William Russell

William Russell

Environmental Studies


What research questions currently preoccupy you?

  • What are the patterns of natural forest recovery following logging in coast redwood forests?
  • Can understory plant species be used as indicators of forest recovery following human disturbance?
  • How have forest fire regimes related to historical cultural shifts in California?

What personal factors contributed to your research?

My ailing grandfather, Luis Russell, was a poet and forest activist who died of a heart attack in the Mendocino county courthouse after giving an impassioned speech against a timber harvest plan. My admiration for him, and all that I learned about the forest from my grandmother, set me on a lifelong path working toward the protection of forest ecosystems.

What has been most challenging in your research?

The unwillingness of industry and government management agencies to accept clear scientific findings that are contrary to financial interests and outdated paradigms.

How has your position in SJSU contributed to your research?

My position as an associate professor at SJSU has allowed me to collaborate with an amazing group of students researchers, it has opened doors by providing me with a bully pulpit, and it has put me in contact with amazing faculty peers!

A hidden (research) talent:

In addition to my ecological research I have an interest in philosophy and environmental thought, and have published a few small pieces on this topic.

One book that changed your life (or research) & why:

Ishmael: An Adventure of Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn was recommended to me by an undergraduate student my first semester at SJSU. The narrative captured my imagination by clearly voicing an environmental philosophy that I had been trying to piece together on my own for years.

A website/journal/newspaper (in your field?) you follow without fail:

  • Madroño: West American Journal of Botany
  • Forest Ecology and Management
  • The Earth First! Journal

Advice you’d give to newer faculty or students:

Do what you love and love what you do. Your passion will carry you through difficult times.

RSCA Accomplishments

Russell, W., J. Sinclair, and K. H. Michels. 2014. Restoration of Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) Forests Through Natural Recovery. Open Journal of Forestry 4:106–111
Jones, G. and W. Russell. 2015. Historic variation in fire frequency in the southern range of the coast redwood forest. Fire Ecology 11(3):80–94

Book chapter: “A Tale of Two Species: Marginalization of Nature in the Redwood Forest.” This book chapter is for a book titled River of Fire: Commons, Crisis, and the Imagination, which is being published to honor famed social historian Ian Boal. In this chapter, Dr. Russell examines the history of the species Sequoia sempervirens (Coast Redwood) in relation to human history through a lens of egocentrism. The interaction between these two species is presented as an illustration of the marginalization of nature in modern industrial society as a whole.