OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of forestry

Scientists gather in Bend for “Week of Fire” April 7-10

CORVALLIS, Ore. – In what organizers have dubbed a “Week of Fire,” forest scientists and fire managers will meet in Bend April 7-10 to discuss the latest research on fire ecology and its implications for forest management.

The week will include a series of events: the 3rd biennial Central Oregon Fire Science Symposium, the first meeting of the newly formed Oregon Prescribed Fire Council and a four-day training course, The Ecological and Social Effects of Fire in Central Oregon.

All activities will be held at the Central Oregon Community College. The public is welcome to attend, but registration fees apply to the training course and to the symposium. Attendance at the prescribed fire council meeting on April 10 is free. Schedule and registration information are available at http://centraloregonfiresymposium.org/.

“Fire science and management experience are coming together to really allow our profession to be able to deal with the growing challenge of managing forest fires,” said John Bailey, a professor in the Oregon State University College of Forestry and one of the event planners. “The spatial extent and cumulative severity of wildland fires are unprecedented recently in much of the West and are likely to continue or increase. Fuel accumulations have and continue to markedly outpace treatment rates, feeding these fires.”

The fire-science symposium will run April 8-9. Bailey and speakers from Oregon State, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other organizations will address fire ecology, fire science and the potential benefits of using prescribed fire as a tool to reduce future fire risk. 

“Forests in Central Oregon have evolved with fire,” said Bailey. “It’s not a matter of if they will burn; it’s when and how. The science is there to show that working with fire to steer it instead of trying to stop it is safer, cheaper and more ecologically fitting for the land.”

Since 2001, more than a million acres burned in Oregon alone during two fire seasons. Nationally, more than 8 million acres burned in six of those 12 years. Of particular concern is the growing number of large fires that burn uncontrollably and threaten life and property. In that same time, annual fire suppression costs have increased markedly and now consistently approach $2 billion.

“This is a bigger issue than the federal government can handle alone,” said Geoff Babb of the Bureau of Land Management, one of the symposium organizers. “These fires cross jurisdictional boundaries and require that we work together with local and state governments and university scientists.”

Highlights of the symposium include a presentation by Scott Stephens of the University of California, Berkeley, on the policy and management implications of last year’s Rim Fire in California. A special memorial will be held for Bob Martin, a pioneer of prescribed burning who inspired generations of fire managers in Central Oregon.

The Oregon Prescribed Fire Council’s inaugural meeting on April 10 will provide people with interests in prescribed burning — fire and fuels managers, natural resources specialists, private landowners, industry, air quality regulators, ranchers — to address a variety of issues. The council was founded in 2013 to address issues such as smoke management, worker training, legal liability and sharing of resources. Since the 1970s, such councils have been forming throughout the country, most recently in Washington and California.

“The opportunities and challenges in implementing prescribed fire are complex and in need of attention through collaboration,” said Amanda Stamper, chair of the Oregon council. “Ecological restoration and wildfire hazard reduction often depend upon the application of fire after treatments such as thinning and mowing, particularly in the dry forests and rangelands east of the Cascades.”

“Ultimately prescribed burning and wildfire management efforts need to focus on creating more resilient ecosystems and fire-adapted communities,” said Timothy Ingalsbee of the Association for Fire Ecology, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to fire ecology research, education and management. “The sooner we learn how to work safely and live sustainably with wildland fire, the better.

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Editor’s Note: Reporters are welcome at the Central Oregon Fire Science Symposium. To make arrangements, contact Timothy Ingalsbee, 541-338-7671, fire@efn.org.

Fire maps, risk ratings for Oregon communities and other information about forest fires in Oregon are available at Oregon Explorer’s Wildfire Risk Explorer, www.oregonexplorer.info/wildfire.

