environment and natural resources


CORVALLIS - Archaeologists from Oregon State University will team with workers from the City of Woodburn this week to search for evidence of a rich deposit of Ice Age animal remains discovered near Mill Creek in the 1980s.

The project is being coordinated by the Center for the Study of the First Americans at OSU, in cooperation with the City of Woodburn and Woodburn High School. The site is on high school property.

On Thursday, city workers will use backhoes to carefully begin a deep extraction of dirt, retracing the utility route workers used nine years ago when the site was discovered. Along with rock and silt deposits, workers in 1987 uncovered evidence of numerous extinct paleontological animals, including mammoth, mastodon, bison, ground sloth, wolf, bear and horse remains.

For a variety of reasons - including a lack of funding - the site was never developed, though scientists say it may be "one of the richest deposits of Ice Age animals in Oregon."

"The animal remains were all found in a black, organic muck," said Rob Bonnichsen, director of OSU's Center for the Study of the First Americans. "They should be in an anaerobic - oxygen free - environment and have the potential for being preserved in mint condition."

The backhoes will carefully scoop out dirt until scientists locate the remains, according to Chuck Hibbs, one of the archaeologists leading the project. "We know roughly where they are - within 100 meters or so," he said.

A team of archaeologists will be ready to process any samples that are found. OSU researchers also will be looking for Ice Age hair samples to continue their work of extracting ancient DNA from archaeological sites.

If this week's project is successful, a more formal excavation effort is planned for the site in mid-August.


Story By: 

Alison Stenger, 503-292-5862


CORVALLIS - A growing concern about risks to clean water, ecosystem viability, wetland conservation and nonpoint source pollution has prompted the Oregon State University Department of Crop and Soil Science to offer a new, one-year, non-thesis master of science program in environmental soil science.

"The environmental soil science M.S. degree program will prepare candidates for work in soils consulting, waste management, bioremediation, environmental impact assessment, land evaluation, agricultural chemicals management, wetlands and water quality, in the public or private sectors," explained Richard Dick, professor of soil science at OSU.

"This one-year, non-thesis program is designed for those who have been working full-time or for recent graduates," he said.

Course work includes 45 quarter hours of advanced soil science, business administration and engineering. A project is a part of the program and may be completed as an internship with a public or private agency or in cooperation with a faculty member at OSU.

Applicants are encouraged to get in touch with the program before applying, said Dick. Applications can be submitted any time. Students must gain admission into the OSU Graduate School. No previous coursework in soils is required, though it is helpful. For those with a non-science degree, additional coursework in fundamentals of chemistry, math, biology and physics would be required before admittance into the program.

The program will be starting up in the fall of 1996. For more information, contact Richard Dick, Environmental Soil Science M.S. Program, Department of Crop and Soil Science, OSU, 3017 Ag and Life Sciences Bldg., Corvallis, OR 97331-5718.


Richard Dick, 541-737-5718


CORVALLIS - Melodie Putnam cares for about 2,000 plants a year - most of them are dying or diseased.

Depressing? It could be, but Putnam says there is an element of detective work needed for every sample she receives in her position as chief diagnostician at the Oregon State University Extension Plant Disease Clinic.

They come to this "plant doctor" in the form of whole trees, single leaves or, sometimes, plastic bags full of rotting goo.

On a good day Putnam gets a conifer that freshens the laboratory air. On other days, she receives plants that with have fungal problems or viral infections, or others that just look odd.

Despite the case load and the condition of some of her "patients," Putnam says she enjoys the job because she is able help people solve problems. Seldom does she have to administer last rights and sometimes she even discovers a new disease to add to the body of research.

Putnam is sort of a plant doctor of last resort. Before reaching her, Oregonians first can take their questions to an OSU Extension Service county office. If agents there don't have the answer they can refer the case to Putnam. In addition to many questions that originate with home owners and gardeners, she gets hundreds from commercial growers.

