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Past Travis Lectures

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Shrub Willow: RX for a healthier planetOctober 17, 2018

Dr. Timothy Volk's research focuses on developing shrub willow to provide a host of environmental benefits, including a sustainable source for renewable energy. Dr. Volk is a senior research associate in ESF's Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management and was honored as the College's Exemplary Researcher for 2018-19. He has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of forestry, agroforestry, short-rotation woody crops, bioenergy and phytoremediation in the northeastern United States and Africa.

For more information, visit

This event is made possible by the generous support of Dale L. Travis '59.

Big Fish in the Balance: Research and Conservation in a Changing EnvironmentMarch 21, 2018

Dr. John Farrell

Dr. John Farrell spoke about how the establishment of a biological field station on an island in the St. Lawrence River helps meet the complex challenges presented by environmental change and resource management.

Dr. Farrell is a professor of aquatic and fisheries science and director of College of Environmental Science and Forestry's Thousand Islands Biological Station. He has been engaged in aquatic research on the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes for nearly 30 years. Dr. Farrell has mentored more than 30 graduate students and numerous undergraduates. He has published and lectured extensively on fisheries, wetlands and aquatic ecology. After the lecture, Dr. Farrell was presented with the ESF Exemplary Researcher Award.

  • Thousand Islands Biological Station website

The event was sponsored by the Dale L. Travis Public Lecture Series at SUNY ESF.

Dr. John Farrell
muskellunge in situ

Top Dog? The Ecological Role of the Coyote in Northeastern ForestsMarch 28, 2017

Dr. Jacqueline Frair 

Once restricted to the western plains, coyotes colonized New York State in the 1920s and today are the largest and most widespread canine predator around.  ESF’s Dr. Jacqueline Frair was joined for a night of “coyote tales,” based on extensive and novel research conducted by her team. How many coyotes are there in New York State, what do they eat, and what is their impact on other species in the region? All of this and more was learned about the new “top dog” in the eastern forest.

Before settlement by Europeans, wolves were the top canine predator in the region, and could be heard howling from the area that is now downtown Syracuse. After wolves and panthers were extirpated, coyotes moved in to fill the open niche. Dr. Frair describes coyotes as “the ultimate opportunistic omnivore,” adaptable and plastic, consuming comestibles from corn and crickets, to mice, woodchuck, and deer. With funding from the NYS DEC, Dr. Frair and her team have studied coyotes to learn about their population numbers, diet and movements, and effects on New York ecosystems. For example, could coyote predation affect numbers of white-tailed deer?


Dr. Frair is Associate Professor in Environmental and Forest Biology at ESF. She is also Associate Director of ESF’s Roosevelt Wild Life Station, a research center focused on preserving our wildlife heritage and imperiled species worldwide. She and her students have worked with a wide range of mammals from bats to beaver, white-tailed deer, foxes and wolves. Her students’ work spans the globe, extending to studies of jaguar in the Brazilian Pantanal, and lion-human conflicts in Africa. She teaches several popular courses at ESF including Applied Wildlife Science, Wildlife Field Techniques, and Landscape Ecology.

The event was sponsored by the Dale L. Travis Public Lecture Series at SUNY ESF.

a student gathering data pups in log den

James Gibbs

Restoring the Giant Tortoise Dynasties of GalapagosOctober 18, 2016

Dr. James Gibbs

The Dale L. Travis Public Lecture Series presented "Restoring the Giant Tortoise Dynasties of Galapagos" at the Gateway Center on the SUNY ESF campus. ESF Professor James Gibbs discussed his work on the tortoises of the Galapagos Islands.

  • View video of lecture

Dr. Gibbs, an internationally recognized scientist, has traveled to the Galapagos over 45 times to collaborate with the Galapagos National Park to restore populations of giant tortoises and the important ecosystem services they provide. Giant tortoises are among the most devastated of all Galapagos creatures but are now undergoing strong recovery thanks to concerted efforts by biologists and park managers. Dr. Gibbs presented a talk for the general public about the difficult but exciting work integrating science and management over two decades to restore these icons of a world famous biodiversity hotspot.

