OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

environment and natural resources

Math discovery may aid natural resource management

CORVALLIS, Ore. - With the aid of a chance discovery by a graduate student, scientists from Oregon State University have identified, dusted off and found a new use for an old math theory from the early 1800s that could revolutionize the management of lands, protection of species and study of ecology.

The discovery promises for the first time to address the enormous complexities of the natural world with the powerful tools of advanced mathematics - which, until now, have been of limited use in the study of many natural resource issues. Existing mathematical approaches have often been relegated to the sidelines, in favor of time-consuming and costly experiments or trial-and-error management.

The findings are being published in the journal American Naturalist and are co-authored by Jeffrey Dambacher, Hans Luh, Hiram Li and Philippe Rossignol.

"This research should have major implications for the management of natural resources around the world," said Philippe Rossignol, a professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU. "We're going to be able to apply mathematics to predict what might happen with a great deal more certainty than ever before. It could significantly improve the ability of ecologists, land managers and other scientists to address many issues, anything from the clarity of Crater Lake to fisheries management or emerging diseases."

OSU researchers are already using the new approaches and formulas described in this research to tackle problems from invasive species in Yaquina Bay to the ecological impact of bullfrogs and the stability of an Oregon sea urchin fishery. But the concepts are so useful and so broad, the scientists say, that these projects are barely scratching the surface of this technology's potential.

This new insight in ecological science began when OSU researchers were struggling to resolve a mathematical paradox first suggested in 1973 by a famous ecologist named Robert May, who produced a mathematical theory that made perfect sense but seemed at odds with the way the world really worked.

"One of the basic concepts of ecology for generations had been that the complexity of the natural world is a big part of what makes it persistent, that the many interrelationships, interactions and food webs among different species evolved into stable systems that worked well together," said Hiram Li, an OSU professor of fisheries and wildlife.

"But Robert May came along with a mathematical theory that suggested that increased complexity in a natural system should actually make it less stable," Li said. "The math seemed to work perfectly, but our observations of the real world ran contrary to this."

For 30 years researchers have debated this paradox between the way the world appeared to work - a "tangled web" of thriving organisms, as Charles Darwin described it - with May's mathematical description of the way it should work. Since the mathematical theory had not been reconciled with real-world observations, many field ecologists dismissed its importance. Applied mathematics are being used to manage fishing, hunting and control of pests, Li said, in situations that only relate to one or two species - but they have not been applied to ecosystems or communities.

 

"What we came to realize, however, is that May's mathematical analysis was not really wrong, it just didn't go far enough, as even May conceded," Rossignol said.

"So what we've tried to do is shine some light into this black box, by identifying more degrees of stability and using more variables, allowing the math to consider complexity and eventually arrive at different conclusions."

The researchers were struggling with their approach when Jeffrey Dambacher, then an OSU graduate student, had a chance conversation about what was needed with some faculty in OSU's Department of Mathematics. They mentioned a largely forgotten theorem of matrix algebra developed in the early 1800s by the French mathematician Augustin Cauchy. The theory, so far as they knew, had never yet found any useful application. But it appeared to be ideal for the problem at hand.

"It became immediately clear that this mathematical approach would take us in the direction we needed," Rossignol said. "It gives us a way to describe complex natural populations in more realistic terms, consider indirect interactions and really provide a much more accurate view of how natural systems will work. We'll be far more accurate with our predictions and can use this approach in the new field of adaptive management, improving our natural resource management approaches as we go."

The OSU scientists have fine-tuned this approach in continued research and outlined it in their new publication for other scientists to use in a comparatively simple, well-defined system.

"We're now bridging the world of biology and mathematics in a way that will let people approach complex problems using descriptive, qualitative information," Li said. "It complements data-hungry mathematical models by identifying key interactions to focus on when gathering quantitative data from a complex system. This reduces the need for complex, expensive and time-consuming experiments.

"With this approach, I can now do a computation in minutes that used to take forever. I'd literally write equations by hand on 20 feet of rolled-out butcher paper and hope I didn't make a mistake along the way."

The technique is also reliable, Li said. Using only text descriptions, these qualitative models have duplicated the predictions of studies done with classical ecological experiments.

