Why I’m attending the “30 Years of MES” events on April 25th

By Hugh O’Neill, MES Alum ’90.

Well, in three words: context, community and celebration.

Context: I think it can be helpful, at times, to revisit our own and hear others’ stories to see how we got to where we are today (and where we might be going).  The MES 30 event is an opportunity to take stock and remember why we chose to spend time in Olympia, at Evergreen, studying the important environmental issues and questions of our day.   I also want to honor our MES lineage and express gratitude for the founders and shepherds that created and nurtured the program for three decades.  The MES years were an important part of my history and helped to launch and sustain my life direction.

Community: With nearly 700 MES grads and dozens of program faculty and staff over the last 30 years, we have a built-in community of folks with a common foundation of environmental understandings and shared experiences.  The MES 30 events are an opportunity to meet and scheme with familiar classmates and new potential allies (we could even create something new).  I’m looking forward to:

  • Connecting with long-time friends and fellow alumni and staff of different backgrounds and ages;
  • Swapping stories about our interests and passions, successes and mistakes, life lessons and learnings; and
  • Exploring ways to support one another and nourish our networks and endeavors.

Celebration: It should be a blast!  There are plans for good food, fun music, great people and a festive atmosphere.  Let’s raise a glass to our shared accomplishments, reflect on where we have been, and hatch some plans to make the next 30 years even better.


Hugh O’Neill in his frisbee-catching days.

See you there,

Hugh O’Neill (1984 cohort)

Who Needs the Taj Mahal When There’s Research to Do?

By Kathleen Saul, MES Core Faculty & MES ’09.

I have not seen the Taj Mahal.  I have not visited the Virupaksha Temple.  I have not yet been inspired by the softly flowing River Ganga or the stately Himalayas.  I have not ridden an elephant.  I have, however, become quite fond of the inexpensive three-wheeled auto-rickshaws that dart in and out of traffic in the cities of India.  I have wandered the hillsides near Mumbai being where hundreds of volunteers replant trees and native shrubs in an effort to combat the destruction of India’s forests and open spaces.   I have observed the rooftop solar thermal installations now mandatory in Thane.  I have marveled at the creative use of food waste from hotels and restaurants to provide heat and hot water at a local hospital.  I also have seen the anguish on the faces of farmers and villagers whose homes and lands would soon disappear behind the rising waters of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 10.46.06 AMI returned from my third trip to the state of Maharashtra on the western coast of India at the beginning of April.  My trips have focused on learning about the people of that region, their needs, the work they are doing to supplement the programs implemented by the government, and the many means being used to bring electricity and energy to the rich and the poor, the cities and the rural communities.  This most recent trip was devoted to learning about the impact of the proposed construction of the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project–the world’s largest nuclear power complex (six 1650 MW reactors)–on the people of the villages near the chosen site.  Although I could write endlessly about the technology and environmental issues associated with that proposed facility, I wanted to better understand its social implications.  What did people understand about the proposed facility?  How did they get that information?  What impact did they think it would have on their lives and livelihoods (if any)?

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Fishing as a livelihood

A friend, documentarian, and former employee of the Indian nuclear industry accompanied me on my trip.  He had arranged interviews and focus groups in the villages and served as translator when the participants did not or preferred not to speak in English.  I also engaged a local driver and car to get us from place to place on the narrow, often packed dirt, roads.  The air conditioned car was often a welcome escape from the temperatures that ran in mid-90s, with humidity about 90%.

I had been advised that many people in the area surrounding the plant site had not seen foreigners before and that some of the communities were 99% Muslim, with women dressed in black burkas even in the heat of the day.  I wore conservative Indian clothing (a kurta or salwar kameez) but still stood out due to my pale skin, blue eyes, and the fact that I was a head taller than most people.  The little kids stared and giggled nervously.   Taking their picture and showing them the image on the back of my camera did wonders for breaking the ice.

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Author Kathleen Saul with new friends.

While in the Jaitapur area, I stayed in an agro-tourism B & B.  The building was surrounded by mango trees as far as the eye could see.  Lucky for me, mango season started just as my visit came to a close and I did get to sample the most heavenly Alfonso mangoes I have ever tasted.  The B & B also had a garden from which they plucked the day’s vegetables—lots of fresh spinach, bitter gourds, and okra—served along with flat bread (potato paratha, dosa (made from fermented rice), roti, or chipati) and a variety of lentil dishes.  No meat at any meal, but I didn’t miss it!  The entire second floor of the building was an al fresco dining room with a long glass-topped table, plush chairs and an ornate chandelier, which was rather awkward since there were only two of us staying there at the time.

I learned that monkeys love mangoes.  We saw them perched in trees or sitting on roadside mile markers, sampling raw fruit.  I also had a close encounter of the monkey kind one afternoon when the dogs belonging to the B & B separated one monkey from a pack running through the mango grove.  The disoriented monkey tried to scale the wall of the kitchen, then came running across the porch, not two feet from where I had taken refuge behind a porch swing!   It then vaulted from a porch chair across a mud-brick wall and into the driveway beyond.

