Featured articles

  • Sustainability… in Prison?
  • Elwha River Restoration Ecology Trip
  • Dropping the Base at Taylor Shellfish
  • Aquaponics at The Evergreen State College
  • Community in the Heart of Texas

Sustainability… in Prison?

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 5.23.00 PM

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 5.24.16 PM

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 5.25.20 PM

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

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 5.25.59 PM

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 5.26.47 PM

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 5.27.23 PM

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

Elwha River Restoration Ecology Trip

By Sarah Davis, 2nd Year MES Student.

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

elwhaDay 1

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

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

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

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

Day 2

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

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

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

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

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


Dropping the Base at Taylor Shellfish

By Hannah Trageser, 1st Year MES Student.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Aquaponics at The Evergreen State College

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

Deep Water Raft Culture Aquaponic System at the TESC Organic Farm

Deep Water Raft Culture Aquaponic System at the Evergreen Organic Farm

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

Strawberries Growing in Vertical Towers at the Organic Farm Aquaponic Greenhouse

Strawberries growing in vertical towers at the Organic Farm Aquaponic Greenhouse

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

Like TESC Aquaponics on Facebook !

Horizontal Growing of Crops at the TESC Aquaponic Greenhouse

Horizontal growing of crops at the Evergreen Aquaponic Greenhouse

Community in the Heart of Texas

By Sarah Bell, 3rd Year MES Student.

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


Texas A&M Campus

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

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

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

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

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

Texas A&M Logo

Texas A&M Logo

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

Winter 2015 Director’s Note

By Kevin Francis, MES Director.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Winter Break European Vacation

By Anna Rhoads, 1st Year MES Student.
Over my winter break, I was fortunate enough to travel to Europe with my older brother to celebrate the holidays. While I have traveled extensively throughout the USA and parts of Mexico, I have never left North America, so I was nervous but excited to travel abroad. We traveled to Vienna, Budapest, and Barcelona, each destination culturally and geographically unique. As an MES student, I am always interested in learning about sustainability and how other countries are implementing sustainable practices.  Here are some observations from an American perspective of how the European cities I visited embrace sustainability!

Market in Hungary

#1 Reuse to reduce.
A trip to Vienna, Austria during Christmas would not be complete without visiting one of the several Christkindlmarkt (Christmas markets)! Vendors at the markets sell Christmas themed trinkets, ornaments, and Viennese comfort food. We noshed on potatoes, dumplings, waffles, goulash, and drank the popular Glühwein  (warm spiced red wine). Most vendors would use reusable dishware and cups to serve their product. We had to pay an initial deposit to use the dishware, but received our deposit back once we were finished with our meal. The deposit system may have been one method that the Christmas markets kept post-consumer food waste low. We also noticed the deposit system at the Nagycsarnok (Great Hall Market) in Budapest, Hungary.
In addition, unlike the Pacific Northwest, where you can get a to-go cup of coffee from almost any business that has running water, there are few opportunities in Europe to get your coffee fix to-go in a paper cup. Only a few coffee shops advertised take-away coffee, and you hardly saw anyone running around with a paper to-go coffee cup in hand like you may in the US.  The two places we saw where you can get coffee to-go in Europe is from Starbucks or from a McCafe (yes, Starbucks and McDonalds are everywhere…). Europeans like to enjoy their caffeinated beverage of choice in a ceramic cup while sitting down and reading the newspaper or catching up with friends.

Coffee and Gluten-free cake

#2 Less trash pollution.
While this could be different in the less tourist friendly parts of the cities we visited, we did not see much litter. However, we did see people hired by the city to clean up the streets, subways, and parks. This may be a response to the European Union’s recent initiatives to tackle marine litter, but I cannot be certain. I am also not sure how each of these cities processed the trash they picked up (do they sort collected litter for recyclables? Or does it go straight to the landfill or incinerator?) Vienna and Barcelona also had several recycling and trash receptacles in popular tourist areas and subways.
#3 Public transportation galore.
Each city we went to had terrific metro systems and bicycle infrastructure. Barcelona had bicycle rental stations throughout the city, which many locals and tourists take advantage of. Vienna had orderly bike lanes (and people would glare furiously at you if you were to walk in them by mistake, my apologies Vienna!)  In Budapest, while there were few bicycles lanes, it appeared that millennials strongly embrace a bicycle culture, riding beautiful road bikes in 20 degree Fahrenheit weather.


