OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of forestry

OSU scientists part of national APLU report outlining research challenges

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The national Association of Public and Land-grant Universities released a report today outlining six “grand challenges” facing the United States over the next decade in the areas of sustainability water, climate change, agriculture, energy and education.

The APLU project was co-chaired by W. Daniel Edge, head of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University. The report is available online at: http://bit.ly/1ksH2ud

The “Science, Education, and Outreach Roadmap for Natural Resources” is the first comprehensive, nationwide report on research, education and outreach needs for natural resources the country’s university community has ever attempted, Edge said.

“The report identifies critical natural resources issues that interdisciplinary research programs need to focus on over the next 5-10 years in order to address emerging challenges,” Edge noted. “We hope that policy-makers and federal agencies will adopt recommendations in the roadmap when developing near-term research priorities and strategies.”

The six grand challenges addressed in the report are: 

  • Sustainability: The need to conserve and manage natural landscapes and maintain environmental quality while optimizing renewable resource productivity to meet increasing human demands for natural resources, particularly with respect to increasing water, food, and energy demands.
  • Water: The need to restore, protect and conserve watersheds for biodiversity, water resources, pollution reduction and water security.
  • Climate Change: The need to understand the impacts of climate change on our environment, including such aspects as disease transmission, air quality, water supply, ecosystems, fire, species survival, and pest risk. Further, a comprehensive strategy is needed for managing natural resources to adapt to climate change.
  • Agriculture: The need to develop a sustainable, profitable, and environmentally responsible agriculture industry.
  • Energy: The need to identify new and alternative renewable energy sources and improve the efficiency of existing renewable resource-based energy to meet increasing energy demands while reducing the ecological footprint of energy production and consumption.
  • Education: The need to maintain and strengthen natural resources education at our schools at all levels in order to have the informed citizenry, civic leaders, and practicing professionals needed to sustain the natural resources of the United States.

 

Three other OSU researchers were co-authors on the report, including Hal Salwasser, a professor and former dean of the College of Forestry; JunJie Wu, the Emery N. Castle Endowed Chair in Resource and Rural Economics; and George Boehlert, former director of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center.

Wu played a key role in the climate change chapter in identifying the need to better understand the tradeoffs between investing now in climate change adaptation measures versus the long-term risk of not adopting new policies.

Edge and Boehlert contributed to the energy chapter, which focuses primarily on renewable energy.

“The natural resources issues with traditional sources of energy already are well-understood,” Boehlert said, “with the possible exception of fracking. As the country moves more into renewable energy areas, there are many more uncertainties with respect to natural resources that need to be understood and addressed. There are no energy sources that do not have some environmental issues.”

Salwasser was an author on the sustainability chapter that identifies many issues associated with natural resource use, including rangelands, forestry, fisheries and wildlife and biodiversity. The authors contend the challenge is to use these resources in a sustainable manner meeting both human and ecosystem needs.

The project was sponsored by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Oregon State University, which partnered with APLU and authors from numerous institutions.

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Dan Edge, 541-737-2810; Daniel.edge@oregonstate.edu

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
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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

Increasing urban and rural wildfire risks featured in Starker Lecture Series

CORVALLIS, Ore. — With wildfires increasing in frequency and threatening urban as well as rural communities, Oregon State University’s annual Starker Lecture Series will tackle trends in living with fire in the Pacific Northwest.

The series, “Burning Questions: People, Forests, and Fire,” is hosted by the OSU College of Forestry. It begins Thursday, Jan. 28, at 7 p.m. with a film, “Legacy of Fire: The Story of the Tillamook Burn,” followed by a talk by Doug Decker, state forester, at the Whiteside Theater, 361 S.W. Madison Ave. in downtown Corvallis.

Told through the voices of the men and women who lived through a series of severe wildfires in the 1930s and 1940s, the film also shows the dramatic forest that grew from the ashes. Following the film, Decker will offer some historic perspective of the significance of the fire; its impact on the development and direction of the Oregon Department of Forestry and Oregon State College of Forestry; and how people in Oregon and across the West need to adjust to new realities.

Other events in the series include:

  • Feb. 18: “Fire Ecology, Management and Policy in the Western United States,” with Scott Stephens, University of California, Berkeley, 3:30 p.m. in the LaSells Stewart Center, C&E Hall, at OSU.
  • March 3: “Exposure of Buildings to Wildfire,” with Steve Quarles, Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, 3:30 pm at the River House in Bend, Ore.
  • April 7: “Living with Fire,” with Ed Smith, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, 3:30 p.m. in the LaSells Stewart Center, C&E Hall, at OSU. Smith will follow his presentation with a workshop for community fire prevention educators on April 8.

A reception and discussion will be held after each lecture. In addition, at the March 3 and April 7 lectures, vendors will offer services and information about fire safety and prevention.

The Starker Lecture Series is sponsored by the Starker family in memory of T.J. and Bruce Starker, prominent leaders in the development of the Oregon forest products industry. The series is also supported by the OSU College of Forestry and the Oregon Forest Resources Institute.

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

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 Jessica Fitzmorris, OSU College of Forestry, 541-737-3161

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Fire in the urban fringe

Water deficits and rising temperatures increase stress on Pacific Northwest forests

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Rising temperatures and late summer dryness are teaming up to push some types of forests beyond their ability to cope with stress, according to a new analysis of forest response to climate change across the Pacific Northwest.

