Featured articles

  • AASHE 2014 Conference and Bike Ride
  • Climate Change and Sustainability in the Fiji Islands
  • Letter from the Director, Fall 2014
  • New Year for Evergreen MES
  • Reflecting on two (or three!) years of hard work

AASHE 2014 Conference and Bike Ride

By Ryan Hobbs, 1st Year MES Student.

As I watched the sun’s light begin to peak above the trees surrounding Chambers Lake, my mind was riddled with anxiety. On my lap sat the checklist for the two-day bike journey down to Portland. I had triple-checked my bags the night before and as dawn began to break, I was doing it again to alleviate my anxiousness. Another fear of mine: being at the wrong spot. Surely I was at the right location, we agreed to meet at 7:00 a.m. at the Chambers Lake trail head yet I was the only one there. Perhaps I was at the wrong site? Nope. Soon enough the bodies began to trickle in, all nine of them – some by bike, some in vehicles. The ten of us were variously assembling our gear and making last-minute adjustments before heading out on the first leg of our ride to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Conference. After some quick gear checks and lots of pictures eight of us mounted our trusty two-wheeled steeds and began down the trail. Two more in a support vehicle headed out down the road.

Author Ryan Hobbs and Assistant Director Gail Wootan

Author Ryan Hobbs and Assistant Director Gail Wootan

The fog was ever present and the leaves carpeted the pavement. I figured a fall was inevitable on the slippery trail but I decided to save the wipe out for much later. Fast forward 69-miles down trails, city streets, two-lane highways through the back country, a few challenging hills, with the same song on repeat in my mind (King Crimson’s Starless), we arrived at the Toutle River Resort in Castle Rock, Washington. The weather had cooperated nearly the entire day and the rain didn’t join us until that night. Damage report for the group: a bent fender and several flats, nothing too bad. We celebrated with pizza and sleep, though three of us couldn’t resist soaking our bones in the hot tub. Rain that had visited us towards the end of the ride continued on through the night and we planned on a wet second day.

A most pleasant scent was creeping up the stairs the following morning and I woke up to find a delicious homemade quiche waiting for me. A member of our support team was up early that morning making sure we had a hearty meal to provide us the energy we would need on the final 65-miles of our trip. We set off with the clouds breaking way to make room for the sun. This day would find us alongside busy highways and crossing the Lewis and Clark bridge into Oregon. After about 10-minutes of riding in Oregon the rain started. It did not prove to be a deterrent and after about 30-miles of riding we found ourselves eating lunch in the living room of the MES Assistant Director’s parent’s house (she was riding down with us). As I was finishing up lunch and almost passing out on the floor, I realized the weather was starting to rear an ugly face. Wind gusts and sideways rain started to pummel the pavement. Perfect time to head back out.

The next stop was about 12 miles down the road, a Fred Meyer where we could reconvene before the final 18 miles to Portland. What should have taken about an hour at most took almost two. The wind gusts were reportedly hitting 45 miles per hour and based on the amount of leaves hitting my face, the work it took to ride downhill, and the amount of downed branches, I’d say the reports were accurate. After some discussion and repairs, three staff decided to continue on while the students and a staff member taxied the remaining riders into Portland. What happened to two of the remaining three riders on the way to Portland was something out of a bike horror movie. One rider’s derailleur exploded on the side of the rode and he hitchhiked into town. Another rider blew an inner tube five miles out of Portland and was also able to snag a ride in. Finally, one staff member from Evergreen was able to succeed in completing the ride to Portland. Damage report from the second day was a gruesome amount of flats, broken accessories and gears, and a wicked storm that ended our ride 18-miles early.

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Finally in Portland, we explored the town before heading to hear the keynote speaker, Annie Leonard, Sunday evening. I was familiar enough with Portland to not feel the need to explore too much. Besides, there was a midterm looming over our heads when we returned to school later in the week so much studying was required. Monday morning came and we headed out to the conference. The AASHE phone app was a life saver as the presentation offerings were baffling in quantity. I sat in on a diverse range of topics. It was interesting to see how other schools were utilizing learning outcomes and cross disciplinary approaches to teach sustainability concepts, how others were banning water bottles (presented by one of the riders), and ways in which GIS could be used to manage sustainability in higher education, though this actually turned out to be more of a recruiting seminar for a Master’s in GIS. The last presentation of the day stood out to me to be the most interesting. It was an avant-garde music & video performance called The Lyrebird, which sought to challenge listeners to think about the confrontations of humans and the natural world. I was reminded of other avant-garde, politically driven music by bands like Henry Cow and Art Bears. Tuesday I caught several more sessions including a documentary and discussion on urban farming, indigenous practices for sustainability, and a case I hope to tackle at Evergreen, mitigating bird strikes on campus.