"Most of the easy-to-diagnose cases get handled at county extension agents' offices, so the samples I get usually have people stumped," Putnam said. "People want to know, 'Will these mushrooms poison my dog?' Or 'Will I have to cut down my pin oak tree?'

"There are about 330 different crops being grown in Oregon," she added. "Some, such as corn, have been studied to death. Others are more exotic. Echinacea and ginseng, for instance, are new high-value crops in the expanding medicinal herb business."

Echinacea is a flowering plant thought to fight colds and the flu. Marketers say ginseng boosts vitality.

"Just like people, some of the plants that come in have viruses," she said. "And, like viruses that attack humans, these cannot be cured. Some are not deadly, but there isn't much you can do once the plant is infected. There is no Ebola virus in the plant world, but some viruses will kill plants - it may just take a while."

Sometimes no treatment is necessary, Putnam pointed out. Many of the plant problems that come to her lab are "abiotic" - that is, they have a problem not caused by living organisms. They may just have an abnormality or be suffering from excess fertilizer, cold injury or general stress.

Many of the samples coming in now were injured from late-winter freezes, Putnam said. The leaves are not coming out fully or there are unexpectedly few flowers. The tissues that transport water were damaged, so after the leaves came out they wilted. Or, plants such as forsythia, didn't flower well because their buds were killed by late-season freezing.

"Some politicians make jokes about studying stress in plants as if it were somehow a frivolous waste of money," said Putnam. "No, plants don't experience stress over divorce, mortgage or loss of income. But, like humans, plants that are stressed are more likely to contract diseases. Is plant stress frivolous? We depend on plants for food, fiber and building materials.

"The stress that plants experience can be from things such as unseasonable cold weather, drought, transplanting or being taken out of their natural environment," she added. "Take a sycamore tree that is adapted for growth near a stream bed and transplant it to the middle of a park with no provision for irrigation and you're going to have a problem."

"The good news is that most plants are resilient," said Putnam. "I usually give people a 'cultural' and 'chemical' prescription for their plant's disease. A cultural treatment might be pruning off the diseased tissue or simply rotating crops or planting sites. A chemical approach might be applying a commercial fungicide."

Putnam warned Oregonians to be cautious about cultural controls that "you just hear about somewhere." One disease remedy involving a large dose of baking powder and Epsom salts may scorch all the leaves on your plants.

"Your best defense against plant disease is to buy healthy, disease-free and disease-resistant stock," said Putnam. "Look for statements of resistance in seed catalogs or ask at the nursery. The next step, if your plant still develops a problem, is to have it correctly diagnosed before you start any type of treatment.

"One of the best home diagnosis books is Westcott's Plant Disease Control Handbook," she added. "Another option is to take as large a sample as practical to an OSU Extension Service county office. This is a free service. You can save time, effort and a lot of money by getting the correct diagnosis. For example, you could purchase an expensive fungicide only to discover later that your plant has a bacterial problem."

Similar to being a doctor to humans, sometime as a plant doctor you have to deliver bad news. Occasionally you have to tell people it is too late to do anything.

Or, in the case of Dutch Elm disease, you may have to say that immediate removal of the tree is necessary.

"There are no Jack Kevorkian plant doctors," Putnam said, "but telling someone to remove a large living tree that may have been part of their yard for years can be pretty traumatic."


Melodie Putnam, 541-737-3472


CORVALLIS - Oregon State University has released a video called "Towns in Transition" and a companion study guide designed to help communities across the United States whose economies are linked to natural resource industries.

"Global, national and local forces have been causing dramatic economic and social changes in natural resource-dependent communities," said Lyla Houglum, director of the OSU Extension Service. "The goal of this educational package is to lend a helping hand to the families that live and work in them." Produced by an Extension Service and Agricultural Experiment Station team, the 30-minute "Towns in Transition" video examines the experiences of residents in three towns adjusting to significant change. They are Tulelake, Calif.; Forks, Wash.; and Astoria, Ore. Historical mainstays of the three communities' economies are farming, logging and fishing, respectively.

