Featured articles

  • Reflecting on two (or three!) years of hard work
  • Butterflies, flowers and prairies, oh my!
  • MES student wins first at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference
  • Closing the Investment Gap Between Renters and Landlords
  • The 24th Annual Rachel Carson Forum: Responding to Climate Change in the Pacific Northwest

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.

Reflecting on time in MES 25 years ago

By José Drummond, MES Alumnus.

I was one of the first MES graduates in the 1980s. I enrolled in the MES degree’s third class in September of 1986. I concluded my thesis in August of 1988.

Those two years were among the best in my personal and professional life. I love to talk about them. However, telling current MES students about this almost “remote” experience brings up the issue of its relevance. Probably the program, Evergreen, and their environs have changed substantially after more than 25 years. I have not followed such changes, but I will try to take them into account as I mention a few points important to me and that may be of interest to current and future students.

I entered MES from Brazil looking for a substantial multi- or inter-disciplinary course of study in environmental issues. As I had a bachelor’s degree in social sciences, I was looking for a well-crafted and sufficiently “heavy” exposure and training in the basics of natural sciences. I found this in MES, in the exact dose, content and format. I became literate in ecology, biology, forestry, geology, physical geography and hydrology. I learned how to advance further in these fields and how to teach myself about other fields.

At the same time, the particular blend of the MES curriculum allowed me to use and sharpen my social science background, particularly in the fields of natural resource economics, political science and environmental history. It was therefore an experience in both intellectual renewal and background consolidation.

A distinct matter was the training in writing embedded in the curriculum. Although I had published two books back in Brazil before 1986 (in Portuguese, of course), I had never received any instruction on the skills of writing. That changed in MES. In the first four quarters of the program we had the experience of writing – and getting faculty and colleague feedback – a large number and a wide variety of texts, including position papers, a field journal, presentation summaries, posters, term papers, thesis pre-project and project, always following specific instructions. This helped me become a prolific writer.

Jose Drummond immersed in thesis revision, in Olympia, 1988.

José Drummond immersed in thesis revision, in Olympia, 1988.

Before MES I had never made a field trip, although I was a semi-regular hiker/camper in Brazil. The 12 or more MES field trips were both a lot of fun (intensive sight-seeing for a recently-arrived foreigner) and a source of much learning. The trips were all carefully planned to complement / illustrate readings discussed in classes and seminars. We went to the Columbia River gorge (including Dry Falls and the Grand Coulee dam), Capitol Forest, Olympic National Park, several state and national forests, Grays Harbor (at its migratory bird peak), and several points along Puget Sound. We even spent a full rainy Saturday prowling around Capitol Lake identifying birds and sources of water pollution. The most difficult hike for me was going up (and down) the muddy, rocky, wet and cold gorge of a retreating glacier somewhere in the Cascades. These trips prompted me to make several other leisure trips on my own, including Mt. St. Helens, Rainier National Park, San Juan Islands, Malheur Field Station, Crater Lake National Park, the Oregon coast and more. While having fun in all these temperate landscapes, by contrast I learned a lot about the tropical landscapes with which I was familiar, but took for granted. I also learned the value of first-hand observations of natural and human-made landscapes.

Jose Drummond, with MES classmate Al D'Alessandro, during a fieldtrip, near Dry Falls in the Columbia Basin, 1987.

José Drummond, with MES classmate Al D’Alessandro, during a field trip near Dry Falls in the Columbia Basin, 1987.

The last point I will mention is that MES prepared me to work with people of different backgrounds, an important “skill” for all people working on environmental issues. Both in my academic pursuits and in consulting experiences, my MES sojourn allowed me to be at ease when working with non-social scientists after more than ten years working exclusively with social scientists. Right after concluding MES, on my return to BraziI, I felt comfortable as I engaged in several professional projects involving professionals with varied backgrounds. Since 1999 I have worked exclusively in a graduate program in environmental studies in which professors and students come from the entire gamut of backgrounds. I would like to brag that I designed or founded this program, but actually I joined it when it already had taken off. However, I can truthfully say that I managed to put MES “fingerprints” on several program directives and activities.