AASHE 2014 in Portland, OR

Wednesday morning had arrived which meant an early morning bike ride to the train station, which was about six miles away. It was the last I’d be riding in Portland and this is when I finally got up close and personal with the road as I was cut off about half a mile from the station and ended up biting it (not literally though close). Luckily it was a controlled fall and my bike only suffered minor scratches, far from the dilemmas faced by other riders (loads of flats, broken bikes, bent fenders, and the target of bird droppings). The entire train ride home I reflected on the challenges we faced on our ride, how we worked together for a common goal, and pushed each other to succeed. I barely knew any of these people before going on the ride but I have now forged some strong connections and what I witnessed at AASHE was quite similar. Here were thousands of people with an array of disciplines working together and connecting for a common goal. To see this event taking place and knowing that so much energy and passion is being put in to help guide the futures is very promising. I was reminded of a closing message from an episode of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos in which he states how we are at a critical branching point in human history. Sagan states that we hold the power to create an abundant and meaningful life for every inhabitant of the planet if only we can use “…our compassion and our intelligence, our technology and our wealth…” We are still hanging from this branching point and AASHE is a hopeful sign that we are using our compassion, intelligence, technology, and wealth to create the path of meaningfulness and abundance for us all to follow.

Climate Change and Sustainability in the Fiji Islands

By Daron Williams, 1st Year MES Student.

Bula! Hello!

I was lucky enough to spend most of August in the Fiji Islands along with my classmates and our professor Brittany who is an MES Alum. We were there as part of the Climate Change and Sustainability class offered through the MES program. When I mention the Fiji Islands to people here in the States they immediately think about a tropical paradise with coconuts and beautiful reefs. The Fiji Islands are far more complex with beauty that leaves you breathless and an ugliness that you wish would never blemish that beauty. I got to explore coral reefs, swim with sharks, cliff dive in sea caves and visit outstanding areas of natural beauty. I also met amazing and wonderful people that have changed me and will always be a part of me. But I also witnessed the environmental damage done to the islands by people who are struggling to survive and by kaivalagis (foreigners) whose greed blinds them to the damage they are doing.

FijiWhen I arrived in Fiji I was struck by the beauty of the islands but I noticed that there was a haze over them. That day I explored the reefs around Bounty Island and was amazed by what I saw. After a wonderful day of exploring the reefs I was enjoying the evening with my classmates and we noticed a strange orange glow coming from Viti Levu (the mainland). It was a fire burning the sugarcane slash on a farm field. We would later see these fires up close burning on the roadside around the city of Nadi. I learned that the western part of Viti Levu is known as the “burning west.” Every year during the dry season the sugarcane crops are burned. This leaves the area covered in a brown haze that would be similar to anyone who has lived through the forest fire season of the Western United States. The sugarcane industry is a leftover of the colonial days, and is continuing to damage the islands. The runoff from these fields are choking the reefs, rivers, and destroying the livelihoods of the people of Fiji. But despite its damage the sugarcane industry is necessary for the livelihoods of many of the people of Fiji.

The part of the trip that stood out the most to my classmates and I was the time we spent on the Island of Vorovoro off the coast of Mali and Vanua Levu. The people of Vorovoro showed us their lives and their islands. We lived with them in their village and got to experience their way of life. We learned how to harvest and process coconuts and got to explore their Island and their reefs. We also learned their traditions and by honoring those traditions we became a part of their village. I remember playing soccer with the kids and sitting on the kava mat with the chief and the other members of the village. The necklace that I often wear is from Vorovoro. I will never forget Vorovoro and the people who live there who touched my life and the lives of my classmates.


Daron Williams (right) with classmates.

As part of the class I took on a research project of my own design. I decided to look into how various levels of community participation impacts relocation efforts caused by climate change. Living in the U.S., it can be easy to forget the damage already being done by climate change to people around the world. I got to meet with and interview the Turaga Nikoro (Village Head Man) of the village of Vunidogoloa. He told me a story about the people of the village trying to escape the rising water in the middle of night during a storm. Luckily for the people of Vunidogoloa they were successfully relocated to a new site but many other villages across the world are facing the same threat and they might not be so lucky. Too many kaivalagis continue to ignore the damage our activities are causing to vulnerable peoples around the world.

My time in Fiji is something that I will never forget. Each of our internal worldviews is shaped by the experiences we gain as we travel through our lives. This model of the world is our guide as we make decisions and make our choices. I’m glad that I will have the people of Fiji as my guides as I continue my journey through life. Let us all remember that our choices have global impacts and let us all remember that our worldviews are limited by the scope of our own experiences.

Fiji Class

Evergreen students in Fiji.

