Where are they now?

The Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology has thousands of distinguished and supportive alumni that have gone on to become landowners, ecologists, biologists, foresters, recreation professionals, public servants, and environmental experts.

Ever wonder where some of our alumni end up? We did, too! This page serves as a way to showcase the amazing things our alumni are doing and provide our current and perspective students a glimpse of what they can do with their Forest or Wildlife Ecology degrees.

If you would like to provide an update, Please drop us a note and include your name, degree and year, and an update on what’s new with you or your career to lbarrow@wisc.edu.


Carli Morgan (B.S. Forest Science, 2010)

Carli will start a Master of Science program this fall in the Sustainable Forest Management program at Oregon State University under the advisement of Dr. Matthew Powers. Her research will focus on the socioeconomic tradeoffs of traditional timber commodity production and alternative silvicultural models in the Northwest coastal range of Oregon.

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Donnie Radcliff (B.S. Forest Science, 2015)

Donnie is taking part in the Society of American Forester’s Henry Clepper Forest Policy Internship in Washington D.C. This four month internship pairs Radcliff with the SAF Policy Team who lobby for forestry causes and communicate about forest policy issues to SAF members and the general public. The internship is a mix of shadowing team members at congressional hearings and assisting with outreach to state societies and student chapters. “My favorite day of the internship was the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition Hill Day,” said Radcliff. “I tagged along with urban forestry leaders as they met with Congressional staffers to talk about urban forestry programs. At one point I was even explaining to one of (Senator) Marco Rubio’s aides how planting trees saves cities money in the long run.”

Alumni in the Spotlight

Christopher J. Whelan

As a freshman at UW-Madison in the College of Letters and Science (1976-1977), I discovered the existence of the Department of Wildlife Ecology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. I immediately stopped by Russell Labs, talked with someone in the Wildlife office and arranged to meet Professor Stanley A. Temple a couple of days later. Upon speaking with Dr. Temple, I knew I had found my undergraduate major. Having grown up in Coulee Country outside La Crosse, WI, I had always been “outdoorsy,” hiking the hills and observing nature, though we did not own binoculars or have any field guides. Hence I learned the little I knew about birds and bird identification from a copy of Audubon’s Birds of North America, and the many encyclopedias we owned. Speaking with Dr. Temple convinced me that a degree in Wildlife would allow me to pursue academically what had been a life-long obsession. With luck, Dr. Temple was assigned to be my undergraduate advisor, and he was a tremendous mentor. My experience as a Wildlife Ecology major at UW-Madison greatly shaped the trajectory of my professional career.

My most influential experience as a wildlifer occurred during the summer of 1979, when I worked as a field assistant to Bruce Ambuel, who was a MS student working with Stan. With two others, I worked for Bruce for two months on his now classic study of forest fragmentation and forest bird communities in south-central Wisconsin (Ambuel and Temple, Ecology, 1983). I still use skills today that I learned from Bruce 37 years ago. The skills in bird and plant identification, and methods of vegetation analysis that I learned from Bruce that summer have served me well over my entire career.

As a student of Stan Temple, I could not help but become further interested in bird conservation and how management, from captive breeding to habitat management, can help promote healthy bird populations and communities. In graduate school at Dartmouth College, where I was advised by Richard T. Holmes, I investigated how birds use forest habitat for foraging, with the goal of understanding habitat selection. This focus on bird foraging led to a growing interest in the ecological functional roles of birds in their ecosystems. Later, in my first position after a postdoctoral appointment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with Mary F. Willson, I investigated top-down insect control of forest leaf-consuming insects, and how bird insect consumption may enhance growth of forest trees. This work, conducted in Missouri with Robert J. Marquis of the University of Missour-St. Louis, showed that foraging of insectivorous birds in our oak forest habitat led to significantly greater biomass production of white oak compared to when bird foraging, thanks to exclosure cages, was absent.

