Olympic Touch: Paul Mathews

If you’ve been watching any of the 2014 Winter Olympics—and especially if you’ve caught some of the downhill skiing and snowboarding events—then you’ve almost certainly seen some of the vision and handiwork of Paul Mathews, who earned a bachelor’s in forest resources from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences back in 1974 (and also studied landscape architecture at UW for two years).

Paul Mathews

We caught up with Mathews, pictured here in Moscow, briefly over email last week. He’s been on a “dead run” in Europe since February 7, he says, and was most recently in Davos in the Swiss Alps.

As a student, Mathews worked with Professors Gordon Bradley and Grant Sharp and took classes with Barney Dowdle and David Scott. In particular, he was involved in a senior case study class, directed by Bradley, where he explored the feasibility of developing a ski area near Stevens Pass. That site never got developed, but Mathews was fine-tuning a talent and passion that he carries to this day: spotting and designing the perfect locations for ski areas. More importantly, though, he envisioned ski areas that would operate sustainably, were more efficient with their layout, and didn’t abuse their mountain landscapes.

In fact, shortly after finishing school, Mathews founded his own company, Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners, with the purpose of providing environmentally sensitive planning and design for mountain resorts and ski areas. Among his many accolades, Mathews is known for having an uncanny eye for locating lifts and pistes, and his designs focus on avoiding stairs—the ultimate nemesis of ski boots—and keeping most accommodations and services within close proximity to the slopes (ditching your car after you arrive, and spending the rest of the time on skis or on foot). Since he set up operation in 1975 in Whistler, British Columbia, his team has directed the planning and design of more than 360 major mountain resort projects in 36 countries.

Rosa Khutor Alpine Ski Resort

View of the Rosa Khutor Alpine Ski Resort outside of Sochi.

One of those projects, as it happens, was the Rosa Khutor Alpine Ski Resort outside of Sochi, Russia, and the current host site of the Winter Olympics. Back in 2000, the Russian government had invited Mathews to explore the possibility of increasing winter tourism and creating an Olympic-quality ski resort in the Caucasus Mountains. While flying over the area in a plane, Mathews had spied the winning site and then helped design the mountain. Fourteen years later, the top winter athletes in the world are competing on those slopes.

If you’d like to learn more about Mathews and his design philosophy, he’s been profiled a few times recently, including great features in the Seattle Times and The Wall Street Journal. You can also tune in to watch some of the remaining ski coverage to get a firsthand look at the fruits of his work. Then again, there’s a good chance you’ve already visited or heard of a number of his other projects, including Whistler Blackcomb and Sun Peaks in Canada, or a redesign of Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah, a few years ago!

(Side note: The SEFS ski connections don’t end with Mathews. Another alumnus, Steve Rice, now works with a real estate investment trust that manages many of the major ski areas in the country. Rice, who was also one of Professor Bradley’s former students, happens to be friends with Mathews, too!)

Photo of Mathews in Moscow © Paul Mathews; photo of ski resort © Sochi 2014.

Society of American Foresters National Convention

Last week, SEFS graduate student Ben Roe attended the Society of American Foresters (SAF) National Convention in Charleston, S.C. He presented a poster, “Assessing the Impact of Timber Legality Policies on U.S. Wood Importers,” which detailed his research on domestic and international policies that attempt to limit the import of illegally harvested timber. His study looks at the perceptions of U.S. wood importers and the effect of policies on their business practices, as well as the effects on foreign exporters.

Ben Roe

Ben Roe presenting his poster at the convention.

Roe, who is earning a joint master’s in public affairs, also represented the University of Washington as the District 1 student representative to the SAF Student Executive Committee. As part of this role, he participated in discussions on how SAF can better assist students and local chapters. In addition, he was able to spend time with a number of UW alumni who attended the convention.

Other presenters from SEFS included Professor Gordon Bradley and Luke Rogers, and SEFS Director Tom DeLuca also represented the school at the National Association of University Forest Research Programs, held in advance of the SAF convention.