Letter from the Director, Fall 2014

By Kevin Francis, Graduate Program on the Environment Director.


Kevin Francis, MES Director

I have been obsessively checking the weather forecast for Eatonville this week. For the past two weeks in gCORE we have been preparing for a field trip to Pack Forest and Mount Rainier. We read about the history of ecological succession and studied primary production and nutrient cycling in forests. We read Jon Luoma’s The Hidden Forest, a compelling account of research at H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon. And we dissected an article describing research conducted at Pack Forest on the long-term consequences of fertilization on forest productivity. During our visit, we will collect data that extends the original study—“completed” in 2006—to 2014. Field trips in mid-October can be a soggy affair but we have (mostly) lucked out on weather the past couple of years. We will, of course, be out in the field even if it’s cold and rainy—but that does not stop me from stalking Eatonville on www.wunderground.com.

A key strength of the Graduate Program on the Environment is that the director is also a fully engaged faculty member. By continuing to teach in gCORE, I can share my knowledge of the history of ecology and my love of Pacific Northwest landscapes. As important, I get to know each incoming student through our interactions in the classroom and in the field, which helps when it comes to advising students as they progress through the program. As I discussed thesis topics with many second-year students over the past few weeks, I thought about how different these conversations would be if we had not worked together for three quarters last year.

As the incoming director, my most important work this year was to recruit faculty who can provide strong core programs and elective courses. Building on the work of the previous director, Martha Henderson, we now have six full-time core faculty: Erin Martin, Dina Roberts, and I are continuing in the program; Kathleen Saul (MES ’09) and Peter Dorman are returning faculty members; and Shangrila Wynn is teaching in MES for the first time. We bring to the program diverse academic and professional experiences—I encourage you to check out our web profiles for further information.

Our program also has an impressive group of part-time faculty teaching elective courses. I’m especially excited to have a new part-time faculty member teaching an expanded curriculum in spatial analysis. Mike Ruth, a long-time project manager at ESRI, will be teaching Introduction to GIS each spring and Advanced GIS each fall. Our hope is that this configuration will meet strong demand among our students and provide a more systematic pathway for them. Students who want to develop core GIS skills can take the spring course in their first or second year; students who want more advanced GIS training and practice can take the fall course, which will be especially useful for those who are embarking on thesis research that involves spatial data.

Looking ahead to spring, we will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the MES with events on April 25, 2015. We have a small group of energetic alums and students who are working to make this a great event for everyone who has graduated with an MES degree over the past 30 years. You will hear more from them in the near future. For now, save the date! Alongside this celebration, Karen Gaul (former MES faculty member) will be working with her undergraduate students in Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth to conduct oral histories of MES graduates. Please let me know if you are interested in being interviewed for this project or in joining the organizing committee.

Finally, I’m happy to note that tomorrow’s weather forecast for Eatonville is now partly cloudy with less than 5% chance of precipitation. Stay tuned to our blog for pictures of MES students in scenic—perhaps even sun-dappled—forests.

Kevin Francis, Director (francisk@evergreen.edu)

New Year for Evergreen MES

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

Welcome to the 2014-2015 school year!  It’s been a busy time for the MES program, with orientation and the first week of classes off to a great start.

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2014 MES 1st Year Student Orientation

The program welcomes several professors to this year’s set of faculty.  Peter Dorman returns to the program from the undergraduate curriculum this year. He brings his expertise in economics and political economy.  He is currently teaching Cost-Benefit Analysis and the Environment for this Fall Quarter.  Kathleen Saul is an alumna of the MES program at Evergreen who taught for one year a few years ago.  She focuses on energy resources and policy, particularly within the nuclear power industry.  Dina Roberts taught part-time in the program last year, and this year teaches full-time. She is a conservation biologist with a background in ornithology.  She teaches Case Studies and Thesis Design with Kathleen Saul.  Shangrila Wynn delves into political ecology and climate justice.  She is currently teaching gCORE, the first year MES student core class.

The department has a couple of new student staff as well.  Anna Rhoads is the current Student Assistant for the MES office.  Stop by, say “hi,” and ask any questions you may have about the program.  She’s very friendly!

I’m the new Communications Assistant for the MES department.  I’ll be posting on this blog, twitter, Facebook, and editing the quarterly newsletters.  I’m always looking for fellow students who would like to share their experiences in the program or any photographs during their time at Evergreen.  Feel free to contact me anytime at hruskar@evergreen.edu or check out my bio.

MESA (Master of Environmental Studies Association) had its first meeting last Thursday.  The group aims to bring MES students together and plan social events so we can connect with our peers outside of class.  Last year’s coordinators explained MESA’s hopes and dreams for this year.  The biggest event to plan is the 2015 Rachel Carson Forum in April 2015, and ideas are being considered for what theme should be chosen. Look for future meetings, Thursdays at 5PM in the graduate lounge (Lab I, 3rd Floor, Room 3023).

