Silviculture Challenge

UW and UBC Teams Tackle Forest Management Problems

Beginning in 2007, the College has linked with the University of British Columbia (UBC) College of Forestry to organize an annual Silviculture Challenge.  Alternating locations between British Columbia and Washington each year, teams of students from the two institutions meet over a weekend in early spring to tackle a silviculture problem.  Each team designs a solution and prepares a presentation, which is judged by professional foresters and natural resource managers, often alumni of the two institutions.

CFR Professor David Ford, a faculty mentor and one of the originators of the challenge, says, “The modern silviculturalist is likely to face an increasing variety and complexity of forest management problems.  Greater demands are being made on forests, there is greater diversity among people interested in natural resources and forestry, and numerous environmental rules and regulations govern forest practices and management.  We need to train the new generation of silviculturalists to analyze problems and be able to explain potential solutions to a diversity of audiences.“

One approach is to face students repeatedly with complex problems and ask “What would you do here?”  In this way they can learn through the experience of discussion to formulate and analyze problems ,and— most important—present problems and answers in a way that can be understood.  Such role playing can be invaluable, but, says Ford “It lacks that sharp bite of reality — thus, the Silviculture Challenge!”

The Challenge takes place over a Friday and Saturday. The student teams are given a real-life forest management question and are provided with information about relevant aspects of the land and its social and economic implications.  They visit the forest to make their own assessments, and then develop and present a solution to a panel of judges. The solution must demonstrate an awareness of alternative silvicultural approaches and relevant ecological, social, and economic issues and must present reasons why a particular solution is recommended. Questions usually involve components of multi-purpose land use that may include objectives for wildlife or land restoration and particular constraints and objectives for when yield may be taken. The question is designed to test the students’ comprehensive knowledge of silviculture and its role in forestry as well as their ability to work in teams and make an informative presentation. Students with different primary interests are encouraged to participate.

The first challenge in 2007 was held at the Center for Sustainable Forestry at Pack Forest. The problem was provided by the Nisqually Land Trust, manager of a steep tract of forested land along the edge of Mt. Rainier National Park comprised of mixed species, much of it in 40-50 year stands.  The challenge was to develop a plan that would provide forest conditions suitable as northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet habitat and, at the same time, provide revenue over successive years to manage the land and to contribute to the local forest economy. The teams needed to identify stands that could provide yield and stands providing effective habitat, all within the constraints of visually acceptable management of an area extensively used by visitors to Mt. Rainier National Park.

The 2008 challenge, held at UBC’s Malcolm Knapp Research Forest near Maple Ridge, BC, asked the teams to use the UBC-owned forest to serve as a model for designing a community-based forest for a First Nation.  Management objectives that included providing a continuous timber yield, protection of ecological integrity, and enhancement of cultural keystone species, using both cultural and modern management tradtions, were requirements of the model.  CFR alumnus Bruce Larson (’82), now Professor and Head of UBC’s Forest Management Department, who was also instrumental in developing the Silviculture Challenge, served as the UBC team mentor.

The third challenge, held this past March at UW’s Friday Harbor Laboratories (FHL), asked the teams to produce the essential components of a management plan for the forested portion of FHL’s site, which is a largely-forested 484-acre tract of land maintained as a biological preserve.  Although most FHL scientists study marine biology or oceanography, the history and future of the preserve is of interest not only to FHL personnel but also to San Juan Island residents. Teams were required to consider the existing ecological vision statement for the preserve and whether or not it is realistic, how forest management operations could be funded, and how the proposed plan might be accepted by stakeholders. 

Who’s gotten the winning plaque so far?  The score is UW 2 to UBC 1, with UBC winning the first challenge.  “But,” says CFR Associate Professor Greg Ettl, another faculty mentor for the project, “each competition has been close and all participants appreciate the chance for collegial contact between the two universities.”  CFR’s team in 2009 included graduate students Kim Littke, Phil Monsanto, and Rohan Theoboald and undergrads Jed Bryce, Paul Craven, Andy Ellingson, Troy Lane, Doug Marconi, and Matt Weintraub.   Weintraub says of the experience, "The silviculture challenge was fantastic because it gave us the chance to apply our learned skills in a friendly competitive atmosphere with real implications.  It also was a fun to interact with students from another school and compare and contrast educational styles." Adds Troy Lane, “This was an amazing opportunity to use a broad spectrum of classroom knowledge while developing a plan for a real world scenario. It was the most valuable application of my forestry knowledge to date and it provided reassurance that upon graduation I'll have the skills to succeed in many resource management professions.”

Stay tuned for next year’s challenge!

Environmental Sciences and Resource Management (ESRM) undergraduate Doug Marconi at UBC's Malcolm Knapp Research Forest.