My encounters with people took place on beaches, in the fish market, in an empty schoolhouse classroom, standing next to the car, in the home of the local sarpanch (head of the village)—wherever and whenever convenient for those with whom I wished to speak.  I took copious notes.  I also recorded meetings with groups of people so I can learn more from the side conversations—information not captured in those notes.  I also observed.  I marveled at the empty beaches and lovely sunsets over the rocky coast.  I watched the fishermen ply their nets in the bay.  I watched them unload the day’s catch, basket load by basket load into waiting trucks.  I was astonished by how quickly the women at the fish market could sort those fish by species and sell them to waiting customers.  I observed the differences in the homes of those farmers who received a good sum of money for their lands and those who had no land to sell for the project.  I scanned the land deemed “barren” by the government but used by the locals for grazing cattle, or as a source of grass for fertilizing rice crops, or as a source of pea gravel which could be sold to construction companies.  I studied the faces of the people I met, trying to understand the emotion behind their words.  I took hundreds of photographs.  All those data will supplement my interview notes and technical information about the project provided by the various government agencies.

Maybe the next time I visit India I will see the Taj Mahal.  In the meantime, I have wonderful memories of the fascinating people I have met and the astonishingly beautiful place I have visited, far off the beaten tourist track.


Kathleen in the midst of taking copious notes


Miniature Scientists Grow Up in San Jose

By Yonit Yogev, 1st Year MES Student.

I’ve heard it said that we all start out as little miniature scientists when we’re kids—exploring, wondering, inspired, and curious by how the world works.  While many people take that curiosity and run with it into adulthood, there’s a good part of it that remains in most people, even if they choose a totally different career path.

IMG_1254I was fortunate to be able to attend the first annual conference of the Citizen Science Association, called CitSci2015.  It preceded and was partly sponsored by the AAAS in San Jose in mid-February.  Citizen science holds a certain fascination for me, so I was excited to be able to attend the conference, learn more about citizen science from the inside, network with the many different folks who are involved with it, and contemplate my own place within its wide and open-armed world.

Citizen science, essentially the carrying out of scientific research with the aid of specially trained lay-people, is growing by leaps and bounds.  More and more agencies, universities, and organizations of all types and sizes are engaging interested citizens in data collection.  The issues and challenges  (primarily quality assurance and volunteer retention) are met with creativity, enthusiasm, and excitement.  The few remaining skeptics are increasingly going to be left behind, especially as innovative solutions to these problems are quickly found, shared, and implemented.  In a time of shrinking budgets, engaging citizens in scientific research makes sense, and can lead to a huge expansion in what scientists can actually achieve.

The conference brought about 600 people from all over the world.  The break-out sessions were divided such that each time period had break-out sessions on general themes which included:  Broadening engagement to foster diversity and inclusion, Best practices, Tackling grand challenges, Story presentations, digital opportunities, and Education and lifelong learning connections.  Some examples included Seventeen Years of Measuring Rain—Experiences from Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network; Creating a Welcoming, Inclusive, Diverse and Just Citizen Science Association; Adopt a Pixel:  How Innovative Mobile and Web-Mapping Technologies Are Empowering Local Communities and Transforming Chimpanzee Conservation in Africa; Monarch Citizen Science with Middle Schoolers:  A Graduate Student Perspective; Opening up the Zooniverse:  Building a Scalable Platform for Online Citizen Science.  Crowd-sourcing was a key concept heard throughout the conference.  For a two-day conference, there were so many options for sessions, it was difficult to decide which ones to attend!


Mount Rainier National Park

My own interest in citizen science came about a couple of years ago when I began volunteering at Mount Rainier National Park, and stumbled upon a citizen science project that was recruiting for volunteers.  My husband and I have participated for two summers now, and intend to stay with it for as long as the study continues.  This particular research is looking at the phenology of ten species of sub-alpine wildflowers.  We hike a specific trail, our guide pamphlets in hand, which takes us up through about 2,000 ft of elevation.  Small quadrants of 1×1 meter are marked in nine places along the length of the hike, and at each point we mark which flowers are in which stages of their seasonal cycle.  This is done at least 2-3 times per day for the entire length of the season, from first snow-melt to last seed dispersal and first snow (in that micro-climate, the season is only about 6-8 weeks long)!  The researchers hope to learn more about the effects of climate change on the phenology of these flowers, as well as learn to predict the peak flowering.  This study is a good example of the types of research that are particularly conducive to using citizen scientists to assist in data collection.

In general, citizen scientists also may be observing animals, plants, or other natural phenomena, often in their own backyards.  Sometimes they help with data processing, using computer programs on their home or work computers.  They also may assist in public outreach activities.