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Jean Nelson-Dean, U.S. Forest Service, 541-383-5561

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John Bailey, Oregon State University, 541-737-1497

Amanda Stamper, U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Prescribed Fire Council, 541-968-5851

Geoff Babb, Bureau of Land Management, 542-383-5521

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2013 prescribed burning operations on the Oregon State University’s McDonald Forest near Corvallis, Ore. OSU researchers and students conducted the burn with assistance from the Oregon Department of Forestry. Photo: Taylor Fjeran, Oregon State University

OSU selects public health leader, ecologist for Distinguished Professor Awards

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The leader behind what will become Oregon’s first accredited school of public health and a terrestrial ecologist who identified a new paradigm in wildlife research have been named 2014 recipients of the Distinguished Professor Award by Oregon State University.

Marie Harvey, a professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and William Ripple, a professor in the College of Forestry, will receive their awards this spring and give public lectures on campus.

The Distinguished Professor title is the highest designation Oregon State gives to its faculty.

Sabah Randhawa, OSU provost and executive vice president, said the two faculty members chosen for the honor share similar traits of innovative leadership, internationally recognized scholarship and service to the university and their respective fields.

“Marie Harvey and Bill Ripple exemplify what we hope all of our faculty will strive to become as they develop their careers,” Randhawa said. “They both have revolutionized their fields, drawing respect and admiration not only from their colleagues on campus, but from around the world.”

Harvey is widely known for her pioneering work in reproductive and sexual health, shifting the research from an exclusive focus on women to one that examines the relationship dynamics of couples as it applies to both pregnancy and disease prevention. That shift, along with Harvey’s work in diversity and equity, prompted the American Public Health Association to present her with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I am very pleased that Marie Harvey is being honored with the Distinguished Professor title,” said Tammy Bray, dean of OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “In addition to her scholarly contributions to the field of public health, I most appreciate her leadership and partnership with me in the effort to transform our college to become the first accredited school of public health in Oregon.”

Harvey has been a faculty member at OSU since 2003 and associate dean of the college since 2011. Her title is Distinguished Professor of Public Health.

Ripple began his career studying old-growth forests and spotted owls and evolved his research to look at the impact of predators. His work led to a new field called “trophic cascades” – or how large predators exert powerful influences on ecosystem structure and function. Examples include the influence of wolves in Yellowstone Park on everything from the composition of hardwood forests to streamside erosion.

His prominence as an ecologist has led to consulting efforts with the National Academy of Sciences, The White House, President Clinton’s Forest Summit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others. Ripple will be Distinguished Professor of Ecology.

“Bill Ripple has been a fantastic teacher and researcher in the College of Forestry and well deserves being named a Distinguished Professor,” said Thomas Maness, dean of the college. “He is an internationally known leader in the ecology of top predators and his studies on the impact of gray wolves in Yellowstone, along with co-author (OSU professor emeritus) Robert Beschta, have been featured in numerous scientific journals and in popular media. They have directly impacted conservation research and policies.”

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 Sabah Randhawa, 541-737-2111; Sabah.Randhawa@oregonstate.edu

Loss of large carnivores poses global conservation problem

CORVALLIS, Ore. – In ecosystems around the world, the decline of large predators such as lions, dingoes, wolves, otters, and bears is changing the face of landscapes from the tropics to the Arctic – but an analysis of 31 carnivore species to be published Friday in the journal Science shows for the first time how threats such as habitat loss, persecution by humans and loss of prey combine to create global hotspots of carnivore decline.

More than 75 percent of the 31 large-carnivore species are declining, and 17 species now occupy less than half of their former ranges, the authors reported.

Southeast Asia, southern and East Africa and the Amazon are among areas in which multiple large carnivore species are declining. With some exceptions, large carnivores have already been exterminated from much of the developed world, including Western Europe and the eastern United States.

“Globally, we are losing our large carnivores,” said William Ripple, lead author of the paper and a professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University.

“Many of them are endangered,” he said. “Their ranges are collapsing. Many of these animals are at risk of extinction, either locally or globally. And, ironically, they are vanishing just as we are learning about their important ecological effects.”

Ripple and colleagues from the United States, Australia, Italy and Sweden called for an international initiative to conserve large predators in coexistence with people. They suggested that such an effort be modeled on the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, a nonprofit scientific group affiliated with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The researchers reviewed published scientific reports and singled out seven species that have been studied for their widespread ecological effects or “trophic cascades.” This includes African lions, leopards, Eurasian lynx, cougars, gray wolves, sea otters and dingoes.

