environment and natural resources


CORVALLIS - Oregon State University Extension Service specialists and Experiment Station researchers are assembling a deluge of information for the public on how to save water, energy and money in case of a severe drought this summer.

OSU Extension leaders are preparing for questions about water shortages, crop failures, power outages and other possible drought consequences by updating water conservation information on web sites, posting relevant publications on-line and forming a drought task force.

Although a wet April this year has increased mountain snow packs from a March 31 level that was 40 percent of normal to about 70 percent of normal in some places, Oregon remains on track for the worst summer drought since 1977, when annual rainfall totals were less than half of normal.

The National Weather Service measures annual rainfall from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.

As of Thursday, April 26, Portland was 11.75 inches below its seasonal normal of 28.87 inches. The 1.68 inches of rain recorded in Eugene during the same time has brought the seasonal total there to 16 inches - 26 inches below normal.

In Burns, the rainfall total was 4.82 inches as of April 26 - 1.63 inches below the normal of 6.45 inches. While two inches of rain one way or another has little impact in western Oregon, in Burns it means the region will have to survive without a quarter of its scarce annual rainfall.

Rain showers that have lingered on and off since April 1 have raised hopes that the drought threat has eased. But it would take soaking, record-setting rain between now and July to avert water shortages this summer, said state climatologist George Taylor of OSU's Oregon Climate Service. Time and history are stacked against the possibility that summer rains are coming to the rescue, he said.

"We get about 75 percent of our precipitation between October and March," Taylor said. "Even if we were to record the wettest April, May and June ever, we're still way, way behind."

Has a wet spring ever saved Oregon from a late-summer drought?

"The closest we came was in 1993," Taylor said. "It was the wettest spring we've ever had." The spring followed a dry winter after a dry summer and fall in 1992. By March, predictions were flying of a severe drought. Instead, the skies opened, and the rain fell steadily through July. Portland's rain gauge recorded 14 inches between March and July 1993 - roughly double the usual rainfall for those months.

Eugene's rainfall amounted to almost 20 inches during that time - almost triple the usual seven inches.

At OSU's rain-freshened, blossoming campus, Bill Braunworth, the assistant Agriculture Extension program leader, has organized a drought task force. So far, it includes 11 OSU Extension program leaders and Experiment Station researchers with expertise in master gardening, forestry, range management, nutrition and communications, bioresource engineering and crop and soil science.

The task force is developing a plan to deliver the latest water and energy conservation techniques via the Web and publications to homes, farms, businesses and educators. The drought information includes:

  • How to lessen the chance of wildfire damage;
  • How a drought might affect feed supply and range conditions;
  • What drought conditions might mean to fishermen;
  • How to manage a household, lawn and garden during a drought.

The sooner people receive the needed drought information, the sooner they can begin planning, Braunworth said.

"It is important that we get people connected to our local Extension offices for site-specific information," Braunworth said. "For example, we recently had an inch of rain in Pendleton, but much less in Moro. So we have to think 'What kind of tillage and weed control practices do we need to be looking at in response to the moisture we got - or didn't get?'

"What we need on a statewide level is to be thinking about what are the probabilities for future droughts, and how do we respond to those future scenarios," Braunworth said. "We need some trend information to start setting up for the most likely scenario."

Ann Marie VanDerZanden, the director of the OSU Extension Service Master Gardener program, also serves on the task force. She already is working with gardeners who want to know how to plan, plant and maintain their lawns and gardens during a drought.

"One basic thing I'm telling people is that if you don't need to plant something this year, wait until the fall rather than trying to establish it this (summer)," she said.

Bruce Nisley, an Extension livestock specialist in Sherman County, said wheat growers and cattle ranchers are hoping for rain but planning for drought.

For example, Sherman County's 270 wheat growers and 70 cattle producers can qualify for U.S. Department of Agriculture low-interest loans under the Conservation Reserve Program. Such loans could become available to farmers if their crops fail or if ranchers are forced to buy feed for their livestock in case range vegetation dries up.

Gov. John Kitzhaber already has declared Klamath County a disaster area, setting in motion the events that will free up low-interest federal loans there.

For ranchers, talk of a drought could mean an end to a three-year spell of increasingly favorable cattle prices --- the highest prices in 30 years. The market price for feeder-weight beef is up to 95 cents a pound, compared to 75 cents a pound in 1998, Nisley said.

