environment and natural resources

Like birds? Oregon 2020 project seeking citizen scientists for bird surveys

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University researchers are hoping to tap into the state’s growing population of bird-watching enthusiasts to create a volunteer team of “citizen scientists” to gather data on Oregon’s resident and visiting birds.

Their project, called Oregon 2020, is seeking to fill some of the large gaps in data about Oregon birds, organizers say. Information about the project is available online at: http://oregon2020.com/.

“Oregon has a few species of birds we know very well – like the spotted owl, the sage grouse and the meadowlark,” said W. Douglas Robinson, the Mace Professor of Watchable Wildlife at OSU and director of the Oregon 2020 project. “However, the state has more than 500 species of birds and we know very little about many of them – even where they live.

“One goal of Oregon 2020 is to establish a baseline for the abundance and distribution of these birds so that in the future we can evaluate the impacts on them from disease, wildfire, climate change, or whatever other issues emerge,” he added.

To help the OSU scientists, Robinson hopes to enlist a cadre of volunteers in each county to gather data on birds in their area. The project will offer online tutorials and guidance on how to collect and log the data, which will be part of the national eBird database run by Cornell University. The popular eBird site receives more than 1 million submissions each month – but few from Oregon.

As part of the project, Robinson and others will hold periodic “bird blitzes” in Oregon counties where they will go out with volunteers to canvas all types of terrain. The first of these blitzes will take place June 21-23 in Polk County.

“Polk County has the least amount of data in eBird for any county west of the Cascades,” pointed out Robinson, who is a professor in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. “Most of the data we do have comes from Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge, which is a unique habitat that draws waterbirds, migratory birds and those birds that prefer an oak savannah. But we’d like to know what else the county has to offer in the way of species.”

The eBird database likewise has few listings for birds on most of the counties east of the Cascades, so getting volunteers there is critical, Robinson pointed out. Sometimes these surveys provide data that turns out to be surprising, he added.

“Some species that are thought to be rare turn out to be more common than we previously thought,” Robinson pointed out. “The Oregon vesper sparrow, for instance, has declined along with its oak savannah habitat and there was concern it might be listed as endangered. But we conducted a series of roadside surveys in Benton County and found plenty of them.

“As it turns out, they were considered rare because there weren’t enough watchers to explore the countryside,” Robinson added. “That’s what makes these surveys so important.”

Robinson is eBird’s official reviewer for Benton County, which means he looks over the submissions and analyzes them for their validity.

“Sometimes, a volunteer may log the sighting of a golden eagle, when it is far more likely to be an immature bald eagle,” Robinson said. “As a reviewer, I can correspond with the observer to make sure we get the correct identification. This gives us confidence that observations logged in eBird are valid.”

Persons interested in volunteering should log onto the Oregon 2020 website. In addition to county blitzes, participants will be offered workshops to learn better methods for counting birds, documenting species and using eBird. A GPS instrument is helpful, but not essential, Robinson said, since eBird has a mapping function.

“We’re hoping to do what we wish Lewis and Clark could have done more than 200 years ago,” Robinson said. “Imagine if they could have logged not just observations of species, but actual numbers and specific locations. That’s what we’d like to create. We want future generations to be able to go to exact locations in Oregon and compare species and numbers to what we observe today.”

Story By: 

 Doug Robinson, 541-737-9501; douglas.robinson@oregonstate.edu

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Steller Jay

Steller Jay


Horned Grebe
Horned Grebe

Earth Week at OSU offers sustainable events, opportunities

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University is promoting sustainability and awareness with an array of events during Earth Week, which begins Saturday, April 20.

Several new events this year include Campus Creature Census, in which community members are invited to contribute a creative work inspired by the various plants and animals that inhabit OSU. Participants may submit an entry in prose, field guide, artistic, or poetry form, which may be added to a compilation.

Returning events include the Hoo-Haa Earth Day Celebration, hosted by the Organic Grower’s Club at their farm on April 22. From 3-7 p.m., guests may enjoy free food and live music, watch a bubble artist in action, learn about soil, and discover how chickens may be used to till the earth. A shuttle bus will leave campus every 15 minutes from outside the OSU Beaver Store.

