Jerry Franklin

From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2005. Profile circa 2004.

Degree                                              Ph.D.
Position                                            Professor of Ecosystem Analysis
Department                                      College of Forest Resources
Organization                                    University of Washington

franklinWhen did you become interested in ecology?
I got interested in ecology when I was about 8 years old but I didn’t know what it was called. We began spending family summer vacations in forest campgrounds in the Washington Cascade Range, mostly on the (then) Columbia National Forest and Mount Rainier National Park. These were all old-growth forest campgrounds dominated by big old Douglas-firs, western hemlocks, and western red cedars. I decided at essentially that age that I was going to be a forester and pretty much never deviated from that path. Once I did get into college I discovered an interest and aptitude for research and quickly and fortuitously got a job as an undergraduate with the Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station. Probably my father was most influential in getting me into forestry and natural resources, even though he had no academic background–just that of an Boy Scout leader. He was an avid fisherman, hunter, and hiker and first made me aware of the differences among trees.

How did you learn about ecological careers? 
My major professor, Dr. William K. Ferrell, for my M.S. degree at Oregon State University was probably most influential in moving me from a general interest in forestry to that of ecology. On his recommendation I went to Washington State University to work with Dr. Rexford Daubenmire, a very well known plant ecologist, for my Ph.D.

Describe your route to a career in (or using) ecology. What challenges did you need to overcome? What was your training, and what positions have you held?
Perhaps I have already described most of my path to a career in ecology in the above. I started out just to be a forester but my interests and the opportunities that I had ultimately made me an ecologist with very broad interests that extend beyond forests. So, to a significant degree, I didn’t really plan the path I ultimately traveled. But I did stay alert to the possibilities at various junctions and those always took me down a scientific and ecological pathway. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges was that of too many interesting opportunities. For example, I had several opportunities to become a bureaucrat in Washington DC, with the Forest Service or with the National Science Foundation. But I have generally managed to stay with jobs that still provide me with active involvement in scientific ecological study, including teaching and applications in policy. Lots of policy stuff in the last 15 years of my life working on things such as the Northwest Forest Plan for the federal forests in the Pacific Northwest.

Training:
B.S. and M.S. in Forest Management from Oregon State University in 1959 and 1961; Ph.D. in Botany and soils from Washington State University in 1966.

Positions:

  • Progression of Research Forester and Research Ecologist positions in the research branch of the U. S. Forest Service from 1959 to 1991, culminating in
  • Research Project Leader and Chief Plant Ecologist “titles”.
  • Professor of Ecosystem Analysis, College of Forest Resources, Univ. Washington, Seattle, WA. 1986-present (Forest Service and UW “split” me from 1986-1991)
  • Deputy Director, Coniferous Forest Biome Project, USIBP 1968-1973
  • Director, Ecosystem Program, National Science Foundation 1973-1975
  • Fellow, Harvard Forest, 1985-86
  • Director, H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest, Oregon, 1975-1985

What advice do you have for communicating ecology to diverse audiences?
Keep it simple and make it interesting. Identify what the really key messages are and focus on those. Few folks will be interested in the details, the sorts of things that your fellow students might be interested in. Identifying the key points and delivering a focused message is critical.

I find that it is also important to be sure that you present a complete message, and not just one that favors a particular outcome. Most of the time our job is to communicate with a public so as to inform their deliberations on the topic–not just to convince them to adopt some particular policy. Try to avoid “editing” information that you provide people on controversial issues; let them have the full pictures. Stakeholders too often are very selective about the information they provide, including environmental organizations. There is a principle that applies to either designing ecological experiments or communicating with a general audience. It is called the “KISS” principle–“keep it simple, stupid”.

What key advice would you offer a student today?
Not sure. The market for ecologists is changing with much more opportunity in the area of applied ecology. Working for agencies, NGOs, companies, etc. I would encourage students to think about these kinds of jobs as well as more traditional academic activities.

I would encourage developing a broad knowledge base that would include relevant technologies, such as GIS, which are important or essential in most ecological endeavors these days. I would suggest a good grounding in the social sciences as well as the natural sciences. For example, I tell my students that “forestry is a social science before it is anything else”. This is because people make all of the really important decisions about what happens on this globe and you are going to have to work with them if you intend to influence environmental policies of any kind. There is an immense amount of important work that needs to be done in ecology. There won’t be any lack of opportunity or, probably, even jobs.

Don’t know how I really learned about ecological careers as such. Just followed a progressive path, as suggested above. I became the Chief Plant Ecologist for the U. S. Forest Service in 1975 and retired in 1986 to a full time professorship (Professor of Ecosystem Science) in the College of Forest Resources at University of Washington, which is where and what I still am.

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