Forestry student gets the dirt on climate change

In a barren pit on Vashon Island, UW School of Forest Resources graduate student Kate Kurtz is growing a forest—and fighting climate change along the way.

The pit was created when topsoil was carried away to cover a nearby landfill. Now, the 5-acre site can support only grass. So Kurtz is testing the best way to enable it to grow trees.

That’s where fighting climate change comes in. Trees soak up carbon dioxide—the most common greenhouse gas—and transform it into tree trunks, roots and, eventually, soil organic matter. Forests can store more carbon than other landscape types, so planting forests is promoted as a climate-change mitigation strategy.

Last fall, Kurtz marked out plots on the 5-acre site and treated them with various types and concentrations of compost and conventional fertilizer, then monitored the level of nutrients in the soil. The next step is to plant young trees, and follow how they grow.