The 13th annual Earth Week Community Fair will be April 23. About 50 groups, both on and off of campus, will offer activities and environmental information. Students may also bring styrofoam for free recycling. Acceptable items include foam sheets and wraps, as well as bendable and rigid blocks. However, food packaging and expanding foam will not be accepted.

OSU Surplus Property will host the OSUsed Store Earth Week sale on April 24. Furniture, computers, electronics, housewares, and more will be on sale to students and community members from noon to 3 p.m.

This year also marks the 100-year anniversary of the planting of the elm trees that stand in the library quad.  A celebration will be held from noon to 1 p.m. on April 26, as an additional tree is planted to commemorate the next 100 years.

A more detailed list of events may be found at:  (http://tiny.cc/earth-calendar).

Story By: 

Andrea Norris, 541-737-5398

Oregon State University featured in The Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University received 98 points out of a possible 99 as a ‘green’ school in the latest edition of “The Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges: 2013 Edition.” The schools are chosen based on a 50-question survey conducted at hundreds of four-year colleges.

The Princeton Review analyzes data from the survey about the schools' course offerings, campus infrastructure, activities and career preparation to measure their commitment to the environment and to sustainability.

“The OSU community has once again demonstrated a high level of interest in and competency around sustainability,” said Brandon Trelstad, OSU’s sustainability coordinator. 

The 215-page guide is the only free comprehensive resource of its kind. It can be downloaded at www.princetonreview.com/green-guide and www.centerforgreenschools.org/greenguide.  It does not rank schools hierarchically, but each school’s green score can be found in their school profile on the main site (http://www.princetonreview.com/).

The 322 school profiles in the guide feature essential information for applicants – facts and stats on school demographics, admission, financial aid – plus write-ups on the schools' specific sustainability initiatives.  A "Green Facts" sidebar reports on a wide range of topics from the school's use of renewable energy sources, recycling and conservation programs to the availability of environmental studies and career guidance for green jobs.

“The volume and breadth of sustainability related work at this institution is amazing, and fascinatingly diverse,” Trelstad said. “I think what continually sets OSU apart is its broad spectrum of sustainability expertise. This is supported by students who care about global issues and come to OSU to build on that interest.”

Among OSU’s green highlights were an overall waste diversion rate of 42 percent, its numerous sustainability awards, its annual Nonprofit Career Day, and a building policy that ensures students will typically walk no further than 10 minutes across campus for class.

“OSU has a history of creating innovative projects to reduce energy use and meet its goal of climate neutrality by 2024,” the guide states.

The Princeton Review created its "Guide to 322 Green Colleges" in partnership with the Center for Green Schools (www.usgbc.org) at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)), with generous support from United Technologies Corp. (www.utc.com), founding sponsor of the Center for Green Schools.


Story By: 

Brandon Trelstad, 541-737-3307

Generic OSU

About Oregon State University: As one of only two universities in the nation designated as a land, sea, space and sun grant, Oregon State serves Oregon and the world by working on today’s most pressing issues. Our more than 31,000 students come from across the globe, and our programs operate in every Oregon county. Oregon State receives more research funding than all of the state’s comprehensive public universities combined. At our campuses in Corvallis and Bend, marine research center in Newport and award-winning Ecampus, we excel at shaping today’s students into tomorrow’s leaders.

Salmon research will take the stage at Corvallis Science Pub

CORVALLIS, Ore. – David Noakes, an internationally known fish biologist, will bring the science of salmon to the Corvallis Science Pub on Monday, Sept. 10. He’ll review what scientists know about how size affects survival, how a jack salmon can become a king and how wild and hatchery-raised fish compete.

The presentation will begin at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, 341 S.W. Second St., in Corvallis. It is free and open to the public.

In developing the knowledge to support effective salmon policies, Noakes and other scientists use telemetry to follow smolts from stream to sea, analyze diets and strive to understand the mystery of how salmon find their way back home to spawn.

