Undergrad Spotlight: Julie Hower

Julie Hower, a senior Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) major, split her childhood between the two coasts: first out west in the Los Angeles area, and then back east near Tampa, Fla., for her high school years. By the time she started looking at colleges, though, she felt the call of the West once again.

“Because I grew up in LA,” she says, “my dad would take me to Yosemite and Sequoia, so I really missed the West Coast.”

She considered a number of schools, including a few in California, but a University of Washington campus tour in 2008 sealed it for her. “It felt like a great fit,” she says.

Julie Hower

“Each national park is different, but Yellowstone is something else,” says Hower, who has also worked on summer projects at Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks.

Hower arrived on campus originally interested in studying marine biology and fisheries, but later in her freshman year she attended a seminar with Professor Aaron Wirsing involving his research with tiger sharks and dugongs, and wolves and elk. She loved the concept of predator-prey ecology and quickly shifted her focus to the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS). “I knew I wanted to be a wildlife major,” she says.

In the next few years, she took advantage of a wide range of field courses, including Spring Comes to the Cascades (ESRM 401) with Professor Tom Hinckley, and Wildlife Research Techniques (ESRM 351) with Professor Steve West. Then she took “Wildlife Conservation in Northwest Ecosystems” (ESRM 459), which begins during spring break with an intensive week in Yellowstone National Park. Led by Professors John Marzluff, Monika Moskal and Wirsing, the course focuses on a range of wildlife and management issues in the park, including corvid distribution and wolf predation.

The experience really resonated with Hower, and this past winter she signed up to take part in a long-running study of the wolves in Yellowstone as part of the Yellowstone Wolf Project.

Back in 1995 and 1996, after decades of wolves being completely absent from the ecosystem, 31 were reintroduced to the park. Since then, the Yellowstone Park Foundation has worked with the National Park Service (NPS) to research and closely monitor the wolves, including carrying out two 30-day winter surveys every year—one at the start of the season, and one at the end. Technicians receive a small stipend and free housing, and they operate as volunteers for the NPS.

Julie Hower

Hower sizes up a wolf track in Yellowstone.

This year marked the 19th winter of observations. From the beginning, one of the project leaders has been Rick McIntyre, a biological technician for the Yellowstone Wolf Project who’s been involved with monitoring the park’s wolves since 1996. McIntyre is famous for the countless hours he’s invested in these observations, at one point logging more than 3,000 consecutive days heading out to look for wolves. The survey crews who work with him don’t quite have to match that standard, but they don’t fall too far off that pace.

Each volunteer is assigned to follow one specific pack. Hower and the other members of her crew—which included two graduate students, one from South Dakota and another from Wisconsin—were charged with tracking the seven wolves of the Junction Butte Pack.

For 30 days in March, their weekly schedule involved six days in the field and one day off. Using radio telemetry, they’d drive through their pack’s territory along the main park road and try to locate the wolves, and then hike out for a closer view when they zeroed in on the pack. Their job was to record a number of behaviors, including monitoring interactions with elk, bison and bears, as well as predator-prey encounters: the chase and the attack, noting which wolves did what, whether it was a pup that initiated or the alpha took the lead. They also performed field necropsies of prey to determine the age, sex and condition of the individual.

Julie Hower

Her crew once spotted a grizzly and a wolf in the same area, and Hower says they were jumping up and down with excitement—albeit from a safe distance.

They’d routinely put in 13-hour days, topped off by some paperwork at the end of it. “It’s not a glamorous job,” says Hower, “and the days get very long and tiring. But it’s an awesome and rewarding experience seeing these amazing animals in the wild.”

Of course, finding the wolves in the first place was no easy task. “A lot of people have this ideal that you’re going to see wolves every day,” she says. Yet you’re talking about tracking 80 or so wolves—or actually seven, in the case of this one pack—ranging through Yellowstone’s nearly 3,500 square miles.