However, if drenching rains don't fall in Oregon's cattle country to keep range forage fresh, ranchers soon may be competing to buy hay at $120 a ton or more.

"A cow will eat 30 pounds of hay or more a day," Nisley said. "That's about $1.80 a day per head for feed costs. That is a cost you normally wouldn't assume because you've already paid $9- to- $15- a head per month in grazing fees."

Ranchers are likely to avoid the additional expense by sending their cattle to market early, thereby increasing supply and possibly driving down prices.

Brian Tuck, a Wasco County-based Extension agent specializing in dryland and irrigated field crops, said the April rains in other parts of Oregon did not materialize in the Mid-Columbia area, where the drought is already here.

"You don't want to cry the sky is falling, but we are going to face a challenge this year," Tuck said. "We are 50 percent of normal. The sad part about all this is that other areas have been getting some relief these last two weeks with the storms that have come through, but it has not amounted to anything where we are in the Mid-Columbia. There is a lot of concern by growers about how this crop will turn out."

Wasco County wheat farmer John McElheran has stopped hoping that late-season rain will save his crop.

"It's already as bad as it's going to be," McElheran said.

The McElherans have raised wheat on their 1,000-acre farm near Maupin in Wasco County for five generations with only 8.5 inches of annual rainfall. They grow mostly winter wheat, with a small crop of spring wheat and some irrigated grass seed and fine fescue.

"This year, there isn't enough water for either the dry-land wheat farming or the irrigated fields," McElheran said. "Our irrigation water comes from reservoirs in The Cascades. Normally we get three or more irrigations. This year, the local water district is telling us we're going to get one irrigation. Part of the reason is that here we're already in the third year of a severe drought.

"In 1999, the last rain I got was at the end of March. Last growing season, the last rain was April 10. There's no telling what's going to happen this year. Now we're just hoping for an early drenching of fall rains (for next year)."

Clint Shock, an agricultural scientist at OSU's Malheur Experiment Station, said farmers who are hoping for rain are also looking for more tangible answers. More have been trying out a new drip irrigation system developed at the Malheur Experiment Station in Ontario on Oregon's eastern border with Idaho.

Farmers in the normally-arid Malheur County have successfully grown about 1,000 acres of onions using the new drip irrigation technique, which provides deep watering to plant roots with less water-and less loss to evaporation-than traditional furrow irrigation or sprinklers.

Publications about effective irrigation systems are among the two dozen information publications already available on a fast-evolving drought information link available through the Extension and Experiment Station Communications web site. More than 22 publications offer information on water conservation, energy savings and gardening strategies at http://eesc.orst.edu. Under "Featured Topics," click on the "Water Conservation Publications" square, which shows a rushing stream. In addition to publications, the site has links to national and regional drought information sites.

A link to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization offers information on drought monitoring, current maps of drought conditions and forecasts and sources of assistance for those who already have suffered drought-related losses.

To monitor weather conditions, read about latest drought updates and track daily rainfall totals, log onto the Oregon Climate Service. Click on "Observations." You will find rainfall totals for selected Oregon cities under "Daily weather observations."


George Taylor, 541-737-5705


CORVALLIS - It's time for Oregonians to wake up to the earthquake risks of the Pacific Northwest and adopt the regulations and programs of their neighbors to the south if Oregon is to avoid a major catastrophe in its future, says one of the region's leading earthquake experts.

Robert Yeats, a professor emeritus of geology at Oregon State University and author of a new book "Living with Earthquakes in California: A Survivor's Guide," says much of that book provides a blueprint for where Oregon should be in its earthquake preparation, but clearly is not.

"California got its wake up call after a serious earthquake in 1933 destroyed many schools in Los Angeles," Yeats said. "Due to laws passed after that event, California now leads the world in understanding its earthquake risks and preparing for them with it building codes, siting regulations and other programs. The science community here in Oregon now has a pretty good understanding of the risks we face, but the next step will be for the public to demand we do something about it."

The time for people to take actions to protect themselves and to take this issue seriously is now, Yeats said.

Researchers believe that the last great earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone hit the Pacific Northwest on a wintry night in the year 1700.