Noakes is an Oregon State University professor of fisheries and wildlife and senior scientist with the Oregon Hatchery Research Center. He will describe research under way at the center as well as educational and public outreach programs in Oregon and as far away as Russia.

The center is a unique research laboratory in the natural environment of the Alsea River watershed. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the OSU Fisheries and Wildlife Department established the center to address research and educational questions about hatchery and wild fish.

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

Story By: 

David Noakes, 541-737-1953

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Returning chinook salmon on the Umatilla River. Photo by Lynn Ketchum

Beetlemania is coming to Corvallis Science Pub May 14

Beetlemania is coming to Corvallis Science Pub May 14

Contact: Nick Houtman, nick.houtman@oregonstate.edu, 541-737-0783

Source: Chris Marshall, marshach@onid.orst.edu, 541-737-4349

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Beetles have talent. They fly, tunnel, crawl and communicate with each other through chemical clues. Chris Marshall, curator of the Oregon State University Arthropod Collection, will bring the fascinating world of beetles — their history, behavior and ecology — to the Corvallis Science Pub on May 14.

Marshall will show examples of unusual beetles from around the world and discuss ways in which the Oregon State Arthropod Collection is helping scientists and the general public learn about the amazing beetle fauna here in the Pacific Northwest.

As a youth in New England, he started as many amateur bug collectors do, netting butterflies around his neighborhood. But he also found joy in stalking the creepers in creek beds and rotting logs. As a young scientist at Reed College, Harvard and then Cornell, he dug for treasure in insect collections and joined an expedition to Costa Rica. In 2006, he participated in a National Geographic-funded expedition to the remote rainforests of the Guyana Shield.

Today, Marshall manages a collection of more than 3 million insects, the world’s largest repository of bugs native to the Pacific Northwest. It focuses on meeting the needs of researchers but is open to the public by appointment.

Corvallis Science Pub will begin at 6 p.m. on May 14 at the Old World Deli, 341 Second St. in Corvallis. It is free and open to the public.

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

Story By: 

Chris Marshall, 541-737-4349

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Chris Marshall with three-toed sloth

Chris Marshall with three-toed sloth in 2006. (Photo: Piotr Naskrecki, courtesy of Oregon State University)


Chris Marshall in Guyana

Chris Marshall strode through a Wai Wai village during an international expedition to Guyana in 2006. (Photo: Piotr Naskrecki, courtesy of Oregon State University)

Study: Forested riparian zones important to nitrogen control, stream health

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Human activities from agriculture to fossil fuel consumption have resulted in high levels of nitrates in many streams and rivers; now a new study suggests that nurturing riparian zone forests may be a key in maintaining healthy waterways.

Streams flowing through urban areas and agricultural lands may have some of the same ability to process nitrates as healthy forest streams – if they have adequate forest buffer zones along their banks, the researchers say.

Results of the research were just published the professional journal, Ecosystems.

“There are many important ways in which streamside trees help maintain healthy river systems,” said lead author Daniel Sobota, who conducted the research as part of his doctoral studies at Oregon State University. “The shade they offer may reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the stream, preventing excessive algae growth.

“Additionally, the leaves and woody debris generated by streamside forests hold the nitrogen and prevent it from being released downstream all at once,” added Sobota, whose Ph.D. was in fisheries and wildlife at OSU. “This ability of a stream to ‘take up’ the nitrogen can help reduce the impacts of nitrogen enrichment in human-altered river basins.”

In the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, Sobota and his colleagues looked at nine streams in Oregon’s Willamette Valley that flowed through forest, agricultural or urban landscapes. Among their goals was to discover how much nitrogen was absorbed by the streams near the source, and how much went downriver.

In tests in Willamette Valley streams, the researchers discovered that 21 to 72 percent of nitrates entering the waterway could be stored in leaves, wood and aquatic mosses within one kilometer downstream.

The inability of a stream or river to hold nitrogen can cause “eutrophication,” or excess algae growth that can die and lead to low-oxygen waters. Eutrophication has caused significant problems in the Gulf of Mexico where the Mississippi River drains, as well as in the Chesapeake Bay.