Numbers aren’t the only challenge, either. During Hower’s first week in the park, the temperature was about -22 degrees, and the wind was howling with 50-60 mph gusts. Toting their equipment, her crew spent hours hiking to the top of a ridge in pursuit of the wolves, and they didn’t get their first glimpse until the third day. They set up their tripod and spotting scopes, hands shaking in the bitter cold, bracing against the wind and hoping they weren’t blown off the mountain—but they had finally located the pack. “It was a grand introduction,” she says.

From then on, Hower never got tired of seeing the wolves. The excitement was fresh each day, because during the undisturbed quiet of a Yellowstone winter, you never know what’s lurking around the next bend.

“On my very last day, I was getting ready to leave the park and drive back to Seattle, and I decided to reminisce with a drive out to the Lamar Valley,” she says. “Right as I made the turn out of the Tower Ranger Station, a wolf crosses in front of my car about 10 feet ahead of me.”

Julie Hower

After a winter of surveying the wolves from a distance, Hower got to see 889F saunter across the road right in front her on her last day in the park.

It was a female, 889F, that used to be part of the Junction Butte Pack but had separated in February to go with a lone male, 755M. “I was just in shock and laughing,” says Hower. “I couldn’t believe it was happening as I was ready to leave the park.”

That was a fine send-off after five incredible weeks in the park, and she’s now back on campus wrapping up her final quarter before graduation this June. Graduate school might be down the road, yet for now she wants more field experience. In fact, she just accepted a position as a Wildlife Biological Sciences Technician with Helena National Forest, where she’ll be surveying wolverines, Canada lynx and snowshoe hares. She’ll be living in Lincoln, Mont., and can’t wait to get started shortly after graduation.

Given her many field courses and hands-on research training, as well as field tech jobs and internships at Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park, Hower has put herself in an excellent position to thrive as a wildlife researcher—and she’s already well on her way!

“I’m so happy I came up here,” she says. “It’s one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Photos © Julie Hower.

Julie Hower

Spring Comes to the Cascades

Last week, Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley led his famous “Spring Comes to the Cascades” (ESRM 401) class on a snowshoe hike out to Spring Lake. Their object was to learn about two new species—mountain hemlock and Pacific silver fir—and understand the effect of avalanches and snowpack on ecological and ecosystem processes. The Thursday section of the class got battered with rain, sleet and the threat of avalanches, while the Saturday section, pictured below, had much better luck!

Joining the students were Professors Hinckley and Iain Robertson from Landscape Architecture. In the back row, left to right: Jaime Yazzie (ESRM), Jin Nam (PoE), Lisa Day (ESRM), Carolyn Foster (CEP), Tom Hinckley (SEFS), Kyla Caddey (ESRM), KC Christensen (LARCH), Shelby Upton (LARCH), Tyler Caulkins (BIOL), Rebecca Leafmeeker (SOC WF), Andrew Shuckhart (ESRM), Jordon Bunch (SEFS – PCMI), Zach Williams (SEFS – PCMI).

Front row, left to right: Iain Robertson, Crescent Calimpong (SEFS – MEH), Jingya Chen (ESRM), Ashley Imhof (ESRM), Mary Diamond (ESRM), Tom Jenkins (PoE), Tabatha Rood (SEFS).

Photo © Tom Hinckley.

Spring Comes to the Cascades

An October Hike with Tom Hinckley!

If those first whiffs of fall have been intoxicating to you, then make sure to sign up for a full-on autumn immersion this October when Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley leads one of his famous alumni hikes into the Methow Valley!

Methow Valley

What awaits you in the Methow Valley this October!

On Saturday, October 5, and Sunday, October 6, Hinckley is planning to gather up to 20 folks for two days of trekking. Depending on the weather, interest and ability levels, he’ll select from a range of hikes focused on Rainy and Washington passes, Cutthroat Lake and Pass, Hart’s Pass, Goat Peak and a few other options, with the goal of finding reasonable weather and subalpine larch.