Wildflowers in Mount Rainier National Park

A deeper dimension of citizen science includes the concept of the “participation of non-scientists in decision-making about policy issues that have scientific or technological components.”  (Kristian H. Nielsen, Aarhus Uni, Denmark)

This aspect resonates with the political ecologist in me—I think increasing involvement of non-scientists in the creation and direction of scientific inquiry is basic to democracy, and is critical to keeping science and scientists ‘honest’ and working wholly and purely for the betterment of humankind.

If you’re interested in taking part in a citizen science project, there are many local ones, as well as numerous opportunities to take part in national studies.  Google Bioblitz, Nature’s Notebook, Zooniverse, Stream Team, Audubon, COASST, USGS, NPS, DFW, to list just a tiny sample of what’s out there.  Whether you participate as a citizen scientist or eventually as a scientist utilizing citizen scientists, this is an up and coming area of research (three of the second-year MES students are doing their thesis on citizen science!) you need to know about—and hugely exciting for everyone involved.


A Day at the Woodland Park Zoo

By Kristin Wilmes, 1st Year MES Student.

On an unusually warm Friday in March three students from the Wildlife Conservation and Policy class, professor Dina Roberts, my two-year-old and I met in a parking lot at the Evergreen campus and began the journey to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Throughout the winter term, Dina taught the class about wildlife conservation efforts and how wildlife science can be used to produce results for conservation projects. After working hard all term, a few of us from class decided to unwind by taking a field trip to the zoo and learning about conservation efforts the zoo is involved in. When I heard about this great opportunity to learn more about conservation in the field at such a fun place, I knew I couldn’t leave my two-year-old behind, so after talking to Dina, my son finally got to “come to class with mom.”


The author’s son with a new friend

When we arrived at the Woodland Park Zoo, we met with Bobbi Miller, a field conservation coordinator. Before this field trip, I was not aware that zoos were involved with conservation efforts outside the zoo establishment. It was impressive to hear that Woodland Park Zoo has 40 different field projects in three main regions: Asia-Pacific, Africa, and of course the Pacific Northwest. In 2014, the zoo invested around $1.5 million dollars on these field projects. The one thing that impressed me was when Bobbi told us how their conservation efforts aim to preserve regions for animals and work with local communities in these regions to improve the locals’ livelihoods. The field projects strive to create “living landscapes” that consist of human use areas and protected natural areas in the same region. It is good to hear that these projects are taking into consideration the growing global population and working to create healthy ecosystems in which animals and humans can thrive together.

One project that caught my interest is located in the Yopno Urawa Som (YUS) forests of Papua New Guinea. Woodland Park Zoo’s Tree Kangaroo program in this region is not only helping to protect the habitat that the endangered Matschie tree kangaroo relies on; the zoo is also working with locals to grow coffee in the region. They have teamed up with Café Vita and local YUS farmers to grow coffee on small, sustainable plots in the region. This coffee can be found at our local Café Vita coffee shop. The sale of these coffee beans allows the indigenous people of the YUS forest region to afford school for the children and healthcare for everyone, while at the same time protecting more than 180,000 acres of this region for endangered species. This is the first coffee you can drink from this region because the area is so remote and there was previously no infrastructure to allow the locals to sell coffee beans. People from Café Vita traveled to this remote region to help train the local farmers on coffee cultivation techniques. It is moving to see local organizations and companies working to help people and animals in other regions of the world create sustainable livelihoods.

parkThe zoo has many other projects as well as the Tree Kangaroo Program. In the Asia-Pacific region, the zoo has programs that work to protect habitat for cranes, hornbills, elephants, orangutans, and tigers. They have a program in Central Asia working to protect snow leopards, and two programs in Africa, one project working to protect elephants and one working with gorillas. The zoo has most of its conservation projects located in the Pacific Northwest with emphasis on Washington. These local programs are working to protect northwest carnivores, the Oregon silverspot butterfly, swallows, Oregon spotted frogs, raptors, and pond turtles. The Oregon spotted frog project works with the Cedar Creek Correction Center to raise frogs, and a few MES students are involved in this project through the Sustainability in Prisons Project. Of course, these are not the only species that are being protected by these efforts. These animals are flagship species, which means they are charismatic species that conservationists use to raise money, educate the public, and protect habitat. This conservation work helps protect other wildlife that is in the same region through the protection of the flagship species.

zooAfter talking to Bobbi Miller and learning about the conservation work the Woodland Zoo employs in the field, our small group got the chance to roam the zoo and enjoy the animals. The cutest part of the day was watching the three baby tigers playing together. We also saw giraffes, hippos, elephants, and bears. The snakes turned out to be a big hit with my son and he came out of the trip with a new stuffed snake friend. Watching a child’s reaction to these incredible animals makes one understand how important these diverse conservation projects are. I was able to see his eyes light up with excitement every time we came to a new animal exhibit. It shows me that zoos are not only a way for us to see these remarkable animals. When the zoo goes above and beyond to do conservation work in the field they are giving children today the chance to see these species thrive in the wild tomorrow.

