2017 Impact Report

2016-2017 Highlights


Our Generous Donors

A Transformational Gift from the Frankes

On Nov. 18, 2016, the Montana University System Board of Regents approved the naming of the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation and the Franke Global Leadership Initiative in honor of Bill and Carolyn Franke and their family’s transformative $24 million gift to the University of Montana. Directed toward UM’s nationally recognized College of Forestry and Conservation and the Global Leadership Initiative, this is the largest single donation the University has ever received. The W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation will receive $18 million to support:

  • W.A. Franke Sustainability Fellows Program
  • W.A. Franke Scholarship Fund
  • W.A. Franke Fresh Water Conservation Initiative
  • W.A. Franke Endowed Graduate Fellowships in Wildlife Biology
  • W.A. Franke Endowed Faculty Chair in Forest Conservation
  • W.A. Franke Endowed Faculty Chair in Watershed Hydrology
  • W.A. Franke Internship Fund
  • W.A. Franke Innovation Fund

The Franke family members are not UM alumni but have a deep appreciation for Montana. They believe strongly in the power of education, the importance of conservation and instilling a global perspective in today’s students. Over the course of the past decade, the family has developed a strong relationship with UM. 

Bill Franke is the managing partner and founder of Indigo Partners, a private equity firm focused on worldwide investments in air transportation, and former CEO of several public companies, including America West Airlines. He and his wife, Carolyn have owned a home near Bigfork, Montana, since the 1990s, maintaining their connection to the beautiful forests, rivers and lakes of western Montana. Read more about the Frankes.


At UM in November, 2016 (l-r): Paige, Bill, Carolyn, Dave, Johnny and Brian Franke

Total support from private donors to the W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation in FY2017:


To support these areas:

scholarships, programs, faculty & staff, innovation

Donors gave 739 gifts


2017 was another record-breaking fiscal year for the UM Foundation. For the fourth year in a row, donations from private donors topped $50 million. UM now offers more privately funded scholarships for students than ever before.

Scholarship recipients Jack Whittle and Sawyer Johnson.

Scholarship recipients Jack Whittle and Sawyer Johnson.


Our New Dean

Thomas H. (Tom) DeLuca began his new duties as Dean of the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation on Jan. 1, 2017. He had most recently served as the director of the University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. He was a professor of forest soils at UM from 1994 to 2006.

“I am thrilled to be taking on responsibility as dean of one of the best natural resource programs in the nation, and I am very happy to be coming home to Montana,” DeLuca said. As a highly acclaimed soil scientist, DeLuca has an impressive research publication and funding record. He continues to maintain a research program focused on forest soils and plant-soil interactions in managed and semi-natural ecosystems.

In addition to his time at UM and UW, DeLuca has worked as a faculty member at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania and Bangor University in the United Kingdom. DeLuca was also a senior scientist at The Wilderness Society for three years, a guest professor at the Swedish University for Agricultural Sciences in Umeå, Sweden and senior research scientist at the Institute for Subarctic Alpine Research in Sweden. He has taught at universities since 1993 and says, “I love teaching and feel that it is an honor and a privilege to teach university students and to share my knowledge and passion for soils and ecosystems with students.”

DeLuca has degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (B.S. in Soil Science); Montana State University (M.S. in Soils); and Iowa State University (PhD in Soil Science – Soil Microbiology and Biochemistry).

Dean Tom DeLuca

Our Outstanding Faculty

New faculty member and assistant professor of fisheries and conservation genomics Andrew Whiteley earned the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for junior faculty. Whiteley will receive more than $800,000 over five years for his project on the influence of gene flow inbreeding and local adaptation.
Andrew Whiteley

Joshua Millspaugh, an internationally recognized wildlife conservation researcher and educator, became the next Boone and Crockett Professor of Wildlife Conservation in the Wildlife Biology Program in 2016. Millspaugh holds a doctorate in wildlife ecology from the University of Washington and had been at the University of Missouri since 1999, serving as the Pauline O’Connor Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Management for four years. 

Ben Colman and Phil Higuera also joined the faculty in 2016. Higuera is an associate professor of fire ecology and Colman is an assistant professor of aquatic ecosystem ecology.

Norma Nickerson, director of the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, was appointed to serve on the board of directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Helena Branch

Three of our most beloved and long-working faculty left in 2017. Steve Siebert retired after serving as a professor of tropical forest conservation and management since 1990. Steve Running retired after serving on our faculty since 1979, most recently as the Regents Professor of Ecology. Wayne Freimund headed off to chair the department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management at Clemson after being at UM since 1993. 

Research That Makes a Difference


UM Wildlife Biology Ranked No. 1

The wildly successful Wildlife Biology program earned the top spot in a national analysis of places to study wildlife, according to Academic Analytics.

“Our faculty members excel as scientists and educators,” says Chad Bishop, UM Wildlife Biology Program director. “Our people are more productive scientists overall than others at peer institutions, even when some of those peer institutions are generating more grant dollars for research. That speaks volumes to me about the quality of work being performed by our faculty.”

UM Highly Ranked for Ecology Research

Ecology research at UM ranks highly in a recent survey of North American academic institutions. Megan Keville, a graduate from our master’s program, led the examination of scholarly productivity in the field of ecology – a ranking never before published.

After adjusting for relative institution size, UM ranks fifth out of the 316 institutions examined. The full study and rankings were published Jan. 10, 2017 issue of Ecosphere.