Ripple and his Oregon State co-author Robert Beschta have documented impacts of cougars and wolves on the regeneration of forest stands and riparian vegetation in Yellowstone and other national parks in North America. Fewer predators, they have found, lead to an increase in browsing animals such as deer and elk. More browsing disrupts vegetation, shifts birds and small mammals and changes other parts of the ecosystem in a widespread cascade of impacts.

Studies of Eurasian lynx, dingoes, lions and sea otters have found similar effects, the authors reported.

Lynx have been closely tied to the abundance of roe deer, red fox and hare. In Australia, the construction of a 3,400-mile dingo-proof fence has enabled scientists to study ecosystems with and without the animals, which are closely related to gray wolves. In some parts of Africa, the decrease of lions and leopards has coincided with a dramatic increase in olive baboons, which threaten farm crops and livestock. In the waters off southeast Alaska, a decline in sea otters through killer whale predation has led to a rise in sea urchins and loss of kelp beds.

The authors call for a deeper understanding of the impact of large carnivores on ecosystems, a view that they trace back to the work of landmark ecologist Aldo Leopold. The classic concept that predators are harmful and deplete fish and wildlife is outdated, they said. Scientists and wildlife managers need to recognize a growing body of evidence for the complex roles that carnivores play in ecosystems and for their social and economic benefits.

Leopold recognized such relationships between predators and ecosystems, Ripple said, but his observations on that point were largely ignored for decades after his death in 1948.

“Human tolerance of these species is a major issue for conservation,” Ripple said. “We say these animals have an intrinsic right to exist, but they are also providing economic and ecological services that people value.”

Among the services that have been documented in other studies are carbon sequestration, riparian restoration, biodiversity and disease control.

Where large carnivores have been restored — such as wolves in Yellowstone or Eurasian lynx in Finland — ecosystems have responded quickly, said Ripple. “I am impressed with how resilient the Yellowstone ecosystem is. It isn’t happening quickly everywhere, but in some places, ecosystem restoration has started there.”

In those cases, where loss of vegetation has led to soil erosion, for example, full restoration in the near term may not be possible, he said.

“Nature is highly interconnected,” said Ripple. “The work at Yellowstone and other places shows how one species affects another and another through different pathways. It’s humbling as a scientist to see the interconnectedness of nature.”

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Bill Ripple, 541-737-3056

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Leopard. credit Kirstin Abley copy 2
Leopard


Dingo, credit Ken Shaw copy 2
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Gray Wolf, credit- Doug McLaughlin copy 2
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Sea otter, credit Norman S. Smith copy
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Eurasian lynx, credit Bodel Elmhagen copy
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puma also known as cougar, credit william ripple
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lion, credit kirstin abley
African Lion

Efforts to curb climate change require greater emphasis on livestock

CORVALLIS, Ore. – While climate change negotiators struggle to agree on ways to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, they have paid inadequate attention to other greenhouse gases associated with livestock, according to an analysis by an international research team.

A reduction in non-CO2 greenhouse gases will be required to abate climate change, the researchers said. Cutting releases of methane and nitrous oxide, two gases that pound-for-pound trap more heat than does CO2, should be considered alongside the challenge of reducing fossil fuel use.

The researchers’ analysis, “Ruminants, Climate Change, and Climate Policy,” is being published today as an opinion commentary in Nature Climate Change, a professional journal.

William Ripple, a professor in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, and co-authors from Scotland, Austria, Australia and the United States, reached their conclusions on the basis of a synthesis of scientific knowledge on greenhouse gases, climate change and food and environmental issues. They drew from a variety of sources including the Food and Agricultural Organization, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and recent peer-reviewed publications.

“Because the Earth’s climate may be near a tipping point to major climate change, multiple approaches are needed for mitigation,” said Ripple. “We clearly need to reduce the burning of fossil fuels to cut CO2 emissions. But that addresses only part of the problem. We also need to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gases to lessen the likelihood of us crossing this climatic threshold.”

Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas, and a recent report estimated that in the United States methane releases from all sources could be much higher than previously thought. Among the largest human-related sources of methane are ruminant animals (cattle, sheep, goats, and buffalo) and fossil fuel extraction and combustion.

One of the most effective ways to cut methane, the researchers wrote, is to reduce global populations of ruminant livestock, especially cattle. Ruminants are estimated to comprise the largest single human-related source of methane. By reflecting the latest estimates of greenhouse gas emissions on the basis of a life-cycle or a “farm to fork” analysis, the researchers observed that greenhouse gas emissions from cattle and sheep production are 19 to 48 times higher (on the basis of pounds of food produced) than they are from producing protein-rich plant foods such as beans, grains, or soy products.

Unlike non-ruminant animals such as pigs and poultry, ruminants produce copious amounts of methane in their digestive systems. Although CO2 is the most abundant greenhouse gas, the international community could achieve a more rapid reduction in the causes of global warming by lowering methane emissions through a reduction in the number of ruminants, the authors said, than by cutting CO2 alone.

The authors also observed that, on a global basis, ruminant livestock production is having a growing impact on the environment:

  • Globally, the number of ruminant livestock has increased by 50 percent in the last 50 years, and there are now about 3.6 billion ruminant livestock on the planet.
  • About a quarter of the Earth’s land area is dedicated to grazing, mostly for cattle, sheep and goats.
  • A third of all arable land is used to grow feed crops for livestock.

In addition to reducing direct methane emissions from ruminants, cutting ruminant numbers would deliver a significant reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of feed crops for livestock, they added.

“Reducing demand for ruminant products could help to achieve substantial greenhouse gas reductions in the near-term,” said co-author Helmut Haberl of the Institute of Social Ecology in Austria, “but implementation of demand changes represent a considerable political challenge.”

Among agricultural approaches to climate change, reducing demand for meat from ruminants offers greater greenhouse gas reduction potential than do other steps such as increasing livestock feeding efficiency or crop yields per acre. Nevertheless, they wrote, policies to achieve both types of reductions “have the best chance of providing rapid and lasting climate benefits.”

Such steps could have other benefits as well, said co-author Pete Smith of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. "Cutting the number of ruminant livestock could have additional benefits for food security, human health and environmental conservation involving water quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity,” he explained. 

Agricultural researchers are also studying methane reduction through improved animal genetics and methods to inhibit production of the gas during digestion.

International climate negotiations such as the UNFCCC have not given “adequate attention” to greenhouse gas reductions from ruminants, they added. The Kyoto Protocol, for example, does not target ruminant emissions from developing countries, which are among the fastest-growing ruminant producers.

In addition to Smith and Haberl, co-authors include Stephen A. Montzka of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Clive McAlpine of the University of Queensland in Australia and Douglas Boucher of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington D.C.

 

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Bill Ripple, 541-737-3056

Significant advance reported with genetically modified poplar trees

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Forest geneticists at Oregon State University have created genetically modified poplar trees that grow faster, have resistance to insect pests and are able to retain expression of the inserted genes for at least 14 years, a report in the Canadian Journal of Forest Research just announced.

The trees are one of the best successes to date in the genetic modification of forest trees, a field that is much less advanced than GMO products in crop agriculture. The advance could prove especially useful in the paper and pulp industries, and in an emerging biofuel industry that could be based on hybrid poplar plantations.

Commercial use of such trees could be done with poplars that also had been engineered to be sterile so they would be unlikely to spread their characteristics to other trees, researchers said.

Development of male sterile trees has been demonstrated in the field, which can be used for male varieties of poplar. Female sterility has not yet been done but should be feasible, they said. However, it is unclear if regulatory agencies would allow use of these trees, with sterility as a key mitigation factor.

“In terms of wood yield, plantation health and productivity, these GMO trees could be very significant,” said Steven Strauss, a distinguished professor of forest biotechnology in the OSU College of Forestry. “Our field experiments and continued research showed results that exceeded our expectations. And it is likely that we have underestimated the value these trees could have in improved growth and production.”

