OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of forestry

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

H.J. Andrews research forest federal funding renewed

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Research and education at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, one of the nation’s premier ecological science sites, has received a six-year, $6.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

Funds will support a new round of projects through the Long-Term Ecological Research program at the 16,000-acre Andrews forest in the Cascades east of Eugene. Since 1980, the Andrews forest has been the site of groundbreaking forest research and educational programs that serve more than 1,500 children and adults annually.

Oregon State University, the USDA Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station and the Willamette National Forest collaborate in ecological research and application to critical resource management issues such as restoration of aquatic ecosystems, managing carbon stocks and adaptation to climate change..

The goal of the latest round of funding, known as LTER7, is to examine how forested mountain ecosystems respond to changes in climate and land-use and how people interact with the forest through ethical decision-making, said Michael Paul Nelson, the Ruth H. Spaniol chair of renewable resources at OSU and lead principal investigator for the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest LTER research program.

It is focused on a central question: How do climate, natural disturbance and land use as controlled by forest governance – the structures and processes through which people make decisions and share power – interact with biodiversity, hydrology and carbon and nutrient dynamics?

Researchers will continue to address issues such as the transport of carbon and other nutrients through air and water flows. They will study the decomposition of organic matter and changes in the timing of events such as the blossoming of plants and insect emergence from streams.

“Many aspects of LTER7 will have broader social impacts,” Nelson said. “We will continue the strong tradition of fostering public engagement and producing policy-relevant knowledge in the area of ecosystem science. We’re engaging the public, resource managers and policymakers in studies of how changing social networks influence forest landscapes. We’ll also analyze forest governance from the perspective of conservation ethics.”

Tight federal budgets made this a demanding funding year for all 26 of the locations in the Long-Term Ecological Research Network, he said. Support for the Andrews program reflects an innovative combination of physical and social science activities.

Education and outreach projects include a rich K-12 teacher-training program and a strong arts and humanities effort through the Long-Term Ecological Reflections program, which includes partnering with the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word at Oregon State.

The National Science Foundation’s review panel praised the partnership between Oregon State and the Forest Service. “It could be a model for other collaborative research groups with diverse requirements,” reviewers noted.

“The Andrews forest has offered exceptional opportunities for students and faculty, not just from OSU, but other schools and colleges, to be part of relevant, impactful research on our forest landscapes,” said Thomas Maness, dean of OSU’s College of Forestry, which houses the Andrews LTER program.

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Michael Paul Nelson, 541-737-9221

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H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest

The H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest

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Lookout Creek in the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest

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Old-growth habitat at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest

Former OSU forestry dean Hal Salwasser dies at 69

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Harold J. “Hal” Salwasser, former dean of the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, died at his home in Corvallis Wednesday night (Oct. 15) of apparent natural causes. He was 69 years old.

Salwasser had been an active member of the forestry faculty since stepping down as dean in 2012 after 12 years leading the college. He had planned to retire from Oregon State at the end of December.

“Hal was a wonderful colleague, a respected forester and an engaged Corvallis community member,” said OSU President Edward J. Ray. “His work leading the College of Forestry grew the university’s essential contributions in teaching and research concerning the world’s forests, watersheds, natural areas and the wood products industry.”

Salwasser guided the OSU College of Forestry through a period of immense transition in forest policies and management nationally and globally. He led efforts to maintain forest production while incorporating new concerns about biodiversity, climate change, wildfire, stream health protection, and other issues.

As dean, Salwasser oversaw a forestry program that is more than 120 years old and is consistently ranked as one of the best forestry programs in the country. Today the OSU College of Forestry has an annual budget of some $25 million, with more than a thousand undergraduate and graduate students and an internationally recognized faculty.

Salwasser also directed the Forest Research Laboratory at OSU, which spans a broad range of disciplines, while incorporating social, economic and policy aspects of forests.

Before coming to Oregon State, Salwasser was the chief executive officer of the Pacific Southwest Research Station of the U.S. Forest Service. There he supervised the natural resources research and development of Forest Service activities in California, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. He previously was regional forester for the northern region of the U.S. Forest Service, which included Idaho, Montana, and the Dakotas.

The Salwasser family has requested that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Hal Salwasser Fellowship Fund through the OSU Foundation.

Plans for a celebration of life will be announced later.

 

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Steve Clark, 541-737-3808; steve.clark@oregonstate.edu;

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Hal Salwasser
Hal Salwasser

Aspen recovering as wildlife populations shift in Yellowstone National Park

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Wildlife in Yellowstone National Park is undergoing dramatic shifts with consequences that are beginning to return the landscape to conditions not seen in nearly a century, according to a series of new studies.