We took advantage of the metro (subway/bus) systems in each city. Barcelona and Vienna were expensive to ride (14 Euro, or 17 USD,  for three days), however most employers and universities in the city will pay for their employees or students’ passes. Budapest was quite affordable (1500 Forint, or 5 USD for three days). It was a breeze to get from one location to the next on the metro. We took a long distance train from Vienna to Budapest, which was very affordable and only took two hours of our time. Locals we talked to believe owning a car in Europe is pointless unless you live in the countryside or need a car for work purposes.  

Anna in Barcelona

I like to think that the US will invest in efficient public transportation, shift from a throwaway culture to a reusable one, and have litter-free cities. Luckily, I”m in a graduate program at The Evergreen State College that aims to graduate leaders who may put these practices into place one day.

The Benefits of Presenting and Volunteering at a Professional Conference

By Sasha Porter, 3rd Year MES Student. SER

Earlier this quarter, I traveled to central Oregon and presented my thesis research at the interdisciplinary and exceptionally welcoming Society for Ecological Restoration Regional (Northwest/Great Basin) Conference in Redmond. The conference was attended by MES faculty (Dr. Sarah Hamman) and alumni (Dennis Aubrey and others), but I was surprised to be the only current Evergreen student there. Other attendees included professionals from a wide variety of governmental organizations (Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife, DNR, BLM, NRCC), tribes, universities, private firms, and nonprofits (CNLM, IAE) who presented research within the conference theme of “Collaborative Conservation: From Community Efforts to Landscape Scales.”

Organizers from SER-NW went out of their way to make the conference accessible to students, offering free registration to the five-day conference in exchange for nine hours of volunteer work, which for me involved assisting session moderators by loading each speaker’s PowerPoint presentation, and then putting it into “slide-mode” for fluidity as they were being introduced. Beyond the free registration the society gave me a student travel scholarship that, combined with the Evergreen Student Travel Award, provided enough assistance to cover my gas, food, and lodging. They also organized a “Student Mentoring Session” on the last day of the conference where I was able to engage in discussion directly with professionals who had specifically volunteered to advise students on what their career paths had been, what they thought would be important in the future, and what it had been like day-to-day, working in evolving fields with a variety of employers.

These folks are eager to mentor students and suggested that I start a SER-NW chapter at Evergreen. One theme of the conference that was repeatedly mentioned by plenary speakers (and many presenters) was the need not only for biologists and ecologists, but social scientists and policy specialists, to become involved in both the Society and the projects of its members. There were many presentations on how to build collaborations, and a general agreement that projects were only successful when they met the needs of the community, creating social as well as ecological benefits. Joining SER-NW costs only $5 for student membership, and provides access to funding and hundreds of members with successful careers throughout our region working on issues that include: species conservation, environmental education, collaboration, building and assessment, appropriate native seed production, habitat restoration (forest, prairie, sage steppe, riparian, wetland, stream, soil, wildlife), and all of the information that they want to pass on, including great thesis topics.

I presented my own research on Thursday morning at 8:30 am to a surprisingly full room. The audience was very supportive, asked great questions, and many people came up to me afterward to discuss my research, how it could apply to their current projects, and to tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation. I was handed business cards and later received e-mails with project details and requests for advice. Restoration ecology is a fairly new field, and full of open-minded people who understand the value of research, get excited by ideas, and are driven by ethics. Anyone interested in helping to start a SER-NW student chapter at Evergreen should get in touch with me: sashaporter@gmail.com.

Fall quarter musings: CORE Pack Forest Field Trip

By Sarah Keon, 1st Year MES Student.

I was able to enjoy a breath of fresh crisp air at Pack Forest and an optional trip to Mt. Rainier back in October (And yes of course I went! Why would I miss out on its majestic beauty?) Through gCore we went on an educational, as well as fun-filled field trip to Pack Forest.
MES Hike

Author Sarah Keon (center, in orange jacket) and classmates at Mt. Rainier.