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1st MESA Meeting of the 2014-15 School Year

I look forward to everything this year has to offer!

Reflecting on two (or three!) years of hard work

By Jana Fischback, MES almost-alumnae and Communications Assistant.

A week ago I finished my thesis and turned it in. Phew! Feels amazing. At first it was a little surreal.

Last weekend a group of MESers went camping near Wynoochee Lake just a couple of hours from campus, and relaxed. At one point, while relaxing by the lake, my fellow student Krystle Keese said, “Ahhh. I feel happy.” We have worked SO hard over the last two years, and it was wonderful to enjoy each other’s company one more time before graduation. I’ll be very sad to see many of the students in my cohort move away from Washington State, but I know they’re on to amazing things.

MESers camping near Lake Wynoochee

MESers camping near Lake Wynoochee

I’m proud of how all of our thesis projects turned out. I really enjoyed watching students who I witnessed struggle to come up with topics tell everyone about the great research that they completed. It’s also amazing how different all of ours were. From eelgrass to biodiesel, from ecosystem services to natural disasters, and from grouse to elk, our thesis topics really ran the gamut.

Image of pie chart of thesis topicsIn the last two weeks of the Spring 2014 quarter, the majority of 2014 graduates presented their theses – it was one more step toward graduation. Everyone did a great job on their presentations. It’s a pretty scary thing getting up in front of a group of fellow students, first-year students, faculty, staff, friends, family, and maybe even a potential employer. Ten minutes to explain all of your research isn’t much, that’s for sure. I’m so proud of all of us, and wish everyone the best for their future endeavors. Be sure to check the library’s thesis webpage in the Fall, to find our theses online in PDF form!

Here’s the full list of thesis titles from 2013-2014 graduates:

“Analysis of the Potential Carbon Sequestration Capacity of Eelgrass Beds in Port Gamble, Puget Sound” by Carola Tejeda; Reader Erin Martin

“Antimicrobial Resistance in Orcinus orca Scat: Marine Sentinels as Indicators of Pharmaceutical Pollution in the Salish Sea,” by Sara Potter; Reader Erin Martin

“Brownfield Impacts on Residential Property Values: A Case Study Of Rainier Court Redevelopment Project, Seattle, Washington” by Laura Thelen; Reader Martha Henderson

“Caught in the Act! Deploying Camera Traps to Assess the Diel Breeding Patterns of Oregon Spotted Frogs,” by Kristen Ramsdell; Reader Dina Roberts

“A Comparative Analysis of Environmental Education: North Carolina, California, and Hawaii” by Abbey Allen; Reader Kevin Francis

“The Current Status of Environmental Interpretation in Washington State Parks on Puget Sound,” by Holly Haley; Reader Jean MacGregor

“Examination of Bivalve Shell Degradation for Alkalinity Regeneration Purposes in Hood Canal, Washington” by Lisa Abdulghani; Reader Erin Martin

“Exploring Collaboration in Theory & Practice: A Case Study of the Implementation of the Puget Sound Chinook Recovery Plan at the Watershed Level,” by Ashley McBee; Reader Kevin Francis

“Exploring the Interwoven Relationship of  Eco-Fashion:  A Production and Consumption Assessment of the Organic Cotton Garment” by Danielle Pucci; Reader Martha Henderson

“A Formative Evaluation of Washington State’s Biodiesel Renewable Fuel Standard” by Jennifer Dunn; Reader Ted Whitesell

“The Fox Island Energy Crisis – A Natural Experiment in Voluntary Energy Conservation” by Josiah Narog; Reader Ralph Murphy

“Growth Medicine: The Development of the ‘Resource Curse,’” by Marxa Marnia; Reader Kevin Francis

“Harbor Porpoise Return to the South Puget Sound: Using Bioacoustic Methods to Monitor a Recovering Population” by David Anderson; Reader Erin Martin

“Incorporating Tribal Interests in Marine Protected Areas: Case Studies of Treaty Tribes on the Washington Coast,” by Otis Bush; Reader Zoltan Grossman

“Insects as Food: Assessing the Food Conversion Efficiency of the Mealworm (Tenebrio molitor),” by Brian Spang; Reader Kevin Francis

“Investigating Disaster Preparedness within a Transitory Community: A Case Study of Student Attitudes at the Evergreen State College” by Fiona Edwards; Reader Martha Henderson

“Measuring Community Resilience to Natural Disasters: A Case Study of Thurston County, Washington” by Kyli Rhoads; Reader Ted Whitesell