The repeat interval of such earthquakes in geologic history has at times been less than 300 years, and an earthquake such as this, at magnitude eight or larger, would now cause a catastrophic level of damage, billions of dollars in property losses and thousands of deaths. And that doesn't even consider the major risks the state faces from crustal earthquakes and shallower faults, some of which run right under the Portland metropolitan areas.

"A lot of our existing public buildings, including schools, hospitals and housing, are simply deathtraps," Yeats said. "For some reason Pacific Northwest residents simply don't think that much about earthquakes, probably because here they are few and far between. But this region is a disaster waiting to happen. If we have asbestos in our schools the law says we have to do something about it. I think earthquakes should have at least that much priority."

The options for action range from personal preparation to new state policy, Yeats said. They include:

  • Prepare your own home for an earthquake, using basic and often inexpensive steps that are outlined in his new book as well as free publications about earthquake preparation. 
  • Maintain or consider getting earthquake insurance, especially if you live in an area that has been mapped as being particularly vulnerable to earthquakes or soil liquefaction. In the Pacific Northwest, earthquake insurance is a bargain.
  • Demand and support public policy that requires building codes be followed strictly for earthquake damage prevention, and also that seismic maps be given more consideration in the allowed siting of new structures.

    Require grading ordinances that not only would help reduce earthquake damage but also guard against soil movements and landslides that cause significant property damage.

  • Face the need for and support physical upgrading and retrofitting of our most vulnerable public structures.

"It's simply not right to have public schools and hospitals that will collapse in a great earthquake," Yeats said. "We should either fix them up or get rid of them. That's what has happened in California, and that's the approach we should be taking here in the Pacific Northwest."

The science of understanding, preparing for and even forecasting earthquakes has evolved tremendously in recent decades, Yeats said. Research in the field can and should be increased. But the problem now in the Pacific Northwest is not primarily one of science, it is one of generating the necessary public awareness of these issues and willingness to do something about them, he said.

At OSU, Yeats introduced a course on Pacific Northwest earthquakes that meets the university's "science, technology and society" component of its baccalaureate core. The goal in that course, as in much of the rest of his activities these days, is to raise student and public awareness of earthquake risks and build a consensus to address them, Yeats said.

Along with his latest book, Yeats is also the author of "Living With Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest." Both publications by the OSU press can be found in local bookstores or purchased on the web at such sites as Amazon.com.

"This problem is not new," Yeats said. "When Californians first realized decades ago they had a serious earthquake concern, their initial reaction was one of denial. They thought if anyone found out about it that it would be bad for business. It took serious disasters before they changed their approach."

"But there's so much more we know now that we simply can't afford to wait any longer in Oregon and Washington," he said. "We've gotten some minor wake-up calls recently with small earthquakes, but there may be another one some day soon in the form of a magnitude nine earthquake that devastates the whole Pacific Northwest. Do we want to wait for our roof to literally fall in before we get ready?"

Story By: 

Robert Yeats, 541-737-1226


CORVALLIS - Munther Haddadin, a former member of Jordan's cabinet and a senior negotiator in talks that led to the 1994 Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty, will discuss the Middle East conflict during a lecture on Thursday, May 24, at Oregon State University.

Haddadin's talk, "What the Public Doesn't Hear: An Insider's Account of Arab-Israeli Negotiations," will begin at 7:30 p.m. in LaSells Stewart Center on 26th Street and Western Boulevard in Corvallis. It is free and open to the public.

Haddadin is a former Minister of Water and Irrigation for Jordan who, for many years, served as president and chairman of the board of the Jordan Valley Authority. The governmental agency was responsible for economic growth in the Jordan River valley.

A visiting scholar at Oregon State University this spring term, Haddadin is guest teaching a geosciences course with OSU's Aaron Wolf on the politics of water in the Middle East. He is working on two books that deal with Jordanian diplomacy and the peacemaking process.

Trained as a civil engineer at Alexandria University in Egypt, Haddadin has strong ties to the Pacific Northwest. He received his doctorate from the University of Washington in 1969.

Haddadin's presentation is sponsored by the OSU Department of History.

Story By: 

Jonathan Katz, 541-737-1276

Hypoxia in 2009 about average, researchers say

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Pacific Ocean off Oregon again experienced low-oxygen waters near the seafloor in summer of 2009, but the winds that fuel annual upwelling abated sufficiently in August and September to avoid severe hypoxia and the threat of biological “dead zones,” according to scientists.