For those responding early, Hinckley is offering space for about eight hikers at a house very near the Mazama Country Inn . There are two bedrooms with queen-sized beds, plus a loft with a fold-down bed and several thick sleeping pads (enough space, he found this past May, to fit eight students). The house has a large balcony and porch, and full food services and showers will be available.

You don’t have to stay there to join the fun, and faculty, staff and students are also welcome to take part. So if you’re interested in joining the hike or would like more information, contact Hinckley at hinckley@uw.edu or call 206.525.1396.

Photo © Tom Hinckley.

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.

Undergrad Spotlight: Haley Lane

It’s not easy to get a close-up of Haley Lane. Between her sailing and surfing and skiing, you’d wear out a good GPS unit just trying to keep up with her. True, some of her passions are more earthbound—gardening, for instance—and Lane doesn’t consider herself a thrill seeker (you won’t find skydiving on her to-do list). But whether she’s taking a year off school to live in Maui and sell shave ice and surf every day, or bobbing in the waves off Westport or Port Angeles, or knifing through the Columbia River in her sailboat, one thing is abundantly clear: Lane is rarely at rest.

Haley Lane

Lane rips along in her Tasar sailboat.

So as she approaches her final quarter at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS), we thought we’d share what she’s up to before she slips away to the next adventure!

When School is In
Lane is majoring in Environmental Science and Resource Management at SEFS, and her favorite courses have involved field trips, including tree identification with Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley. Four or five days a week this summer, as well, Lane has been squeezing in a few hours working for Professor Stanley Asah in the Human Dimensions of Natural Resource Management Lab. She’s helped with a few projects, and at the moment she’s involved in assessing and social acceptability of wood-based biofuels.

She started out transcribing conversations from focus groups and working on surveys to find out what community members and family forest owners think about biofuels. Having grown up around Seattle, Lane says you can feel somewhat insulated from strongly divergent perspectives, particularly when it comes to political and social issues. The biofuels project, though, has provided an unvarnished education in the state’s regional and ideological variances. “It’s been really interesting to hear different sides to the story and really see where people are coming from,” says Lane.

Haley Lane

Unless she’s in class or in the lab, you will almost certainly find Lane, left, somewhere outdoors.

The survey work has also inspired her senior capstone project. Lane hasn’t finalized the scope of her research yet, but she definitely wants to focus on responses to the first question community members answer with each survey: What do you think about biofuels made out of wood? It’s purposefully broad and open-ended, she says, to let participants share their unfiltered thoughts and interpretations. As a result, the responses capture a wealth of information about preconceptions, emotional and economic stake, and other reactions to biofuels.

When School is Out
“I first started sailing when I was little kid on my dad’s boat, and then on my own at 10,” says Lane, who grew up on Bainbridge Island. She loves the physical and mental challenge of sailing, especially in small boats, and pushing herself in friendly competition. “Plus, it makes the beer taste better at the end!”

These days, she races a 15-foot Tasar sailboat, and starting this weekend, in fact, she and her boyfriend, Anthony Boscolo, will be competing in the 2013 Tasar World Championship. Hosted by the Columbia Gorge Racing Association, the weeklong racing competition takes place August 10-17 in the Columbia River near Cascade Locks, Ore. It will be Lane’s first time racing in this regatta, and she’s expecting about 60 boats from around the world to be there. It’s a spectacular setting, if a bit windy, and they’ll be sailing three hour-long races a day.

Haley Lane

Lane has been gardening for two years, and this year she hopes to expand into more flowers and ornamental plants.

As a final tune-up, Lane and Boscolo headed down to the Columbia Gorge this past weekend for their last regatta before the Worlds—and they won! Not all of the competitors had arrived yet, but quite a few international teams were already down and testing out the waters. “The out-of-towners will start to figure out the local conditions this week,” she says, “but it was a very satisfying win nonetheless, no matter how we place at the Worlds!”

Next Up
This fall, Lane plans to finish up her coursework and graduate. She’d like to find a job related to her major, but she admits her career future still looks pretty hazy—and isn’t likely to sharpen too much before she’s out of school. Far more tangible on her horizon, though, is a February trip to Mexico for a wedding. A friend down there has a few extra boards, she says, so she hopes to sneak in a little surfing!