A 40-page, companion study guide applies a model for managing change to the communities featured in the video, discusses how informal and formal leaders can help, and identifies useful tools.

The video was aired via satellite on July 10 - through the national Agricultural Distance Education Consortium - to the extension services in every state for use with local communities.

The "Towns in Transition" VHS video tape, and study guide (VTP 025), are available as a package for $30 including shipping and handling. Additional copies of the study guide (EM 8648) are $2.50 each. To order write: Publication Orders, Extension and Station Communications, Oregon State University, 422 Kerr Admin., Corvallis, OR 97331-2119. Make check or money order payable to OSU Extension Service.

The video was produced by Andy Duncan and Lynn Ketchum of OSU's Department of Extension and Experiment Station Communications. The study guide was written by Flaxen D.L. Conway, Pat Corcoran and Greg Tillson, Extension Service community development specialists, who consulted on the video.

The project was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For more information, call OSU Extension and Experiment Station Communications, 541-737-3311.


Flaxen D.L. Conway, 541-737-1418


CORVALLIS - In the world of mighty mites, Oregon has a classic case of good versus bad. And the good guys are getting the edge, with millions having been released in Oregon fields to rescue high-value crops.

As a result, many growers in the Pacific Northwest will eventually cut pest control costs in half, and considerably reduce their need for pesticides.

Here's the story:

The bad guys are spider mites that take a multi-million dollar toll each year on mint crops, strawberries, ornamentals and trees. The good guys are predator mites. Just about all they eat are spider mites.

So the world needs more predator mites. To make that happen, Brian Croft has a plan.

Croft, a professor in Oregon State University's Department of Entomology working with OSU's Agricultural Experiment Station, has studied mites for more than 15 years.

The good mites (Neoseiulus fallacis) occur naturally, Croft said. So growers have to minimize the pesticides that might kill the good mites. They probably also need an extra supply of good mites so they have the numbers to zap all the bad mites.

So far, the plan is working best in mint. Predator mites multiply like crazy in top-irrigated mint. "They like the high humidity," Croft said.

In the greenhouses of A.M. Todd Co., a mint handler near Jefferson, Ore., researchers have been multiplying mites on lima bean plants since spring.

Starting in late August, they began turning loose more than 10 million predators in mint fields around the wetter areas of Jefferson, Eugene and Junction City, and in the drier areas of the Pacific Northwest, such as central and north-central Oregon, the Columbia River Basin and the East Yakima Valley of Washington and Idaho.

"We should have had more predators in the fields by April, but our greenhouses weren't ready in time," said Joyce Takeyasu, an entomologist for A.M. Todd. "Now we are concentrating on post-harvest releases (August and September). Predator mites are good at over-wintering, so we should have enough in fields when spring rolls around if they disperse adequately."

Next April, mint growers should check their fields. If they average more than one spider mite per plant and if the ratio of spider mites to predator mites is too high, they will have to spray with pesticides or bring in predator mites or both.

Spider mite control is a big deal to Oregon's peppermint producers, whose $51 million crop is the biggest of any state's.

Currently, mint growers with spider mite problems apply Comite, often spending up to $35 an acre on the miticide and application cost. With some help from predator mites, applications can be reduced, significantly lowering pest control costs, according to Mark Morris, an OSU doctoral student who works for A.M. Todd Co. in research and development.

Morris said new miticides are even more expensive, so biological control could have even a greater payoff.

"When spider mites approach the treatment threshold, we figure one predator mite for every 10 spider mites will do the job," Takeyasu said. "In early spring if spider mite populations are below one spider mite per plant, we can start with a one to 100 ratio and the predator mites will hopefully catch up and deplete the population of spider mites."

Morris believes the pinpoint-sized predators "should eventually replace chemical pesticides as a first line of defense in growers' arsenals - although pesticides are needed as a backup in cases where biological control is not effective enough."

