Join the 2016 Pack Forest Summer Crew!

Every summer, a hardy crew of SEFS students heads down to Pack Forest for two months of hands-on field training in sustainable forest management. It’s one of our oldest field traditions, and also one of the most memorable, so take a look at the internship opportunities coming up this summer!

2016_02_Pack Forest Summer Crew2There are up to six internship positions available for the 2016 Summer Quarter at Park Forest, which runs from June 20 to August 19. Each position is eligible for 4 ESRM credit hours (with in-state tuition included), as well as a $200 weekly stipend and free housing in cozy cabins for a summer spent in the shadow of Mount Rainier. Hard to beat!

* Three to five spots are open for Forest Resource Interns, who will assist with the management and stewardship of Pack Forest’s timber resources, research installations, roads and trails. These students will develop forest mensuration skills, practice species identification, participate in research programs, and learn about sustainable forest management.

* One additional position is available for an Outreach & GIS Intern, who will actively participate in public outreach, environmental education and/or GIS applications for natural resource management. This student will develop skills in communications, public outreach, curriculum development and natural resource management.

The deadline to apply has been extended to Wednesday, April 20. If you’re interested, please send your resume and a cover letter describing how the internship will fit into your program of study to Professor Ernesto Alvarado.

2016_02_Pack Forest Summer Crew

2016 Pack Forest Spring Planting: March 21-25!

For nearly 80 years, SEFS students have been putting down roots at Pack Forest, helping to shape the woods for future generations. This Spring Break, you can leave your own mark by taking part in the annual spring planting, March 21-25, as one of the elite Pack Forest interns!

2016_02_Pack Forest Spring PlantingWhile staying in cozy cabins at Pack Forest—just down the road from Mount Rainier—you’ll get to roll up your sleeves and work on forest establishment, including planting, regeneration surveys and survey reports.

Your housing (and some food) will be covered, there’s a kitchen at your disposal, you’ll earn a $200 stipend, and two course credits are also available. It’s a week of field work and hands-on learning in the daytime, and also a whole lot of fun as you explore the gorgeous 4,300 acres of Pack Forest and hang out with fellow interns in the evenings. Seriously, it’s an unforgettable experience!

The internship is open to undergraduate students (and possibly MFR grad students), and the deadline to apply is Friday, February 19. Contact Professor Ernesto Alvarado at alvarado@uw.edu or 206.616.6920 to learn more and apply.

Need more inspiration? Check out this great video from the 2014 crew!

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

Professor Ernesto Alvarado Presents Paper at Cuba Conference

Earlier this month, Professor Ernesto Alvarado spent two weeks in Havana, Cuba, as part of a team from the U.S. Forest Service, and he co-presented a paper on wildfires and climate change at the X International Convention on Environment and Development, held July 6 to 10.

With the recent re-opening of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the Forest Service International Programs from Washington, D.C., sponsored the trip as part of the federal government’s efforts to initiate collaboration on environmental topics with Cuba. Joining Alvarado from the Forest Service were Dr. Armando González-Cabán from Riverside, Calif. (who co-presented the paper with Alvarado) and Alexandra Zamecnik, program manager for the Forest Service International Programs.

Alvarado says the presentation was well received and generated interest in promoting future collaboration possibilities in Cuba and other countries in the region. The team also met with staff from environmental institutions and organizations to identify key areas of interest for collaboration on environmental management and protection, and to strengthen cooperation on scientific research on related fields.

2015_07_Ernesto in Cuba

Thesis Defense: Katherine Wyatt!

Katherine WyattWhat better way to end the academic year and kick off the graduation celebrations than with one more thesis defense!

You are invited to join Katherine Wyatt as she defends her research, “Riparian Vegetation Structure and Composition in the Fire-Dependent Ecosystem of Eastern Washington,” on Thursday, June 13, at 11 a.m. in Bloedel 292.

Centered in the fire-dependent ecosystem of Eastern Washington, this study explores patterns of riparian vegetation structure and composition as well as the relative role of natural and anthropogenic processes. Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project photo-interpreted resource aerial photos, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Permutational Multivariate Analysis of Variance (PERMANOVA) were used to compare riparian to upland areas, summarize the range of vegetation conditions present in the second half of the 20th century, and correlate vegetation with processes on the landscape. The spatial extent of the study was the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative, offering multiple agencies the local best science needed for effective management. This field of work contributes not only to our understanding of a historically fire-dependent ecosystem, but also to the role of riparian areas within them.

Wyatt’s committee chair is Professor Ernesto Alvarado, and her other members are David Peterson and Richard Harrod.

Photo © Katherine Wyatt.

Faculty Spotlight: Jim Agee

Jim Agee

Agee and a foxtail pine in the Klamath Mountains.

Jim Agee, professor emeritus with the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, could tell quite a few stories from his time in the field with students and other faculty—and, as it happens, they have a couple of him, too.