Photos © Haley Lane.

Haley Lane

Lane, in sail #505, turns a corner in first place during a Tasar race in the Columbia Gorge.

 

 

This Sunday: Alumni Hike with Tom Hinckley!

This Sunday, July 14, Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley will be leading a group hike to discover some secret treasures on the east side of Squak Mountain in the Issaquah Alps. So if you’d like to get out and celebrate the sunshine, strap on your boots and come out and join him!

Tom Hinckley

A spring ski trip to Shrode Lake in Prince William Sound effectively captures the exact OPPOSITE of your potential visual experiences this coming Sunday, says Hinckley. To be a real hiker, one must love the extremes!

The plan is to hike the Sycamore Access Trail to the East Ridge Trail. From there, depending on interest and ability, they will either trek just beyond the summit of Southeast Peak—to see a very large old-growth tree on an unofficial and recently developed trail, about 1,500 feet in elevation gain—or up to Thrush Gap and then Phil’s Creek Trail, down to the Eastside Trail and back to Thrush Gap via the Gap Connector. You’ll experience a wide diversity of stand histories and compositions, as well as some interesting and infrequently used trails. Elevation gain using this latter route is closer to 2,000 feet, and there’s even an opportunity, if energy and time allow, to head another 500 feet to the top.

“This is a gem for forest and understory lovers,” says Hinckley. “It’s close to Seattle but not like the West Tiger III or Mount Si trails with regard to numbers, it gives a great workout, and it will rekindle memories of Dave Scott or Reini Stettler or Linda Brubaker from our school training.”

Hikers should meet at noon in the Issaquah High School parking lot. Hinckley recommends carpooling since there is limiting parking at the trailhead, and you’ll have to bring your own water and provisions. Students, faculty and staff are also invited, and if you’re interested in joining, please email Hinckley (hinckley@uw.edu) to maximize car space and make sure he’s expecting you!

Also, hold October 5 and 6 open for a Methow Valley hike to see the subalpine larches!

Photo © Tom Hinckley
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SEFS Students March into the Methow Valley

Two weekends ago, a group of eight SEFS students headed out to the Methow Valley, north of Lake Chelan in eastern Washington, for two days of focused field study with Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley.

Methow Valley

Students coring a Ponderosa Pine.

Helping to lead the course (ESRM 491B) were two SEFS alumni: Susan Prichard, a fire and landscape ecologist stationed in Winthrop, and Connie Mehmel, a forest entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service at the Forest Insect and Disease Service Center in Wenatchee. Prichard and Mehmel worked with the students to understand eastside forest dynamics and the roles that climate, introduced and native insects and diseases, fire and fire suppression have on forests—from the stand to the landscape level. Students contrasted an unmanaged stand with a stand undergoing a recent forest restoration prescription, and how these two different stands would have different vulnerabilities to fire, insects and pathogens.

The next day, students met with Brian Fisher of the Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation to learn about riparian systems and human impacts (positive and negative) on these systems.

It was the first time Hinckley had organized this particular field trip, which he offered as an offshoot of his long-running “Spring Comes to the Cascades” course. The crew drove out late Friday afternoon and returned Sunday evening, and the goal was to focus more intensively and comprehensively on one study area.

“Usually, when I do field trips and we’re out walking, we don’t ever stay in one place for more than 20 minutes,” says Hinckley. “But we stayed in this one location for close to four hours. We cored trees, looked at the soil, measured and identified all the trees and seedlings, and identified all the coverage of the understory plants. Students really gained some firsthand knowledge in how to do a study.”

The class represented a wide range of backgrounds and majors, as well as undergrads and graduate students. Depending on their feedback, Hinckley says there’s potential to expand the course in the future, or to venture to new regions of the state—such as the North Cascades Base Camp.

Photo © Tom Hinckley.

Dissertation Defense: Ailene Ettinger!