MES alumnus Jose Drummond visiting TESC campus in 1994

MES alumnus Jose Drummond visiting TESC campus in 1994

No doubt about it: for me MES was an enriching experience with lasting effects.

Adventures in Olympia

By Jenny Dunn, MES Student. 

As I entered the MES program, I wondered how my schedule would look, how easily I would make friends, and what my social calendar would look like. It’s not a lie to say that the program and studies dominate my time schedule, but there is always a need to make room for some social activities and fun outings with fellow classmates. Over the past year and a half I’ve participated in quite a few festivities with classmates: a St. Patty’s party, clam digging, hikes with alums, a city basketball league, and the infamous trivia Tuesdays at the Fishtale Brew Pub in Downtown Olympia. As my time comes to a close in the program, and possibly in the PNW, I’ve been scrambling to make the most of my time by splitting it between thesis mode, which entails giving my undivided attention to my computer as I crank out my thesis and troubleshoot my stats with fellow thesis writers in the CAL on campus, and enjoying the opportunities that the PNW offers.


MES students Kelly Beach, Bri Morningred, friend Emily, author Jenny Dunn, and Fiona Edwards playing trivia.

If you’re struggling to find some great social activities to share with friends or classmates here are a few:

Great Hiking:

Lake Cushman is by far my favorite place to hike that I’ve experienced so far in WA. Not only does it remind me of my undergraduate years at Michigan State University, with the beautiful evergreen trees, cottages surrounding the lake, and the cliff jumping, but the hikes are spectacular with picturesque views of the Olympic Peninsula. I’ve also enjoyed camping here as part of an end of the year celebration with fellow MES classmates, as we completed our first year of grad school last June. We ate oysters grilled over a fire, played extreme bocce, and climbed a tree with a diameter at least 15 ft.

MES students Jana, Jenny and Lisa near Lake Cushman

MES students Jana Fischback, author Jenny Dunn and Lisa Abdulghani near Lake Cushman

Besides Lake Cushman, there are numerous trails around Rattlesnake Ledge, Capital Forest, Sol Duc Falls, Hurricane Ridge, and Vista Loop at Mt. Rainier. As MESers, we are lucky enough to have bountiful options in terms of hikes in WA and I encourage everyone to take advantage of it while you can and, better yet, go with your classmates, which helps limit cost and lessen your imprint on the environment you’re exploring. Hikes closer to Olympia are: Tumwater Falls, Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, McClain Creek, and Priest Point Park.


Jenny on a hike with MES alumni Andreas Keodara and Bobby Coleman


In terms of local social activities, I’ve participated in quite a few in town: a trapline (bar crawl where we dressed as Alaskan frontiersman and hit up bars along 4th Street in Olympia), trivia at Fishtale Brew Pub, which 2nd years tend to gravitate to when we don’t have our thesis workshop, and lastly, I even joined a local city-league basketball team that was coordinated by an MES alum and has MES staff, current students, alum, and other community members on it. The options in Olympia for indoor, local social activities aren’t limited; it’s just a matter of getting out there and making it happen. Whether it’s spending a Friday night dancing off your stress at Jake’s bar, relaxing in a coffee shop catching up, or rock-climbing at the CRC on campus.

MES students Bri, Jenny and Rachel, and friend Emily, enjoy the Washington State Fair in Puyallup

MES students Bri Morningred, author Jenny Dunn and Rachel Stendahl, with friend Emily, enjoy the Washington State Fair in Puyallup

So, as a current 2nd year in the MES program, I encourage all MESers to think outside the box and indulge in a little destressing with some activities with friends and to get ready for some warmer weather with Spring around the corner.


Jenny with fellow MES student Carola Tejeda, after participating in the Color Run

An MESer’s Trip To New Zealand

By Peter Boome, MES Student.


About a year a half ago I received an interesting e-mail inviting me to participate in the 7th Indigenous Artist Gathering at Kokori Puri in New Zealand. I had never heard of the organization nor of the gathering. I had a lot of questions. I was intrigued by the possibility of going to New Zealand to make art and hang out with Maori people, so I wrote back and indicated I was interested but had a ton of questions before I committed.