UItimately, that work led to an invitation to contribute a review article on bird ecosystem services for the initial issue of The Year in Ecology and Conservation Biology, published by the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (2008). Writing that review convinced me that the subject deserved an entire book, but to do so properly, it would have to be an edited volume with experts in various fields contributing to it.

Therefore, with Çağan H. Şekercioğlu of the University of Utah, and Daniel G. Wenny of the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory, I co-edited “Why Birds Matter. Avian Ecological Function and Ecosystem Services.” The edited volume of 12 chapters contains contributions from 22 authors from nine countries. The book covers the history of “economic ornithology,” modern approaches to assessing economics of ecosystem services, bird how ecological functions, including pest control, pollination and seed dispersal, ecosystem engineering and nutrient cycling, contribute ecosystem services.

The diversity of birds’ diets often offers a window into the many ways birds benefit the ecosystems they inhabit. Nectar-consuming birds pollinate flowers and contribute to gene flow and genetic population structure. Insect-consuming birds benefit plants in both natural and agricultural ecosystems. Fruit consuming birds, in both terrestrial and aquatic systems, are critical for seed disperal and maintenance of plant communities. Scavengers, such as vultures, regulate pathogens by consuming carcasses. Many bird species, especially those nesting colonially on oceanic islands, are critical in global nutrient cycling, and many others help redistribute nutrients throughout the environment. Excavation by woodpeckers in trees, and many seabirds on land, are important ecosystem engineers, creating nesting cavities that are often used by a host of other avian and non-avian species.

Ultimately, many ecological functions performed by birds can be tied to the economic well-being of humans. Bird thus enrich our environments and our lives, and their decline may come with a steep price to pay in the loss of these services. Nonetheless, as stated most eloquently by Aldo Leopold, when he wrote about motives for restoring wildlife:  “Many other motives have been asserted: economic profit, services to agriculture, stimulation of tourist business, etc. These hold good for some kinds of wildlife in some spots, but they break down in others. There is no economic profit in a ladyslipper.” We, too, recognize the arguments over instrumentalist versus intrinsic valuation of nature. In the book, we argue that conservation of birds can be advocated with our hearts, our minds, and our wallets.

Why Birds Matter is available at The University of Chicago Press and at Amazon.com.

Peter David (B.S. 1983, M.S. 1986)

Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission veteran biologist Peter David (B.S. Wildlife Ecology 1983, M.S. Wildlife Ecology 1986) received the prestigious National Wetland Award for Conservation & Restoration last year at a ceremony in Washington DC. David is considered by many to be one of the country’s foremost experts in wild rice ecology (manoomin), a plant with significant ecological and cultural importance in the upper Midwest. “Any accomplishments that I have been recognized for have only been made possible by a tremendous amount of efforts and commitment by a wide range of cooperators – including my wife and three children,” David said. “I often say I feel I have been most influenced by my two primary educations: one at the UW – which introduced me to Leopold’s land ethic, and one from the Ojibwe for whom I work, whose world view turns out to have great similarity to the land ethic. I have been very fortunate to have both these experiences in my life.”

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Tom Larson (B.S. 1971 & M.S. 1974)

Department alumni Tom Larson (B.S. Wildlife Ecology 1971, M.S. Wildlife Ecology 1974) published his debut novel, “Hyena’s Tree”. While the book is fiction, it incorporates many experiences Larson had while servicing as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa after graduating from the UW. There he worked on a park development project in Benin, West Africa living with and studying the wildlife in two national parks. Following a 37 year career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Larson retired and completed the novel. “My debut novel is shaped by first-hand experiences that ranged from encounters with African buffalo, lions, and crocodiles to Gabon vipers and poachers,” said Larson. “My passion for wildlife and knowledge of African history—along with my four decade career in conservation—culminate in a riveting adventure.” The novel is now available through the publisher (http://theaqllc.com/?page_id=742&b=20), as well as through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.