Having read the Hidden Forest by Jon Luomo and an article of a research that included Pack Forest as a site for study, I was excited to apply what I learned to the site since I had a deeper perception of what the forest entailed. Pack Forest consists of areas reserved for harvest, for experiments, and for preservation. Although I have mixed opinions about their harvesting practices and did not really like the areas that were cut/ used for harvest, I really enjoyed seeing the preserved old growth forests which contained conifers that were a couple of hundred years old. I really grew to appreciate old growth forests even with all its decay and its lack of appeal to some people. In my eyes old growth forests are full of life and beautiful.

Photo taken by 1st Year Student Rhianna Hruska.

Another part about field trips that we absolutely can’t forget is the social intermingling that inevitably happens with your peers. I was able to know more about my cohort than I ever could sitting at a lecture or even during our seminar discussions. Sometimes it involved spilling out our whole life story while we rode along over to our various sites. Other times we would discuss class stuff over meals. And another we were able to play Apples to Apples and the Sticky Head Game late into the night.
Mount RainierAlthough I was tired from having stayed up so late playing games, I was still stoked to go to Mt. Rainier the next day. Despite a bit of rain drizzle the weather was pretty good considering Washington’s typically wet fall-winter weather. I was so glad I went. I was also grateful for having been given the opportunity to go to Mt. Rainer outside of curriculum. It was my first time there and it was absolutely amazing. Tiring as it may have been, I really enjoyed the entire trip and look forward to future field trips in other classes. (Sleep was amazing that night. I never woke up so refreshed.)

A Journey to the Crossroads

By Danae Presler, 1st Year MES Student and Sara Ann Bilezikian Fellow.

I am traveling down a beaten path, my feet stirring up little clouds of dust with each passing step. The sun is shining overhead and the path stretches before me. A steady trampling of feet over many years has widened it so that three or four can comfortably walk abreast. I imagine the footprints of all those who have come before, and thank them for their courage and their guidance. Somewhere among the many, are the footprints of Sara Ann Bilezikian. Once, she was a student at Evergreen. My own enrollment at Evergreen is in part due to her legacy. A familiar voice calls my name and wakes me from my daydream. Today, I am in the good company of many of my classmates. Where are we going, you ask? We’re on a journey to the crossroads of social justice and environmental responsibility.

Dirt Road through Tabuga, Ecuador

Dirt road through Tabuga, Ecuador

Okay, so maybe this metaphor is a poor fit for what it’s really like. Maybe the trail should be riddled with booby traps and sneaky diversions, false short cuts, and shady street vendors. Maybe it should be filled with throngs of people going the other way. There are lots of things it could be, but my idyllic image is inspired by a real dirt road and my experience with it.

The little town of Tabuga, Ecuador is home to some 60 families; a mere speck on the map. I was there because the area houses some of the last bits of tropical deciduous forest and I wanted to learn how to keep it from being replaced by shrimp farms, bananas, or pastures. This particular forest habitat is a critical link between wet forests to the north and very dry forests to the south, and as such offers refuge to species from both. I was there to help the animals—to protect them from the people. Or so I thought, anyways.

Walking on the dirt road through Tabuga changed my mind, though. It showed me that animals were not the only ones suffering from environmental degradation. Sure, I had heard about social injustice before, but apparently I needed a good slap in the face to really open my eyes. The take home lesson was that preaching environmental responsibility cannot be expected to work if we ignore the underlying issues of social injustice. When the time came for goodbyes, I neatly tucked my new resolve into my hiking pack and boarded the plane home.

A couple years have passed now and admittedly I haven’t solved any of the world’s eco-social issues. Time for lesson number two: it isn’t something one person can do alone. Recognizing that I need and want to be part of a team, I turned to the Master of Environmental Studies degree at The Evergreen State College. Being a Sara Ann Bilezikian Fellow has not only allowed me to pursue my passions, but has given me a healthy dose of support and encouragement to travel the beaten path. Sort of like a protein bar that I can nibble on in times of need. (Editor’s note: Sara Ann Bilezikian Fellows receive a scholarship equal to approximately two years of MES tuition)

Well team, it’s a long journey to the crossroads, but the sun is shining overhead and we’re in good company.

Danae PreslerYour traveling companion,

Danae Presler