A large-scale study of 402 trees from nine “insertion events” tracked the result of placing the cry3Aa gene into hybrid poplar trees. The first phase was done in field trials between 1998 and 2001, and in 14 years since then study continued in a “clone bank” at OSU to ensure that the valued traits were retained with age.

All of the trees were removed or cut back at the age of two years before they were old enough to flower and reproduce, in order to prevent any gene flow into wild tree populations, researchers said.

With this genetic modification, the trees were able to produce an insecticidal protein that helped protect against insect attack. This method has proven effective as a pest control measure in other crop species such as corn and soybeans, resulting in substantial reductions in pesticide use and a decrease in crop losses.

“Insect attack not only can kill a tree, it can make the trees more vulnerable to other health problems,” said Amy Klocko, an OSU faculty research associate. “In a really bad year of insect attack you can lose an entire plantation.”

Hybrid poplar trees, which are usually grown in dense rows on flat land almost like a food crop, are especially vulnerable to insect epidemics, the researchers said. Manual application of pesticides is expensive and targets a wide range of insects, rather than only the insects that are attacking the trees.

A number of the GMO trees in this study also had significantly improved growth characteristics, the researchers found. Compared to the controls, the transgenic trees grew an average of 13 percent larger after two growing seasons in the field, and in the best case, 23 percent larger.

Some of the work also used a drought-tolerant poplar clone, another advantage in what may be a warmer and drier future climate. The research was supported by the Tree Biosafety and Genomics Research Cooperative at OSU.

Annual crops such as cotton and corn already are routinely grown as GMO products with insect resistance genes. Trees, however, have to grow and live for years before harvest and are subjected to multiple generations of insect pest attacks. That’s why engineered insect protection may offer even greater commercial value, and why extended tests were necessary to demonstrate that the resistance genes would still be expressed more than a decade after planting.

Some genetically modified hybrid poplar trees are already being used commercially in China, but none in the United States. The use of GMO trees in the U.S. still faces heavy regulatory obstacles, Strauss said. Agencies are likely to require extensive studies of gene flow and their effects on forest ecosystems, which are difficult to carry out, he said.

Strauss said he advocates an approach of engineering sterility genes into the trees as a mechanism to control gene flow, which together with further ecological research might provide a socially acceptable path for commercial deployment.

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Steven Strauss, 541-737-6578

Overgrazing turning parts of Mongolian Steppe into desert

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Overgrazing by millions of sheep and goats is the primary cause of degraded land in the Mongolian Steppe, one of the largest remaining grassland ecosystems in the world, Oregon State University researchers say in a new report.

Using a new satellite-based vegetation monitoring system, researchers found that about 12 percent of the biomass has disappeared in this country that’s more than twice the size of Texas, and 70 percent of the grassland ecosystem is now considered degraded. The findings were published in Global Change Biology.

Overgrazing accounts for about 80 percent of the vegetation loss in recent years, researchers concluded, and reduced precipitation as a result of climatic change accounted for most of the rest. These combined forces have led to desertification as once-productive grasslands are overtaken by the Gobi Desert, expanding rapidly from the south.

Since 1990 livestock numbers have almost doubled to 45 million animals, caused in part by the socioeconomic changes linked to the breakup of the former Soviet Union, the report said. High unemployment led many people back to domestic herding.

The problem poses serious threats to this ecosystem, researchers say, including soil and water loss, but it may contribute to global climate change as well. Grasslands, depending on their status, can act as either a significant sink or source for atmospheric carbon dioxide.

“This is a pretty serious issue,” said Thomas Hilker, an assistant professor in the OSU College of Forestry. “Regionally, this is a huge area in which the land is being degraded and the food supply for local people is being reduced.

“Globally, however, all ecosystems have a distinct function in world climate,” he said. “Vegetation cools the landscape and plays an important role for the water and carbon balance, including greenhouse gases.”

Even though it was clear that major problems were occurring in Mongolia in the past 20 years, researchers were uncertain whether the underlying cause was overgrazing, climate change or something else. This report indicates that overgrazing is the predominant concern.

