Vladimir Kovalenko

Man in jacket with binoculars, standing in front of rugged mountain peaks and a deep blue lake, Glacier National Park
Vlad Kovalenko in Glacier National Park, Montana
Vladimir (Vlad) Kovalenko worked on the Sierra Nevada Network forest monitoring crew in 2015 and 2016. Fieldwork involved multi-day backpacking trips in Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite national parks to collect data about tree growth, condition, mortality, seedling establishment, and incidence of disease and insects in white pine forests. Target tree species were whitebark pine and foxtail pine, but field staff also monitor other tree species occurring in these subalpine forest plots.
Clark's Nutcracker perched in top of whitebark pine tree
Clark's Nutcracker perched at top of whitebark pine tree in Yosemite National Park. These birds feed on whitebark pine cone seeds, and their caching of seeds is an important source of seedling germination.

Photo: ©Michael Durham

Why Graduate School?

"Working with whitebark pine and Clark's nutcrackers (in the Sierra) made me fall in love with this system," Vlad explained.

He is pursuing graduate studies in Clark's Nutcracker ecology at the University of Montana and will do his field work in Glacier National Park.

"I wanted to affect management and restoration of this important bird-pine mutualism in the severely degraded whitebark pine ecosystem of Glacier National Park," Vlad said.

While whitebark pine stands are still healthy in the Sierra Nevada, in other parts of their range in the Northern Rockies and North Cascades, they are in severe decline related to a disease caused by the non-native pathogen white pine blister rust, changing dynamics of mountain pine beetles, altered fire regimes, and a warming climate.The decline of this species impacts other species relying on it as a food source. Whitebark pine is currently a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Research Fellowship and Emphasis

Vlad secured funding from the Glacier Conservancy through the Jerry O’Neal Fellowship program to investigate the ecology of Clark’s Nutcrackers in Glacier National Park. To inform whitebark pine and Clark’s Nutcracker restoration, he will survey a representative sample of whitebark pine sites, quantify blister rust infection in stands, and assess mortality and cone production. Also, he will model Clark’s Nutcracker population and habitat use in and around Glacier.
Krummholz (dwarfed) whitebark pine and view of distant granite peaks
Krummholz (short, weathered) growth form of whitebark pine, Kuna Crest, Yosemite National Park.

NPS Forest Monitoring Crew, 2017

Looking Forward, and Back

Vlad will pursue a Master's Degree in Systems Ecology at the University of Montana, and he hopes to initiate his field work during the summer of 2020. While he looks forward to this new challenge, he says he will miss "the wonderful people, healthy whitebark, and abundant nutcrackers" in the Sierra Nevada, and "the views weren't bad either!"

Vlad received his undergraduate degree in Eastern European Studies from the U.S. Airforce Academy.

Devils Postpile National Monument, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, Yosemite National Park

Last updated: May 30, 2020