars are open to the public, and all faculty, staff and students are encouraged to attend! (Graduate Students will get 3 credits registering SEFS 550C).
After the seminar, join your colleagues over in the Forest Club Room for a casual reception from 4:30-6 p.m. We’ll have snacks, and this spring we’ll be offering selections from the Fremont Brewing Company (for those of age)!
Check out the rest of the spring schedule below:
Two summers ago in 2011, John Simeone was working on the summer crew at Pack Forest with Professor Greg Ettl. He was a first-year graduate student with the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS), and he spent his daylight hours working on long-term site surveys, trail maintenance and other research projects. Simeone loved it.
“Pack Forest is a beautiful plot of land,” he says, and just about every weekend he’d hop over to Mount Rainier National Park to hike and camp.
That summer also fed another of Simeone’s outdoor passions: photography. He had picked up the hobby pretty seriously in high school, and he eventually even had his own black-and-white dark room. So with endless days deep in the woods, and faced with spectacular forest and mountain settings on all sides, he took scores of photos on his Nikon D60.
John Simeone’s winning photo entry from Pack Forest, “Stand of Red Alders (Alnus rubra).”
Months later, while researching the new European Union Timber Regulation, Simeone stumbled across a photo contest with the European Forest Institute (EFI). For all of his years snapping pictures, Simeone had never submitted one of his images to a competition. But this time he decided to send one of his shots from Pack Forest. “It was a fluke, totally a whim,” he says.
Photography, of course, is only a side pursuit for Simeone at the University of Washington. He grew up outside of New York City and attended Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and in 2010 he ventured to Seattle to begin working on a Master’s Degree at the Jackson School of International Studies (Russian Studies). A year later he made it a dual degree by adding forestry at SEFS.
The two fields—forestry and Russian—may seem like an unusual pairing, but for Simeone it’s a rather natural fit.
He first started studying the Russian language in high school, and after graduation he spent a gap year living in the small Russian city of Vladimir, about 115 miles northeast of Moscow. He was only 18 and 19 at the time, and the experience sealed his interest in the country and language. “It was amazing,” he says. “It made me fall in love with Russia.”
Simeone with his fiancé Erika Knight in the North Cascades; a fellow SEFS graduate student, Knight is working on her MS with Professor Rob Harrison in the Forest Soils lab.
During the same time abroad, he began cultivating a deeper interest in forestry and conservation. “Russia contains a quarter of the world’s forests,” says Simeone, and the nation is opening up vast areas of virgin forest for logging—with a host of implications ranging from impacts on sensitive wildlife populations to natural resource management and trade policy.
As a graduate student, Simeone’s research interests now include the emerging markets in forest trade and production in the Russian Far East and Siberia, and the extension of trade to China. His faculty advisor at SEFS is Professor Sergey Rabotyagov, and he is also working closely with Professor Ivan Eastin and CINTRAFOR on Russia’s role in the timber trade. (He presented on some of his research at the Graduate Student Symposium a couple weeks ago on Friday, March 8.)
Simeone has been balancing his economic and trade studies with on-the-ground forestry training, including taking Professor David Ford’s silviculture class, Professor Jerry Franklin’s course on old-growth forest management, and the summer internship at Pack Forest. Though he’s not sure where he’ll end up career-wise, he says his “pie in the sky” dream would be to put his Russian and forestry background to work as a trade analyst with the United Nations, or possibly with the Forest Service in their international division.