Morris said he won't inoculate a field with predators if a grower already has enough in a field. In those cases, natural biological control should control the spider mites.

Croft said predator mites are put into fields in one of three ways: - INOCULATION: "In strawberries, we inoculate plants in a new field that won't be harvested that year. If we inoculate a thousand plants, that's enough to get predator mite coverage of a 10- to 20-acre field by the next year."

- INUNDATION: "That means putting on a lot of predators and using them like a pesticide," Croft said. "This tactic is like releasing 10,000 coyotes to wipe out 100,000 rabbits, but is necessary and economical on high value crops."

In mint, Takeyasu said, biological control requires at least 1,000 predator mites per acre - at a cost to growers of $8 to $10. But this rate depends on initial spider mite densities and presence of natural predator mites or other generalist predators.

Even if more predators are needed, the price might seem like a bargain to mint growers whose crop is worth more than $1,000 an acre and who have seen spider mites wipe out all of a field's mint leaves - and their valuable oil. - PERIODIC RELEASES: The ploy is to scout fields for predator mites and to manage pesticide use accordingly. Mites are added from time to time when the predators are in short supply.

Croft said OSU extension specialists and Agricultural Experiment Station scientists are working with growers to encourage the natural spread of predator mites.

"It's a matter of multi-crop management," Croft said. "Growers need to integrate production practices' so natural predator control is encouraged."

Besides their value to mint and strawberries, Croft said predator mites can control spider mites on rhododendrons, virburnum, magnolias, azaleas and shade trees such as linden.


Brian Croft, 541-737-5498


HERMISTON - The trouble with center pivot irrigation systems is that they water a circular area, while most land is parceled out in squares. You don't have to remember much geometry to realize there are going to be some unirrigated corners.

But researchers at Oregon State University's Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center are testing a variety of grasses and forages to cover problem areas such as these.

"These grasses are not just for farmers with irrigation pivots," said Jeffrey McMorran, an OSU Extension agent and agronomist. "They are applicable for anyone who has a 'back forty' that they don't want to blow away or become overrun with weeds."

Last fall, researchers planted trial patches of about 150 different species of grass and broadleaf forages. This spring it was found that Piute orchard grass, tall fescue, wild oats, tetraploid perennial ryegrass, covar sheep fescue and black mountain cereal rye are the best candidates for this job. Application rates should be about 15 pounds of pure live seed per acre, with plantings done no later than March 15.

"Typically, in this part of the Columbia Basin Russian thistle and puncturevine take over any disturbed land," McMorran said. "These weeds are generally not a problem on uncultivated lands such as native grasslands, but they are a big problem in places where the earth has been disturbed and no crops are growing, such as between pivots or in large backyards."

"Ideally you'd rather have something that will hold the soil, require little or no watering, out-compete the weeds and look nice," he said. "If it can provide food for birds and doesn't need to be mowed, all the better."


Jeffrey McMorran, 503-567-8321

OSU to host '96 flood conference in Portland Oct. 7-8

PORTLAND - Oregon State University is co-sponsoring a conference to try to put the flood of 1996 into historic, scientific and political perspective.

The conference, "The Flood of '96: Causes, Effects and Consequences," will be held Oct. 7-8 at the Columbia River Red Lion Hotel in Portland. It is the second annual Pacific Northwest Water Issues Conference.

It is designed for scientists, policy makers, students, interested citizens, land owners, regulators, land use planners and managers.

"The flood of 1996 had a significant impact on the Pacific Northwest, closing highways, damaging water supplies, flooding thousands of homes, businesses and acres of farmlands, affecting fish and wildlife habitat and taxing emergency management personnel," said Kelly Bartron of OSU's Oregon Water Resources Research Institute, a co-sponsor of the event.

Presentations at the conference will focus on: watershed and urban hydrology, meteorology, flood policy, water quality and ground water, water supply and emergency management. Field trips to flood sites are offered the day before and the day after the conference.