In one recent usage, an OSU graduate student used this system to study the stability of an Oregon sea urchin fishery and answer questions about the long-term value of reserves. This would have been almost impossible with real-world experiments, but after the computer ran through 12 million mathematical combinations of possible outcomes, the scientists had the answers they had sought.

This research was supported by grants from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

 

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Philippe Rossignol, 541-737-5509

Conference to Explore Sustaining Oregon Forests

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Sustaining the health of Oregon’s forests in the midst of regional, national and global change will be the focus of a two-day conference and workshop at Oregon State University on Nov. 6-7, featuring the chief of the U.S. Forest Service and other prominent experts.

The event, “At the Crossroads: Sustaining Oregon’s Forests in a Rapidly Changing World,” will bring both new and traditional constituents into discussions of how to ensure that the state’s forests can continue to provide the benefits that Oregonians expect and value.

Gail Kimbell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, will headline a host of speakers and workshop leaders from government, science, industry, landowners, tribes and environmental organizations.

Other leading presenters include John C. Gordon, Pinchot professor emeritus of the Yale School of Forestry, and member of the National Commission on Science for Sustainable Forestry; Marvin Brown, OSU forester; Gary Hartshorn, president and CEO of the World Forestry Center; Richard Devlin, Oregon Senate majority leader; Laurie Wayburn, president of the Pacific Forest Trust; Steve Hobbs, OSU forester and member of the Oregon Board of Forestry; and Mike Houck, executive director of the Urban Greenspaces Institute.

In two days of presentations and panel discussions, participants will explore the impacts of Oregon forests in the context of regional, national and global change. Presenters will involve attendees in developing potential strategies for sustaining Oregon’s forests and their contributions to the state’s quality of life.

“The goal of the conference is to engage a broad spectrum of political, social and economic stakeholders and decision-makers in Oregon’s forests,” said Lisa Gaines, associate director of the Institute for Natural Resources and co-chair of the conference.

Participants will examine trends in forest management, ownership demographics, other factors driving change, and what these changes might mean for Oregon.

The conference is also an opportunity to assess implications of existing policies regarding forest stewardship and governmental roles, as well as potential policy changes, officials say.

The event will be in the CH2M-Hill Alumni Center. More information on registration, fees and the agenda can be found on the Web http://inr.oregonstate.edu/atthecrossroads/index.html.

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Lisa Gaines,
541-737-1976

Massive Fires Consistent with Climate Change, Predicted Years Ago

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The catastrophic fires that are sweeping Southern California are consistent with what climate change models have been predicting for years, experts say, and they may be just a prelude to many more such events in the future – as vegetation grows heavier than usual and then ignites during prolonged drought periods.

“This is exactly what we’ve been projecting to happen, both in short-term fire forecasts for this year and the longer term patterns that can be linked to global climate change,” said Ronald Neilson, a professor at Oregon State University and bioclimatologist with the USDA Forest Service.

“You can’t look at one event such as this and say with certainty that it was caused by a changing climate,” said Neilson, who was also a contributor to publications of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a co-recipient earlier this month of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

“But things just like this are consistent with what the latest modeling shows,” Neilson said, “and may be another piece of evidence that climate change is a reality, one with serious effects.”

The latest models, Neilson said, suggest that parts of the United States may be experiencing longer-term precipitation patterns – less year-to-year variability, but rather several wet years in a row followed by several that are drier than normal.

“As the planet warms, more water is getting evaporated from the oceans and all that water has to come down somewhere as precipitation,” said Neilson. “That can lead, at times, to heavier vegetation loads popping up and creation of a tremendous fuel load. But the warmth and other climatic forces are also going to create periodic droughts. If you get an ignition source during these periods, the fires can just become explosive.”

The problems can be compounded, Neilson said, by El Niño or La Nina events. A La Niña episode that’s currently under way is probably amplifying the Southern California drought, he said. But when rains return for a period of years, the burned vegetation may inevitably re-grow to very dense levels.

“In the future, catastrophic fires such as those going on now in California may simply be a normal part of the landscape,” said Neilson.

Fire forecast models developed by Neilson’s research group at OSU and the Forest Service rely on several global climate models. When combined, they accurately predicted both the Southern California fires that are happening and the drought that has recently hit parts of the Southeast, including Georgia and Florida, causing crippling water shortages.

