The always ascending UW Restoration Ecology Network @UW_CoEnv

When I moved to Seattle and eventually transferred into the University of Washington, I did so with a vague knowledge of some of the programs that UW had. First I tried to transfer into biology, then fisheries and then forestry, but none of those departments would take my transfer credits from a regional school in Ohio. The Program on the Environment (POE), an interdisciplinary environmental studies program that was then housed within the College of Arts and Sciences, would however take those transfer credits as I worked towards a BA in environmental studies (disclaimer: mileage may vary with your own transfer credits). POE also sponsored a multi-year curriculum in restoration ecology and ecological restoration, the Restoration Ecology Network. Within POE, that was the program that caught my eye - after all, it had field courses, classroom learning, real-world doing, all while working within a larger network of students, agencies, and community partners.

Successional management in the UBNA - 2009

While I could speak to the diversity of courses I took within UW-REN (pronounced yoo - wrenn), or the awesome students, community partners, and restoration practitioners that I met, a budget-weary Washington State doesn't want to hear the touchy-feely. They want to hear the results that most funding bodies do: students graduated, jobs created, acres restored, dollars under budget and days ahead of schedule. Before I mention those items though, for the record, my now wife and I became good friends working on UW-REN projects and courses and it set us both up for our current positions in the world. While in UW-REN, I received a skill set that would lead me down a road of travel, adventure, research and friendship while being public service-minded, and gainfully employed.

My UW-REN internship led to a paid position working on a forest restoration project on the fringe of North Bend, WA. This job, and the BA I earned concurrent with it would eventually allow me to enter graduate school in the UW College of Environmental and Forest Sciences. I was based out of the Center for Urban Horticulture, where I worked almost weekly in the Union Bay Natural Area, formerly a freshwater marsh at the confluence of two streams that entered Lake Washington. When the Lake was drained to link Lakes Union and Washington, Lake Washington was lowered several meters, and the swamp was used as a landfill. This is what the Union Bay Natural area looked like in 1964 prior to reclamation and restoration.

 Later, the landfill was capped and since the 1990s has been a living laboratory for the restoration of mixed lowland forests, oak woodland, prairie, and wetlands. It was these early restoration experiments that exposed me to the scientific research surrounding restoration. I was able to do and learn how to do science around these restoration projects, visiting them years after completion to see if the early results persisted moving forward. UW-REN and the Union Bay Natural Area were my seam to get up field, start moving professionally and score some points. The trees at my 2006-era ESRM 473 project are now 30-feet tall, and I've worked with CUH students and faculty to publish three scientific papers on the Union Bay Natural Area, all while leading hundreds of volunteers for thousands of combined person-hours maintaining restoration projects.
Kern Ewing and the workhorses of the UBNA and UW-REN - students! Image courtesy of the Seattle Times.

In short, UW-REN succeeded. I was very fortunate to have been a part of this experiment in education, ecological restoration, and community building. Fortunately, this experiment is ongoing with hundreds of acres of projects on the ground and courses, including the popular capstone series, still being offered at UW. Some of these restoration projects were more successful than others, but all of them linked students to the real world and real problem-solving.

Kern wields a mean blackberry (Rubus armeniacus)

This weekend, Kern Ewing, longtime UW-REN leader on the UW-Seattle campus, received another glowing media review, this time for his work in the Yesler Swamp on the north side of the Union Bay Natural Area. The Seattle Times details his work in the Yesler Swamp, a forested swamp at the bottom of Yesler Creek, a historic timber floating stream in Lake Washington. This project is a culmination of many years of both formal (UW-REN) and guerrilla (Saturday morning UBNA volunteers) restoration. It also shows the longevity and dedication of Kern and his colleagues in UW-REN.

Quercus garryana in a restoration area in the UBNA

Kern's pride and joy has been the UW-REN for the last decade, and now, there is a generation of professionals who have been trained by UW-REN. These individuals practice the art and science of restoring degraded ecosystems from the Chesapeake Bay to UW's backyard in Puget Sound. Any press that UW-REN  receives is well deserved. It's great to see the program still working with the UW Botanic Gardens, multiple academic units and UW campuses to create a culture of earth stewardship and applied land restoration. On a personal level, I'm forever grateful for Kern and UW-REN for setting me on my current career trajectory and fostering an enthusiasm and fascination with degraded and natural ecosystems and their similarities and changes over time. Thanks UW-REN and thanks Kern. Kee p on, keepin' on.

Good things afoot in the E-5 wetlands, circa 2010

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