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.

2017 Sustaining Our World Lecture: Anthony Sinclair

Coming up on Tuesday, April 4, from 6 to 7 p.m. in Anderson Hall – Room 223, we are very pleased to welcome Professor Emeritus Anthony R.E. Sinclair from the University of British Columbia to give the annual Sustaining Our World Lecture, “The future of conservation: Lessons from the past and the need for rewilding of ecosystems.”

The talk is free and open to the public, but please register in advance to make sure we have enough seating. (Anderson Hall is one of the older buildings on campus and has no elevators to the second floor or ramp access at any entrance; our sincere apologies for any difficulty in accessing the room.)

Register today!

About the Talk
Three themes emerge from long-term research around the globe. First, the diversity of species is important in maintaining stability in the system. So if we lose species, as in agriculture, we create instability. Second, due to continuously changing environments, ecosystems are always changing. That means that static boundaries around Protected Areas will not be sufficient for long-term conservation. Third, disturbances in ecosystems (fire, floods, agriculture) can cause a rapid change in state from one species community to another. Consequently, Protected Areas are necessary but not sufficient for the conservation of biota. Restoration of human-disturbed landscapes must now become a priority. I present the rationale and a method for predicting the success of rewilding to a pre-determined state using a rewilding index. This approach tells us when rewilding has been achieved and whether the envisioned community of species and their interactions can be restored. The method can be used to guide restoration of both the type and number of species, and the rate of change of ecosystem processes.

About the Speaker
Anthony is currently professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Previously, he served as director of the Centre for Biodiversity Research, University of British Columbia, and was a professor at the Department of Zoology for 34 years. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and the Royal Society of Canada. Anthony was a Killam Senior Fellow in 2004-2006 and was awarded the Aldo Leopold medal from The Wildlife Society in 2013.

He has conducted ecological research on the role of biodiversity in the functioning of many ecosystems around the world, including Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. He has worked with many different types of organisms to put together the food webs and their dynamics that cover several decades. This work included the regulation of mammal populations, food supply, nutrition, predation and disease. Anthony has examined the causes of migration and its consequences on ecosystem processes, and he has documented multiple states in the Serengeti savannah and grassland communities for almost 50 years. He has expanded these interests to include bird, insect and reptile faunas as part of the long-term dynamics of ecosystems; these studies have been synthesized in four books. He has worked in Canada on boreal forest ecosystems, in particular on cycles of snowshoe hares for 20 years. He has also worked on endangered marsupial mammal populations and predation by exotic carnivores in Australia and similar systems in New Zealand.

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.