Oregon State University researchers, who have been monitoring the near-shore waters with help from colleagues ranging from NOAA fish surveyors to Oregon crabbers, say this season’s hypoxia area was “about average” in size and duration in comparison with recent years.

“We did experience hypoxic conditions for the eighth consecutive year, but unlike 2006 when strong, steady winds led to near zero-oxygen, or anoxic, conditions, we got a break,” said Jack Barth, a professor of oceanography at OSU. “A series of wind reversals late in the summer helped dissipate the low oxygen, in essence allowing the system to ‘flush itself.’”

The oxygen level got as low as 0.5 milliliters per liter in early August off Newport and Cape Perpetua, which is at the cusp of being classified as “severe,” when the winds eased.

OSU scientists run regular transects off Newport using undersea gliders equipped with oxygen sensors, and similar instruments aboard four moorings from water 15 meters deep out to about 80 meters. They also had sensors aboard a NOAA hake survey cruise that sampled waters from northern California to the Strait of Juan de Fuca this summer.

Barth said the ability of oceanographers to monitor and measure hypoxic conditions is improving every year and should become even greater when OSU deploys a new network of undersea gliders and cabled moorings off the coast as part of the national Ocean Observatories Initiative, a $386.4 million effort funded by the National Science Foundation to gauge the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans.

Oregon scientists now have 10 times the sensors in the water as they did when hypoxia was first discovered off the central Oregon coast early this decade, Barth pointed out. The expanded instrumentation is allowing them not only to measure low oxygen, but to understand the underlying mechanisms behind it and how hypoxia manifests itself along the coast.

Unlike hypoxic areas in the Gulf of Mexico, which are caused by agricultural runoff and pollution, the low-oxygen waters of the Pacific Ocean off Oregon are triggered by seasonal upwelling, or the wind-driven mixing of cold, nutrient-rich deep water with surface waters. This fertilization of the upper water column generates large phytoplankton blooms, and as the plant material dies, it sinks to the bottom and decomposes, lowering the oxygen level of the water just off the seafloor.

This seasonal upwelling is normal, scientists say, yet hypoxia hadn’t been observed in near-shore waters prior to 2002. What changed, Barth said, was the pattern of Northwest winds and decreasing oxygen levels in the deep, offshore waters that are upwelled toward the coast.

“Historically, winds would blow at the coast for a week or so, then settle down for several days,” he pointed out. “As the winds eased, so did upwelling, and low-oxygen water was washed away – likely off the continental shelf. But in some years, those traditional wind patterns have shifted and now may last 20 to 30 days instead of a week. The system doesn’t have time to cleanse itself.”

Barth says the change in wind patterns and decrease in the oxygen levels in deep offshore waters are consistent with impacts suggested by many climate change models.

Previous research by Barth and colleagues found that changes in the wind patterns are triggered by slight variations in the Jet Stream. When the Jet Stream veers slightly to the south, as in 2005, it can cause a delay in upwelling that led to a devastating lack of biological production in the spring – a condition that may have been the cause of depressed salmon runs two and three years later.

When it shifts northward, the Jet Stream can cause strong, steady winds that “super-charge” the upwelling system, as happened in 2006, said Francis Chan, a senior research professor in OSU’s Department of Zoology. Chan and Barth are investigators for the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans program based at OSU.

“The 2006 situation was not only the strongest, most widespread hypoxia event yet seen off the Pacific Coast,” Chan said, “it also was the most long-lasting. The oxygen levels were off the charts and they continued through October of 2006, which is unheard of. For the first time we’ve ever observed, some parts of the near-shore ocean actually ran out of oxygen altogether.”

Photos and video of dead fish and crabs taken by a remotely operated vehicle in 2006 made national news and though hypoxia has been an issue every summer since, it hasn’t been nearly as severe. The researchers had hoped to use the ROV, operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, to observe hypoxic areas this summer, but it has been out for upgrades.

“We didn’t have any visual evidence from the rocky reefs we’ve been monitoring year after year,” Barth said, “but neither did we get any reports of significant die-offs, as happened with crabbers in 2006.”