In the park’s northeast section, elk have decreased in number in their historic winter range in the Lamar Valley and are now more numerous outside the park. This change in elk numbers and distribution can be traced back to the reintroduction of wolves in 1995-96. Scientists have hypothesized that wolves affect both the numbers and the behavior of elk, thereby reducing the impact of browsing on vegetation, a concept known as a “trophic cascade.”

Rising grizzly bear numbers are also taking their toll on elk. As a result, lush vegetation is growing back in many but not all areas.

“Without wolves, this would not have happened,” said Luke Painter, an instructor at Oregon State University and lead author of three recent papers that describe the results of his fieldwork monitoring vegetation growth patterns in the park. “Wolves caused a fundamental change, but certainly they are interacting with other factors such as bears, climate, fire and human activity.”

Bison have also played an important role in the changes in vegetation in northern Yellowstone. Their numbers have increased four-fold as elk have decreased. In places where bison congregate, they browse on aspen, cottonwood and willow, compensating in part for the decline in elk. However, bison cannot reach as high as elk to browse, allowing more trees to escape and grow to maturity.

From 2010-12, hiking in the Yellowstone backcountry, Painter re-measured 87 aspen stands previously studied by his adviser, William Ripple, and former OSU student Eric Larsen in 1997 and 1998. Painter conducted a regional survey of stands across the northern part of the park and also in the Shoshone National Forest west of Yellowstone, where hunting and cattle grazing are allowed.

Painter detailed his findings this summer in an online report in the journal Ecology. He received his Ph.D. in the College of Forestry at Oregon State in 2013 and is now an instructor in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

“This new study illustrates the powerful insights you can get from taking a view over 15 years or more,” said Aaron Wirsing, an associate professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington. Wirsing was not involved in Painter’s study.

“Wolf reintroduction was a landmark moment, but the changes vary throughout ecosystems as a function of other factors,” Wirsing added. “By taking an ecosystem point of view, this paper shows the complexity of the system and all its moving parts.”

For much of the 20th century, aspen appeared to be in severe decline. While studies by Ripple and his OSU colleague Robert Beschta pointed to the beginnings of an aspen recovery within a decade of wolf reintroduction, other researchers reported finding little evidence of aspen regrowth. Painter has shown that aspen recovery is widespread over much of the northern range, but where elk are still numerous, aspen stands are heavily browsed and stunted. In the famous Lamar Valley itself, bison have become the dominant herbivore, suppressing some aspen stands.

“There is a recovery of aspen happening, but it’s early and it’s not happening everywhere yet,” said Painter. “That’s the way things work in nature.”

Painter found that a quarter of all aspen stands now have five or more young aspen tall enough to escape elk browsing, a condition not seen in decades. Moreover, 46 percent of all stands have at least one tree that has grown beyond the reach of elk. Browsing rates were significantly lower in 2012 than in 1997. The greatest increases in aspen heights were in the east where Ripple and Beschta first reported signs of recovery in 2006.

Other researchers have suggested that fire and climate could be just as significant as wolves in explaining the recovery of aspen stands, but Painter found no evidence to support those possibilities. Following the severe Yellowstone fires in 1988, he said, aspen failed to recover as elk continued to browse young shoots.

In addition, aspen in northern Yellowstone showed signs of vigorous regrowth since 2000 despite relatively dry conditions, which would be likely to suppress aspen growth.

In the early 1990s, many researchers didn’t expect widespread changes to occur from wolf reintroduction, Painter said. “The idea was that if you drop some wolves in here, everything will stay about the same, but the elk population will go down. But what happens is, it mixes up the whole pot. It’s been a surprise that there are so few elk wintering in the Lamar Valley.”

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Luke Painter, 360-970-1164

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Bison in Yellowstone National Park, 2012.

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Luke Painter

New book details threats to the world’s forests, offers solutions for conservation

CORVALLIS, Ore. – As forestlands around the globe continue to diminish in the wake of human population growth and climate change, two leading scientists have written a new book in which they issue a call to action for forest conservation.

Among threats to the vital services provided by forest ecosystems, they say, are residential development, climate change and illegal logging operations in the tropics.

“In the 1950s, we assumed that the forests were not going to change,” said Richard Waring, retired professor of forestry at Oregon State University and co-author of the book. “We assumed that if you disturbed them in a certain way, they would come back. Right now it looks like some of the drier forestlands will be in continuous transition to ecosystems that may not include trees at all.”