More on James Gibbs

James P. Gibbs (Yale '95, University of Missouri '88, University of Maine '86), Professor of Conservation Biology and Director of the Roosevelt Wild Life Station at the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF), is an internationally recognized scholar, scientist, and author. Among his many important writings are The Amphibians and Reptiles of New York State (Oxford Press) and The Fundamentals of Conservation Biology (Blackwell Science). Dr. Gibbs is also a member of the General Assembly of the Charles Darwin Foundation, recently served as "Wise Sage" for the Republic of Ecuador (advising on conservation science in the Galapagos Islands), and is Vice Chair of the Altai (Siberia) Assistance Project. Gibbs' research activities have most recently focused on use of wildlife by indigenous people in Guyana, conservation of Tanzania's endemic amphibians, evolution and conservation of Galapagos tortoises, and development of anti-poaching technologies for deployment in remote areas. His anti-poaching work in the Russian Altai centers on snow leopards and their equally endangered prey, argali sheep. At SUNY ESF, Gibbs teaches Conservation Biology and Herpetology.


Renewal of a Jewel - Onondaga Lake: Effective Collaboration Among Students, Scientists, Agencies and Private EnterpriseMarch 30, 2016

Dr. Neil H. Ringler

The Dale L. Travis Public Lecture Series presented "Renewal of a Jewel - Onondaga Lake: Effective Collaboration Among Students, Scientists, Agencies and Private Enterprise" on March 30, 2016, at the Gateway Center on the ESF campus. The event featured the work of Dr. Neil H. Ringler, Distinguished Teaching Professor and Vice Provost for Research at ESF.

  • View video of lecture

Once considered among the nation's most severely damaged lakes, Onondaga Lake is on a remarkable path of recovery. Dr. Ringler presented highlights from thirty years of research on the Lake and its habitats. Beginning with the closure of the Soda Ash facility in 1986, Dr. Ringler and more than thirty of his graduate students (plus many undergrads) have researched aquatic life in Onondaga Lake. Their studies range from the return of aquatic plants to the colonization of zebra mussels, spawning success of sunfish, migration patterns of walleye and sturgeon, and population dynamics of largemouth and smallmouth bass. Dr. Ringler also discussed collaborations that have made such extensive work possible.

collecting samples

Educated in biology and fisheries biology in California, Oregon and Michigan, Dr. Ringler joined the ESF faculty in 1975 as Assistant Professor of Zoology. He was named SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in 1993, the highest professorial rank in the SUNY system. His courses have included fishery biology, fish ecology, population ecology, animal flight, zoology, and currently, comparative vertebrate anatomy and aquatic entomology. He has trained 70 graduate students at M.S. and Ph.D. levels, each doing research in aquatic sciences, particularly fishes and aquatic insects. More than half of these students, and many undergraduates, have contributed to our understanding of the habitats and biota of Onondaga Lake, as discussed above. Dr. Ringler plans to continue such work; future studies on Onondaga Lake include responses of fishes and invertebrate food organisms to enhanced physical structure and the increasing activity and success of anglers on the lake and its tributaries

The Future of Fisheries: Choices, Decisions, and the Role of the ArtsOctober 31, 2016

Karin Limburg, John Waldman, James Prosek, David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes

  • Watch video of lecture

The fall 2016 lecture highlighted the work of ESF fisheries biologist Dr. Karin Limburg, who has worked with a range of fishes all over the globe from the Hudson River to the Grand Canyon and Baltic Sea. Some of Dr. Limburg’s most celebrated work has focused on fish otoliths or “ear stones:” tiny, calcified structures that form part of fishes' hearing and balance systems, and that grow much like tree rings. They can be “read” chemically to reveal stories of fish movement and migrations. Dr. Limburg is currently writing a book compiling such “fish tales” based on her otolith work.

Dr. Limburg's colleagues

Dr. Limburg was joined by four distinguished colleagues working in the fields of aquatic sciences and conservation, in the arts as well as sciences.

Aquatic biologist Dr. John Waldman has authored more than 90 scientific articles, numerous essays in the New York Times and several popular books.  Titles include the award winning Heartbeats in the Muck: the History, Sea Life, and Environment of New York Harbor; and, most recently, Running Silver: Restoring Atlantic Rivers and their Great Fish Migrations. Dr. Waldman joined the faculty of Queens College in 2004.