Oregon’s crab industry, in fact, is partnering with OSU scientists in the monitoring of low-oxygen waters. OSU oceanographer Kipp Shearman is working with 10 Oregon crabbers, who have agreed to have oxygen sensors attached to 60 crab pots from Port Orford to Astoria, providing scientists with additional data.

“Because of the cooperation of crabbers, NOAA, ODFW and others, we now have a better understanding of how hypoxia works,” Barth said, “and that understanding will improve greatly as we expand our fleet of undersea gliders and ocean moorings.”

Story By: 

Jack Barth, 541-737-1607


CORVALLIS - A statewide training program offered through Oregon State University for people interested in protecting or restoring streams and watersheds has now helped more than 500 people gain expertise on these issues.

It also is gaining national attention for its efforts and will begin more statewide training sessions this fall.

This initiative, called the Watershed Stewardship Education Program, provides instruction on watershed principles and management and offers examples in a variety of land-use types. It's mainly for people who volunteer with Oregon's watershed councils, but is also geared toward individuals and other groups interested in these topics. Its success has attracted inquiries from at least four other states that hope to establish similar programs.

"This program touches on just about everything," said Jim Castle of Marion County. "My new confidence and understanding of watershed processes has prepared me for a leadership role in my watershed council."

This program delivers eight basic training sessions, ranging from water quality monitoring to restoring fish habitat and working together to create successful groups. The programs are offered regionally, to such audiences as watershed council members, staff members of soil and water conservation districts, foresters, agricultural producers, teachers and other groups or individuals.

Participants who choose to attend all eight training sessions and complete a 30-40 hour project become "master watershed stewards," who can then serve as points of contact for local residents, communities and watershed councils.

This program began in Oregon's coastal areas and has since expanded to Marion, Lincoln, Jackson, Josephine, Linn, Benton, Lane, Union, Curry, Clackamas, and Columbia counties. Regional programs are hosted by OSU Extension agents in cooperation with watershed councils and other groups.

The program is operated by OSU Extension and Oregon Sea Grant, in partnership with the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and Oregon Forest Resources Institute. A 17-chapter publication titled "Watershed Stewardship: A Learning Guide" is offered at a reduced price of $10 at trainings, and available to the public for $32 through OSU Extension and Experiment Station Communications, 422 Kerr Administration, OSU, Corvallis, Ore., 97331-2119; or at 541-737-2513.

Story By: 

Tara Nierenberg, 541-737-8715

Chinese scientists visit Oregon to confer about invasive species

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Representatives from China's Fujian Academy of Science are visiting Oregon this week to confer with American research and outreach experts on methods of fighting the spread of an invasive grass species.

The grass, Spartina alterniflora (also known as cordgrass), is native to the east coast of North America.

Introduced into a Fujian estuary in 1982, Spartina has spread rapidly, threatening the survival of native mangrove forests and Spartina invasions have also occurred on the west coast of the United States.

In 2007, Oregon State University’s Sam Chan, an Extension agent with Oregon Sea Grant, led  a team of researchers, educators and resource managers from Oregon, Washington and Florida to Fujian, a province about half the size of Oregon, on the southeastern coast of China. The team studied the impact of Spartina on coastal ecosystems, and signed a memorandum of understanding to work with the Fujian Academy on the problem.

The visit by Fujian officials to OSU and Oregon began this week with a reception attended by OSU faculty and students and representatives from Oregon Public Broadcasting, which documented the 2007 China visit as part of its award-winning Oregon Field Guide feature, "The Silent Invasion."

Most Fujian residents live on the coast and depend on clean waterways for commercially important shellfish and other species. Mangrove forests in healthy estuaries serve as buffers from coastal storms and typhoons. When Spartina creeps in, it can form dense, floating mats of vegetation that crowd out the mangroves, increasing the region's vulnerability to coastal storm surges and threatening the livelihood of Fujian residents.

Since the 2007 visit, the Chinese have initiated a number of coastal wetlands restoration projects, said Fanglin Tan of the Fujian Academy, who reported on cooperative methods the Chinese are using to combat Spartina and reduce its effects on native ecosystems.

“First we control Spartina, then we eradicate it and then we plant mangroves,” said Tan. 

Among those along for the trip is Luo Meijuan, senior engineer of the Fujian Academy, who has received funding for a one-year research-abroad program and is considering studying at OSU in what could be the first of many such exchanges.

