News & Resources


Meet Au Sable’s 2017 Oil Pad Reforestation Team!

Feb 27, 2017

It takes a long time to grow a tree. That’s why it shouldn’t be a surprise that a study about how trees grow takes a while to complete. 2017 marks the third consecutive year that the Au Sable Institute will be working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and two private energy companies, ConocoPhillips and The Shell Oil Company, to determine the best methods for reforesting abandoned oil pads in northern Michigan. As this third year of the planned five-year study begins its preparations, Au Sable has assembled its 2017 Oil Pad Reforestation Research Team that will begin its fieldwork in May.

            Kirsten Fenton, from North Park University in Chicago, Illinois, first came to Au Sable as a student in Au Sable’s Field Biology in Spring, taught by Dr. David Dornbos. In his recommendation of Kirsten, David noted that, on a rainy day in the field near one of the oil pad study sites, she “pulled me out of the rain protecting forest …to walk back through the research site. She was interested in which tree species had been selected [for restoration] and which types had the greatest likelihood of survival.” For her part, Kirsten noted that, “My experience at Au Sable was life changing…my passion for creation, conservation, and the connection between faith and the environment grew exponentially.” A highly respected student at North Park University, Kirsten has served as a Writing Advisor, Teaching Assistant and Summer Science Academy Research Student at North Park. Honored to have you with us, Kirsten.

            Taylor Marshall from Southern Nazarene University (SNU) in Bethany, Oklahoma, will complement Kirsten in the 2017 study of oil pad reforestation. Founder and President of SNU’s Creation Care Club, Taylor has also served as an Intern at the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks, Oklahoma, where she was responsible primarily for invertebrate displays. A student in Animal Ecology and Aquatic Biology at Au Sable’s Great Lakes Campus in Michigan and in Marine Mammals on Au Sable’s Whidbey Island Campus in Washington, Taylor shared that, at Au Sable, “I have found my place as a steward of His beautiful creation, and Au Sable is an institution that provides lessons in the deeper understanding of this call.” Welcome, Taylor. We’re glad to have you back in this new role as a Research Assistant.

            Susan Wilderman, a teacher from Jesse Remington High School in Candia, New Hampshire returns for her fourth year as the Research Associate for the oil pad reforestation study. Equipped with a Masters in Natural Resources and years of research and teaching experience, during the summer field season, Susan oversees the research students and manages the collection and analyzing of field data. “I see my role in this study as one of mentor. In the beginning of the summer there is much to learn regarding vegetation identification, the methods for gathering, and managing a great deal of data. As the summer moves along, the students grow in knowledge and understanding which is a joy to observe,” said Susan of her role in the study at Au Sable. Thanks for your work on the study, Susan, glad to have you back on the team for the upcoming summer.

            Dr. Fred Van Dyke, Au Sable’s Executive Director, noted that “It’s a pleasure to have such talented people assembled on one study. We’ve learned a lot in just the first two years. The third year promises to give us even more insight about why different tree species are behaving differently in different treatments. Susan, Taylor, and Kirsten will provide us with the skill and dedication we need to make this year as successful as the first two.” There’s more ahead to discover in how to restore Michigan’s abandoned oil pads to their former forested state. It’s a pleasure to welcome our new Oil Pad Reforestation Team to be a part of this effort for 2017.

The first in a series of stories that will introduce the Au Sable Research Teams for every study, watch for the next story about our Kirtland’s Warbler research.