Archives—June 2010

Warbler Woman

Amber Roth bands a golden-winged warbler captured in a mist net. Populations of the tiny migratory bird have fallen by half, and Roth is working with a team of scientists determined to find out why.
Amber Roth bands a golden-winged warbler captured in a mist net. Populations of the tiny migratory bird have fallen by half, and Roth is working with a team of scientists determined to find out why.
by Jennifer Donovan

Conservation could be Amber Roth’s middle name. She loves anything to do with nature. Birds, trees, grasses, ecosystems: she’s fascinated by it all.

So after tucking a BS in Conservation Biology and International Relations and an MS in Wildlife Ecology under her belt, the Green Bay, Wisconsin, native came to Tech to earn a PhD in Forest Science.

Roth researches how to manage aspen forests to produce the maximum amount of biomass per acre without harming wildlife habitat. But she was raised by a devoted bird-watcher, and a tiny songbird that is facing hard times has also captured her heart. She has become an active member of the Golden-winged Warbler Working Group, an international conservation organization that spans two continents.

Weighing only nine grams (equal to four dimes), the golden-winged warbler flies thousands of miles twice a year, migrating from its breeding grounds in the northern Midwest to its winter home in Central and South America. The tiny bird makes the long migration six to ten times in its lifetime.

“Its fuel efficiency is the equivalent of several hundred thousand miles per gallon,” Roth says with a smile.

But the far-flying warbler is in trouble. There used to be as many as half a million of the birds, and now there are fewer than two hundred thousand. “Its numbers are declining sharply, and we don’t know why. We don’t know where the patient is bleeding,” says Roth.

The Golden-winged Warbler Working Group received a small grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to try to determine what’s happening. Their research is a collaborative effort involving American, Canadian, and Latin American scientists.

They are spread thin. Some of the researchers are examining the bird’s, since they often crossbreed with blue-winged warblers. Only one genetically pure population has been found so far, in Manitoba. Others are studying the biochemical signature in the warbler’s feathers, which reveal where the young birds go after their first migration. And a third group is working to connect where the birds winter in Central and South America to where they breed.

“It’s a real skin-and-bones project,” says Roth. Michigan Tech has helped out by contributing twenty-one mist nets, used to safely capture birds for study before releasing them. And Roth helped the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin raise $520 by leading field trips to her research sites in Wisconsin. The foundation donated the funds to the international warbler research group in late 2009.

Like most of the other things she’s ever done, Roth says her work with the Golden-winged Warbler Working Group is helping prepare her for her dream career. With work experience in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and her PhD from Michigan Tech, she’s looking forward to climbing what she calls her “career triangle”: research, education, and conservation management. “I like being involved in all three,” she says, “the research, the outreach, and the management on the ground.


Former Professor Robert L. Sajdak passes away.

Bob Sajdak, 79, a former faculty member of the school, passed away June 10, 2010. Bob was a 1959 alumnus of Michigan Tech’s forestry program.

Dean Peg Gale said, “For those of us who had Bob as a teacher, he was an amazing person. He taught dendrology, genetics and tree improvement courses, and because of his high expectarobert_sajdaktions of students (especially in dendrology), he was fondly nicknamed ‘Black Bob.’ He often had a sly smile on his face when students were trying to negotiate grades or just joking with him on field trips. He was one of the first faculty to receive outside funds for his work in herbicides and tree production.”

Bob was born in Bayfield County, Wis. on July 20, 1930, the youngest of nine children.

On November 4, 1950, he married Betty Boness of Milwaukee. They moved to Alaska where he served in the Army for several years.

In 1956, Bob returned to attend the College of Mining and Technology (Michigan Tech), the first from his family to go to college. He graduated in 1959 and worked as a U.S. Forest Service Ranger in Minnesota and as a forester for the State of Wisconsin. In 1962, Bob was hired as an instructor at Michigan Tech and in 1986, he retired as an Associate Professor of Forestry.

Bob enjoyed being a woodlot owner and working on numerous projects associated with the land.

He leaves behind his wife, Betty, and two sons, Pete and Paul. The 1973 Forester yearbook was dedicated toBob. See the pictures and story on pages 7-8 at forest.mtu.edu/yearbook/1973.pdf