“Modeling Columbian Sharp-Tailed Grouse Lek Occupancy to Guide Site Selection for On-going Translocations and Species Population Recovery” by Stacey Plumley; Reader Dina Roberts

“A Multi-Functional Landscape Approach to Reconciling Renewable Energy and Crucial Habitat Needs in Washington State” by Krystle Keese; Reader Ted Whitesell

“Payments for Ecosystem Services in Washington State: Understanding Stakeholder Values and Potential Coalitions in the Nisqually Watershed Services Transaction Pilot Project” by Charissa Waters; Reader Kevin Francis

“Harbor Porpoise Return to the South Puget Sound: Using Bioacoustic Methods to Monitor a Recovering Population” by David Anderson; Reader Erin Martin

“Incorporating Tribal Interests in Marine Protected Areas: Case Studies of Treaty Tribes on the Washington Coast,” by Otis Bush; Reader Zoltan Grossman

“Insects as Food: Assessing the Food Conversion Efficiency of the Mealworm (Tenebrio molitor),” by Brian Spang; Reader Kevin Francis

“Investigating Disaster Preparedness within a Transitory Community: A Case Study of Student Attitudes at the Evergreen State College” by Fiona Edwards; Reader Martha Henderson

“Measuring Community Resilience to Natural Disasters: A Case Study of Thurston County, Washington” by Kyli Rhoads; Reader Ted Whitesell

“Modeling Columbian Sharp-Tailed Grouse Lek Occupancy to Guide Site Selection for On-going Translocations and Species Population Recovery” by Stacey Plumley; Reader Dina Roberts

“A Multi-Functional Landscape Approach to Reconciling Renewable Energy and Crucial Habitat Needs in Washington State” by Krystle Keese; Reader Ted Whitesell

“Payments for Ecosystem Services in Washington State: Understanding Stakeholder Values and Potential Coalitions in the Nisqually Watershed Services Transaction Pilot Project” by Charissa Waters; Reader Kevin Francis

“Photoresponse of Cancer magister (Dana, 1852) Zoeae to Light Stimulus in High-CO2 Seawater: Implications for Coastal Ecosystems in an Acidified Ocean,” by Caitlin Roberts; Reader Erin Martin

“Prairie Fire as a Selective Agent: Second-Generation Responses and Plant Community Shifts” by Jaal Mann; Reader Carri LeRoy

“The Real State of Real Estate in Coastal Santa Cruz County, CA: A case study of the Pleasure Point Seawall Project” by Matthew Marino; Reader Martha Henderson

“The Response of Birds to Drought: Examining Species Abundance and Richness with the Christmas Bird Count” by Britt O’Leary; Reader Kevin Francis

“Seasonal Variation of the Genus Dinophysis within Puget Sound, Washington:  Understanding Harmful Algal Blooms through Species Identification” by Jennifer Runyan; Reader Erin Martin

“Social Marketing for Residential Energy Efficiency: Motivations and Barriers Relating to Home Improvements in the Puget Sound Region” by Jana Fischback; Reader Kevin Francis

“A Story of Transit in Seattle: Employing Life-cycle Assessment A and Comparative Analysis to Reveal Holistic Perspectives of Sustainable Development” by Samuel Wilson; Reader Martha Henderson

“A Temporal Analysis of Elk Movement in Relation to Transportation Infrastructure” by Molly Sullivan; Reader Dina Roberts

“The Use of Stable Nitrogen Isotopes in Macroalgae to Evaluate Watershed Level Anthropogenic Nitrogen Inputs to Hood Canal, Washington” by Traci Sanderson; Reader Erin Martin

“Value of Direct-Sales Farms to Habitat Conservation in Thurston County, Washington” by Cory Mounts; Reader Dina Roberts

“Wetland, Soil and Geology at Oregon Spotted Frog Locales in Thurston County, Washington” by Bonnie Blessing; Reader Dina Roberts

Butterflies, flowers and prairies, oh my!

By Bri Morningred, MES 2nd year student. 

In a state that is lush with evergreen, it is relatively easy to overlook one of Washington’s most rare and unique ecosystems: the prairies. As a native Washingtonian I really do think that spring is her best outfit—from the cherry trees to the rhododendrons Washington is awash with color and new life. The prairies are no exception—sporting purple Camus and orange Indian Paintbrush they sing of spring.


Bri and others learning more about rare prairie plants in the South Sound. Photo by Jaal Mann.