NSF Grant for Native American Faculty in STEM

Ruth Swaney, director of the Native American Natural Resource Program, associate dean Mike Patterson, and colleagues at UM, Salish Kootenai College and Sitting Bull College received $1.8M from the National Science Foundation to promote professional success for Native faculty. 

New Innovative Graduate Program

A UM team led by professor Laurie Yung received a nearly $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to launch an innovative interdisciplinary graduate program. UM BRIDGES: Bridging Divides across the Food, Energy and Water Nexus will educate future leaders in this realm. 

New grants awarded to faculty in FY2017 totaled:

10 million dollars plus
Research Highlights

Remote cameras can transform monitoring wildlife and habitat biodiversity worldwide. Wildlife Biology PhD candidate Robin Steenweg found that remote cameras are an effective method for monitoring grizzly bears in Banff National Park. 

Forests “held their breath” during global warming hiatus, new research by associate professor of bioclimatology Ashley Ballantyne shows. He found that during global warming slowdowns, forests store more C02 than they release

Researchers in our college collectively earned more than $1 million in funding from the Joint Fire Science Program in five separate awards to study wildfire. Professors Solomon Dobrowski, Phil Higuera, Andrew Larson, Alex Metcalf, Libby Metcalf and Martin Nie will study fire from a variety of angles, including fuels, tree regeneration and how communities adapt post-fire. Read about each grant.

To save forests, cut some trees down, finds new research by recently graduated master’s student Mike Schaedel and his adviser Andrew Larson. They found that thinned forests, where trees can grow bigger, store as much carbon as unthinned forests with more numbers of smaller trees overall. 

Professor Martin Nie marked the 40th anniversary of the Federal Land Policy Management Act and the National Forest Management Act in 2016 with an essay in High Country News. The combined acreage overseen by the two laws is nearly 20 percent of the U.S. Nie and a research team also recently completed an authoritative review of the legal and policy context of wildlife management on federal lands.

A special edition of the journal Rangeland Ecology & Management in Jan. 2017 featured articles by Dave Naugle, Alex Metcalf, Brady Allred and Vicky Dreitz on using grouse as a focal species for ecosystem restoration. Their cutting-edge research will help managers and landowners fine-tune practices that address woody encroachment in both western sagebrush and southern Great Plains habitats. 

Our Students Succeed

Students in fish biology class

$300K+ in Scholarships Awarded

Undergraduate and graduate students earned more than $300,000 in college scholarships this year, including six who received the first scholarships from the Franke gift. Thanks to the Frankes and other generous donors, we continue to support student success through scholarships. Students also earned some impressive external awards this year, including a NASA Earth Science Fellowship, a US Fish and Wildlife Service Directorate fellowship and a National Science Foundation grad fellowship, among others. Read our full list of scholarship recipients.

100th Foresters’ Ball

Kate Page, chief push, led the team of hardworking students who planned a successful 100th Foresters’ Ball. They brought in band Reckless Kelly and once again transformed Schreiber Gym into an old-time lumberjack town. Alumni came from across the U.S. and the decades to celebrate and remember their own swingin’ good times on the dance floor. Read the Missoulian’s coverage of the Ball.

Students Learn Through Fieldwork

Students in the Ecosystem Science & Restoration course planned a number of community volunteer days to cap off their semester of working with local organizations on restoration projects around the Missoula valley. One group helped re-vegetate a creek where newly installed fish screens will help migratory native fish get to their spawning grounds. Another group helped thin Douglas-fir saplings and reclaim unofficial trails on Mt. Sentinel. Another group partnered with Five Valleys Land Trust, as the program has for the past five years, to restore the Rock Creek-Clark Fork River Confluence property. Read more in the Missoulian or watch a clip on KPAX about this work.

Student Highlights

Grad student Molly Retzlaff published a 20-year assessment of the health of whitebark pine forests in the Bob Marshall. Retzlaff, a current master’s student, led a volunteer crew of citizen scientists to re-sample plots set up in the 1990s in the wilderness area. They found that the mortality of whitebark pine trees has more than doubled in the past two decades. Read more in their U.S. Forest Service report.

Resources Conservation major Jessica DellaRossa won first place for her poster on Montana Water Law at this year’s UM undergraduate research conference.

Resource Conservation major Kaitlyn Anderson, a sophomore from Kalispell, won a Boren Scholarship worth $20,000 to study for a year in Kyrgyzstan. Anderson plans to work for the International Affairs Department of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for her year of post-scholarship service. 

John Parcell won the Collegiate Western Qualifier in the STIHL Timbersports competition in the spring of 2017. For the second year in a row, he competed at nationals in the summer. John graduated in May with a degree in forestry. Read this profile of him in the Missoulian.

PhD student George Gaines’ business start-up, Chilton Skis, takes locally salvaged wood and turns them into hard-charging skis. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, he and his team are manufacturing their first run of Bitterroot Buttersticks. Teton Gravity Research recently wrote about Chilton.

Another entrepreneur, recently graduated M.S. student Evan Tipton, also launched a business this year. TOMIS provides marketing assistance to tourism businesses and won first place in Montana’s Shark Tank competition this spring. Learn more in this MTPR story.

Nine students traveled to the southeastern United States over wintersession to help The Nature Conservancy restore longleaf pine through prescribed burning. Professor Carl Seielstad has led the Prescribed Fire Practicum for the past 10 years, helping students gain hands-on fire experience as they learn about fire as a restoration tool.