SEFS Students Win Academic Competition Against University of British Columbia

Twenty-four hours is all the students were given to assess the forest and develop a stewardship plan for a 35-acre, 100-plus-year-old forest tract on King County Parks land. That was the task this past weekend at the 10th Annual International Silviculture Challenge, which pitted six students from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS)—Paul Albertine, Aoife Fae, Anthony Martinez, Timothy Seaman, Chris Scelsa and Brendan Whyte—against six students from the University of British Columbia (UBC)—Devon Campbell, Alexia Constantanou, Shawna Girard, Flavie Pelletier, Codie Sundie and Cole Troughton.

Professor Greg Ettl led this year’s group for SEFS and has been involved in the challenge since its inception. In addition to Professor Larson, the UBC team was led by Professor Steve Mitchell and doctoral student Adam Polinko.

SEFS undergrad Aoife Fae, who was part of the winning team with fellow students Paul Albertine and Timothy Seaman.

To kick off the challenge on Friday, March 3, the students—broken into two teams per university—met with King County Parks Forester Bill Loeber at noon to learn the specifics of competition. The students then spent three and a half hours taking forest measurements on the plot to inform their management plans.

David Kimmett, natural lands program manager for King County Parks, designed this year’s challenge, which asked the students to design a canopy walkway for the public, and silviculture treatments that would maintain ecological health of the forest and also provide opportunities for recreation and education. One of the key considerations was that the forest needed to provide between $100,000 to $200,000 in funds to support building the canopy walkway, and then annual revenue to maintain the facility. Another was that the canopy walk had to be constructed from materials harvested on site.

At 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 4, the four student groups presented their plans to a distinguished panel of judges, which included Loeber, King County Parks Environmental Program Manager Richard Martin, and SEFS Affiliate Professor Rolf Gersonde. The competition was close, as all of the prescriptions were strong, and the judges deliberated for more than 30 minutes. But in the end, the SEFS team of Paul Albertine, Aoife Fae, and Timothy Seaman delivered the winning plan!

Please join us congratulating these students when you see them. And students, if you’d like to participate in next year’s challenge, you can start preparing by signing up for ESRM 323 this spring!

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The Silviculture Challenge was created in 2005 when Professor Emeritus David Ford from SEFS made a phone call to Professor Bruce Larson at UBC and challenged him to an academic silviculture competition. The challenge was born out of a spirited debate as to which faculty and university possessed the best silviculture students and program. The two universities have since alternated hosting the challenge, with UBC winning the past three before SEFS broke the streak this year and returned the award plaque to our campus.

Photo © Greg Ettl.

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