Sustainability… in Prison?

By Tiffany Webb, 2nd Year MES Student and MES Ambassador.

I don’t think I have ever encountered anyone with dreams and aspirations of working in a prison. I can certainly say I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I applied for an internship position with the Sustainability in Prisons Project in 2013. I was set on Evergreen’s Master of Environmental Studies degree, but wasn’t quite sure where my professional life was headed.

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Nature Drawing Workshop at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Dr. Carri LeRoy, SPP Co-Director and Evergreen Faculty.

Moving from Alabama to Washington State was a huge step, but I was excited and ready. I had just finished my B.S. in earth system science from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, completed a grant-funded sustainability project, and rounded out some climate vulnerability work I had been doing with the NASA DEVELOP National Program.

Now I was looking for exciting justice-oriented work in my new Olympia home, and SPP offered that. But I found myself questioning my place in prisons. How could I fundamentally disagree with a system, yet work within it? Even further, how can I apply “sustainability” to a system I don’t actually wish to sustain? These questions have been a driving force throughout my time with SPP. I have worked with the Sustainability in Prisons Project for nearly two years now, and have come to realize the importance of inside-out change makers. So often, those who want to make broad-scale cultural and systemic change clash with institutions of power, sometimes stifling the efficacy of their campaigns. SPP has taken a unique approach by forming a long-term partnership with such an institution, while simultaneously initiating programs that benefit those who are currently incarcerated. From organic gardens to inmate-led environmental classrooms, the SPP model has been integrated widely in WA prisons over the past 10 years. This has inspired changes within individual prison facilities and more broadly across the entire department of corrections—SPP now has a national network!

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Talking with a few women after a lecture at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Photo by Lindsey Hamilton, SPP Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Coordinator.

SPP is also connected to Evergreen, which allows a bridge between higher education, students and faculty, prisons and staff, and prisoners. Through the partnership between Evergreen and Washington State corrections, I am not only able to learn about issues of mass incarceration and theories of prison reform within a classroom, but I am actually able to be part of providing resources and educational programs for incarcerated men and women. Inmates constantly express interest in environmental resources and information for how to be part of the green economy once they are released, and it has been eye-opening to try and meet their needs. This is a population and perspective that many environmental organizations tend to neglect and I have witnessed the importance of these incarcerated individuals within the broader environmental discussion.

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Presenting one of the first rounds of certificates to inmates who regularly attend the lecture series. Photo by Joslyn Trivett, SPP Network Manager.

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Presenting at SCCC. Photo by John Dominoski, DOC Staff at SCCC.

Working with corrections staff, prisoners, and environmental community organizations has broadened my understanding of environmental justice— just how many populations are we leaving out of environmental initiatives? This position has inspired me to speak out as an ally for incarcerated individuals and to further advocate for prison reform, both from an environmental and social justice lens. I plan to stay involved with SPP and volunteer with other organizations working inside prisons, with ex-felons, as well as tackling prison policy and other issues in the criminal justice system. While this endeavor has presented a plethora of professional opportunities, the most important thing it has offered me is the experience of meaningful work with people who have a diverse range of perspectives and interests. This is an experience I will carry with me far beyond my time at Evergreen and with SPP.

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SPP program coordinators with the WCCW SPP Liaison after a virtual tour of sustainability programs.

I will be graduating this year, so I am sad to be leaving my position, but excited to know that a fresh mind will be joining the program. Leaving SPP also means losing connection with some of the most inspirational people I have met: prisoners who teach and facilitate environmental courses; people of color who empower themselves and fellow prisoners through amazing spoken word and art pieces about racism in America and the criminal justice system; and even corrections staff who are trying to make prison conditions better, dedicating what little spare time they have to supporting and furthering SPP programs. That doesn’t begin to cover the surprising range of inspiration I have felt in prisons; these memories and emotions will be with me no matter where my journey takes me next.

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Talking with a woman at WCCW before the lecture with Yoga Behind Bars. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton.

Elwha River Restoration Ecology Trip

By Sarah Davis, 2nd Year MES Student.

