Grad Student Spotlight: Cameron Newell

Few of our graduate students at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS) arrive here by following the exact same script. After all, the very nature of pursuing scientific training—always asking questions, always refining methods and ideas—tends to favor detours over simple, direct routes.

That’s why many of our students make their way here more like a pinball than an arrow; not out of aimlessness or lack of dedication, by any means, but by seeking diverse experiences and allowing those to shape and guide them. These students come with an appreciation that some of the most exciting discoveries and decisions can happen on the go, firsthand and unplanned, and that being open to the world is often the best way to find your place in it. In many ways, that’s how Cameron Newell found his way to the Master of Environmental Horticulture program at SEFS a year ago.

Cameron Newell

Newell on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos.

Newell grew up about an hour northwest of Melbourne, Australia. After earning a bachelor of science with majors in botany and zoology at Monash University in Melbourne, he spent a few years exploring an assortment of jobs, from driving seeding drills and rouseabouting on farms in the west, to working for the Victorian state government one summer as a firefighter. “It was the wettest summer in 100 years,” he says, “so I ended up filling sandbags more than putting out fires. It was a good thing, I guess, but you don’t make as much money that way.”

For one 18-month stretch, Newell hooked up with a filmmaker who was looking for a camera assistant on a documentary. The project involved capturing a year in the life of crocodiles, following them from babies and nesting mothers on through to mating. Newell didn’t have any experience as a cameraman, but before he knew it he was spending weeks in the field filming up around Darwin and other remote reaches of the country. “It was kind of scary most of the time,” he says, “sitting in a little flat-bottom boat filming crocodiles.”

At the end of that string of jobs, Newell set off with his brother on a seven-month backpacking adventure through South America. They flew into Santiago, Chile, and then trekked through Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador before spending a short time in Colombia. Near the tail end of the journey, while still in Ecuador, Newell met Susan North—his “soul mate, an amazing woman from San Diego,” he says. “My plans changed a bit from there.”

So after their last stop in Colombia, the brothers headed their separate ways, with Newell traveling up to the United States with Susie. From there, they would spend the next two and a half years dating long distance while Newell worked on several other documentaries—including films about kangaroos, flying foxes and red crabs—and applied for a green card to live in the country. When he was finally able to join Susie in San Diego full-time, he spent about two and a half years working in environmental consulting.

Newell

Newell, left, working on the documentary about crocodiles he helped film in Australia.

During that time, he’d been thinking about ways to get more engaged with environmental restoration and sustainable farming. “My parents had a nursery growing up,” he says, “so I was always growing plants. I had my own little side business doing small-scale stuff on farms, putting in windbreaks, things like that. But sustainable agriculture has become a bigger interest of mine through time and jobs, and I wanted to work out a way to pair agriculture and restoration.”

He started digging into potential graduate programs that would give him the flexibility and hands-on field application he wanted. That’s what attracted him to the Master of Environmental Horticulture degree program with SEFS, where he’s now working with Professors Kern Ewing and Jim Fridley. His research focuses on habitat restoration for pollinators in small agricultural areas in Seattle and surrounding communities, including Duvall and Carnation. “Pollination is a big thing at the moment with the collapse of the honey bee populations,” he says. “There’s going to be an increased need for native pollinators.”

Newell has just completed his first year here, and this summer he’s carrying out some pollinator surveys in a few local towns to determine which pollinators are around and active. He’s also gotten involved with the local project tracking the reemergence of Western Bumble Bees in the Seattle area, so he’ll be out chasing bees from time to time.

He has about a year left in his program, and after that Newell says he’d eventually like to work in Africa or somewhere else in the developing world. What happens in the meantime, of course, is all part of the adventure—and could end up leading him in another direction entirely!

All photos © Cameron Newell.

Newell
Traveling is still very much in Newell’s blood. In fact, he just got back from 10 days in Canada with his father. “My old man came out,” he says, “and we rented an RV in Vancouver and drove up to Banff and Jasper.”

