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.

Photo Gallery: Pack Forest Summer Crew Gets Underway!

On June 19, four SEFS undergrads began a nine-week internship at Pack Forest as part of the long-running Summer Crew. For the rest of summer quarter, these students—Nicole Lau, Xin Deng, Brian Chan and Joshua Clark—will be involved in a set of diverse projects while receiving hands-on field training in sustainable forest management in the 4,300 acres of Pack Forest. Graduate students Kiwoong Lee, Matthew Aghai and Emilio Vilanova, as well as Forester Jeff Kelly and Professor Greg Ettl, will be working with the interns as they develop skills from forest mensuration to species identification, tackling projects from repairing roads and trails to assisting with research installations, and also taking some field trips.

It’s a tremendous, hallowed experience in SEFS history, and you can check out some great photos from their first couple weeks of work!

Photos © Emilio Vilanova.

2017 Pack Forest Summer Crew

Photo Gallery: 2017 Pack Forest Spring Planting!

During spring break last week, three SEFS undergrads—Rachael Cumberland, Paul Heffner and Nicole Lau—took part in the annual Spring Planting down at Pack Forest!

For five days, these intrepid students planted a wide variety of seedlings, including Sitka spruce, Douglas-fir, Pacific redcedar, redwood and larch (among others), in different plots around Pack Forest. It was a productive week, says SEFS doctoral student Matthew Aghai, who worked with the students for most of the break. “Who would have thought this year’s crew of three could perform with the strength and speed of 10!”

Take a look at a photo gallery from their memorable week in the woods!

Nicole, Rachael and Paul doing their best album cover shot from Pack Forest.

2016 Pack Forest Summer Crew: Season Recap

For nine weeks this summer, five SEFS undergrads worked as interns down at Pack Forest getting immersive, hands-on field training in sustainable forest management. The students—Paul Albertine, Dana Chapman, Dana Reid, Chris Scelsa and Robert Swan—were part of the annual Pack Forest Summer Crew, and they recently wrapped up another successful season.

2016_09_summer-crew-recap2This year, the students got to work with several SEFS graduate students, as well as Jeff Kelly, the forester at Pack Forest. They participated in a wide range of activities, including a great amount of time measuring 85 permanent forest plots from the Continuous Forest Inventory (CFI) project. Doctoral student Emilio Vilanova says they became true field experts and were able to update vital information for the sustainable management of forests at Pack.

Other tasks for the students included assisting Matthew Aghai with his doctoral research, both at Pack Forest and at the Cedar River Watershed, and helping maintain a throughfall exclusion project led by Professor Greg Ettl and doctoral student Kiwoong Lee. They were critical in the upkeep of Pack Forest’s trail network, as well as the measurement of additional small-scale research projects, from regeneration surveys to the installation of other research plots. They also got to take three field trips, including official visits to Rainier Veneer and Silvaseed Company facilities, along with a two-day camping trip to the Cedar River Watershed.

In short, as always, the Pack Forest Summer Crew had an incredibly packed, productive and memorable internship. Take a look at a gallery of photos from their summer!

Photos © Emilio Vilanova.

2016_09_summer-crew-recap3

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

ESRM 425: Fire-Prone Forests of the Pacific Northwest

This past September, Professor Jerry Franklin led his annual two-week field course (“ESRM 425: Ecosystem Management”) to explore fire-prone forests of the Pacific Northwest. This year’s group toured sites in Northern California, central Oregon and southern Washington, visiting a number of private, public and tribal forests, and camping along the way.

Dry coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest face unique management issues due to altered disturbance regimes, forest structural change, land conversion, wildlife habitat preservation, carbon markets and climate change. So as part of this course, students got to learn about historical management strategies, met with a range of agency personnel, land managers and other stakeholders, and discussed a suite of current ecosystem management challenges and options.

SEFS grad student Matthew Aghai, who is studying with Professor Greg Ettl and served as the TA for the field course, called the experience “truly epic, relevant and eye-opening.” One particularly memorable part of the adventure, he says, involved a visit to Green Diamond Resource Company property, where students met with a Green Diamond biologist and got to see—and even feed—a pair of northern spotted owls!

Aghai took scores of photos from the trip, and he generously shared a batch of them for a slideshow, which includes a sequence from the spotted owl feeding. It might have been Professor Franklin’s last time leading students on this trip, so soak up the scenes from one of our most popular field excursions!

Photos © Matthew Aghai.

Click here to view these pictures larger

Field Work Day at Pack Forest

Two weeks ago, right after the first snow of the season, SEFS graduate students Matthew Aghai and Emilio Vilanova joined Dave Cass and Pat Larkin down at Pack Forest for a field work day at the Canyon Loop site within the “Through-fall Exclusion” project.

Pack Forest

Dave Cass climbs a tower near the Canyon Loop site to work on a frozen component.

The main goal of this research is to simulate the conditions of drought and its effects on managed forests with different stand conditions, and several members of Professor Greg Ettl’s lab—mostly led by Kiwoong Lee—have been installing panels and collecting detailed measurements of many bio-climatic variables, including soil moisture, tree growth, precipitation and temperature, among other factors.

While working at the site on December 1, Vilanova took advantage of the first snow and open skies to snap a few shots of the action, including the awesome view of Mount Rainier below, taken a few yards from the Canyon Loop site!

Photos © Emilio Vilanova.

Pack Forest

Field Research Kits Now Available for Students

No matter the remoteness of your field site, and no matter how much icy rain is lashing your face and hands, you can now thumb your nose at the obstacles and elements and carry on bravely—and ever so ably—thanks to an impressive arsenal of equipment available in 10 new field research kits!

Field Kits

SEFS grad students Matthew Aghai (right) and Kiwoong Lee try out the field kits at Cedar River Watershed.

Purchased this past spring through a $30,437.95 grant from the Student Technology Fee (STF), these field kits are designed to make collecting and sharing data in the field immensely more efficient and effective. The kits are available for students to check out and use for free, and they feature a wide range of gear, including iPads with solar keyboards, clinometers, 30-meter Spencer® tapes, digital waterproof calipers, rangefinders, portable power packs, Garmin™ GPS units and other tools to aid research on the go. Five of the kits are more basic, and five are more advanced, and they are all stored in Winkenwerder Hall on the main UW campus.

“They’ve been hugely useful,” says SEFS graduate student Matthew Aghai, who was involved in securing the STF grant and has already put the kits to work this summer.

So who can use them?
The kits are tailored for College of the Environment graduate and undergraduate students conducting field research, but they are open to all students at the University of Washington.

How do you get started?
Whether you’re heading out for a weekend or an entire field season—or even as part of a class with a field component—the kits are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Also, after you’ve examined and decided to check out a kit, make sure to factor in some time to meet with SEFS IT to load the software and apps you’ll need for your research, because you won’t be able to add new programs from the field.

Email Matthew Aghai to learn more and check out a kit!

Photo of kits in action © Emilio Vilanova; photo of opened kit © SEFS.

Field Research Kit