Registration fees are $225 per person, including conference materials, Monday evening reception, catered lunches, continental breakfasts, post-conference proceedings and refreshment breaks. Partial registration is possible. Field trips cost an extra $25 each.

For registration and information, contact: Oregon Water Resources Research Institute, 541-737-4022.

The Oregon section of American Institute of Hydrology and the Washington section of American Water Resources Association is co-sponsoring the conference with OSU.


Kelly Bartron, 541-737-4402

“Green” construction often secondary to cost, building codes

CORVALLIS, Ore. –  The mandates of building codes and desire for low costs are still the driving forces behind the structural materials usually chosen for buildings, a new survey suggests, despite Oregon’s increasing demand for use of “green” construction techniques.

The analysis reflected interviews with more than 30 architects, engineers and other design professionals, and showed that they wanted to build environmentally friendly structures but were often bound by the constraints of budget, code requirements and some uncertainty as to what constituted the best green structural materials or construction approaches.

Amid the significant pressures to appear “green” and sustainable, the survey also cited some concerns about “greenwashing,” in which the manufacturers of every product insisted they were the most environmentally benign and building designers were unsure who they could trust.

“These are actually pretty complex questions and there are some gaps in information we need to help address,” said Chris Knowles, an assistant professor with the Oregon Wood Innovation Center at Oregon State University. “These professionals are interested in green construction, they are usually informed about it, but it’s still difficult to make the most informed and optimal decisions, and they also have cost and code issues they struggle with.”

This survey was conducted by OSU, the University of Oregon and Portland State University, with support from the Oregon Forest Resources Institute and the Oregon Built Environmental and Sustainable Technologies center, or Oregon BEST.

Also somewhat surprising, officials said, was that the LEED rating system developed by the U.S. Green Energy Council often had little influence on materials chosen for the structural system. The LEED ratings and certification carry significant value, the building designers said, but types and volumes of materials used carry minimal weight in the LEED analysis and as a result have little effect on material choice, whether that be wood, concrete, or steel.

Among the findings of the survey:

  • Wood is generally seen as a green and sustainable building material, but the frequent presence of formaldehyde-based adhesives in engineered wood products causes concerns about gas emissions;
  • Availability of large volumes of certified wood products sometimes limits their use on larger projects, with preference given to the certification program operated by the Forest Stewardship Council;
  • Concrete and steel sometimes are favored due to their ability to add thermal mass to a structure that makes heating and cooling more energy efficient, or because it’s necessary on taller structures more than several stories high;
  • The availability of reliable and unbiased sources of information is a concern, and product representatives or industry literature are generally seen as biased;
  • The “life cycle analysis” is respected as a useful tool to make long-term environmental comparisons between use of wood, concrete or steel and based in part on that approach, wood is often seen as the building material of choice;
  • The group identified a need for continuing education courses to study these issues and stay updated on the latest approaches.
Story By: 

Chris Knowles, 541-737-1438

Portland firm honored for recycling efforts at OSU

CORVALLIS - A Portland construction firm is receiving Oregon State University's 1996 Recycling Excellence Award.

Lee Schroeder, OSU chief business officer, will present Marc McConnell of Hoffman Construction with the award during a 12:30 p.m. ceremony on Friday, Oct. 11, in OSU's Valley Library Room 135. The ceremony is open to the public.

Hoffman Construction is being recognized for outstanding recycling efforts during the first five months of the campus' Valley Library construction project.

Since May, subcontractor Catapult, Inc., has recycled 15,000 pounds of aluminum grating from the front of the library and 12,000 pounds of scrap metal from a canopy over a covered bike parking area.

Another subcontractor, L and H Grading, has removed 31,000 cubic yards of dirt, bricks and sidewalks, using the material for fill rather than sending it to a landfill.

OSU Campus Recycling is recycling the paper, bottles and cans generated during the project and Corvallis Disposal is recycling the cardboard, wood and metal scrap.