Campus Project: Help Restore the Kincaid Ravine Forest!

Our friends at the UW Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER-UW) and EarthCorps passed along word of a few volunteer work parties coming up to help restore Kincaid Ravine to a healthy and beautiful campus forest!

A 2.2-acre urban forest located in the northeast corner of campus, Kincaid Ravine is currently dominated by invasive species and deciduous trees that are coming to the end of their natural lifespan. It is a declining forest that is gradually losing the ability to perform important ecological functions.

Restoration EventsAs part of the process of restoring this forest to health, the first event of the quarter—organized by SER-UW—will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15, along the Burke-Gilman Trail under the 45th Street Viaduct. You’ve probably walked or cycled through there countless times, and now you have a chance to get involved and remove some invasive plants. Tools, gloves and refreshments will be provided, so all you have to do is show up ready to dig in!

After this kick-off work party, EarthCorps has partnered with the UW Campus Sustainability Fund to line up five additional opportunities at Kincaid Ravine for the winter and spring quarters. Among the other key partners in this effort are Martha Moritz, a graduate student in Environmental Horticulture who is serving as the student project manager, and SEFS Professors Kern Ewing and Jim Fridley (as well as administrative support from UW Botanic Gardens).

As before, tools, gloves and refreshments will be provided for each event, but EarthCorps asks that you sign up beforehand if you’re able to come.

Saturday, Feb. 22: EarthCorps work party from 10 a.m-2 p.m. Invasive plant removal. Sign up now!

Saturday, March 1: EarthCorps work party from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Planting and mulching. Sign up now!

Thursday, March 6: EarthCorps work party from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Invasive plant removal. Sign up now!

Saturday, March 15: EarthCorps work party from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. This will be the last work party in winter quarter. You’ll be doing a lot of planting and mulching. Sign up now!

Saturday, April 19: EarthCorps Earth Day work party from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. to kick off spring quarter. Sign up now!

Learn more about the Kincaid Ravine restoration project, and please contact Yiyan Ge, volunteer coordinator, or Martha Moritz, student project manager, with any other questions.

Thesis Defense: Lindsey Hamilton!

Lindsey HamiltonThere’s a thesis doubleheader this Tuesday, May 28, so after Lauren Grand kicks things off at 8:30 a.m., head over to the Center for Urban Horticulture to see Lindsey Hamilton present her Master of Environmental Horticulture research at 10:30 a.m. in the Isaacson Classroom!

“Skokomish Savanna Fire Restoration and the Effects on Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinium) and Salal (Gaultheria shallon), Olympic National Forest, Wash.”

All along western Washington, fire has been used for thousands of years by Native American tribes in order to maintain open landscapes that in effect promote particular plant communities and grazing habitat. This study takes place in the southeast Olympic Peninsula, on land that was traditionally burned, likely every 2 to 10 years by the Skokomish Tribe. In this moist Mediterranean climate, a fire regime not imposed by humans would have occurred only every 90 to 300 years. With fire suppression beginning in the late 1800s, a Douglas fir – salal (Pseudotsuga menziesii – Gaultheria shallon) forest established in a once prairie/savanna/ woodland matrix. In 2002, the Olympic National Forest began to restore a 32-acre portion with the intent to enhance landscape and biological diversity and to restore a culturally significant ecosystem.

Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinium) and salal plants were once managed by the use of fire by the Skokomish Tribe in this matrix ecosystem, because of their important food value. Studies suggest that they can co-dominate a fire-managed system in the Pacific Northwest. The objective of Hamilton’s research is to understand how restoration efforts using controlled fires have affected the distribution of bracken fern and salal with respect to environmental factors in order to better understand how to manage for a savanna with a co-dominant understory of both.

Hamilton’s committee chair is Professor Kern Ewing, and other members include James Fridley and David Peter.

Photo © Lindsey Hamilton.