UW News

June 9, 2016

Jerry Franklin named 2016’s ‘Eminent Ecologist’ by leading ecological group

UW News

Jerry Franklin, far right, teaches a class in the forest.

Jerry Franklin, far right, lectures in a ponderosa pine forest in Oregon.Debbie Johnson

The Ecological Society of America has named University of Washington professor Jerry Franklin its “Eminent Ecologist” of 2016. The award, considered the organization’s most prestigious accolade, honors a senior ecologist who has made significant, long-standing contributions to the field of ecology.

photo of jerry franklin

Jerry Franklin

Franklin, who in his 60-year career has bridged philosophical gaps between traditional logging-oriented forestry and ecology, is credited with being the first scientist to focus research on old-growth forests, and for challenging clear-cutting practices to mold a “new forestry” dedicated to healthy forest ecosystems.

“There are a lot of really excellent people who are part of the Ecological Society of America,” said Franklin, a professor in the UW’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. “I certainly didn’t ever expect this award.”

“As one of the world’s premier forest ecologists, Jerry Franklin transformed forest ecology and management in the U.S. and left an indelible mark on ecology writ large. Jerry seamlessly blended science and management throughout his career and his infectious enthusiasm for trees, ecosystems and landscapes has inspired several generations of ecologists. He is richly deserving of this recognition by ESA,” said Monica Turner, the organization’s president and a professor of zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Franklin started his career with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in western Oregon, then became a UW professor in 1986 after 30 years as a forester. He worked for former President Bill Clinton on the controversial Northwest Forest Plan, the series of federal policies and guidelines that stopped clear-cutting of old-growth and refocused the Forest Service’s mission on nurturing forest ecosystems and their biological diversity.

Franklin also advised the U.S. House of Representatives and continues to work with the Obama administration on forest policy issues.

“The evolution of the science of forests as ecosystems has matured,” Franklin said. “The application of that science and how you go about managing forests in that way is perhaps the most important thing I’ve done. But it started with the old-growth.”

“I was really frustrated that nobody knew anything about old-growth forests. I was bound and determined that one way or another we were going to learn something about them. I thought perhaps we were only creating a historic record of something that would be extinct, but in the end, we ended up still having a lot of old-growth here.”

A group of Franklin’s former graduate students — many of them now professors — nominated him for the prestigious award. Central to the nomination were numerous letters of support from Franklin’s colleagues around the world — accomplished professors, deans and scientists who cited his impact, particularly early in their careers.

“All of these colleagues jumped at the chance to write a letter supporting him,” said Andrew Larson, an associate professor of forest ecology at the University of Montana and a former student of Franklin’s, who organized the nomination.

“The letters were breathtaking. These are globally recognized people, and to read the things they said about him was incredible.”

Franklin’s work is ingrained in the fields of forestry and forest ecology in ways that are hard to match.

“His influence is so great that it’s hard to have conversation in the field without his name coming up. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been at a meeting and high-level speakers are compelled to mention him and invoke him in their work,” Larson added.

Throughout his career, Franklin played a significant role in developing major, multi-institutional programs aimed at incorporating ecological principles at the broadest scale, including the International Biological Program in the 1960s and early 1970s, and later the Long-term Ecological Research Program.

He was the first program officer for the Ecosystem Studies Program at the National Science Foundation, where he helped nurture long-term ecological research around the country.

In Washington, among many other research efforts, Franklin secured funding to establish the Wind River Canopy Crane in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to study old-growth tree canopies, a research program that lasted 16 years.

Despite a staggering list of achievements, published papers and awards, Franklin is just a nice guy, humble to the core, colleagues say. He has advised nearly 50 graduate students and continues to teach undergraduate courses in ecology and forest management. His favorite place to teach is in the woods, and most of his students get to experience a week or two of lectures under immense ponderosa pines and Douglas-fir trees.

The Ecological Society of America will honor Franklin and its other award winners at the organization’s annual meeting this August in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The society, founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists. The 10,000 member organization publishes six journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach and education initiatives.


Contact Franklin at jff@uw.edu or 206-543-2138. For information about the award, contact Liza Lester at the Ecological Society of America: 202-833-8773 ext. 211 or LLester@esa.org.