Highest honors for forest research

Dr. Kolka outside one of the SPRUCE chambers, on property located near Marcell, Minn. SPRUCE is the most expansive climate change experiment on the planet.

He’s leading the most expansive climate change experiment on the planet - near Marcell, Minn. And now he’s been honored with the highest science award annually bestowed on U.S. Forest Service researchers.

Dr. Randy Kolka, a native of Merrill, Wis., and graduate of the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point and the University of Minnesota is the recipient of the 2019 USDA Forest Service Research and Development Deputy Director’s “Distinguished Science” award. Kolka is a Research Soil Scientist and Acting Project Leader for the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in Grand Rapids.

The national award recognizes a scientist who has made significant contributions to the Forest Service and its goals.

Kolka has been the author or a co-author over 225 publications in his career. Kolka’s achievements include serving as a Forest Service lead-scientist on large-scale experiments including the Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips (STRIPS: https://www.nrem.iastate.edu/research/STRIPS/), Spruce and Peatland Response to a Changing Environment experiment (SPRUCE: https://mnspruce.ornl.gov/), the Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program for tropical wetlands (SWAMP: https://www2.cifor.org/swamp/), and emerald ash borer and black ash studies (https://www.mdpi.com/journal/forests/special_issues/EAB) with regional, national and international impact. He is also a leader in mercury cycling studies and is considered an international expert on forest and wetlands soils; Kolka is commonly asked to lead or contribute to larger syntheses and invited to speak at international conferences.

Kolka is a 1983 graduate of Merrill High School. He then went on to the University of Wisconsin-Steven Point where he received a Bachelors Degree in Soil Science in 1990. He continued his education at the University of Minnesota and achieved his Masters of Science in 1993 and his Doctoral Degree in 1996, also in Soil Science. He began his professional career as a Post-Doctoral Research Soil Scientist with the USDA Forest Service in Aiken, S.C., studying wetland restoration on the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site (1996-1998). He then became an Assistant Professor of Forest Hydrology and Watershed Management at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kent., (1998-2002). Since 2002 he has been in his current position with the USDA Forest Service leading a team of scientists, graduate students and post-doctoral associates conducting research on the cycling of water, carbon, nutrients, mercury and other pollutants in urban, agricultural, forested, wetland and aquatic ecosystems across the globe. In addition to his position with the Forest Service, Kolka serves as adjunct faculty with the University of Minnesota, Michigan Technological University, Iowa State University, North Dakota State University, Bemidji State University, and Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Kolka and his wife Susan just recently established the Kolka-Fox Scholarship given out annually to a top Soil Science student at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

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