Amanda Davis, the SEFS graduate advisor, staffed an information booth at the convention. She says she dispelled a few myths about the Pacific Northwest and also generated quite a bit of excitement about the Peace Corps Master’s International Program at SEFS. She was happy to report, as well, the giant Coulter pine cone survived the trip and was a great lure to the table.

As the final event, Davis and Director DeLuca hosted a small alumni reception. Among the alumni in attendance were Bob Alverts, Ann Forest Burns, Don Hanley, Denver Hospodarsky, Jim McCarter, Steve McConnell, Phyllis Reed, Eric Sucre and Paul Wagner, who was given the SAF Field Forester Award for District 1.

Not bad for an event 3,000 miles from campus, and next year’s convention will be a lot closer to home in Salt Lake City!

Photo © Courtesy of Ben Roe.

Alumni Spotlight: Randi Adair

An oft-used metaphor for graduating students is seeds scattering to the wind, and the comparison is certainly apt: We wonder where they’ll land, and where they’ll take root. At the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS), our students develop an enormous range of interests and specialties, and they often branch into dozens of disciplines around the country—some going on to graduate school, others beginning their careers. Wherever they end up, though, one of our greatest rewards is hearing from them and learning about their growth.

Randi Adair

Randi Adair, center, with two friends from graduate school on a recent visit.

One such update recently came from Randi Adair. She graduated in 2005 as part of the first class with an Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) degree, and later earned a Master’s in Environmental Planning from UC Berkeley. Originally from Portland, Ore., Adair is now working in Napa Valley as a senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). “We’re midway up the Napa Valley, surrounded by mountains and vineyards,” she says. “It’s pretty nice.” (Their office was originally part of a game bird farm, hence its somewhat unlikely address in the heart of wine country.)

Adair has now been with CDFW for three and a half years, has just bought a house the next valley over in Sonoma, and despite being accustomed to Pacific Northwest greenery has gradually fallen in love with the sun-roasted hillsides and oak woodlands of California. Through it all, she’s thoroughly enjoyed her work and been thankful for the classes and professors who’ve helped her achieve along the way.

She says her background in forest resources has definitely served her well with CDFW. In her first role, Adair wrote Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreements (a type of permit) and California Endangered Species Act permits for development projects, participated on the technical advisory boards for a couple of regional conservation plans, reviewed environmental disclosure documents, and dealt with public inquiries on a range of topics from creek restoration to burrowing owls. With her office chronically shorthanded, she says she was kind of a “one-man band” for a large geographical area, and she spent long hours writing letters and filling out paperwork. Yet she still got to spend some time in the field reviewing projects with engineers and planners, and the end result was worth it.

Randi Adair

Adair’s Napa Valley office oversees the Bay Delta Region.

Adair later moved into her current position supervising the Bay Area Timberland Conservation Program. She heads out as part of a review team—which includes members of the departments of forestry and fire protection and other state agencies—for pre-harvest inspections. She helps evaluate the harvest plans for a range of factors, such as trails, roads, wildlife and creek crossings, and then makes management recommendations. She also supervises other permitting staff and works on a range of department policy issues.

“I did a lot of that in my undergraduate degree,” she says. “From the survey classes, I got a pretty good background in a wide range of topics—water quality sampling, stream flow, things like that that I use all the time in my current job.”

Adair also credits her course and field work through the Urban Ecology Program (UrbanEco), which was funded through the National Science Foundation as a training grant. It lasted for about 10 years and is no longer running at SEFS, but at the time UrbanEco gave students tremendous hands-on opportunities to shape community and environmental planning. Some of the lead professors included John Marzluff and Clare Ryan, and Adair’s research group looked at the Seattle Shoreline Master Plan, focusing on areas where public access to the shoreline was or should have been provided pursuant to development permits (she received a small tuition stipend and a Mary Gates scholarship for taking part in the program).

Other professors who made a big impact on her time at SEFS were Gordon Bradley and Tom Hinckley, and she says Kern Ewing’s restoration class was one of her favorites (even though she had walking pneumonia for nearly the whole quarter!). “I’m very grateful for the excellent education that made it possible for me to be where I am today,” she says. “I feel pretty lucky.”

