Curiosity about insects motivates Ryan Hanavan, who is in his sixth year with the Forest Service. Based on a lifelong interest, this entomologist flies over the forest canopy to look for signs of insect disease. Using remote sensing methods, techniques and tools, he is focused on developing faster, better and cheaper tools to detect and monitor forest pests. The ultimate goal is to contribute to prevention and suppression programs what will reduce the costs these unwanted insects inflict on the land. Also a husband and father of two young boys, his passion for the great outdoors includes a variety of sports and giving back as a nationally-recognized collegiate lacrosse coach.
What has your career path been with the Forest Service and how are you involved in the state and private forestry mission of the agency?
I started my career with the Forest Service in 2008 at the Missoula Fire Science Laboratory on the Landscape Fire and Resource Management Planning Tools team. This is an interagency vegetation, fire, and fuel characteristics mapping program that evolved from increased concern about the number, severity, and size of wildland fires. I helped the team, known as LANDFIRE, develop national geo-spatial data layers such as vegetation types, fuel, fire regime, and disturbances. This information is then used in publically available databases and ecological models for regional and national landscape strategic planning for fire and natural resource management activities.
My next job was as a forest entomologist for the agency in Flagstaff, Arizona, with State & Private Forestry Forest Health Protection. I developed and coordinated all aspects of major forest insect detection, evaluation, prevention, and suppression programs on federal, tribal, state, and private forest lands in Arizona. I also used remote sensing techniques to develop new quantitative tools to assist in pest detection and monitoring. In 2011, I transferred to the Durham Field Office in the Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry, where I currently serve as a forest entomologist focusing on insect pest colonization and distribution, climate effects on plant stress and insect activity, and resource competition and community structure resulting in pest outbreak levels.
What is your educational background?
I have an associate’s degree in applied science from the State University of New York Environmental Science and Forestry – Ranger School and a master’s degree in forest entomology from the State University of New York Environmental Science and Forestry – Syracuse. My baccalaureate degree is from the University of Montana in resource conservation, and my doctorate degree is from the University of Idaho in entomology.
What is your attraction to studying and managing insects?
I have always been fascinated by insects and this career has essentially allowed me to explore a lifelong curiosity. I’m interested in using new technology to improve methods and techniques and the Forest Service has been extremely supportive in developing faster, better, and cheaper tools for detecting and monitoring forest pests. By developing and using a suite of tools and techniques to evaluate landscape-level insect pest disturbances, we can improve early detection, and contribute to prevention and suppression programs that ultimately reduce the economic effect caused by these insect pests.
What is the focus of your job?
My work involves a range of projects: monitoring post-tornado insect communities; investigating rapid mortality of red pine; measuring plant stress in response to repeated defoliation by an introduced defoliator; and measuring long-term decline in areas impacted by the hemlock woolly adelgid. I am currently working with Forest Service aviation experts and scientists from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on testing a portable airborne imaging system to map forest composition, structure and function in response to the invasive emerald ash borer. Our goal is to generate high-resolution maps of ash trees with stress measurements that allow land managers to improve on-the-ground survey techniques that will ultimately lead to earlier detection of this invasive insect pest. By using remote sensing tools, we can investigate plant stress symptoms that correspond with insect pest populations, and then provide forest health expertise to partners across lands of all ownership.
I hear that you are a competitive runner.
I’ve always enjoyed competitive sports and after college, I turned to running as a way of challenging myself. Running has always been a great way to get out and enjoy the world and adding hills and distance was exciting. I started running marathons four years ago and recently finished my sixth. My goal for 2014 is to run 30 miles and hope to run the Pemigewasset Loop in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, which will be a 31.5 mile run with approximately 9,160 feet of elevation gained. I will also be a part of a team running the 200-mile Reach the Beach in the fall also in New Hampshire.
Playing lacrosse also seems to be a passion that has led to national recognition.
Lacrosse has always been a big part of my life and coaching has been a wonderful way of giving back. I started coaching lacrosse at the University of Idaho as a graduate student in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association and was fortunate to win the Division 2 National Championship with the University of Montana in 2007. I am currently working on developing lacrosse in Northwood and Strafford, New Hampshire, at the youth level while serving as the head coach of the Coe-Brown Northwood Academy’s first year for the boy’s lacrosse program. My four-year-old son, Logan, has been so interested in the youth program that he always refers to himself as a bear cub lacrosse player, and it has been a wonderful opportunity to teach him about sportsmanship and having fun. My 1-year-old son, Cameron, is already crawling after my sticks and seems very interested in chasing his brother. Lacrosse is such a fast and exciting sport. It has always been a nice way to give back to the community and has quickly become rewarding for me as a father.
If you were going to pick another occupation, what would you choose?
This is my dream job. This is exactly what I had in mind while pursuing my education and training. I show up at my son’s pre-school and they all call me “Dr. Ryan” and ask me to show them bugs. It’s about as good as it gets. If I had to pick something else, though, I’d probably be an astronaut, because who wouldn’t want to work in outer space?