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A young explorer in Argentina

By Bradley West '13
January 14, 2013

Jon Henn '12 recently received a National Geographic Young Explorers grant to help fund his research on forest restoration in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.

Last year Jon Henn '12 was one of nine St. Olaf College students to receive a Fulbright award, a prestigious fellowship that has enabled him to study forest restoration in Argentina.

This year he'll use a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant he recently received to cover additional research costs, including excursions into the field.

Henn's Fulbright project has taken him all the way to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, an archipelago off the southernmost tip of South America. He's working at the Centro Austral de Investigaciones Cientificas, a research center that is part of the Argentine national science program. His research team — part of the center's forest resources lab — is looking for ways to restore forests that have been destroyed by invasive North American beavers.

"The problem is that when a streamside forest is cut down and the stream is dammed by the beavers, the area that is cut and flooded doesn't regenerate back to natural forest," Henn says. "Instead, a meadow dominated by invasive plant species establishes."

Henn's team is trying to understand why the native forests won't grow back, hoping that this information will lead to more successful reforestation efforts.

Between getting settled in Argentina, taking trips to the damaged forests, and working in the research lab, Henn took some time to talk about his project, his passion for reforestation, and how he ended up on the opposite end of the world.

Jon Henn '12 is looking for ways to restore forests (like this one) that have been destroyed by invasive North American beavers.

How did you become interested in forest reforestation?
I have always been very interested in forests. I think that interest stems from having a cabin in the Northwoods of Wisconsin and spending many summers there exploring the forest. I further developed this interest at St. Olaf, where I worked on the natural lands doing forest and prairie restoration projects the summer after my sophomore year. The following summer I did an independent research project on forest restoration where I got to look in-depth at restoration as a discipline. This made me realize how important restoration is to promoting and maintaining a healthy planet.

Why did you choose to focus your research on Tierra del Fuego, Argentina?
When I was at the Ecological Society of America meeting in the summer of 2011 (presenting the research I did at St. Olaf), I met someone who had a Fulbright grant in Chile a few years ago and who knew a researcher in Ushuaia, Argentina, who would be happy to have an international student. The scientist in Argentina focused on topics that I had some experience in, so it was a good match and everything went easily from there. After I found out about getting the Fulbright, I applied for the National Geographic grant.

What experiences at St. Olaf prepared you for your work in Argentina?
My work on the natural lands was important for preparing me for this work. I had the opportunity to learn a lot about field work and the scientific process. I also had the opportunity to study in Costa Rica for a semester, which really improved my Spanish and gave me valuable independent research experience.

What do you plan to do after completing your research in Argentina?
I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in ecology or forestry and eventually work in conservation. Ideally I will find myself working as a scientist at an international conservation NGO like World Wildlife Fund or Conservation International. I hope that my experience with forest restoration and international research will help me along that path.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or