Kate Miller ’02 grew up in Indiana and is a bit fuzzy now on how she landed at Northland College. But, she clearly remembers her freshman year with professors Jim Meeker and Dorothy Lagerroos—a life-changing block semester of outdoor labs, long-term monitoring, and plant identification. “I didn’t know people who knew plants before that,” she said.
Miller is now the plant ecologist for the Northeast Temperate Network Inventory and Monitoring Program and is the project lead for implementing forest health, freshwater wetlands, and invasive species early detection protocols. Last year, she earned her PhD in biological science from the University of Maine.
She stopped by campus in November while on a work-related trip to the region. In addition to work, she squeezed in a talk to the campus and community about what she learned from twelve-plus years of forest monitoring in eastern national parks, a hike on Meeker’s land with her college friend Sarah Johnson ’02, associate professor of natural resources, and a conversation with Johnson’s botany class.
She and Johnson both studied under Professor of Botany Jim Meeker, now deceased, and both credit Meeker for their passion for plants. “Jim Meeker got me on the path,” Miller said.
Miller left Wisconsin for Maine in 2003 with partner Tara King ’01 to pursue a master of science at the University of Maine, where she studied the impacts of forestry on arboreal lichen and insect communities. Soon, after finishing her masters, she started her current job as a plant ecologist with the National Park Service and received her PhD in 2018 focused on regional vegetation patterns to assess condition and vulnerability of eastern park vegetation to climate change.
Miller is responsible for analyzing the plant life in the forests from Acadia National Park in Maine down the coast to New Jersey. “Acadia forests are in good shape but in other parks, not so much,” she said. “We know the problems—invasives and an overabundance of deer—we just need the funds to address the problems.”