CORVALLIS, Ore. – The first recipients of Oregon State University’s Mason Prize for Integrity and Moral Courage are Cristina Eisenberg and Daniel Donato, graduate students in the OSU College of Forestry.
The prize, which includes an honorarium of $1,000 to each recipient, is designed to “honor, encourage, and empower people at Oregon State University whose work demonstrates academic virtues.” It was created earlier this year and will be administered by OSU’s Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word.
“With their studies of the significance of wolves to healthy ecosystems, and the effects of logging on the recovery of burned forests, these young scientists demonstrate the importance of sound science to controversial public policies,” the presenters said in their award citation.
Donato was a co-author of a 2006 publication in the journal Science about the effectiveness of natural tree recovery following the devastating 2002 Biscuit Fire in southwest Oregon.
“With his published research, his testimony in public hearings, and his reasoned defense of his scientific data in a variety of other settings, Daniel demonstrated not only courage, but a case study of the importance of peer review, research protocols, and open scientific debate to the power of science to provide useful and reliable information,” the award citation said.
Eisenberg has also done research in a controversial arena, the “trophic cascades” of debilitating ecological effects that may occur when wolves or other large predators are removed from the ecosystem. She is writing a book on the topic, “Landscapes of Hope: Trophic Cascades and Biodiversity.” Eisenberg, as head of the Graduate Students Association in the College of Forestry, was also a key defender of academic freedom during the public and academic debate over Donato’s publication.
The paper published in Science on post-fire recovery “generated a great deal of controversy” in the College of Forestry, across the university and nationally, said Barbara Bond, a professor of forest ecology. Many of the “most rational and healing voices” came from the graduate students, Bond said.
“Among these voices, Dan Donato’s and Cristina Eisenberg’s were particularly clear and courageous,” Bond said. “It fills me with hope for the future, the way these smart young people were able to respond to this crisis.”