When they answered my questions about the event I was really honored to have been invited. The event is a gathering of master indigenous artists from around the world who are invited to come together and simply make art. It is an invitation-only event and quite exclusive. In order to attend, an artist must be nominated, have their work screened and then except the invitation. The event is held every couple of years at different locations. A previous one was held in Hawaii, and the next one in 2016 will be held at the Evergreen Longhouse.

I still don’t know who nominated me, or who supported my nomination. I have my suspicions, but am grateful to have had the opportunity to attend such an amazing event.

New Zealand:

I have a few friends in New Zealand who I met when they were in the states on artist visits of their own. I contacted them to see if it was feasible to come early to have a look around the country. It was. I arrived about a week early flying into Auckland. When you arrive you are instantly aware of two things.

One: The Lord of the Rings, and Hobbit movies were filmed here and they are a big tourist draw.

Two: Maoris have a large presence in the country.

My dear friends Henare and Tawera Tahuri picked me up the day after I arrived. They had a family event and were picking up Henare’s parents from the airport anyway so adding me to the mix wasn’t a big deal.

After touring around Auckland for an afternoon we picked up Henare’s parents at the airport and headed out of town. We went to Whangarei where we stayed at Henare’s uncle’s house. The floor plan was different than what you’d see here in the states. It was a two story house with the kitchen on the upper level. The interesting part about the upper level was that it was one large open multi-function room. The kitchen was at one far end with a large table, then a huge open space lined with several large couches. The reason for such a plan became apparent pretty quickly. Foam mats were brought out and laid down on the floor for us to sleep on.

Early the next morning I woke up because there were several people who had showed up for an impromptu family gathering. I counted 27 people at one time, milling around, speaking Maori and English interchangeably.

The family was preparing a meal, consisting of a giant homemade loaf of bread, some mussels, other seafood stuff, vegetables potatoes and probably other things I’m forgetting.

The older members of the family were sitting around the kitchen, butter knives in hand. They were shucking and sucking down mussels in large quantities. Of course they insisted that I join in. Now I’m not adverse to shellfish, but I prefer my shellfish cooked. These mussels were raw and considered a delicacy, so I shucked and sucked five or six which looked and tasted a lot like razor clams. I was pretty much musseled out, when they brought out more that had been basted in garlic and butter. Half a dozen later I was able to excuse myself and grab some bread. The reason I mention this is because this set the tone for the rest of the trip. I was fed, and fed, and fed some more. I ate so much seafood.

My second day in New Zealand saw us headed to Whangarei. There was a berry festival going on, so I was treated to a fun farmer’s market atmosphere, where I ran into one of the most famous Maori singers in New Zealand. Of course I didn’t know this and was speaking with her at some length; it was a true Forrest Gump moment.

That same day we went to a historic and famous “marae,” which is a Maori longhouse. The marae has a long, sad, and resilient history. It was built in the 1800’s and ended up in England for quite a while. It then ended up in a museum and was abused. During it’s time in a museum, the marae was too tall to fit, so the museum in its infinite wisdom decided to cut the lower foot and half off of the bottom of the entire building. Doing so was not only reckless towards the art of the marae, it is also very insulting. Long story, short the Maori were able to reacquire their marae and work towards restoring and repairing it.


A Maori longhouse, called a “marae”

We toured the marae and it was stunning. At the end they treated us to a light show which told the story of the marae (the meaning behind the carvings.) The light show was amazing in that it integrated the historic carvings while being an amazing light show at the same time.

At the end of the day we headed to Gisbourne where we spent two days. I was able visit the site were the movie “Whale Rider” was filmed. I also was able to attempt to surf.

After spending a couple of days in Gisbourne we headed back to Auckland to pick up another artist and head up to Kaikohe where some of the top indigenous artists from around the world were gathering at Kohewhata Marae for two weeks for collaborative artistic creativity as well as a huge exhibition of their works.


Somewhere in between Gisbourne and Auckland is a tiny place called Hobbiton. Yes, it is where parts of the movies were filmed. Yes, I stopped there. Yes, it is touristy. Yes, it is awesome!