In case you’re seeing Megan McPhaden’s defense this morning, the best way to keep your neurons firing when she’s done is to join Ailene Ettinger in the Forest Club at 12:30 p.m. as she defends her dissertation, “Testing the Limits: Understanding How Climate and Competition Affect Species Ranges in a Warming World.”

Mount RainierRising temperatures could result in tree range shifts. Indeed, scientists have already observed that many species ranges have moved upward in latitude and altitude as global temperatures have increased during the past century. However, competition with neighboring trees can also affect species distributions, which means that global warming may not always result in range shifts. Ettinger’s dissertation research investigates these issues by examining how climate (including temperature, rain and snow) interacts with competition to determine the performance of common tree species at Mount Rainier National Park.

Her committee chair is Biology Professor Janneke Hille Ris Lambers, and other members include Martha Groom, Joshua Tewksbury and SEFS Professors Josh Lawler and Tom Hinckley.

Your brain will be hungry, so feed it!

Photo © Ailene Ettinger.

Undergrad Spotlight: Tara Wilson

“It’s amazing how much you can learn from looking at poop,” says Tara Wilson, a junior at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS). “It totally blew my mind. You can know everything [about the animal]—if they’re malnourished, if they’re breeding, if they’re stressed in any way, what they’re eating.”

Tara Wilson

Tara Wilson working on the Pack Forest Summer Crew in 2012.

Wilson grew up in Detroit and transferred to the University of Washington to start the Winter Quarter in January 2012. She had already earned an Associate’s Degree back home, and she moved out to Seattle with her husband, Shane Unsworth, after he found as job as a data security analyst in the city.

Her adventures in scat began soon after arriving on campus when she attended a wildlife seminar about conservation canines that are specifically trained to sniff out animal droppings. For this particular talk, the dogs were snooping for orca poo. There’s only a small window to locate such scat, apparently, as it floats to the surface briefly before sinking out of reach. So the trainers would hold the dogs at the bow of the boat to locate the floaters as quickly as possible.

“You don’t often see that in a seminar,” says Wilson. “It’s just so out-of-the-box and creative to me—really innovative.”

Inspired by the science of that seminar, Wilson soon landed a weekly lab position with Professor Sam Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology in the UW Biology Department. She and the other volunteer technicians are working on a host of projects, from extracting hormones to analyzing dolphin and polar bear scat.

“What’s special about the lab is that we use non-invasive techniques,” she says. “You don’t have to trap or tranquilize or stress out the animal. You can just follow them around and then collect and analyze their scat.”

Tara Wilson

It didn’t take Wilson long to get into the swing of things at SEFS, and she’s already looking ahead to a graduate degree.

The material they isolate enables scientists to explore a wide range of questions, says Wilson, and there are numerous applications for the research. In one case, an oil company in Alberta, Canada, is having the lab analyze caribou scat from oil sands to make sure the oil drilling isn’t endangering the health of the caribou population.

For Wilson, her lab and course work have quickly cultivated a strong career interest in conservation work, and she’s decided to focus on the wildlife conservation option as an Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) major. Her favorite courses so far have been a class on Pacific Northwest ecosystems with Professor Emeritus Tom Hinckley, and also “Wildlife Biology and Conservation” with Professor Emeritus Dave Manuwal. “You could just tell [Professor Manuwal] is passionate about what he does, and he’s excited to get us passionate.”

She’s been so excited about school, in fact, that Wilson says she feels “like a big dork” for all the lectures and seminars she wants to attend around campus. “I’m the first one in my family to go to college, so sometimes I feel a little embarrassed because I’m very much a kid in a candy store here!”

Hard to blame her, as the pickin’s are good at SEFS when it comes to course offerings and research opportunities. Indeed Wilson is already looking ahead to potential graduate programs at UW, and she’s keeping an open mind about where her studies might lead her. “Anything I can do to help wildlife conservation,” she says. “I’d be thrilled to be part of that community in any way.”

Photos © Tara Wilson.