“Students can easily be supported and we can develop collaborations and research opportunities with the Fujian Academy,” said Joe Hendricks, associate provost of International Programs at OSU.

During a tour Monday of OSU’s Wave Research Laboratory, the group was briefed on wave energy, tsunami preparedness and estuarine restoration projects using bulrush plantings. Tan has built a similar wave facility in China to study the impacts of inundation on Spartina and estuarine species.

“We face similar issues on the opposite sides of the Pacific,” said Chan, who organized the China exchange. He added that Oregon's coastal estuaries showcase global problems of habitat alteration and resulting invasion by non-native species such as Spartina.

The Fujian team is spending the rest of the week visiting the Oregon coast to tour Spartina control and restoration sites, a number of commercial shellfish operations, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the Whiskey Creek hatchery near Tillamook, and Tillamook estuary “bayscapes” (restored landscapes being put to multiple uses, including recreation and bird habitats).



Sam Chan, 503-679-4828

Samoa tsunami caused by geologic features similar to Pacific Northwest

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The powerful earthquake and deadly tsunami that yesterday struck the Samoan Islands occurred, once again, on a volatile “subduction zone” such as the one that caused the 2004 Indonesian earthquake and another that poses risks to the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

Researchers at Oregon State University who have studied and mapped in detail the subsea terrain near Samoa and Tonga in the South Pacific Ocean say this event – which appears to have killed 100 or more people in the resulting tsunami – happened deep beneath the sea in a complex geological site where two of the Earth’s great plates collide.

“To my knowledge, there haven’t been many destructive tsunamis in this region in recorded history, but it’s not surprising that this happened,” said Dawn Wright, a professor of geosciences at OSU who has done extensive bathymetric mapping of this part of the world.

“In this area, the Pacific plate and the Australian plate are colliding, and it’s further complicated by a transition from a subduction zone to strike-slip fault such as the San Andreas fault in California,” Wright said. “In the process the Pacific plate is also tearing at this transition zone, and such forces make it especially vulnerable to large earthquakes.”

The earthquake happened near the Tonga Trench, Wright said, which forms where one of the tectonic plates dives under the other and in the process creates a vast undersea canyon that dwarfs the Grand Canyon in the U.S. – it includes the Horizon Deep, the second deepest spot on the planet, at more than 35,000 feet beneath the sea. In this event, two giant parts of the Earth surged in different directions and violently heaved the ocean water above them, resulting in a tsunami. Some of these high speed waves can reach the speed of a jet airliner and travel across entire oceans – but in this case it appears that Samoa and American Samoa received the brunt of the damage.

“There’s a real similarity here to both the subduction zones that caused the Indonesia earthquake and pose risks on the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Pacific Northwest,” Wright said. “Like many places on what’s called the ‘ring of fire,’ these deep, high magnitude earthquakes hold the potential for dangerous tsunamis. That’s what we need to be preparing for here in the Pacific Northwest.”

Wright noted that engineers at OSU are working at this time with community leaders from Cannon Beach, Ore., to design and build what could become the nation’s first tsunami resistant structure, envisioned as a building that people could run to when an earthquake hits and there may be only a matter of minutes before a deadly tsunami strikes.

The Samoan tsunami occurred only 20 minutes after the earthquake hit, reports indicate, leaving coastal residents very little time to seek safety on higher ground. Successive waves caused significant damage and loss of life.

Shortly after that, in an unrelated geologic event, yet another earthquake struck the Indonesia island of Sumatra and killed many people, not far from where the deadly 2004 earthquake and tsunami occurred.

At OSU, other work is also under way to study subsea terrain, wave behavior and the specific forces of tsunamis, using the world’s most sophisticated tsunami wave basin at the Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory.

Story By: 

Dawn Wright, 541-737-1229

Multimedia Downloads

Undersea image of Tonga Trench

Researchers at Oregon State University have done extensive undersea mapping of the seafloor that was the site of the deadly earthquake and tsunami near Samoa. The epicenter in this image is about 20,000 feet of water in the blue region at the lower right corner of this map.


CORVALLIS - A national plan to better utilize agricultural products and technologies for energy and other non-traditional uses would turn Oregon State University into a "Sun Grant" institution and regional center for the initiative.

Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the U.S. Senate majority leader, announced the plan, calling for a national consortium of centers within the nation's Land Grant system that would be led by South Dakota State University. This Sun Grant Initiative would create regional centers at OSU, the University of Tennessee, and Oklahoma State University. Two other regional partners would be added later.

These regional centers are aimed at developing research, teaching and Extension efforts in the use of agricultural products for energy and bio-based products, including plastics, lubricants, textiles, solvents and adhesives.

"This certainly is an area that is growing rapidly, yet we've only scratched the surface," said Thayne R. Dutson, dean of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and director of the university's Agricultural Experiment Station. "There are ties to forestry, engineering and pharmacy, which dovetail nicely with Oregon State University's strengths."

A planning grant would allow the partnering institutions to develop the new Sun Grant system during the next year. Federal authorization and funding would be sought in October of 2002.

The Sun Grant Initiative, proposed by Daschle and leaders at South Dakota State University, is aimed at revitalizing rural communities and helping the U.S. address some of its energy needs. One goal is to help the country reduce its dependency on petroleum-based products by shifting to products that have an agricultural base.

OSU already is involved in some of those efforts, Dutson said, including fiber production and utilization, and development of new oilseed crops.

Steve Strauss, a professor of forest science, has become nationally known for his work with hybrid poplar trees - fast-growing hardwoods that can be used for paper and other products. These poplars are providing alternative crops for a growing number of farmers, and lessen the reliance on comparatively slow-growing Douglas-fir forests.

Steve Knapp, the Paul C. Berger Professor of Crop and Soil Science at OSU, is leading a national effort to use genetic engineering to control the types of oil produced by meadowfoam, cuphea, and other oilseed crops. The ability to alter the plants to affect the type of oil they produce is a key to making them viable for industrial use.

Oregon State has long been involved in the management of straw and other grass seed crop residue, the utilization of biomass, and other bioscience research. OSU also is emerging as a national leader in the study of natural plant products, with researchers from the colleges of Agricultural Sciences, Pharmacy, Forestry and Science involved in discovering important chemical compounds found in plants and working to purify, extract or synthesize those compounds in laboratories.

Among the reasons OSU was selected as a regional center, Dutson said, is the university's strength in collaborating with other states and agencies in the region, its close relationship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Agricultural Research Service, its experience with business partners, and a series of strong accountability measures, including Oregon Invests - a program that tracks the benefits of money invested in agricultural research.

The university already is a Land Grant, Sea Grant and Space Grant institution.

Story By: 

Thayne Dutson, 541-737-2331


CORVALLIS - An Oregon State University research review and survey of water systems in many Oregon cities suggests that modern forest management can be compatible with a high quality and quantity of water, and challenges common assumptions about the impact of logging and other forest practices.

The report looked at both research studies and 30 major municipal water systems in the state that are served largely by forested watersheds, including those of Portland, Eugene and Salem. Sponsored by the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, it will be presented on Aug. 23 in a public forum at Ashland, Ore.

"When people raise concerns about impacts of forest practices, one of the first things they mention is water quality," said Paul Adams, an Extension watershed specialist in the OSU Department of Forest Engineering. "In this report we tried to separate the facts from the myths to better understand how we get clean water."

One myth, Adams said, is the notion of pure water emerging from pristine forests.

"There is no such thing as pure H2O unless you buy distilled water at the grocery store," Adams said. "And while it's true that forested watersheds usually do deliver a very high quality of water, there's a wide variation even in nature. The Flynn Creek watershed in the Coast Range has been used as a control in research because it's a relatively pristine forest, but even there the suspended sediments have ranged from near zero to about 2,000 parts per million, when the water looks about like a chocolate milkshake."

Another myth, he said, is that trees store and release water to streams. Actually, a heavy forest canopy in most cases causes a net water loss of 15-20 inches a year in water volume. Trees consume water like any plant - it's actually the forest soils that store and filter the water, releasing it slowly like a sponge.

Adams said that protecting forest soils is the key to water retention, filtering and quality, and that from a water perspective the importance of forest cover is largely in protecting and nurturing the soils. Occasional timber harvest should not interfere with this process if done carefully with modern methods and good stream buffers.

Because much of the research on the effects of forest practices was done years ago, it can give an incomplete picture of the benefits of management tools and techniques now commonly used or required by law, Adams said. But this earlier research did help guide us toward these improved methods, he noted.