Recently sixteen classmates and I had the opportunity to experience, first hand, the most recent transformations that have taken place on the Elwha River as part of Professor Sarah Hamman’s elective course, Restoration Ecology. Throughout the quarter we had focused on a wide array of restoration ecology topics ranging from project design and implementation, to trophic interactions and restoration in a changing climate, to ecosystem services and the political, social and economic realities of restoration projects. To dig deeper into these topics we read numerous scientific articles and had in-depth seminars and lectures. But, what’s the best way to understand restoration ecology? Seeing it firsthand! So, off to the Olympic Peninsula we went.

elwhaDay 1

The first stop on our trip was the Lake Aldwell lakebed. We all piled out of the vans, donning our polar fleece jackets, hiking boots, notepads and pens and headed down to the site. Our tour guide was Joshua Chenoweth, the Olympic National Park Restoration Ecologist. As we were standing on large cobblestone rocks and looking around at the young cottonwoods, alders, and willows I was having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that all this used to be the bottom of a lake only a couple years ago! Josh highlighted the current goals of restoration in both the Lake Aldwell and Lake Mills lakebeds. The most important goal is repairing ecosystem processes, including hydrology and erosion control, as well as all salmon related processes including spawning and rearing habitat, water temperature, and food sources.

Following our lakebed tour we grabbed our food and spread out along a small backchannel of the river for a quick picnic lunch and then piled back into the vans, on to the next adventure!

field tripOur next stop was down at the mouth the Elwha River where we met with Anne Shaffer from the Coastal Watershed Institute. The Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams trapped 34 cubic yards of sediment, and when those dams were removed, all that sediment had to go somewhere. In this case, it was the delta! Anne had some exciting facts about the changes they are already seeing in the nearshore environment. Initially, 85 acres of new habitat formed near the mouth of the river, although that has slowed and even decreased a bit due to the wave action removing some of the sediment. But, 16% of the sediment coming out of the river stays in the nearshore environment, having drastic impacts on the ecosystem. Surf smelt began to spawn on the delta right away and there has been an increase in the number of birds, harbor seals (we saw one while we were there!) and crabs utilizing this new habitat. Anne did highlight some of the ongoing challenges they are facing in regards to nearshore restoration, with the largest issue being Ediz Hook (which I will get to soon!).

edizAfter a couple hours of exploring the beach, back to the vans we went. Next stop, NatureBridge! After we got settled, a handful of us headed down to explore Lake Crescent and were lucky enough to witness an amazing sunset! After eating a delicious meal we all regrouped to watch Green Fire, a documentary focused on Aldo Leopold and his Land Ethic (if you have not read A Sand County Almanac you must!).

Day 2

The next morning after breakfast, we cleared out of our cabins and hit the trail to Marymere Falls. Then, we were off again to see more of the Elwha River!

hookOur first stop of the day was Ediz Hook, a 3 mile long sand spit that extends out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Professor Hamman wanted to take us to this area to discuss some of the challenges associated with restoration projects. The sediment that is being released from the Elwha into the Strait creates a drift cell that stretches from the mouth of the river all the way to Port Townsend, depositing sediment along the way. However, at Ediz Hook, the side of the spit that faces the open water is covered in large boulders, known as riprap. These boulders are causing the waves to bounce off the shoreline before any of the sediment can be deposited reducing habitat potential (this is the main challenge that Anna had highlighted the day before). So as we sat there huddled behind these large boulders to shield ourselves from the freezing wind, we brainstormed a few ideas for possible ways to restore this area, without impacting the marina and industrial areas located on the other side of the spit. One idea included moving the boulders further out into the water, to allow for protection from the waves but still allowing the fine sediments to make it to the shore. Another suggestion was to remove all the riprap and plant vegetation.

lowerOur second stop of the day was the meeting with Robert Elofson, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe Restoration Director, on the west side of the Elwha River mouth. Robert discussed the impacts of dam removal on the river’s salmonid populations. This past year 1,200 steelhead made it a least one 1 ½ miles up the Elwha. In previous years there had only been 300-400 making it to the lower dam. He also said that there has been a large increase in crab and bird populations. We saw at least 20 bald eagles while we were there that day!

riverAs our final stop of the day, Robert escorted us to the Elwha Dam site. As we walked down to where the dam used to span the width of the river, it was so awe inspiring to see the Elwha running freely through the canyon. Where there once stood a lake, there was a winding river! For those of us who braved to walk all the way down (and then up) the hill to the canyon’s edge, you could still see where the dam was anchored into the canyon walls.

Although it was a whirlwind weekend, it was an amazing opportunity to see one of the largest dam removal projects in history! Seeing the restoration firsthand and speaking to restoration professionals provided me with a much more in-depth perspective of the challenges of habitat restoration and the importance of collaborating with others. I am excited to see how the Elwha continues to transform itself. I will definitely be back!