Hobbiton is about as far from being a pretentious Hollywood theme park as you can get. Basically it’s just like walking through a hobbit village. All the plants in the gardens were real, complete with insects. All the tools were also real, it was simply amazing. There were no rides, nor people dressed as hobbits, wizards, elves or dwarves.


Peter enjoying Hobbiton

The road from Auckaland to Kaikohe is narrow and winding, there isn’t a lot of development outside of Auckland and soon you end up in small rural towns.

Kaikohe is one such small rural town. We didn’t actually stay in Kaikohe, instead we stayed at Kohewhata Marae, where several large tents were set up as sleeping quarters. Many people elected to sleep inside the Marae which made for very interesting sleeping arrangements, since every night a meeting of sorts took place in the Marae.

Like most Marae there are other permanent structures located on the same grounds. This marae had both a dining hall as well as shower / toilet facilities. The dining hall was your basic cafeteria set up and the showers were similar to a locker room shower.

In a grassy area there was a large tent set up which had tables and work areas set-up. These work areas were set aside for painters, carvers, and potters. Separate work areas were set up for jewelers, print makers, weavers, and Ta Moko artists (tattoos).


I had been invited as a painter and printmaker. I spoke with the printmakers and there was very limited space with only one press. I also spoke with the painters and there was plenty of canvases and paints and I was excited about doing some sort of collaboration and spoke with several artists about the idea. For some reason I was really drawn to the carving area. While not officially invited as a carver, I had brought my carving tools and wanted to learn more about Maori carving. I ended up spending all of my time with the carvers. We worked on a couple of large sculptural pieces that took a lot of time. I also carved several small objects as well.


New Zealand carvers

The carving techniques of the Maoris are very different from the techniques used in the Pacific Northwest. While we both historically and continue to use adzes, and have adopted some of the same power tools, the similarities end there. While in the Northwest we use bent knives to do much of our detail and texture work, the Maoris use gouges which they call chisels, which they push by hand or hit with various mallets. This makes sense because the wood the Maoris use, which they call timber, is extremely hard. It is much harder than any of the tree species that we carve here in the Pacific Northwest. The wood they use also happens to contain a high oil content, which means there is no need to oil the finished product. Pretty cool stuff, if you are a carver.

I wasn’t able to get to all the collaborations that I wanted to get to, but I was able to make some good connections. We will work on collaborative work over time, which is much easier to do with painters than with carvers since you can ship a canvas back and forth.

We didn’t spend all of our time working. We also went on a few field trips. For one such field trip we went to the Waipoua Forest where some of the largest and oldest remaining Kauri trees in New Zealand remain. After which we went to a Maori nursery and forest where they are working hard to replace and rebuild the historic forests with indigenous trees and plants.



The people in this picture are standing on a railing so their heads are about ten feet off the ground.

Another field trip I was lucky enough to go on was an exclusive one to the War Memorial Museum in Auckland, which is something like our Smithsonian museum. I went with the carvers and was able to look at a number of carvings in the archives. This was pretty exciting and quite amazing.

It wasn’t all educational, of course. At night we had the option of going to a local hot spring, which smelled of sulfur. The hot springs were owned by the local Maori tribe and were simply amazing. They weren’t over-developed and fancy like ones you would see here in the States. These were specifically for local use and enjoyment, and not designed as tourist attractions.

Ta Moko:

Since I have gotten back I have been asked more questions about Ta Moko than anything else. Ta Moko is the Maori form of tattoo. There are a couple of basic things to know about Ta Moko. First is that it is a distinct art form with long history and tradition. The second is that most Ta Moko artists use an electric gun, but many also use the traditional chisel or ulu (“tap tap”).

There were several Ta Moko artists at the gathering and many of the 123 artists got some type of ink during their time there. I had arranged for an amazing Ta Moko artist in Hamilton to work on me, so I didn’t have plans to get moko at the gathering. Just because I didn’t have plans doesn’t mean it didn’t happen! I ended up getting a large calf piece done by one of the carvers. Yes it hurt. A lot.