"Keeping forest lands intact is vital, but in general we've found that advanced harvesting practices with proper reforestation has little impact on water quality and quantity for municipal supplies," Adams said. "If you want to protect watersheds, the key is to protect the soils."

Among the other findings of the research review and survey:

  • The quality of water from forest lands in Oregon is generally very high, although some dissolved, particulate and biological constituents are often present.


  • Natural erosion can be an important sediment source and difficult to distinguish from management sources.


  • Changes in forest cover may increase or decrease stream flows, but only if this occurs on a large portion of a watershed within a short period.


  • Stream buffers during logging and other activities, as now required by law, can prevent many water quality problems.


  • Forest roads can increase landslide and other erosion in steep terrain, but improved design, location and maintenance can greatly reduce problems.


  • Logging and road construction between 1980-91 on 13 municipal watersheds in western Oregon did not result in sustained increases in turbidity at the water treatment facilities.


  • Agricultural, urban and suburban areas in the Eugene and Salem watersheds have become major sources of sediments.


  • High quality and safety of municipal water supplies are required by law, including careful treatment and frequent monitoring for contaminants.


  • City personnel who manage major water systems in Oregon have significant concerns about wildfire risk in their watersheds, as well as water quality, sedimentation and the effect of agriculture, forestry and urban use.

Among the most serious concerns at the moment, Adams said, is the potential impact of major wildfires, especially on watersheds like Portland's Bull Run or Bend's Bridge Creek - in each case, these water sources have no filtration systems to remove sediment. Some of the highest erosion and sedimentation levels ever recorded on forest watersheds have occurred after major wildfires.

And despite Oregon's reputation for perpetual rain, Adams said, maintaining an adequate water supply is becoming an increasing concern in many areas. The Ashland forum to outline the findings of this report will be open to the public. It costs $15, which includes lunch. Information about registration and the agenda can be obtained by calling 541-737-4966 or on the web. Among the topics are the survey results; social issues in drinking water, forests and watersheds; fire ecology and hazard reduction in forested watersheds; and a tour of the Ashland watershed.

Story By: 

Paul Adams, 541-737-2946


CORVALLIS - A multidisciplinary team of scientists and extension educators from Oregon State University and the University of California has launched a baseline assessment of environmental, economic and social issues in the Klamath Basin, where farmers, conservationists, commercial fishers, Native Americans and others are struggling over water allocation.

The basin, which straddles southern Oregon and northern California, is home to a national wildlife refuge, an abundance and variety of migratory waterfowl, bald eagles and the Lost River sucker and shortnose sucker, endangered fish. The basin also is home to the Klamath Tribes, and home to more than a thousand farm families.

The commercial fishing industry in nearby coastal communities also has a keen interest in water usage in the basin because of its dependence on salmon that spend part of their lives in rivers that run through the basin.

During part of the current growing season many farmers were cut off from irrigation water from the Klamath Irrigation Project, managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Partially because of a drought in the basin, the federal agency decided there was not enough water for multiple needs including irrigation, wildlife protection and power production.

The overall goal of the university team's assessment is to assemble information about the effects of the Bureau of Reclamation's water usage decisions on the basin's people and society, natural environment and economy, said Tom Gallagher, an OSU extension specialist facilitating the work of the team.

The assessment team hopes to help identify impacts that will assist local, state, and federal officials who may make decisions about the area's future, according to Gallagher.

Additional goals of the project include generating a "case study" that will be of value to communities elsewhere in the western United States. Examples of specific topics to be studied include soils, water, wildlife, fish, vegetation, air, social services and institutions, public policy, community histories and recent changes, and the local and regional economy.

The primary focus of the study is on the Klamath Irrigation Project, which was built by the Bureau of Reclamation. The project covers about 220,000 acres surrounding the communities of Klamath Falls, Merrill and Malin, Ore., and Tulelake, Calif. However, certain parts of the assessment effort will look at the entire Klamath River watershed, according to the researchers.

The assessment team includes economists, wildlife and fish ecologists, and agricultural and social scientists. The team, which will collaborate with residents and institutions in the Klamath Basin, hopes to generate a preliminary report in December 2001 and a final report in February 2002, according to Gallagher.


Tom Gallagher, 541-737-1573