Dropping the Base at Taylor Shellfish

By Hannah Trageser, 1st Year MES Student.

shellfishOriental cherry blossoms filled the air with a flux of sweet nectar, but isn’t it a bit early for spring? I can feel climate change in the warm breeze and can certainly see climate change hit home in the waters of South Puget Sound, especially in Totten Inlet. Totten Inlet is home to Taylor Shellfish Farms, which is the largest producer of shellfish aquaculture in the nation. Warming seawater temperatures, stormwater runoff, and anthropogenic carbon dioxide inputs contribute to poor water quality conditions and ocean acidification in Totten Inlet. This puts Taylor Shellfish in an especially vulnerable position. What is in store for the future of the Taylor Shellfish Farm with increasing rates of climate change? How will Taylor Shellfish Farm adapt and mitigate for these changes?

shellOnward with a field trip to find out! A bunch of warm-blooded eager beavers (or first year MES students taking the Ecological & Social Sustainability core class) entered the claustrophobic vanpools. This time it was less nerve-wracking because we all knew each others’ first names. With friends like these who needs anemones? It was a beautiful, vibrant, sunny morning at Taylor Shellfish Farm located in Shelton, Washington just a hopscotch and a few skips away from The Evergreen State College campus. The sun was out and the birds were using much of their energy expenditure reserves rehearsing their songs and showing off vocals to potential mates. The early bird catches the worm right? Our early bird cohort arrived for our tour at Taylor Shellfish Farms. Once our vanpools reached Taylor Shellfish, we all grabbed life vests for our exciting boat ride aboard Taylor’s water vessel. Safety first! The wrack line was covered in opaque and pearly hued oyster shells and crunched in between my boots and I could taste the salinity in the air. I kept thinking to myself that I was stepping on potential opportunities for sequestered carbonate. The captain of our ship called “all aboard” and we hopped onto one of Taylor’s finest vessels. The majestic tectonics of Olympic National Park was in our horizon overlooking Puget Sound, looking stunning as always. Far off in the distance a nesting pair of endangered bald eagles were aimlessly flying about showing off their flight feathers, and eagerly awaiting the tasty shellfish prey below in hopes that a Taylor Shellfish employee would drop a tasty morsel in reciprocation for their great aerial show. Looking west, I saw a group of hooded mergansers and scoters floating about in Totten Inlet. Luckily for the shellfish, Taylor has predator nets placed above and below the farm, which deters birds and other interested wildlife. Fewf! I pictured I would stumble upon a pelagic cormorant diver or two and a few prehistoric great blue herons, but unfortunately we didn’t even come across a single one. It made me realize that things happen when you least expect it and life never goes as initially planned. We were in prime birding area and the means for wildlife photography was perfect aperture. It was wonderful being one with nature and standing directly above Totten Inlet to some extent aboard the vessel and overlooking the muscle and oyster farms. Nearby, jellies were gracefully swimming beside me. The jellyfish were busy feeding off abundant plankton sourced from the sun’s energy in the photic zone in the cubby of Totten Inlet. Their medusa-like appendages were mesmerizing and to be perfectly honest, I could not take my gaze off them during the tour.

taylorNext, as soon as I knew it, I could see shellfish workers at a distance monitoring and creating new muscle socks for the beginnings of shellfish propagation. The muscle farm was completely separate from the oyster and clam farms. I never pictured shellfish aquaculture as an aquatic monoculture, but each species was cultivated separately. It’s amazing how Taylor Shellfish is reliant upon species that can tolerate Puget Sound temperature and salinity conditions using hatcheries to incubate juvenile species. They even have hatchery facilities located all the way in Kona, Hawaii. Field trip anyone?

Next, we were off to the processing plant. The processing plant was a human powered assembly line consisting of workers oyster chucking and oyster cleaning. Here, workers are treated well, paid fair wages, and receive exceptional benefits through the company, which makes Taylor Shellfish an optimal work environment. I was amazed to see that two trucks drive out to feed Seattle’s local oyster bars and two huge semi-trucks filled with mollusks are headed for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for international shipment for consumers in Asia and China. The busiest time for Taylor Shellfish is during Christmas and Chinese New Year. I guess I never realized what an international commodity Puget Sound shellfish are and their importance to the local economy. It’s important to consider how these species are being effected by climate change and understanding how the company will have to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

lineWith ocean acidification on the rise in Totten Inlet, shellfish farming in Puget Sound is increasingly threatened and further impacted by low dissolved oxygen concentrations and increased water temperatures. To mitigate climate change on a local level, Taylor Shellfish has made significant strides in improving the company’s best management practices using adaptive management solutions. This is where the “Dropping the base at Taylor Shellfish” title comes in handy. Taylor Shellfish is quite literally dropping the base with sodium carbonate in Totten Inlet to make the shellfish water conditions more basic so mollusks such as muscles, clams, and oysters will continue to use their acid soluble shell-formation components to thrive in the changing marine ecosystem. Taylor Shellfish employs sustainable practices by recycling 100% of its used shells back into the aquaculture environment to create latching habitat and new homes for vulnerable juvenile hatchery mollusk species. Much of the juvenile’s early stages in development are most vulnerable to acidic conditions, such as those created from climate change and anoxic conditions in the Puget Sound. The benefit of introducing the shells back into the habitat during artificial juvenile propagation is to keep the mollusk youngsters safe and protected from ocean acidification conditions in Totten Inlet.

inletIn conclusion, it was inspiring to see all the innovative progress made to combat ocean acidification and how species continue to flourish even in a changing environment at Taylor Shellfish Farms. The field trip to Taylor reiterates to me that the world is your oyster when it comes to our future opportunities in life after the MES program. Where will life take us? What will we do? Where will we end up? I say live in the moment and the rest of it will take its course. It’s your world, it’s your shell. Be a little shellfish. Remember that we all have a purpoise in life!