Friday and Saturday I had the fortune to experience spring in full swing with a tour of Shotwell’s Landing Nursery and Glacial Heritage prairie for Prairie Appreciation Day. Shotwell’s Landing located in Littlerock, WA along Black River is home to a conservation nursery project growing endangered prairie plant species. It is jointly managed by the Center for Natural Lands Management and Sustainability in Prisons Project. This conservation nursery hub has conducted its own research into developing successful germination and seed collection methods for several endangered plant species that are exceedingly difficult to grow. The tour was a wonderful blend of those who are currently in plant production, those who have just started plant production and those who are hoping to start plant production soon. I help care for the plants as they’re growing—weeding, watering, etc—and it was really interesting to talk with a group of people with such vast amounts of knowledge. We toured Shotwell’s Landing, Websters Seed Nursery and Violet Prairie Seed Nursery amidst moments of stormy downpours. It was such a fun afternoon discussing prairies and seed cultivation methods with local experts. There was even a sighting of two Boxers from Oregon leaping in a nearby field (see photo below).

Bri and MES Assistant Director Gail Wootan enjoying the prairie

Bri and MES Assistant Director Gail Wootan enjoying the prairie (aka: two Pacific University Boxers leaping in a field). Photo by Jaal Mann.

The following day was Prairie Appreciation Day at Glacial Heritage Reserve near Mima Mounds. This is a prairie habitat preserve that supports the endangered Indian Paintbrush as well as the endangered Tailor’s Checkerspot butterfly. PAD is the one day a year when the preserve is open to the public for viewing—otherwise foot traffic is restricted to volunteers in order to reduce human impact and protect the endangered species. Glacial Heritage is the very first prairie I ever saw on the same day last year and it completely opened my eyes to one of Washington’s rare sights: a healthy prairie. Only 3% of Washington’s historic prairies still exist today, and many organizations are working to keep them protected and healthy. PAD is wonderful day of activities that not only teach about the prairie ecosystem, but also about all the organizations working to protect it—including Center for Natural Lands Management, Sustainability in Prisons Project, The Nature Conservancy and many more. Most activities are kid-focused so I got to spend my day helping kids making Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly kites and their very own “nectar boxes” made out of prairie plant flowers they colored themselves and chilled juice boxes. Who wouldn’t want to hydrate like a butterfly right? If you ever get a chance to check out one of Washington’s prairies do it; it will draw you in and you’ll wonder how such a unique landscape can be hiding in plain sight.

A child enjoys running through the prairie

A child enjoys running through the prairie. Photo by Jaal Mann.

MES student wins first at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference

Second year student Leif Wefferling was recently awarded a first place prize in the graduate student poster category at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Seattle. Read about his research and his experience at the conference below. - Jana Fischback, MES Communications Assistant
By Leif Wefferling, MES 2nd year student. 

collaborating with the Coastal Watershed Institute in Port Angeles and studying how forage fish spawning activity is changing in response to the Elwha dam removal project. The two species of forage fish that I am interested in, surf smelt and sand lance, require intertidal beaches with an abundance of fine-grained substrate in which to spawn; however, the supply of sediment to the beaches of the Elwha nearshore was dramatically reduced over the past hundred years due to the construction of two dams on the Elwha River and miles of shoreline armoring that prevented the natural erosion of coastal feeder bluffs. At present, with both dams almost completely removed, millions of cubic meters of sediment is being transported downstream and released into the nearshore environment, potentially changing the character of its beach substrate and the spawning habitat of forage fish. To date, I have not found a significant difference in spawning activity since the dam removal process began, but the conditions in nearshore beaches are still very much in flux so it is still early the game. Interestingly, there is evidence of new spawning activity in one area of a beach site that was previously unsuitable spawning habitat so perhaps this is a sign of more changes to come. Another important finding is that overall spawning activity in the Elwha area is significantly lower than adjacent areas of the coast that have intact nearshore sediment processes. For example, the most robust spawning activity was found in sites along the Dungeness Bluffs–an area that is free of shoreline armoring and where feeder bluff erosion contributes a steady supply of fresh sediment to the nearshore beaches. This finding suggests important implications for the long-term restoration of forage fish spawning habitat in the Elwha nearshore because the armoring in the Elwha area is projected to remain in place indefinitely and will continue to prevent the feeder bluff sediment inputs long after the initial pulse of river sediment has ended.

Attending the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference was an exciting experience. It was encouraging to see the breadth of research being conducted throughout the Salish Sea and on both sides of the Canadian/American border. I learned of new and emerging areas of research that I had never heard of before, and it was equally valuable to catch up with the latest findings in those areas that I’ve been following closely and learning so much about as I write my thesis. I have to admit being a little star-struck listening to the presentations given by researchers whose work I’ve read, and re-read, during these past few months!
The poster gala was in the evening of the second day and was so well-attended that people had to speak loudly to be heard above the din. For two hours I chatted with passers-by about my research. I didn’t feel like there was any special attention paid to my poster, but I had been surprised to find that all my handouts- I had printed 30 of them and hung them in an envelope next to the poster on the first day- were gone by midday, even before the gala event had begun!