Since it is buffered by the Pacific Ocean, the West Coast is relatively unusual. Climate change models show that the conditions there for tree growth are likely to stay the same or even improve.

In the 1980s, Waring said, scientists began to realize that their assumptions of forest stability were wrong. They began incorporating rising atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels into their computer models of forest ecosystems. In a few places, unprecedented insect outbreaks and fires began to occur.

Waring and Joseph Landsberg, a forest biologist in Australia, detail their thoughts in a new book, “Forests in Our Changing World,” published by Island Press.

Managing forests for sustainability, they said, will mean controlling destructive, often unregulated logging operations in the tropics; turning forest slash into the soil rather than burning it; increasing resilience by planting multiple species of trees rather than single species; reducing erosion from forest soils; and monitoring broad forest trends through satellite imagery.

In the United States, Waring said, about 1.5 percent of the nation’s forestlands are disturbed annually through logging, housing development, fires and clearing. While that may not sound like a lot, he added, it means that most of the country’s forests would be replaced with new forests in less than 70 years.

“It’s a wake-up call,” Waring said. “We think it’s real and people should be concerned about it. There’s more carbon stored in the forest than anywhere else above ground.”

Between 2000 and 2005, about 6 percent of the United States’ forestlands were disturbed through fires, insect attacks, disease and logging – the largest percentage of any country with large forested areas. Canada saw the largest area of disturbance, about 40 million acres, in absolute terms. Most human disturbances of forests, Waring and Landsberg wrote, are driven by economic gain that ignores the long-term loss of ecosystem services such as carbon storage, biodiversity and water quality.

Wood products, which can store sequestered carbon, will increasingly come from tree plantations rather than natural forests, they added. At present, plantations account for only 3 percent of the world’s forestlands but produce about 25 percent of all forest products.

Future plantation managers would do well to avoid the “debacle” with blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus) in western Australia. Federal tax incentives and exaggerated claims of tree growth led to overplanting and as drought struck the region, water supplies were depleted, and trees stopped growing or died.

Waring specializes in forest ecology and the analysis of trends through satellite imagery. Landsberg has conducted forest research in the United Kingdom and Australia. As a former chief of the Division of Forest Research for Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO, he oversaw a staff of more than 200 scientists.

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Richard Waring, 541-737-6087

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9781610914956

New book details world-wide research on Douglas-fir

CORVALLIS, Ore. — The Pacific Northwest’s iconic Douglas-fir tree rivals coast redwood for honors as the world’s tallest tree. It isn’t a true fir – the species that was named for Scottish botanist David Douglas is, however, the mostly widely distributed North American conifer.

And it is a marvel of water engineering. From root to top, a mature tree transmits water across more than 22,000 cell walls, each equipped with 50 to 60 elegantly designed valves.

In recognition of this commercially important tree, the Forest Research Laboratory at Oregon State University has published “Douglas-fir: The Genus Pseudotsuga,” which details more than a century of research. It covers what is known about the species’ evolutionary history, genetics, environmental requirements and breeding programs in Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and North America.

Douglas-fir is native to western North America but has been accepted in forest management programs around the world. It is a member of the genus Pseudotsuga, which includes up to a dozen species in Asia and North America. In Europe, Douglas-fir is the most commonly planted North American tree.

Two OSU forest scientists, Denis Lavender and Richard Hermann, wrote “Douglas-fir.” Both received Ph.Ds. from Oregon State in botany and went on to conduct research on the species through the OSU Forest Research Lab until they retired.

“When Denis and I were at the Forest Research Lab, we received questions about Douglas-fir from around the world,” said Hermann. “So we decided to collect everything we could find and write a book.”

A native of Germany, Hermann specialized in Douglas-fir management in plantations and natural regeneration. In addition to his work at Oregon State, he held research appointments in Poland, France, Germany and Italy and served in leadership positions with the International Union of Forest Research Organizations.

Lavender, who died last spring, focused on reproductive biochemistry and the role of dormancy in tree vitality. After leaving Oregon State in 1984, he served as the head of the Forest Science Department at the University of British Columbia and helped to establish the Silvicultural Institute of British Columbia. His method for storing and planting seedlings increased the survival rate of conifers by 20 percent.

“Douglas-fir” is available free online at http://hdl.handle.net/1957/47168 or in print for $45 ($60 for international orders) from the communications office in the OSU College of Forestry, forestrycommunications@oregonstate.edu.

