Remembering Dr. Wayne T. Swank

Porrait of Dr. Wayne T. Swank

Dr. Wayne T. Swank

Dr. Wayne T. Swank passed away on November 10, 2020 at Solace Hospice House in Asheville, North Carolina. He was 84. Wayne is survived by his wife of 62 years, Roberta, 4 children, 8 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren. Wayne received his undergraduate in Forest Management from West Virginia University in 1952, a Masters in Silviculture from the University of Washington in 1960, and a Doctorate in Forest Physiology from the University of Washington in 1972. He first joined the United States Forest Service as a Forester (1959 to 1962) on the Lake Wenatchee Ranger District in Leavenworth, Washington. In 1966, he began his lifelong career in Forest Ecology, Hydrology, and Biogeochemical Cycling at the US Forest Service, Southeastern Forest Experiment Station, Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, in Otto, North Carolina. During 1977-78, he served as Program Director for Ecosystem Studies, National Science Foundation. He was appointed Coweeta Project Leader in 1984 and served in that role until he retired from the Forest Service in 1999. He continued as an emeritus scientist and was a key Coweeta scientist until his passing. He was a pioneer in the use of small watersheds to understand ecosystem responses to disturbance and inform forest management. He revered all of the Coweeta scientists that came before him to build the science foundation that he advanced even further. He also had a deep respect for the members of the local community who built and maintained Coweeta, and served critical roles in administration, data collection, and data/sample analysis for decades.

In addition to his leadership at Coweeta, Wayne held numerous science leadership and advisory positions within and outside the Forest Service that significantly advanced our understanding of forest watershed hydrology and nutrient cycling in the US and across the globe. Examples include activities such as serving on the Professional Certification Board for the Ecological Society of America; Site Director in International Biological Program; member of U.S. National Directorate for Man and Biosphere, Temperate Forests and Biosphere Reserves; member of Steering Committee for development of Experimental Ecological Reserves II Program; co-chairman of Federal Committee on Ecological Reserves; member of External Oversight and Evaluation Advisory Committee for the Ecosystem Studies Program, National Science Foundation; served on committees convened by the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council including “Opportunities in the Hydrological Sciences” and “Biological Markers of Air-pollution Stress and Damage in Forests”; and served on the National Committee to evaluate the state-of-the-science related to the Safe Drinking Water Act. He also had a strong international presence and reputation including collaborative research activities with colleagues from Mexico, Turkey, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Australia; and invited visits, lectures, and keynote presentations at Nanjing University and Beijing Forestry University; the Chinese Academy of Sciences; the Chartered Foresters Annual Meeting, Edinburgh, Scotland; the Forest Hydrology International Symposium, Tokyo, Japan; and the International Conference on Integrated Catchment Management, Aberdeen, Scotland.

Beyond these formal activities, Wayne was generous with advice and ideas and he had decades long partnerships with numerous scientists in federal agencies, research labs, and universities locally and from across the world. A cornerstone of these partnerships was from competitive grants received from the National Science Foundation with close colleagues at the University of Georgia, including the Coweeta Long-Term Ecological Research Program. These programs, along with other grants totaling nearly $25 million from sources such as EPA, DoD, EPRI, and USDA, greatly expanded the scientific capacity and interdisciplinary research at Coweeta and helped fund substantial renovations of the Coweeta research infrastructure.

Wayne was a brilliant scientist and published hundreds of scientific papers, including two books that synthesized the state-of-the-knowledge on Coweeta Research and provided a comprehensive synthesis of the renowned forest cutting experiment on Watershed 7. Wayne was also a highly effective science communicator and directly transferred Coweeta science to thousands of visitors over several decades. His research was a blend of basic scientific inquiry and applied research to support forest management. He maintained and nurtured strong relationships with the National Forest System, especially the local Forest Service Ranger Districts who frequently partnered with Coweeta on large-scale collaborative studies such as the Wine Spring Creek Ecosystem Management Project.

While Wayne’s scientific accomplishments were exceptional, among his greatest contributions were in shaping the careers of students and early career scientists. He served as Adjunct Professor at six universities; primarily at University of Georgia, Clemson University and University of Florida. He formally served as supervisor, co-supervisor, or a committee member for more than 60 graduate students. Informally, he influenced the careers of hundreds of students who conducted their research at Coweeta, were employed as summer interns, or interacted with Wayne at meetings and workshops. As the Coweeta Research Program expanded under his leadership in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Wayne mentored several early career Forest Service scientists who now serve as the next generation of watershed ecosystem scientists at Coweeta and beyond.

Wayne was deeply committed to the Forest Service and the Coweeta Mission. He guarded the long-term data and studies to ensure that the value of the public investment in Coweeta was fully realized. He also cared deeply about all of his employees and recognized the critical role that they played in Coweeta’s success. While Wayne was a serious scientist, he never took himself too seriously. He enjoyed a good laugh and a practical joke and created a joyful workplace. He was also a skilled poker player and relieved many Forest Service scientists and administrators of excess change in evening sessions at Forest Service Project Leader meetings over the years.

Finally, Wayne was an ambassador for Coweeta in Franklin, NC. He served passionately as a member of Franklin First United Methodist Church, the Rotary Club of Franklin, and as a founding member of the Little Tennessee Watershed Association (now Mainspring Conservation Trust).