“Forested riparian buffers can help delay nitrogen from going downstream so there isn’t a large influx at one time that could trigger harmful algal blooms,” Sobota said. “From a management perspective, that is a desirable trait.”

Rivers also can process nitrogen naturally through a process called “denitrification.” When oxygen levels in the water are low, bacteria will consume nitrogen instead and release it into the atmosphere – mostly as a harmless gas, Sobota pointed out. However, previous studies by researchers at OSU and the U.S. Forest Service found that the Oregon streams in their study have lower-than-average rates of denitrification.

The reason is a combination of high-gradient streams, oxygenated water and porous streambeds, which are not conducive to denitrification, said Sherri Johnson, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service and a courtesy professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU.

“A lot of streams in Oregon have subsurface water flowing beneath the streambed through the gravel,” said Johnson, also an author on the Ecosystems article. “This ‘hyporheic’ flow intermixes with the river water and limits the anaerobic processes.”

Linda Ashkenas, a senior faculty research assistant in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at OSU and an author on the study, said maintaining complex river channels is also important to stream health.

“Human impacts on rivers have eliminated many of the braids and channels that existed naturally, causing water to flow downstream faster, carrying nitrates with it,” Ashkenas said. “River systems that are more complex slow the water down and give organisms time to filter out the nitrogen.”

Sobota is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency office on the OSU campus as a National Research Council post-doctoral researcher. The Ecosystems study is part of a large, multi-institution project called Lotic Intersite Nitrogen Experiment II, or LINX II.

Story By: 

Daniel Sobota, 541-754-4833

Corvallis Science Pub to feature Engineers Without Borders, Beavers Without Borders

CORVALLIS, Ore. – At the Oct. 10 Corvallis Science Pub, two Oregon State University groups will describe their efforts to bring shelter and clean water to people in developing countries.

Jordan Machtelinckx, emeritus president of OSU’s Engineers Without Borders chapter, will discuss the challenges of providing safe drinking water to rural communities in El Salvador and Kenya. Taylor Kavanaugh, a 2010 OSU engineering graduate and representative of Beavers Without Borders, will describe the group’s effort to build housing in Guatemala, Macedonia and other countries.

The program begins at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, 341 Second St., in downtown Corvallis. It is free and open to the public.

In much of the world, lack of access to potable water is a major public health problem. More than a million children die annually from water-related diseases, according to the World Health Organization. “Engineers Without Borders is a chance for students to combine technical and social knowledge to provide basic human needs to some of the more remote communities around the world,” Machtelinckx said.

Starting in 2006, OSU students undertook the challenge of providing clean water to a remote mountain village in El Salvador. They installed a rainwater catchment system and a gravity-fed network that delivers filtered spring water to a school. In 2010, they shifted their focus to Lela, Kenya, a community of about 400 people who lack access to clean water year around. During annual droughts, they must walk for miles to reach available supplies.

Beavers Without Borders, sponsored by the OSU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, got under way in 2010, when athletes representing soccer, gymnastics, football, basketball and other sports traveled to Alotenango, Guatemala, to build a new house for a family living in a make-shift shelter. The organization sent another group to Macedonia last spring and has plans to do construction projects in Haiti, Cambodia and Ethiopia.

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


Story By: 

Jordan Machtelinckx, 503-734-7929

Insect identification website takes wing at OSU

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new online tool being developed at Oregon State University uses interactive pattern recognition technology to help researchers quickly and accurately identify species of moths and butterflies.

Jeff Miller, a professor in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences, and colleague Hans Luh, a senior research associate with the university's Integrated Plant Protection Center, are the creators of the tool, called Lepidoptera Wing Pattern Identification System, or LepWing ID. This pilot project allows users to compare a digital image of a specimen against a library of more than 1,600 photos.

Those images are just a fraction of the roughly 150,000 species of moths and butterflies that have been identified worldwide, but LepWing ID (http://ipmnet.org/lepid) still represents a significant improvement in identification. Compared to thumbing though a paper field guide to put a name to a particular species, the system offers a much faster and more accurate way of identifying moths and butterflies, Miller said. It is the first free, digital tool for identification available to both scientists and the general public.