Particularly vulnerable forests include those in drier areas such as the east side of the Cascade Range, the Blue Mountains and the Rocky Mountains of northeast Washington. High-elevation forests in these areas are poorly adapted to increasingly hot, dry conditions. Sensitive species include lodgepole pine, subalpine fir, spruce and mountain hemlock.

Over the last decade, increasing stress has peaked in August and September as greater water deficits and rising temperatures combined to affect forests across the region. This has created conditions potentially lethal to trees in some highly vulnerable areas, according to a report published this week in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment.

In those two months, the region’s extensive Douglas-fir forests saw an increase in the area subject to stressful conditions, from about 1 percent in August to almost 8 percent in September, said David Mildrexler, a doctoral student in the Oregon State University College of Forestry, and lead author of the report. Areas of high Douglas-fir vulnerability were largely concentrated in the southern portion of the Oregon Coast Range and western Cascade Range.

In ponderosa pine forests, the area of vulnerability rose from 5 percent in August to 33 percent in September. These forests are more adapted to drought but could be affected if prolonged stress continues.

Instead of focusing on air temperatures — the numbers commonly heard in daily weather reports — the analysis uses the actual temperature of surfaces, such as leaves and soil. Trees cool themselves by pumping water from the ground through their leaves, much as humans reduce heat stress by sweating on a hot summer day.

When moisture is lacking, that natural air conditioning shuts down.

“As soon as that stops, the canopy starts to heat up,” Mildrexler said. “When there is no water available to cool the leaves, at about 104 degrees Fahrenheit photosynthesis starts to decline in many plant species. At about 122 degrees, we start seeing effects that are lethal, even with fairly short time exposure. Higher temperature droughts really start to stress trees fast. And it’s projected to get much worse in the future, pushing more forests to the edge.

“You don’t see many places on Earth where forests get that hot,” he said. “It’s why forests are so important for cooling the Earth. With their deep roots that can access groundwater, forests help regulate high temperatures in the summer. The increasing dieback of forests globally is very concerning for this reason.”

In their analysis, Mildrexler and his colleagues tracked the month-to-month difference between water availability and surface temperature starting in 2003, using data from the Terra and Aqua satellites launched by NASA. These two satellites generate images of the entire Earth’s surface every day.

The scientists created a mathematical model — what they call the forest vulnerability index — that captures the relationship between water and temperature trends from one month to the next. In the Pacific Northwest, late-summer stress shows up clearly across the region.

In areas where seasonal dryness occurs regularly, forests have evolved mechanisms to cope with these conditions. Drought in the West isn’t that unusual, but the combination with higher surface temperatures makes this trend a concern, said Mildrexler.

By providing a way to monitor forest stress, the research will help managers in government agencies and private companies focus their efforts on vulnerable areas. Among the options that forest managers can pursue are removal of less drought-tolerant species such as grand fir from drier forests, and prescribed burning to improve fire- and drought-adapted stands.

Other actions include improving water retention in soils, retaining streamside vegetation and restoring beavers, whose dams can raise water tables and retain summer water flows.

“This monitoring method allows managers to better prioritize their activities,” Mildrexler said. “Right now, it isn’t always so clear, but we’re showing where on the landscape vulnerability is increasing and how it varies in each forest type. There is a lot of forest land out there, and the Forest Service has limited budgets for treatments across the landscape, so there’s a real need to get the maximum benefit for what they are doing.”

Co-authors of the Remote Sensing of Environment report include Zhiqiang Yang in the OSU College of Forestry and Warren B. Cohen and David M. Bell in the Pacific Northwest Research Station of the U.S. Forest Service.

 

Media Contact: 
Source: 

David Mildrexler, 541-786-9354

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September_FVI

Art and science in the life of a dead tree

CORVALLIS, Ore. – We may value forests most for timber, wildlife and scenic beauty, but the real treasure may lie largely hidden in the soil.

At the Nov. 9 Corvallis Science Pub, an Oregon State University forest researcher and four visual artists will discuss their efforts to understand the “life” of dead trees through science and the arts. They are all participating in a project, The Afterlife of Trees, organized by the Corvallis Arts Center in partnership with the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature and the Written Word at OSU.

The Science Pub presentation is free and open to the public. It begins at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, 341 S.W. 2nd St. in Corvallis.

 

“In many cases, dead trees are more alive than living ones,” said Mark Harmon, professor and holder of the Richardson Chair in the Oregon State College of Forestry who will speak at the event. “Dead trees are used by almost every group of major organisms in forests – plants, animals, microbes, protozoans and lichens.

 

“We need to make informed decisions about dead trees,” Harmon added. “In the past, we have not, and it has been costly economically and ecologically.”

 

Artists Leah Wilson, David Paul Bayles, Bob Keefer and Andries Fourie will describe their visual interpretations of tree decomposition. Their work will be part of a show at the Arts Center, which is scheduled to run from Jan. 15 to Feb. 25.

 

Sponsors of Science Pub include Terra magazine at OSU, the Downtown Corvallis Association and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Mark Harmon, 541-737-8455