Hoffman Construction has shown a commitment to recycling not only for environmental reasons but also as a way to save the library project money, said David Garcia, OSU recycling coordinator.

"Hoffman Construction was chosen for the project based on a selection process that included a section requesting plans for recycling during the construction," Garcia said.

The library project is scheduled for completion in the fall of 1998. The $40 million project will add 147,000 square feet to the library and completely remodel the existing 189,000 square feet. The completed library will also include built-in recycling containers.


David Garcia, 541-737-3574

Scientists recover rare blocks of methane off Oregon coast

CORVALLIS - An international team of researchers has discovered a deposit of methane gas hydrates on the seafloor off Newport, Ore.

Although the material looks like snow or ice, it is so packed with methane, it can be set on fire, said Robert Collier, an Oregon State University associate professor of oceanic and atmospheric sciences, who helped identify the substance as it was hauled from the sea.

The finding is important, scientists say, with implications in the areas of energy development, global warming, and the marine food chain.

"This is a rare find," Collier said. "You can virtually count on one hand all of the people in the world who have ever seen this much material."

Undersea methane hydrate is significant as a possible future fuel source. As it decomposes, undersea methane could also add an energy source for undersea microorganisms, and, finally work its way out of the water and into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming.

German, U.S. and Canadian scientists discovered the deposits during a project to study fluids and gases which are being squeezed from sediments on the seafloor off the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. The expulsion, active along the plate collision boundaries of the earth, results from the compression of the water-rich sediments carried on the moving oceanic plates that are diving below the continents.

The joint project is coordinated by GEOMAR, Research Center for Marine Geoscience at the University of Kiel, Germany. GEOMAR director, Erwin Suess, a former OSU oceanographer, was chief scientist during the expedition.

A giant, TV-guided robotic "claw" working from the German research vessel Sonne 50 miles west of Newport retrieved more than 100 pounds of the material from the seafloor. The hydrates were formed in the sea under conditions of high pressure and low temperatures, Collier said. They begin to decompose as soon as they are removed from the seafloor, within hours leaving scientists with only a smelly puddle of water.

The fact that methane hydrates are only stable under narrow temperature and pressure conditions and are generally buried deep beneath the seafloor may limit potential commercial uses of the compound. But the study of these methane hydrates also has enormous implications in other fields, Collier pointed out.

Some researchers believe that global warming - which is expected to be most severe in polar regions where vast quantities of shallow gas hydrates are present -could lead to the catastrophic decay of these deposits. Decomposition of the hydrates could release more methane and cause further global warming, scientists warn.

Scientists from OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences and the University of Victoria in British Columbia participated in the recovery and analysis of the gas hydrates.

Gary Klinkhammer, an OSU geochemist and associate professor of oceanic and atmospheric sciences, said the discovery of this large methane hydrate field is only the first step in what may be a series of important research projects.

"This site presents an incredible opportunity," Klinkhammer said. "Located less than 50 miles off Newport, this could be a natural laboratory to study the behavior of this unique and globally significant material."

Samples from this new site will give the first accurate estimates of the layering and proportions of hydrate and sediment that generate seismic reflections from below the seafloor, Collier said. From those seismic readings, scientists surmise that there are vast deposits of the hydrates located throughout the world.

Although its potential as a viable fossil fuel resource is unknown, Japan recently announced a $50 million effort to commercially produce methane from the sea surrounding Hokkaido.

"We need eyes on the deep-sea floor to further advance marine science," Suess said. "Discoveries of such a basic nature in deep-sea research are only made possible by the application of new technologies including remotely operated, autonomous, and manned submersibles.

"When these and other TV-guided instrumentation are supported by state-of-the-art remote sensing and analysis from surface ships and shore-based laboratories," Suess added, "we are capable of making incredible progress in understanding critical scientific and environmental issues."


Robert Collier, 541-737-4367