Mongolia is a semi-arid region with harsh, dry winters and warm, wet summers. About 79 percent of the country is covered by grasslands, and a huge surge in the number of grazing animals occurred during just the past decade - especially sheep and goats that cause more damage than cattle. Related research has found that heavy grazing results in much less vegetation cover and root biomass, and an increase in animal hoof impacts.

Collaborators on this research included Richard H. Waring, a distinguished professor emeritus of forest ecology from OSU; scientists from NASA and the University of Maryland; and Enkhjargal Natsagdorj, a former OSU doctoral student from Mongolia. The work has been supported by NASA and OSU.

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Thomas Hilker, 541-737-2608

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Overgrazing in Mongolia

Grazing in Mongolia


Grazing in Mongolia

Mongolian herders

Corvallis, Albany teachers link Costa Rica with Oregon schools

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Three elementary school teachers – two from Corvallis and one from Albany – are conducting fieldwork with Oregon State University scientists at the Las Cruces Biological Station in Costa Rica this month.

As they band birds and track pollinators, the teachers will communicate with their pupils through a blog and enable students to share information with their counterparts in Costa Rica.

The research is supported by a multi-year grant from the National Science Foundation to Matthews Betts, associate professor in the OSU College of Forestry. The goal is to understand how hummingbirds and other pollinators are affected by land use patterns.

Teachers participating in the project include Claudia Argo and Alleya Jack from Garfield Elementary School in Corvallis and Cindy Drouhard from the Timber Ridge School in Albany. They will be at the field station from Feb. 16 to March 1.

“This project has all the elements of a real-world learning experience,” said Kari O’Connell, an educator with Oregon State’s Oregon Natural Resources Education Program. “The students will be doing math, science and art and practicing their language skills. It also involves their families. One of the teachers has already translated information into Spanish so that Spanish-speaking families in Oregon can be involved.”

While in Costa Rica, the teachers will help researchers observe and band hummingbirds, O’Connell added. “They all teach science, so they will be talking with their students about what it’s like to do fieldwork, collect data and interpret it.”

 

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Kari O'Connell, 541-737-6495

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11Cloud Forest

This montane tropical cloud forest at Las Cruces Biological Reserve in Costa Rica is the site of another study being led by Matthew Betts. (Photo: Matthew Betts)

Green Hermit Hummingbird

This green hermit hummingbird visits a Heloconia tortuosa in Costa Rica. The species is part of an OSU study that tracks hummingbird travels with a tiny radio transmitter attached to its back. Photo by Matt Betts

12Northern Waterthrush

The northern waterthrush migrates from the Cascades to Costa Rica, where Matthew Betts and his fellow researchers are studying the effects of forest fragmentation on bird behavior and pollination dynamics. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Betts)

2014 Starker Lectures at OSU to explore “Working Forests”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The 2014 Starker Lecture Series at Oregon State University will begin on Thursday, Feb. 6, when speaker John Gordon outlines the future of forestry in Oregon. The theme for this year’s series is “Working Forests Across the Landscape.”

Gordon is the Pinchot Professor emeritus and former dean of the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. His free public talk, which begins at 3:30 p.m. in Richardson Hall Room 107, is titled “Forestry Diversity: A Key to Oregon’s Future.”

The Starker Lectures are sponsored by the OSU College of Forestry and funded primarily through a donation by the Starker family in memory of T.J. and Bruce Starker, late leaders of the Oregon forest industry, with support from the college and the Oregon Forest Resources Institute. Each year, the lecture series explores forestry issues in the Northwest and beyond.

Other events in the 2014 series include:

  • Feb. 27 Lecture – “A Luxuriant Landscape: Oregon’s Working Forest Landscapes, an Ecological Perspective,” by Tom Spies, a research forester with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station (3:30 to 5 p.m., Richardson Hall 107);
  • April 24 Lecture – “Beyond Boundaries: Social Challenges and Opportunities in Forest Landscape Management,” by Paige Fischer, a research social scientist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center (3:30 to 5 p.m., Richardson Hall 107);
  • May 29 Capstone Field Trip – A tour of the Cool Soda All Lands Collaborative Project in Linn County, led by representatives of Cascade Timber Consulting, South Santiam Watershed Council, U.S. Forest Service, and the Sweet Home Ranger District (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Registration is required by May 20.