Aquaponics at The Evergreen State College

By Rhianna Hruska, 1st Year MES Student and MES Communications Assistant.

Deep Water Raft Culture Aquaponic System at the TESC Organic Farm

Deep Water Raft Culture Aquaponic System at the Evergreen Organic Farm

During the last year of my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to visit Viridis Aquaponics near Watsonville, CA. The eight acre CCOF organic aquaponic farm immediately captured my interest. Aquaponics is a combination of hydroponics (growing plants without soil) and aquaculture (farming fish). Fish and plants are raised together and the water is cleaned by biofilters. This intricate system creates an environment where the plants receive nutrients from the fish and the fish receive clean water from the plants. Viridis Aquaponics was an amazing place to tour, but as a student hoping to study aquaponics and get hands-on experience with running a system, a commercial farm like Viridis Aquaponics was too far away from my undergraduate campus for me to get involved.

Strawberries Growing in Vertical Towers at the Organic Farm Aquaponic Greenhouse

Strawberries growing in vertical towers at the Organic Farm Aquaponic Greenhouse

After searching through multiple graduate programs, one of the main reasons why The Evergreen State College caught my attention was the aquaponic greenhouse at the campus organic farm. I was thoroughly impressed by this student-run and student-built aquaponic system.  Once I moved to Olympia, I also found the student built barrel-ponics system as well as a media-based aquaponic greenhouse attached to one of the campus apartments.  These systems are a fantastic learning tool and internships are available to students who wish to gain academic credit while learning how to run an aquaponic system.  Another opportunity to participate is through the Evergreen Aquaponics Club, which will holds work parties and meetings for students.  Anyone interested in touring the system or joining work parties can send an email to RADsustainability@evergreen.edu or TESCaquaponics@gmail.com.

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Horizontal Growing of Crops at the TESC Aquaponic Greenhouse

Horizontal growing of crops at the Evergreen Aquaponic Greenhouse

Community in the Heart of Texas

By Sarah Bell, 3rd Year MES Student.

Over this last week I traveled to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas to attend a modeling workshop. The workshop included the theory and use of the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) taught by one of the model’s main developers, Dr. Srinivasan.


Texas A&M Campus

Initially I was excited to go to a workshop and receive hands on experience from a world-recognized instructor of the SWAT model. I envisioned myself anxiously answering questions, easily plugging in data for my thesis, all while sitting is a small classroom of equally eager graduate students. Alas, as my departure date approached I started to feel more like a nervous kid on the first day of school. What if I’m not prepared? What if I don’t know the answers? What if my data I brought is all wrong?

Eager to make a good impression, and not to get lost, I arrived early. As the other students started filing in that sense of nervousness grew. Everyone seemed not to be graduate students, but real world working professionals. What did I get myself into!?! But if my experience at Evergreen taught me anything, it’s to get out there and be part of your community, even when you think you’re all alone.

After introductions I was surprised at the diversity of my small SWAT workshop community. We ranged in age and experience, Master’s to Ph.D. students, government to federal employees, and many from abroad including Japan, Columbia, and Peru. Yet we all had the SWAT model in common. Our interest for SWAT model application ranged from quantifying ecosystem restoration, modeling best agricultural practices, tracking point source pollution, modeling climate change impacts of streamflow, and many more.

The range of topics was extremely fascinating, so in true MES tradition I had to arrange an after-hours seminar. It was such a great experience to network and interact with other individuals dedicated to approaching environmental issues with a systems based model. All having such varying backgrounds, I felt that my Evergreen education had truly prepared me to interact with such a diverse group of people, and who knew we would meet in the heart of Texas.

More surprising to me were the vast differences I observed between Texas A&M and Evergreen. Coming from Evergreen, I expect the vast array of recycling options, sustainability infrastructure on campus, and alternative transportation methods. I would go so far to say that the word “compost” is not foreign or scary to us. These were not my observations on or off campus. Recycling paper was not even an option. Rinse a can out to prep it for recycling and you’re now the weird one in the room. These differences were not a reflection of those who inhabited College Station, but more due to the lack of infrastructure and planning. Yet there I was learning a model that was built to predict levels of impairment across landscapes due to land management practices, which includes non-sustainable urban development. The irony of this situation was not lost on me. But models such as SWAT are widely available and more and more user-friendly. It’s these availabilities that give me hope for future sustainability in a multitude of facets, which was demonstrated by the diversity of those in attendance that week.