Professor Steve West, who co-taught wildlife field techniques with Agee for several years, recalls an overnight trip to Babcock Bench, overlooking the Columbia River. After a day of setting traps for small mammals and some vegetation work, Agee retired early to his tent. West and several students headed out on a night drive to spy reptiles and amphibians that had come out to soak up the last heat from the road. They came across a dead two-foot rattlesnake that had been run over yet looked very alive. A couple students brought the snake back to camp and coiled it right outside Agee’s tent. The next morning when he poked his head out, Agee was not impressed. “He was really teed off, but it was hilarious,” says West. “We got him for at least 10 seconds.”

“What clued me in on the snake was that it was coiled up backwards,” says Agee, “but I still had to think about it—and on a full bladder!”

When he wasn’t rubbing surprise from his eyes, Agee spent three distinguished decades as a scientist with the National Park Service and a professor with the University of Washington. “Most people would call me a fire ecologist,” says Agee, and his career spanned a great many more fields along the way.

Jim Agee

Agee with Catalonian fire scientists in Spain, where he taught a short course and consulted with them on fire management strategies.

Agee, who lives with his wife in Woodinville, Wash., grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He attended the University of California, Berkeley, which was close enough for him to bus home on the weekends. “I was thinking about going to Humboldt State, but my mom said if I got into UC Berkeley, I was going. So that’s where I went, and it was a good choice.”

It was certainly a fateful choice in terms of his career direction. “I took a course called ‘Range Management,’” says Agee, “and the guy teaching it was one of the pioneers in fire ecology, Harold Biswell.”

Biswell was one of the first scientists to talk about fires as a normal, even healthy part of forest ecosystems and management. Agee liked the idea and was hooked. He went on to earn a degree in forest management and then stayed on at Berkeley to study with Biswell for a Master’s in Range Management.

At the time, forest fires made for a controversial subject. Biswell had long studied the use of controlled burns to manage grasslands, which was a widely accepted practice. Yet when he turned his theory on forests, Biswell drew fierce professional criticism, says Agee, as he butted against a powerful assumption that forests and fire were simply not compatible. People tried to get him fired. Even the dean warned him to cool it with his forest fire talk.

Despite the pressure and attacks, Biswell continued to advocate for the use of fire in dry forests, and in the end his views became accepted by the majority. By the time Agee earned his Ph.D. from Berkeley in 1973—as Biswell’s last graduate student, in fact—fire had finally become an accepted tool of forest management, for the most part. “Fire is still not used at the scale it should be or historically was,” says Agee, “but Biswell was one of the pioneers to get people thinking differently about it. And by the time I got a Ph.D., he was kind of a hero.”

After he graduated from Berkeley, Agee taught one quarter of a fire management course and then left to work for the National Park Service (NPS) in San Francisco. Agee stayed there for five years until he got a call about a park service job in Seattle with what was then known as the Cooperative Park Studies Unit. The program allowed the NPS to station scientists at universities and have access to labs and—especially important at the time—computers and other technology. In return, you would act like a regular faculty member and teach, advise students, go on field trips, and generally participate in the academic world of the school.

Jim Agee

Agee in Mexico with Ernesto Alvarado, left, at the site of an active wildfire.

For Agee, that meant placement in 1978 at the University of Washington, where he worked his way up the professor ladder for the next decade. He felt a great spirit of collaboration, and he says his colleagues greatly helped advance his career as a scientist. Yet since he was still an NPS employee, he wasn’t eligible for tenure. So when the opportunity came, Agee officially transferred over to the university and became chair of the forest resources management division, which eventually morphed into ecosystem science and conservation.

In 1993, he stepped down as chair to become a “regular old professor” again. That was also the year he published Fire Ecology: Pacific Northwest Forests. Agee considers the book one of his proudest academic achievements, and the text remains popular in the field today.

In the classroom, Agee taught a wide range of courses, including fire management, forest protection, some silviculture, forest ecology and wildlife field techniques. One of his favorites, naturally, was a course in fire ecology. “We’d go over to eastern Washington and look at areas that had burned with prescribed fires or wildfires, and compare the two, and look at the response of animals and plants,” he says. “We’d involve field managers over there, and it was a great introduction to what the students were learning in the classroom.”

Elk in Hoh Rainforest

Agee took this shot of a Roosevelt elk on a wildlife field trip to the Hoh Rainforest; a herd walked right through their group.

Among his preferred test grounds was nearby Fort Lewis. It used to be an artillery range, and the fort wanted to make sure their prairie land wasn’t going to catch fire from ordnance going off—so Agee would head over with a troop of students. “We’d go down and help them ignite prescribed fires, and then watch it burn and see what would happen to the various plants. It was a nice laboratory for us, and only about an hour away from campus.”

Agee says field trips were a part of almost every class, and he spent some 20 to 30 days a year in the field. “We had a lot of fun doing those things,” he says.

Yet after 30 years of teaching undergraduates and graduates—and organizing countless field excursions—Agee decided to retire in 2007. Though he’s not hauling students across the state anymore, he’s far from idle. He’s taken on several research projects and keeps plenty busy as editor of the journal Fire Ecology. “The time I spend on for the journal is just perfect,” he says. “Fills my time and keeps me active.”

It also spares him from waking up next to rattlesnakes, which has to be quite a relief.

Photos courtesy of Jim Agee.