More information on the Starker Lectures is available at: http://starkerlectures.forestry.oregonstate.edu/

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Jessica Fontaine, 541-737-3161; Jessica.fontaine@oregonstate.edu

Oldest trees are growing faster, storing more carbon as they age

CORVALLIS, Ore. – In a finding that overturns the conventional view that large old trees are unproductive, scientists have determined that for most species, the biggest trees increase their growth rates and sequester more carbon as they age.

In a letter published today in the journal Nature, an international research group reports that 97 percent of 403 tropical and temperate species grow more quickly the older they get. The study was led by Nate L. Stephenson of the U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center. Three Oregon State University researchers are co-authors: Mark Harmon and Rob Pabst of the College of Forestry and Duncan Thomas of the College of Agricultural Sciences.

The researchers reviewed records from studies on six continents. Their conclusions are based on repeated measurements of 673,046 individual trees, some going back more than 80 years.

This study would not have been possible, Harmon said, without long-term records of individual tree growth. “It was remarkable how we were able to examine this question on a global level, thanks to the sustained efforts of many programs and individuals.”

Extraordinary growth of some species, such as Australian mountain ash – also known as eucalyptus –  (Eucalyptus regnans), and the coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), is not limited to a few species, the researchers said. “Rather, rapid growth in giant trees is the global norm and can exceed 600 kg (1,300 pounds) per year in the largest individuals,” they wrote.

“In human terms, it is as if our growth just keeps accelerating after adolescence, instead of slowing down,” said Stephenson. “By that measure, humans could weigh half a ton by middle age, and well over a ton at retirement.”

The report includes studies from the Pacific Northwest. Harmon and his colleagues worked in forest plots – some created as early as the 1930s – at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest east of Eugene and Mount Rainier National Park. Researchers measured growth in Douglas-fir, western hemlock, Sitka spruce, western red cedar and silver fir. The National Science Foundation and the Pacific Northwest Research Station of the USDA Forest Service provided funding.

Under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Tropical Forest Science, Thomas and colleagues in Africa established a 123-acre forest research site in Cameroon in 1996. They measured growth in about 495 tree species.

“CTFS does very important work facilitating collaboration between forest ecologists worldwide and therefore enabling us to gain a better insight into the growth of trees and forests,” Thomas said. “This model for collaboration was the basis of the Nature study.”

While the finding applies to individual trees, it may not hold true for stands of trees, the authors cautioned. As they age, some trees in a stand will die, resulting in fewer individuals in a given area over time.

The study was a collaboration of 38 scientists from research universities, government agencies and non-governmental organizations in the United States, Panama, Australia, United Kingdom, Germany, Colombia, Argentina, Thailand, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, France, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, New Zealand and Spain.

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Mark Harmon, 541-737-8455; Duncan Thomas,  541-752-5211

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Photo by Duncan Thomas
Korup canopy
Photo by Duncan Thomas

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Photo by Al Levno

$1 million USDA grant boosts Oregon State tree research for bioenergy

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A $1 million grant to a research team led by Steve Strauss, Oregon State University distinguished professor of forest biotechnology, aims to boost America’s energy independence by helping to develop a tree-based bioenergy industry.

The funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will support an investigation into the genetics of fast-growing cottonwood trees. The researchers will focus on the molecular mechanisms of hybrid vigor, which promote growth and productivity. All commercially grown cottonwoods in the Pacific Northwest are hybrids between different species, and it is costly and time-consuming for industries to identify the most productive hybrids.

“The research may enable more rapid development of highly productive and stress-tolerant varieties,” Strauss said.

The research will be carried out in collaboration with Portland-based GreenWood Resources, the major grower of cottonwoods in the Pacific Northwest. Other major scientific collaborators include Stephen DiFazio of West Virginia University and Todd Rosenstiel of Portland State University.

The grant is part of an $8 million national bioenergy initiative supported by the USDA and the U.S. Department of Energy.

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Steven Strauss, 541-737-6578