  • Read a review of Running Silver


Artist, writer, and naturalist James Prosek made his authorial debut at nineteen years of age with Trout: an Illustrated History (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996), which featured seventy of his watercolor paintings of the trout of North America. James has written for the New York Times and National Geographic, and his art work has appeared in numerous galleries nationwide and Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology. His book Eels: An Exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World's Most Amazing and Mysterious Fish was a New York Times Book Review editor's choice, and is the subject of a documentary for PBS series "Nature" that aired in 2013. He is currently working on a book about how we name and order the natural world, and an article for National Geographic on the Sargasso Sea. 


Photographers/writers David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes collaborate on underwater photography and stories for National Geographic magazine and many other venues. David Doubilet has spent five decades underwater all over the globe from Africa to northern and southern ice. He is a contributing editor for several publications and an author of 12 titles including the award winning Water Light Time. His photographic accolades include numerous Picture of the Year, BBC Wildlife, Communication Arts and World Press awards. David was named a National Geographic Contributing Photographer-in-Residence in 2001. David’s personal challenge is to create a visual voice for the world’s oceans and to connect people to the incredible beauty and silent devastation happening within the invisible world below.

Jennifer Hayes is an aquatic biologist and marine scientist whose articles and images have appeared in countless books and other publications. She is co-author/ photographer for Face to Face with Sharks by National Geographic Books and an honorary editor for Ocean Geographic magazine.

Jen and David collaborate as a photographic team above and below water on project development, story production, feature articles and books. Recent projects have found this dynamic duo in the remote corners of the Great Barrier Reef, under oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, swimming among congregations of 500-pound goliath grouper and submerged in the ice with harp seal mother and pups.

Bringing these five extraordinary “fisherati” together on the ESF campus yielded an event where science and story, image and text, past and present was woven together out of concern for the future of underwater environments everywhere. The afternoon began with a short presentation by each speaker, followed by a public forum/Q&A and finally a reception and book signing. The purpose of the event was to raise awareness about fisheries and the aquatic environment, and the future of fisheries.

George Curry

FDR, ESF, NPS at the Roosevelt EstateMay 25, 2015

George Curry, Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus

  • Watch video of lecture

George Curry delivered the fifth Dale L. Travis Lecture on March 25 in ESF's Gateway Center. Professor Curry spoke on research conducted (since 1997) by ESF Department of Landscape Architecture's Center for Cultural Landscape Preservation at the Roosevelt Estate in Hyde Park, N.Y. The talk focused on landscape evolution beginning in 1887 when James Roosevelt, FDR's father, purchased 110 acres. The pivotal role of the College of Forestry (and later the College of Environmental Science and Forestry) in developing the Hyde Park landscape will be emphasized.

This event was made possible by the generous support of Dale L. Travis '59. Mr. Travis envisioned the lecture series as a way to inform the general public about various research projects at ESF.

Professor Curry holds the title of Kennedy Distinguished Faculty Chair in Landscape Architecture at ESF, and has been recognized as a State University of New York Distinguished Teaching Professor. In 2007 he was named Landscape Architecture Educator of the Year by DesignIntelligence magazine. In 2008 he earned the Levi L. Smith Civic Education Award, along with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching New York Professor the Year award. Professor Curry has been instrumental in revitalizing a number of neighborhoods, including Syracuse's Armory Square. He became a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1995.

Professor Curry's involvement in cultural landscape preservation research with the National Park Service and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has been an important professional focus for the last eighteen years, and will be featured in his talk.

Robin W. Kimmerer

The Honorable Harvest: Indigenous Knowledge and ConservationSeptember 24, 2014

Dr. Robin W. Kimmerer

  • The Honorable Harvest (Video Link)

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon, Professor Kimmerer shared insights from indigenous environmental ethics on species conservation during the fourth Travis lecture. Kimmerer, an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, wove together stories and science before a large, spellbound audience, addressing the current crises around climate change and biodiversity loss.

Martha, the last passenger pigeon, died in the Cincinnati Zoo in September 1914. Dr. Kimmerer told the story of this species as a cautionary tale for the consequences of taking too much. She reminded us that we can still choose the path to sustainability, particularly by remembering indigenous guidelines for the honorable harvest: take only what you need, take only what is given, return a gift (reciprocity), never waste what you have taken. We need to recover not only lost species, but also the native worldview that admonishes us to live with greater respect and restraint for what we call "resources." The broken relationship with land needs healing, and the edicts of the honorable harvest are an excellent place to start.