Pete getting some “ink” in New Zealand

 The End:

There were too many amazing things to list or write about here without this blog turning into a book. New Zealand is an amazing and beautiful country to visit. The food is wonderful, that is, if you like GMO-free food, lots of seafood, and vegetables. If you like tattoos, I can think of no better place to go, because there is a lot of ink in New Zealand.


Can’t Get Enough of Canada: MES Students Attend CONFORWest conference in B.C.

By Sam Wilson, MES 2nd Year Student. 

Earlier this month, the fifth annual CONFORWest conference for environmental graduate students was held in the tiny town of Bamfield, British Columbia located on the southern side of Vancouver Island. I joined ten other MES students and alumni on a long journey by car, boat, and bus from Puget Sound not knowing exactly what to expect. This being my first time in Canada, I was incredibly excited to experience a new environment and network as a foreigner.

We arrived at the Bamfield Marine Science Centre to find ourselves in a picturesque landscape with tall mountains, old-growth trees, and the strong current of Barkley Sound. Shortly after settling in to our comfortable accommodations, we headed to the cafeteria for dinner. Most of us were expecting a summer camp style cafeteria serving Spam with green goop soufflé, but were pleasantly surprised to find a well-staffed kitchen with a dedicated and talented chef who peered over the dining hall as if it were a fine dining affair. Needless to say, the food exceeded all of our expectations. Cheers to you chef.

Later on that evening, we all met in the main building of the science centre for a social session where we met and networked with many bright and interesting graduate students representing a diverse number of Canadian universities. The beer and wine poured throughout the night and we conversed until way past our bedtimes. Walking back to the lodge that night through a beautiful stand of Madrone trees, I realized that I was not at a normal conference.


This isn’t your average conference!

The second day began the academic portion of our adventure. Throughout the morning we listened to a number of grade-A presentations and participated in what were dubbed “break-out sessions” where we engaged in passionate discussions over coffee. Both the oral presentations and the break-out sessions kept my attention and sparked new and exciting thoughts despite the lack of sleep. I think that the other MES participants would agree that topics presented on and discussed at CONFOR were relevant, interesting, and though provoking. Overall, very choice.


Author Sam Wilson and fellow MES student Kelly Beach enjoying the sunshine.

Later that day, we broke from presentations to participate in a number of different activities including a tour of the facilities, a nature walk with keynote speaker and renowned author and biologist Andy MacKinnon, and a boat tour of Barkley Sound. Two first-year MES students, Lauren Taylor and Kelly Beach, and I chose the latter and saw a number of marine mammals, birds, and incredible views, all while sipping hot tea in the salty spray of the turbulent water. After returning from our voyage, eating another wonderful dinner, and listening to a wonderful presentation by Andy MacKinnon, we perused poster displays (mine included!) over wine and beer. This turned out to be a really fun late night discussing science and sustainability with our Canadian colleagues.



The presentations on Saturday mirrored the quality of those the day before without a doubt. After lunch, we broke for another activity session, which included a more diverse schedule with software and publishing workshops, an algal art class, and yoga. Some of the MES crew and I decided to take the afternoon to visit Pachena Beach, a beautiful shore partially covered in snow with tall rock faces marked by icicles dripping into intertidal pools with all kinds of little critters. We returned to the center to discover that some of the locals had invited all of the CONFOR participants to Brody’s Beach for a bonfire after dinner, which was one of the most fun parties I’ve been to in a while. Although I was disappointed that this was our last night, it was great to have one last hurrah with folks.


Crabs know how to party on Vancouver Island.

CONFORWest was much more than experimenting with what happens when you put 40 scientists together in a remote location with ample libations, it was a time of learning about new topics in environmental studies and sustainability, networking with peers, having an adventure, and perhaps most important for me and the other second-year MES students, a time to help sharpen our own thesis topics. Without a doubt, prepping for CONFOR advanced my thesis in an effective and unique way. Although it was a bit of a vacation, I feel stronger with my topic and on top of my personal deadlines after attending CONFOR. My hope is that I will be able to go back next year as a recent grad and have a similar experience all over again.


Until next year!