Salish Sea Poster_2

Leif’s award-winning poster that he presented at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference

This conference was the first time I’ve ever presented a poster, and this poster was the first I’ve ever made. With my time at Evergreen now coming to a close, I feel like I’m off to a good start towards other first experiences that lie ahead.

Closing the Investment Gap Between Renters and Landlords

By Bethany Alender, 1st year MES student.

I recently attended a community symposium on Healthy Energy Improvements for Rental Homes, which is part of The Vision2Action Sustainability Series – A Conversation on the Built Environment.  This symposium brought together landlords, renters, real estate agents, construction and energy experts, health experts, public agency representatives, and many other community leaders.

The purpose of this symposium was to address the problem of a split incentive created by the divide between renters and landlords on investment return.  More and more people are renting than owning homes, but rental properties are often not well insulated or equipped with energy efficient appliances.  This happens because renters usually pay for power and gas, so the landlords do not benefit by investing in energy efficiency; and renters do not want to make the improvements themselves because they are not likely to see a return on investment before they move.  The poor insulation and low maintenance of many rental homes can also lead to poor indoor air quality.  One woman spoke at the symposium about her family’s experience with illness directly caused by mold in her apartment.  The landlord had decided to save a buck and paint over the mold instead of removing it before her family moved in and her daughter suffered dozens of ear infections and pneumonia before the age of 3.

According to the keynote speaker, MES alumnus Steve Abercrombie, 150,000 people will come to Thurston County by 2040.  That’s a lot of housing!  He sees opportunity for improvements in energy efficiency in the middle market; the high end is already incentivized and the low end is subsidized.  However, when low income families have to make a choice between rent, utilities, and food, they are going to choose food and utilities first. If the utility is unexpectedly high, they’ll be late on rent.  This is one reason for landlords to invest in energy efficiency.  Another reason for landlords to invest is that renters are demanding more energy efficiency.  Renters are likely to stay longer if their home is affordable to live in.  Some real estate agents present at the event agreed that they much prefer a tenant who stays for a longer period.

Abercrombie presented a vision of an online marketplace that would act like Angie’s List for housing. “Homeprint evaluations” would report the home’s average energy costs based on the last tenant’s bills.  These would allow renters to asses the health and costs of the home, and the investment by the landlords would be recognized.

Example of a "home print evaluation."

Example of a “home print evaluation.”

Some advice from the panelists:
A real estate agent offered a bit of advice to those looking for a new home to buy or rent: Avoid homes built by national construction – local builders are the way to go. Local builders know the right type of construction needed for the land and the climate, and they are concerned with their own reputation. An energy expert advised tenants to be cautious of “offsetting behavior.” Offsetting behavior occurs when the potential savings of an appliance are offset by the consumer’s behavior. For example, consumers may leave lights on longer because they know the bulb is energy efficient.

After the panelists spoke, attendees broke into groups and participated in a World Cafe Breakout Session to discuss ways to close the split incentive between renters and landlords. There was lively discussion among the 95 participants about incentive programs, outreach and education, access to information, energy audits, marketing strategies, creating better relationships between renters and landlords, and promoting healthy homes.

World Cafe Breakout Session

World Cafe Breakout Session

The symposium facilitator, Chris van Daalen, generated a report on the results and he even created a plan for actionable strategies with key participants as leaders to keep the momentum going. I encourage you to read the in-depth Report to the Community linked below. Included in the report are many resources on energy efficiency, rebate programs, and people to contact who want to help you make a healthier, cost-effective home.


The 24th Annual Rachel Carson Forum: Responding to Climate Change in the Pacific Northwest

By Kelly Beach, 1st Year Student and MESA Coordinator.

The 24th Annual Rachel Carson Forum came in the middle of a flurry of spring activity. Taking place during Earth Week, RCF was sandwiched in-between TedX, EarthFest, MES Admitted Students day, ArtsWalk, and the Procession of the Species. With so many things going on, RCF turned out to be the perfect mid-week event to tie the week together, and was a huge success. MES students, undergraduate Greeners, professors, alumni, prospective MES students, and community members were all in attendance to make this year’s Rachel Carson Forum one to remember for years to come!

Speakers for the Rachel Carson Forum with MESA members and MES director Martha Henderson before the event

Speakers for the Rachel Carson Forum with MESA members and MES director Martha Henderson before the event

The day started off a little crazily with rain and some high winds, but we, the MESA coordinators were not about to let that slow us down. Bethany Alender, Lauren Taylor, and I had been planning this event for what felt like decades but was actually seven months. We, along with a handful of dedicated volunteers, were trying all year to make the 2014 forum the best yet. With a line up of great speakers and an opening hour of live music, we were all really excited to see all of our hard work come together on April 24th.