Dr. Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She founded and currently directs the ESF Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. She is also the author of two award winning books. Her first book, Gathering Moss, was selected for the John Burroughs Medal for outstanding nature writing in 2005. Braiding Sweetgrass (2013), her most recent work, won the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. In addition, Dr. Kimmerer recently won the 2013 John Burroughs Nature Essay Award for "Council of the Pecans," published by Orion magazine in its September/October 2013 issue.

Donald Stewart

Seeking and Saving the Diversity of Arapaima: Giant Air-Breathing Fishes of the Amazon
March 26, 2014

Dr. Donald Stewart

The third Travis lecture took an aquatic turn, as ESF ichthyology professor Don Stewart discussed his work with the Arapaima fishes native to South America. Dr. Stewart has worked with these enormous creatures (Arapaima can grow up to ten feet long and weigh over 400 pounds) in Guyana and Brazil since 2006. His lecture addressed conservation objectives for this species as well as research on their ecology.

Arapaima fishes are flagship species for conservation of high-biodiversity Amazonian ecosystems, and also a major food source for people. Overfishing has depleted the numbers of Arapaima around human population centers. Communities have established programs to manage populations, but knowledge of the fishes' biology is limited. Dr. Stewart's research program aims to learn more about the movement, diet, growth, reproduction, taxonomy, and population genetics of Arapaima species to help shape management and to conserve their diversity.

Much remains to be learned about these elusive fishes. For 145 years, biologists have thought that Arapaima consisted of a single species but Dr. Stewart has rediscovered a second species by locating a monograph written about the fish in 1829. There are still vast areas of the Amazon basin where no Arapaima have been collected for study.

American Chestnut Tree

Return of the King: Restoring the American Chestnut TreeOctober 10, 2013

Dr. William A. Powell

One hundred years ago, billions of American chestnut trees grew in the forests of the eastern United States. Most of these magnificent trees, important to people and wildlife, were killed by disease. In the second Travis lecture, ESF Professor Powell described his work to restore this king of the forest.

Dr. Powell, along with his colleague Dr. Chuck Maynard in Forestry and Natural Resources Management at ESF, has been working on the disease resistance of American chestnut for many years. American chestnut was not just one of many tree species in the eastern deciduous forest but THE tree species, often the most abundant tree in many stands in the eastern U.S. There may not have been a more valuable species of tree, ecologically and economically. A little over a century ago, this species was devastated by the chestnut blight, caused by a fungus from Asia. After 23 years of research at SUNY-ESF, American chestnut trees with enhanced blight resistance have been developed using the tools of biotechnology. This is a pivotal step in returning this king of the forest, and the focus of Dr. Powell's presentation.

Dale Travis has sponsored Drs. Powell and Maynard's work for years, helping to start their research program in its "seedling" days. He remains one of their most enthusiastic supporters.

James P. Gibbs

On the Brink: Saving Russia's Last Snow LeopardsMarch 20, 2013

Dr. James P. Gibbs

In this inaugural Travis lecture, Professor Gibbs discussed conservation efforts to save the last snow leopards in Russia. Dr. Gibbs, an internationally recognized scientist, is professor of conservation biology/wildlife manage¬ment and director of the Roosevelt Wild Life Station at ESF. Dr. Gibbs spent most of a recent sabbatical leave training park staff in the Galapagos Islands. He escorted Lonesome George, famed tortoise and the last of his subspecies, from Ecuador to the American Museum of Natural History, after performing the necropsy on this tortoise last June.

During his lecture, Dr. Gibbs discussed his conservation work with Russian and U.S. partners to save the last snow leopards in Russia's Altai Republic. According to recent surveys, less than 100 leopards still inhabit the Altai and Sayan Mountains. The largest Russian snow leopard population - the Argut River Basin population in Altai Republic - has been almost extirpated by snaring.

Dr. Gibbs showed photos of the Altai landscape and described a collaborative effort by international scientists and nonprofit experts to track snow leopards, survey their habitat and prey species, and work with local people on anti-poaching and other conservation solutions. No ordinary endeavor, this work involves river rafting, treacherous winter mountain forays and other risks to achieve success monitoring and conserving this elusive, endangered and beautiful animal.