Nicely done, Randi, and thanks for the update!

Photo of Adair and friends © Randi Adair; graphic of Bay Delta Region © California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Grad Student Spotlight: Laura Cooper

When Laura Cooper moved from Pittsburgh to Seattle about eight years ago, she was eager for a change of scenery—a better mix of city and nature, skyscrapers and sky. “I was looking for a city on the coast,” she says, “and I was attracted to the idea that in Seattle you could be on a boat and then go skiing later that same day.”

A few years after she arrived, though, the economy collapsed in 2008. Cooper had been working as architect for 13 years at that point, but she suddenly found herself out of work and seriously questioning her career future.

Laura Cooper

After 13 years as an architect and suddenly out of work, Laura Cooper started exploring a career change and options for graduate study–which led to a fortuitous visit with Professor Gordon Bradley at SEFS.

While unemployed and weighing a return to school, she started thinking about sustainability, urban planning and landscape architecture, and she was especially drawn to the interface between the built and natural environments. But when she started looking at schools for graduate study, she had a sense the design community wasn’t adequately grounded in ecology. She began hunting for a more interdisciplinary program where she could learn the basic concepts and language of ecology, yet also marry that background with her own experience and interest in planning.

While scouting the University of Washington (UW), one of the first people she met was Professor Gordon Bradley at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS). He outlined the social sciences element of the SEFS curriculum, that she could explore urban planning and also have the freedom to learn about ecosystem management.

The timing of her visit couldn’t have been better.

SEFS and Professor Bradley have a long-standing relationship and partnership with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR). And around the time Cooper was considering UW, Doug McLelland, assistant region manager for the South Puget Sound Region (and an alumnus of SEFS), had reached out to Bradley to see whether he had a graduate student who could coordinate a large-scale planning project. McClelland needed someone to facilitate the planning process for the new 53,000-acre Snoqualmie Corridor Recreation Planning Area, which stretches along Interstate 90 heading west from Seattle.

Bradley pitched the idea to Cooper, and she was sold.

It sounded like a perfect match. She’d get immersive training in sustainability planning, and also in the public planning process itself. She’d gain experience in ecosystem management and working with multiple state partners and agencies, as well as a citizen advisory committee. Plus, there was the added benefit of familiarity and contributing to a local project. “I’d be working on a landscape I already cared about,” she says.

Cooper soon enrolled as a graduate student with Bradley and began sizing up the scope of the work at hand.

The Snoqualmie Corridor Recreation Planning Area

A Planner’s Pot of Gold

The project involved creating a recreation management plan for DNR-managed lands in the Snoqualmie Corridor near North Bend, Issaquah and Snoqualmie that would guide how DNR manages recreation for the next 10 to 15 years. The planning area is situated in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and includes well-known destinations such as Mount Si, Mailbox Peak, the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley, Tiger Mountain and Rattlesnake Ridge (a few of Bradley’s previous graduate students had helped facilitate similar recreation plans in this area).

Because the DNR lands form part of a continuous landscape of public lands—including Taylor Mountain, Grand Ridge and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, among others—part of the goal was to look for opportunities to connect the landscapes together and improve access to local communities so that people wouldn’t always need to get into their car to get to the forest.

Planning in such an expansive landscape is challenging because it involves a number of different types of DNR-managed lands: working forests or state trust lands that provide revenue for schools, universities and other public institutions; natural resources conservation areas (NRCAs) that conserve scenic landscapes, outstanding examples of native ecosystems and habitat for threatened and endangered species; and small isolated blocks of rural forest lands surrounded by rural residences. All of these landscapes provide opportunities for recreation, and the plan needed to take these multiple goals and contexts into consideration.

Laura Cooper

The Middle Fork Valley, recently designated an NRCA, was one of the areas that needed a new recreation plan (also not a terrible place to be exploring!).