The preparation for the big day started at 9am when we put out the giant green S and A board signs in front of the library, reminding people that this glorious event was taking place at 6pm that day. The real set up began at 3pm when a crew of MES volunteers arranged all of the chairs in Library 4300. Before we knew it local bluegrass group the Oly Mountain Boys were jamming and audience members started to arrive and browse the tabling by community groups such as the Sustainability in Prisons Project and the Center for Natural Lands Management.

By the time the speakers started to talk, there were 140 people seated in the room who had come to hear about how the Pacific Northwest is responding to climate change. Program director Martha Henderson kicked off the event by giving an introduction to MES’s historic event and reminding us of the impact of Rachel Carson’s legacy. She then introduced Rhys Roth of the Evergreen Center for Sustainable Infrastructure, who moderated the event and framed the importance of understanding climate change and sustainability. NOAA senior scientist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Richard Feely was the first speaker, and began by framing the problem of ocean acidification on both a global and local scale. Next, Mr. Andy Haub, a city planner for the city of Olympia demonstrated the threat of sea level rise to Olympia, and proposed actions that the city will take to deal with this issue. Ms. Thera Black of the Thurston County Regional Planning Council challenged the audience to think critically about transportation and housing choices in relation to reducing our carbon footprint. The forum wrapped up with a dynamic question and answer panel discussion, where important, challenging questions were asked by audience members to the speakers.

NOAA Senior Scientist Dr. Richard Feely explains ocean acidification's impact in the Puget Sound region

NOAA Senior Scientist Dr. Richard Feely explains ocean acidification’s impact in the Puget Sound region

Overall the 24th Rachel Carson Forum was a huge success. This is illustrated best by a report that a student who was seated on the bus, ready to go home, stood up and got off of the bus and headed to the forum because said he knew he would regret missing out on this amazing opportunity. Well anonymous bus-rider, we are sincerely glad you came to our event. Thank you to all of the volunteers who made this event possible, the speakers, and to all of the people who supported us, especially Martha Henderson, Kevin Francis, Erin Martin, and Gail Wootan, and finally to the Evergreen and Olympia community for making the 24th Rachel Carson another huge success!

MES Coordinators Bethany Alender, Lauren Taylor, and Kelly Beach

MES Coordinators Bethany Alender, Lauren Taylor, and Kelly Beach

Letter from the Director – Spring 2014

By Martha Henderson, Director.

Spring Quarter is always a promising time of year on campus. Students, faculty and staff are all working at full capacity and then some!  First year students are now full candidates for a master’s degree having successfully passed the Winter Quarter core program in environmental sustainability. The Spring Quarter core program, Research Design and Quantitative Methods, is never an easy class. Three faculty members, Carri LeRoy, Kevin Francis and Greg Stewart, are facilitating the core program. Under Carri’s leadership, past students have actually claimed that the program became their favorite, so there is always something new to learn about research methods! Many of the students are already beginning to define their thesis research and determine data collection protocols.

Second year students are in the middle of thesis research and writing. It’s been my pleasure to work with them as a group. I am very thankful for their commitment to complete the program and earn their degrees. I look forward to thesis presentations at the end of the quarter. Every student is working on research that has direct impacts on better environmental management and decision-making. The presentations are open to the public and will be in late May/early June. Information on the exact day, time and place will be widely advertised. Please consider joining us for these research presentations.

Thesis presentations

An MES student presents his thesis to a captive audience.

April also brings together two important program events. Applicants admitted for Fall 2014 are invited to campus for the MES Admitted Student Afternoon on April 24. This year, the event is being combined with the annual Rachel Carson Forum, a day to celebrate our program matron saint. The forum is being planned by the first year students and promises to be an informative evening. This event is also open to the public.

Prospective students hear from Martha Henderson at Admitted Students Day in 2013

Prospective students hear from Martha Henderson at the first Admitted Students Day in 2013.

Admitted Students Day will also be especially exciting this year. Kevin Francis, the incoming Director, has already taken on major leadership by hiring exciting new faculty and bringing them to campus for the event. The program welcomes back Erin Martin, Dina Roberts, Kathleen Saul, Peter Dorman and a new faculty member, Shangrila Wynn who will teach climate justice. I am especially glad to see the focus on climate by all of these faculty members. Climate change and its impacts on social and natural environments will only continue to rise in importance for current and future students. When events like the recent landslide in northern Washington, the loss of the Washington shellfish industry to ocean acidification, and increasing impacts on mountainous ecosystems become more obvious, understanding the role of climate change from an interdisciplinary perspective is crucial. MES is already preparing graduates to meet the new challenges of the 21st century.

Thank you for your interest and support of MES.