Research in the Wild
Student helps professor researching carbon sinks in Moscow Mountain forest
Dana Andres, a University of Idaho undergraduate student from Colville, Washington, enjoys spending her time in the mountains. For the past year, she’s studied the impact thinning trees might have on forests while enjoying the fresh air outdoors.
As climate change becomes an increasing concern for the future, UI students are working alongside Tara Hudiburg, an assistant professor in the College of Natural Resources Department of Forest, Rangeland and Fire Sciences, to examine how thinning trees impacts carbon in forests.
Andres, 21, is a senior majoring in ecology and conservation biology at UI who works with Hudiburg. She is the only undergraduate student that is helping with the research.
Research has shown thinning trees from forests will lessen wildfire severity, but Hudiburg and her students want to see how it could affect climate change. Thinning forests is the removal of trees, typically the undergrowth of a forest, so less stress is put on the thriving trees.
They are studying whether removing dead trees releases less carbon into the atmosphere, or if leaving the trees there will absorb more carbon. Andres says if the dead trees act as carbon absorbers, or carbon sinks, this could potentially decrease the overall impact of greenhouse gas emissions.
“We are trying to see if they are valuable or not,” Andres says.
Andres' roles is to project the decay rates of the dominant tree species found in UI’s Experimental Forest on Moscow Mountain: Douglas fir, Western red cedar and Western larch. She says since research predicts warmer and wetter winters, this could create a faster decomposition rate. The hypothesis is the dead woody debris will likely decay faster than in previous years, releasing the carbon into the atmosphere sooner.
The researchers have six plots of land designated for thinning. The dead woody debris will not be touched during the process, but live trees and dead standing trees will be thinned to see the effect on fire mortality and drought stress.
By using current climate change projections from the Moscow area, Andres will use that information to see if the dead wood will decay faster. Hudiburg will potentially use this data to determine how to thin the plots, which likely will take place this fall.
“Her goal is a resilient landscape,” Andres says.
Andres grew up surrounded by forests and worked for the U.S. Forest Service for three summers.
“It’s great practice for what I hope to do in the future,” Andres says.
Eventually Andres plans to become a wildland firefighter. She is benefiting from this project in more ways than one. Not only is it focused on her major and interests, but she will get to see the effect her research has on fighting future fires. She says it’s just an additional perk that she gets to spend her time researching outdoors on the mountain.
“Everything has a function and is connected; trees, animals, plants, water, soil,” Andres says. “When I’m in the mountains I feel connected to the world I live in.”
Writer: Emily Lowe, from Kuna, is a sophomore majoring in journalism. She hopes to write for a travel or outdoor magazine in the future.
Photographer: Kira Hunter, from Emmett, is a junior majoring in biology and minoring in professional writing. She plans to enter the science field as either a scientific writer, GMO lawyer or genetic counselor.