The DNR has fine-tuned a process for gathering citizen input and developing recreation plans, says Cooper, and she felt fortunate to have such a proven system already in place. They have recommendations and guidelines for all aspects of the planning process, including how to involve the public, how to conduct a meeting, and how to solicit constructive feedback and address sensitive subjects. They also draw on the strength of a dynamic internal staff of planners, foresters, naturalists, cartographers and scientists. At the same time, this project represented a massive new undertaking, and it all started with harnessing the ideas and buy-in of diverse communities along the corridor.

The process kicked off with a big public meeting at Snoqualmie Middle School back in February 2012. Cooper says there was tremendous energy in the room. After listening to a 30-minute presentation, attendees were able to visit different stations with maps of the various landscapes and ask questions and say what they would like to see—and then they could actually draw their ideas on the maps.

At the meeting, a group of invested residents and other interested parties filled out cards to be considered for a citizen planning committee. The DNR ended up selecting 17 members, who would then be dedicating more than a year of their time for monthly meetings. “That’s where the real planning happens,” says Cooper, and her role would be to help facilitate those meetings and keep the process moving, making sure everyone’s voice was heard and included, and basically hold all the pieces together.

Marching Orders

The process was perfectly timed with the seasons. Starting in March, the first few months of committee meetings were held indoors. Members learned about the planning area, DNR’s mission and different types of recreation, and studied suitability maps that identified sensitive areas based on biological, geological, soil and management criteria.

Laura Cooper

Cooper and her “big red truck,” which she rumbled all over the 53,000-acre corridor.

Some of the landscapes already had existing management plans that needed to be updated, while others needed new plans. The Middle Fork Snoqualmie block was recently designated an NRCA and needed a new management plan, and the Raging River State Forest was recently acquired and did not have any established trail systems in place—representing a tremendous opportunity to be part of the first team to develop a recreation plan for it.

All the background work was completed in time for a summer of field trips. In May, Cooper started scheduling field trips to explore the 53,000-acre planning area, and throughout that summer she organized roughly 23 excursions. “That was probably the most fun of all of it,” says Cooper, “and the best part is they gave me a big red truck to drive around, and the keys to all the logging roads.”

Cooper’s crews scoured the territory and imagined a range of possibilities: identifying views, finding connections and looking for areas that would be good for river access, picnicking and different types of recreation and experiences (such as environmental education, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking or equestrian paths). They found a little waterfall that had been written about by Harvey Manning, an environmental activist and author of many hiking guides. They even explored the site of an old abandoned logging town, finding remnants of saws, boilers, kitchen equipment and glass bottles.

After a summer of exploration, it was time for the team to sit down and start drafting proposals. Cooper had prepared a survey that was administered in August to gain further public input, and she incorporated those results into their field research. In September, the committee started brainstorming and drawing ideas on maps. In these proposals, says Cooper, they were blocking out areas for different recreational uses, identifying key connections and access points. After several iterations, working through a number of alternatives during the course of several planning meetings, the committee successfully closed out the year in December with a final preferred version, known as Concept F.

Laura Cooper

One of the great takeaways for Cooper–in addition to gaining invaluable experience with the planning process–was discovering incredible natural areas so close to Seattle.

In January, Cooper began wrapping up the entire process, taming and analyzing a beastly set of data and surveys, and enough maps to give a seasoned cartographer panic sweats. She emerged from the maelstrom with a detailed document and concept maps for the recreation plan, which she and McClelland are presenting back to the committee this month, and later to the public for final review and comment.

After that, implementation could start as early as this fall. Cooper is excited to see the concepts she and her committee put together take real shape in the coming years—to see trails get designed and built, and eventually see people out trekking the same paths she helped envision and blaze. One of the amazing takeaways for Cooper, after all, was getting to discover some incredibly beautiful natural areas within about 45 minutes from Seattle. They’re so easy to reach, and this recreation plan will soon open up new territory for countless others to enjoy and explore.

Another more immediate payoff after completing this plan, of course, is that Cooper will be wrapping up her Master’s Degree here at SEFS. She’s defending her thesis on Friday, June 7, so you can come out and see the fruits of her academic labors—on a different project, interviewing family forest owners about how they approach their land—in person at 10 a.m. in Anderson 22!

Photos © Laura Cooper.