Though still in its early phases, LepWing ID will be a valuable resource for scientists, as the winged insects are an indicator species of overall ecosystem health. Once the library is expanded, the system also has the potential to be used for non-research purposes. For instance, an agricultural inspector who finds a moth in a load of imported fruit could look up the insect in LepWing ID and determine if it is new to the region, and whether it is a pest or a beneficial.

"It would expedite the response to finding a new insect, perhaps by as much as one whole season, which could make a big difference in responding with appropriate management tactics," Miller said.  

LepWing ID works by matching a color pattern on a specific section of the wing to the same wing section in library images. Users also have the option of selecting certain traits, such as the dominant color of the specimen, from a menu to narrow down possible matches. Results are displayed in descending order, with the most probable matches displaying first. Because there are multiple photos of most species, the system might return the same species several times. But that's a good thing, Miller said, because it reassures the user that the results are accurate.

Users don't even need to have the specimen in hand to use the system: they can upload a computer-made illustration or even a hand-drawn cartoon of what they've glimpsed and LepWing ID will be able to search for potential matches, Miller said.

Miller took many of the photographs of moths and butterflies that make up the system's library, and he continues to add images to increase the tool's accuracy. He hopes LepWing ID will someday have tens of thousands of images to match against an uploaded photo of an unknown species.

Because LepWing ID is free, it's also a tool for the casual gardener or naturalist who is curious about the butterfly out in the garden.

In the future, Miller and Luh envision the LepWing ID model could be used to identify species of stink bugs, beetles, ticks, bees – even plants.

"I think the use is wide-reaching in biology," Miller said.


Jeffrey Miller, 541-737-5508

New Western Region Sun Grant Director named

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has named John Talbott as the new director of the Western Region Sun Grant program, through which he will oversee Sun Grant operations in nine states and several Pacific islands. His appointment is effective immediately.

The Sun Grant Initiative is a national network of land grant universities researching the development of bioenergy – energy derived from agricultural products instead of petroleum. OSU coordinates the Western Region Center.

Sun Grant's goal is to increase environmental sustainability, economic development, and national energy security. The organization awards competitive grants to researchers for projects to develop renewable alternative bio-based energies. Bill Boggess has directed the western region since 2008, while maintaining his position as executive associate dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. He will remain involved with Sun Grant at the national level.

"One of the drivers for bringing John in is that the Sun Grant program has matured; it's ready for a full-time director," Boggess said. "We're expecting John to do things we've never had the resources to do, such as building our working partnerships with federal research agencies, private firms, and related state agencies throughout the western region."

Talbott, who is finishing his public policy Ph.D. dissertation at Virginia Tech, has a diverse background that includes time as a wildlife ecologist, ranch hand, private consultant and county and state agency administrator. For the past five years, he has been deputy director and project manager of the Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership headquartered at Montana State University, a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy working to find ways to capture and permanently store greenhouse gasses.

Priorities for the Western Region Sun Grant program include enhancing and developing alternative feedstock, the plant material used to make bioenergy; creating energy-efficient agricultural operations; and producing sustainable aviation biofuels. Boggess said there has been a renewed demand for both commercial and military aviation biofuels.

OSU recently participated in an effort, led by several major airlines and other aviation stakeholders, which resulted in an outline to develop a sustainable aviation biofuels industry in the Pacific Northwest.

Talbott's work in his new position may be driven by this increase in interest.

"It's going to be incumbent on Sun Grant, OSU and the other universities to work with producers themselves," Talbott said. "How do we supply them with the knowledge and economic security necessary to change their agricultural operations to focus on feedstock for biofuel?"

As an avid outdoorsman, Talbott is familiar with rural communities and the challenges they face.  He said the Sun Grant position will allow him to have a stake in aiding those places.

"Here's a chance to do something both for the environment and the environmental policy and at the same time really spur some sustainable economic growth in these rural communities," he said. "I find that really intriguing and a really exciting challenge."


Bill Boggess, 541-737-1395