Grant Domke grew up in southern Minnesota where, as he says, “the tall grass prairie meets the Eastern forests.” His parents and grandfather Jake, an outdoorsman and all-around handyman, inspired him to work in wilderness science. He also credits several teachers in middle school who helped to inspire his interest in nature, the outdoors and math and science.
A research forester based at the Forest Service Northern Research Station, Grant began his career with the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis program within the agency’s Research and Development area. He now works with the Carbon Science group and helps compile estimates of carbon stocks and stock changes in forests each year as part of the U.S. commitment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I most enjoy working with others to tackle challenging science questions and overcome challenges to make the science that we do more accessible and relevant to land managers and policy makers.
How has your education, background or personal experiences prepared you for the work that you do now?
I have several degrees including a Ph.D. in quantitative silviculture and forest ecosystem health. My education qualified me for my position in the Forest Service, but positive interactions with people from across the agency have prepared me as a supervisor and a scientist to do the work I do.
What do you like to do for fun in your free time?
I enjoy spending time with my family. This includes fishing, hunting and supporting my kids in hockey, soccer and lacrosse.
Describe a recent, current or upcoming project.
Our team recently completed an analysis to include greenhouse gas estimates of all forest land in Alaska influenced by humans in the U.S. National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. This was the first time estimates for all managed forest land in Alaska were included in this national report. This work highlights collaborations, innovations and a desire to continue improving methods and models to better characterize forest conditions in the country. What we confirmed is that there is a tremendous amount of carbon stored in the forests of Alaska, as well as how that carbon—distributed in trees, dead wood, litter and soil—is influenced by climate and disturbance. In the boreal forests of the interior, most of the carbon is stored in the soil, whereas in the temperate forests of southeast and southcentral coastal Alaska, much of the carbon is stored in above-ground live tree biomass.
Our understanding of the carbon dynamics in the forests of Alaska will continue to improve as more field and remotely sensed data become available. This is thanks to local, state and federal collaboration that recognizes the importance of monitoring the status and trends of forest conditions in the state.
Describe a professional or personal achievement that you are particularly proud of.
I feel most rewarded when the people I work with are successful. One of the most gratifying parts of my job has been mentoring less experienced colleagues and students. Over the years, I’ve been proud to see several students and post-doctoral researchers develop personally and professionally.
Why do you think your field is important?
Global climate change is among the most important issues facing society today. The work our team does helps to provide context on the role forests play in these changes and how forests can help mitigate their impacts. Specifically, forests and urban trees offset more than 11 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the country each year.
What are some of the greatest challenges confronting your field?
Land is constantly changing, so capturing those changes and attributing them to specific human activities like land clearing or natural processes such as droughts or flooding is a real challenge. Fortunately, there is a tremendous amount of field, airborne and space-based data available to help monitor these changes and to attribute what is causing them.
What are some of the most promising strategies being used by the Forest Service to address these challenges?
Formalizing collaborations with other agencies and partners will help eliminate redundancies, streamline data-sharing and improve the efficacy of the work we do. A prime example is a recent NASA–Forest Service applications workshop that brought together people from across government, universities and nongovernmental organizations to improve understanding of what the agencies are currently doing. The workshop helped better align public and private ideas and research activities that support land management in the U.S.
How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?
From the research and monitoring that informs land management and planning to the campgrounds and wild areas that the agency manages, the Forest Service is vital to the health and sustainability of our nation’s forests and grasslands.