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.

This Saturday (3/4): SEFS to Host Annual Silviculture Challenge

Coming up this weekend, SEFS will welcome a team from the University of British Columbia (UBC) to compete against our students in the 10th annual International Silviculture Challenge!

This year’s challenge will focus on Preston Ridge Forest (marked in yellow), located 20 miles east of downtown Seattle along Interstate 90.

Professor Emeritus David Ford and former UW Professor Bruce Larson first developed the contest when Bruce left for UBC. In the decade since, the two universities have alternated hosting the challenge, and this year SEFS is partnering with King County Parks to have the students create a management and prescription plan on a forest site near Preston, Wash. King County Parks personnel Dave Kimmett, Bill Loeber and Richard Martin have all been involved in designing the challenge, and Richard and Bill will join SEFS Affiliate Rolf Gersonde as judges Saturday afternoon.

Led by Professor Greg Ettl, the team from SEFS includes five undergraduate students: Paul Albertine, Aoife Fae, Anthony Martinez, Timothy Seaman and Chris Scelsa. We wish them good luck as they face off against their UBC counterparts, and we’ll share the results—as well as more specific details about the challenge—next week!

2015 Silviculture Challenge: Helicopter Logging at UBC’s Loon Lake Lodge

Two weeks ago, on March 6 and 7, six SEFS students headed up to Canada to compete against the University of British Columbia (UBC) in the 9th Annual International Silviculture Challenge. Professor Emeritus David Ford and former UW Professor Bruce Larson, who is now at UBC, first organized the contest, and this year marked the ninth consecutive year the two schools have come together in the spirit of academic competition. Host sites alternate between the United States and Canada, and UBC staged the 2015 challenge in the 10,000-acre Malcolm Knapp Research Forest (MKRF).

Silviculture Challenge

Audrey Riddell, one of four undergrads on the SEFS crew.

Professor Greg Ettl, who coaches the SEFS crew, started recruiting his team about six weeks ago. He prioritizes undergrads who have taken a silviculture class but often mixes in one or two master’s students. This year’s team ended up featuring four undergrads, Jack Armstrong, Colin Kirkmire, Emily Richmond and Audrey Riddell, and two grad students, Hollis Crapo and Ben Roe.

For the competition, each university divides its students into two teams of three to tackle a particular silviculture assignment, and this year’s challenge ranked among the most difficult and comprehensive to date, says Professor Ettl.

The core of the challenge was to plan a harvest on a highly sensitive site next to the Loon Lake Lodge. The lodge hosts students and corporate retreats, with many high-paying clients expressing some concern over viewing harvested forest clearings. So the students’ task was to develop a harvest strategy that would net a profit of $100,000 for UBC while also preserving the aesthetics of the site. Due to the topography and accessibility constraints, the site would have to be harvested by helicopter and hauled across the lake to landings.

The teams had 24 hours to visit the site and prepare a plan for the 60-acre block—including the short-term helicopter logging and also a medium- and long-term silvicultural plan—and then present their findings on Saturday to a panel of three judges: Bryce Bancroft, principal of Symmetree Consulting in Victoria; Hélène Marcoux, instructor in sustainable resource management at the British Columbia Institute of Technology; and Paul Lawson, director of UBC Research Forests.

The Site
Located near Maple Ridge, B.C. (about 60 kilometers east of Vancouver), the MKRF is a mixture of 145-year-old western hemlock, western red cedar and Douglas-fir, with some remnant old-growth veterans tucked into the mix. The forest is managed by UBC for a variety of research, social, ecological and timber needs, and it’s also home to the Gallant Enterprises sawmill, which specializes in high value-added wood products, and the Loon Lake Research and Education Center, which provides wilderness recreation and education opportunities.

Elevation throughout the MKRF is highly variable, ranging from 1,000 meters to near sea level, and several other specific site conditions complicated the assignment—most notably a steep slope of up to 60 percent, and proximity to the lake, which provides the lodge’s drinking water supply. The section to be harvested also sits in direct view of lodge visitors from the new Bentley Dining Hall.

Silviculture Challenge

Loon Lake in the Malcolm Knapp Research Forest.

The Results
Professor Ettl says all four groups produced excellent harvest plans given the constraints, but one of the teams from UBC—with students Carrie Huang, Anita Li and Mikayla Roberts—ended up edging ahead for first place in a very tight competition.

The SEFS teams had prescribed a general thin through most of the stand to minimize observable impacts and preserve the overall aesthetic feel of the forest for lodge visitors. The winning team from UBC won on a plan that involved patch cuts and then snap-and-fly selection logging of high-quality cedar logs to reach the $100,000 threshold. This group also offered ideas for future research in the stand, ways to possibly involve visitors in the site and its operations, and an idea for increased recreational value.

Despite the result, the SEFS team thoroughly enjoyed the experience. “I learned a lot,” says undergrad Emily Richmond, whose first experience with silviculture was as part of the Pack Forest Summer Crew. “I’m in the wildlife conservation focus of ESRM, so I focused on the aesthetics and wildlife aspect of the challenge. It was a huge learning experience for me and gave me some insight into what I might have to incorporate in my wildlife endeavors in terms of forestry management.”

Silviculture Challenge

With steep slopes up to 60 percent, Loon Lake proved an especially challenging site for the competition, but the SEFS team thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Hollis Crapo, a Master of Forest Resources student, came away feeling equally positive. “I enjoyed myself immensely,” he says. “Each team had a slightly different approach to their prescription, and what ultimately decided the winner was their ability to tie the project back to larger cultural values, both of the region and the Malcolm Knapp Research Forest. It reminded us that we don’t do forestry in a vacuum. Especially if we’re working as a public entity, we all have to deal with a social license to practice forestry, and the little things we can do to tie our work to others in our community, work done in the past, and work done in the future, the better we’ll be  able to remain sustainable in our practices.”

After this year’s results, UBC now holds a 6-3 edge, but there’s no time for licking wounds. Next year, SEFS will be the host, and the UW silviculture program is already planning for the challenge—which will be 10-year anniversary of the contest!

Photos © Courtesy of Greg Ettl.