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Richard Hermann, 503-223-8307

Reflections on wilderness featured at Corvallis Science Pub

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Fifty years ago, Congress passed the Wilderness Act, which today protects nearly 110 million acres in the United States. At the June 9 Corvallis Science Pub, Cristina Eisenberg, an Oregon State University conservation biologist, will discuss why intact wilderness areas matter more today than they did in 1964.

The Science Pub presentation is free and open to the public and begins at 6 p.m. in the Majestic Theater, 115 S.W. Second St. in Corvallis.

Eisenberg’s intimate acquaintance with wilderness stems from 20 years of living with her family in a cabin adjacent to the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana. At 1 million acres, it comprises the second-largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states.

In her research, she studies interactions among wolves, elk, aspen and fire. In Rocky Mountain ecosystems, she has shown that relatively intact, large tracts of land are essential to create ecologically resilient landscapes. Such landscapes typically consist of extensive protected wilderness.

She will also read and show images from her recently published book, The Carnivore Way, in which she profiles the Crown of the Continent ecosystem, a 28-million-acre wildlife corridor that runs along the mountainous spine of North America.

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

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Cristina Eisenberg, 541-737-7524

“The Carnivore Way” could be key to large predator conservation

CORVALLIS, Ore. – North America’s mountainous backbone, stretching from Mexico to Alaska, could serve as a model for balancing the needs of large predators and people, an Oregon State University biologist suggests in a new book.

In “The Carnivore Way: Coexisting with and Conserving North America’s Predators,” published May 1 by Island Press, Cristina Eisenberg describes the ongoing efforts of humans to coexist with wolves, cougars, wolverines and other species in a largely wild but developing landscape.

Eisenberg, who grew up in a hunting and ranching family in northern Mexico, is an instructor in the Oregon State College of Forestry, a Smithsonian research associate and an Earthwatch scientist. She obtained her doctorate and completed two post-doctoral fellowships at Oregon State.

From her home in northwestern Montana, where grizzlies and wolves outnumber people, she traveled more than 13,000 miles – from the Arctic to northern Mexico – to trace corridors that link carnivores with the habitats they need to thrive. She met with scientists who studied these animals and with officials who found ways to conserve grizzlies, wolves, wolverines and other species. She talked with conservationists who hiked the trails and documented challenges to predators and their prey.

“Large carnivore conservation is ultimately about people,” Eisenberg wrote. “Science and environmental law can help us learn to share landscapes with fierce creatures, but ultimately coexistence has to do with our human hearts.”

For Eisenberg, it also has much to do with ecosystems. Wildlife scientists have documented the crucial role that large carnivores play in shaping forests and rangelands, she said.

“When you’re out there on the ground and a wolf shows up or a cougar shows up and starts doing what they do, you have these ‘aha’ moments,” Eisenberg said. “What I’m doing in ‘The Carnivore Way’ is providing a lot of stories and examples. There’s a massive amount of science in the book, but in the end, it’s sharing those ‘aha’ moments that help people connect with these animals.”

In a world in which ecosystems are reeling from climate change and other human influences, she said, wolves and other carnivores can restore resilience that benefits the resources that people depend on. By maintaining a role for carnivores, ecosystems are more likely to rebound in the face of drought, fire and other disturbances linked to a changing climate.

"Scientists studying ecosystems worldwide have found that carnivores indirectly improve the health and vigor of plant communities by reducing the density of their prey and in some cases by changing prey behavior,” said Eisenberg. “In many places in North America, for example, by preying on elk, wolves reduce the browsing pressure that elk place on plants. This enables trees and shrubs to grow to maturity and provide habitat for many other species, such as songbirds.”

Eisenberg’s research on the effects of predators on ecosystems has been supported by Parks Canada and the High Lonesome Ranch, which occupies 400 square miles in western Colorado. She and Oregon State co-investigator David Hibbs recently obtained Earthwatch Institute funding that will support their research on wolves, elk, and fire for several years. Articles featuring her research have appeared in National Geographic, The New York Times, High Country News and other outlets.

In 2010, Island Press published her previous book, “The Wolf’s Tooth,” which describes the ecological roles of large carnivores. She is writing a book on climate change, “Taking the Heat: Wildlife, Food Webs, and Extinction in a Warming World,” also for Island Press.

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Jaime Jennings, Island Press, 202-232-7933, ext. 44

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Cristina Eisenberg, 406-270-5153

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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