Texas A&M Logo

Texas A&M Logo

In reflection I think most of us get preoccupied and comfortable with our work at home. We often forget about the  “Big Picture.” In the midst of writing a thesis I have to consider how my work will contribute to the larger scientific community. This concept became clear traveling to the SWAT workshop. Here I was representing my small liberal arts community in the big conservative world of Texas. Yet I found like-minded people passionate about sustainability, restoration, and contributing to their communities. I’m reminded that conversation and interaction is transformative. I don’t have to go into the world and do something innovative to make a difference. I can easily be the first to recycle in a new community, something small that I often take for granted, or run a model to prepare for climate change impacts on water resources. Overall my experience at the SWAT workshop was a success. Not only did I learn the ins and outs of the SWAT model, I was reminded that sharing ideas, finding your network, and moving out your comfort zone can be necessary to contribute to that “Big Picture.”

Winter 2015 Director’s Note

By Kevin Francis, MES Director.

Last week thirty-five students gathered for the first thesis workshop of winter quarter. We began with a presentation by Sandy Yannone, director of Evergreen’s Writing Center, who discussed the process of completing a major writing project. She encouraged students to share their anxieties and challenges, then offered strategies and techniques for addressing them.

As a new director teaching this class for the first time, I was working through my own anxieties. Each student is developing and researching a unique research question, with its own constellation of existing scholarship, methods for data collection and analysis, and practical challenges. At the end of class, each student turned in a prospectus. As I read through this stack over the following week, I was amazed at the range of topics. Consider the research questions of my own thesis students: Can you use remote sensing to locate potential sites of historic logging camps in Capitol Forest? What is the relationship between views of evolution and environmental attitudes among Christian clergy? How do so-called “use it or lose it” water policies effect irrigation practices? What motivates volunteers to participate in citizen science research? What was the environmental impact of the Olympia Brewing Company during its formative years? Of course, this diversity makes for rich conversations. But it also presents a teaching challenge: How do I create assignments and activities that are truly meaningful and useful across such a broad range of topics, data, and methods?

Fortunately, the first class went well. Sandy’s presentation seemed to calm and energize students for the hard work ahead; they asked many follow-up questions. Later they shared their own thesis research in small groups via an “elevator story”; several mentioned the value of feedback from their peers. Afterward, many of them joined first-year students for the weekly “late night seminar” at the Eastside Club Tavern. As I chatted with students over beer, I had a new appreciation for the importance of making thesis work, which at certain times is inevitably and painfully solitary, a communal enterprise. Hopefully, each student will gain perspective and strength by working alongside others in this common journey.

In six months, this cohort will be the 30th class of MES graduates. Last summer a small group of MES alumni, faculty, and students began talking about how to celebrate this anniversary. We wanted a festive day that allowed alumni to reconnect with old friends and build new connections with alumni—and soon-to-be alumni—across the decades. We also wanted to commemorate the legacy of MES graduates who are making valuable contributions on diverse environmental and social issues through a more focused event.

Image of 30th Anniversary LogoAs it turns out, creating a program for the 30th anniversary celebration poses a similar kind of challenge as teaching the thesis workshop. Our “common” history is also many individual stories. Under the general theme of “Telling the MES Story” we hope to capture both unique individual stories and common experiences and themes. Fortunately, Evergreen undergraduates have been working hard during the past year to collect some of these stories. During the past year, Karen Gaul (MES faculty 06/07) has taught two academic programs—Living Well: Anthropology and Sustainability (Summer 2014) and Spaceship Earth: An Owner’s Manual (Fall 2014, Winter 2015) where students interviewed many MES alumni that are documented in audio and video recordings. They transcribed the interviews and created posters for each alumnus. As a whole, their work offers a slice of the experiences of students, the career paths of alumni, and the broader impact of our graduates at the local, regional, national, and international level. As part of the 30th anniversary celebration, these students will share their work. We will also have a panel of MES directors and alumni discuss the major environmental and social challenges that, over the past 30 years, have attracted students to the program and motivated their studies. We will also hear stories that reflect how the experience of being an MES student has changed over the years.

This program is just one event that will take place over the long weekend of activities. We start on Thursday, April 23, with the 25th Rachel Carson Forum, which is organized by current MES students and—I suspect—the traditional “late night seminar.” Friday evening is the Olympia Arts Walk and the Luminary Procession. Between the on-campus and off-campus events on Saturday is the 21st Procession of the Species. This annual event, developed by Eli Sterling (MES 1991), weaves together art, conservation, and community. You should not miss this chance to watch towering giraffes, dancing mandrills, floating jellyfish, and many more species parade through downtown Olympia.

Since I began teaching in the MES program, I’ve been impressed by the number of alumni who are doing important work on environmental and social issues in our state. Most express deep appreciation for their MES education and many stay involved by sponsoring internships and mentoring recent graduates. We hope you’ll join us in April to celebrate this collective accomplishment.