TO: UW Foundation, Campaign Cabinet, Deans, Development & Alumni Staff
FROM: William H. Gates, Chair, and Orin C. Smith, Vice Chair, UW Foundation
This region has deep roots, both psychic and practical, in its ancient forests. Think of the unforgettable photographs Darius Kinsey brought back from the woods-those mammoth tree trunks dwarfing the loggers, who stare out at us with expressions we cannot quite read. And think of the timber barons, whose fortunes built so much of the physical and social structure of Seattle and other Puget Sound communities. Going back much further, think of the Native Americans, who lived intimately with these firs and cedars for thousands of years before Europeans arrived.
What is the meaning of the forests today, in a physical and social and economic environment that has changed so much since Kinsey took his last photos some sixty-five years ago?
For the UW's College of Forest Resources (CFR), this is a critical question. The college, founded in 1907, has been a mainstay of the Northwest timber industry. But to reflect changes in that industry, and in the needs that society is asking the forests to meet, CFR is remaking itself in some surprising and exciting-and, for some, unsettling-ways. There have been major changes in curriculum, in research priorities, and in interaction with both local and international communities.
The concept of sustainability is central to the new CFR. The word applies to the forests themselves, to the larger Northwest ecosystem of which they are an integral and indispensable part, to the region's and the nation's economic stake in forest products, and to the complex interactions of urban and natural environments on a global scale. "Clean water," says CFR professor Tom Hinckley, "may now be the most important service forests provide."
CFR is a leader in two graduate-level programs, funded by the National Science Foundation, that illustrate CFR's increasingly interdisciplinary and international approach. One is the Urban Ecology Project, which involves UW colleagues in eight other disciplines, including geography, urban design, and engineering. The other, called Multinational Collaborations on Challenges to the Environment, comprises partner universities around the world. Tom is also involved in designing new kinds of undergraduate learning, such as a program that sends CFR undergraduates to the Yakama Nation to learn Native American perspectives on forest stewardship.
One of us (Bill) spent a wonderful evening last fall with Dick and Mary Ellen Denman, longtime donors and friends of CFR. Their most recent gift, which we talked about that night, is another signpost of the changes under way at the college. Dick Denman earned a UW degree in chemistry and spent a very successful corporate career managing pulp and paper operations, a field in which CFR has trained (and will continue to train) many students. Earlier Denman gifts established professorships in pulp and paper science and sustainable resource science. The Denmans' new gift (along with funds from the Founders' Matching Initiative) will create a CFR chair in something called "bio-resource science and engineering." Translation (courtesy of CFR dean Bruce Bare): "large research initiatives to develop technologies for the conversion of plant biomass into carbon-neutral energy, fuels, and chemicals" and thereby "transform the forest products industry." Someday, perhaps, we will drive up to the pump and fill the tank with trees.
So the next time you are out in the woods, reflect a bit on the multiple and still evolving values and resources represented there. Reflect also on our good fortune in having the University of Washington to help us make the most of that vital heritage.
Bill and Orin