In studies released five years ago, Neilson and other OSU researchers predicted that the American West could become both warmer and wetter in the coming century, conditions that would lead to repeated, catastrophic fires larger than any in recent history.

At that time, the scientists suggested that periodic increases in precipitation, in combination with higher temperatures and rising carbon dioxide levels, would spur vegetation growth and add even further to existing fuel loads caused by decades of fire suppression.

Droughts or heat waves, the researchers said in 2002, would then lead to levels of wildfire larger than most observed since European settlement. The projections were based on various “general circulation” models that showed both global warming and precipitation increases during the 21st century.

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Ronald Neilson,
541-750-7303

SCIENTIFIC, RELIGIOUS LEADERS TO TRADE IDEAS AND APPROACHES

ROME, Italy - Practitioners of religion and spirituality often operate in a sphere quite separate from that of science, but in mid-October a diverse group of environmental experts, water managers and others will meet with spiritual and religious leaders at Vatican City to see what they can learn from each other.

Organizers of the conference say they hope to explore the process of spiritual transformation and see what lessons it could provide for conflict resolution with some of the world's most pressing problems - particularly environmental issues, but perhaps other concerns as well.

The event is sponsored by the Department of Geosciences at Oregon State University, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican, the International Water Academy in Oslo, Norway, and the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security in California.

The list of attendees include people you don't often find in the same room - water management scientists, a Catholic bishop, government agency leaders, a Jewish rabbi, experts on Hindu philosophy, a military leader, a Muslim scholar and more.

According to Aaron Wolf, associate professor of geosciences at OSU and an expert in water resource issues as well as conflict resolution, this event should provide a unique opportunity to explore real-world environmental problems from a more philosophical, even spiritual perspective.

"In resolving conflicts over water management, there actually is a very high success rate and a global history of peaceful negotiation, rather than armed hostilities," Wolf said. "But the process itself can be painfully long and drawn out, sometimes taking decades while ecosystems are falling apart. We need to find ways we can more quickly move towards the needed compromises and agreements."

A breakthrough in such processes, Wolf said, often comes when the parties begin to look beyond their own demands and see what the broader societal needs are, in something like a water basin that may cut across many political and cultural boundaries. And that process of "getting outside of yourself" and trying to consider the greater world around you, the needs of the broader community, is also found in one other important area - spiritual transformation.

"The tools we often work with, such as rational discussion and economic inducements, are fine up to a point," Wolf said. "But the breakthroughs in these conflicts are often rooted in philosophical and psychological change of the participants.

"We think there's a great deal here we can learn from the spiritual and religious community," Wolf added. "And the science community, in turn, may have some ideas that will be useful to problems rooted in religious differences. I'm optimistic that this discussion could lead to something profoundly important."

Among the ideas to be explored at this meeting are:

  • Does the world of spiritual transformation have tools or approaches that may help bolster the difficult dynamics of international environmental negotiations?
  • Does the rich record of success in water negotiations offer approaches to other complex problems, including those with a religious underpinning?
  • How do the world's religions address environmental protection?
  • What does personal transformation in a spiritual context offer to the process of watershed transformation?
  • Can aspects of spiritual transformation - guided imagery, prayer, ceremony, silence or transformative listening - be of value in resolving environmental conflicts?
  • How does personal faith affect decision making?

There are 25 invited participants in the conference, including religious, political, agency and even military leaders.

They represent countries from the United States to Nepal, Jordan, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Botswana, the Netherlands and others. The event will be from Oct. 13-15 at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican.

It is supported by an $800,000 grant from the Carnegie Corp. of New York, for this conference and others like it on the general topic of conflict resolution. With that funding, OSU and the Pacific Institute also recently brought together a different but equally diverse group - arms control experts and water resource managers.

The immediate and practical goal of the conference, Wolf said, is to identify mechanisms that could reduce the risks of water conflicts, improve the success of negotiations between groups and nations, and develop new tools for conflict resolution.

But those tools, he said, will likely have a wide range of applications far beyond the problems of water resources.

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Aaron Wolf, 541-737-2722

MORE ORGANIC MATTER IN FOREST SOIL MAY UP ATMOSPHERIC CO2

CORVALLIS - A soil scientist at Oregon State University has discovered that adding additional organic matter to Oregon's forest soils may actually increase rather than hinder the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Researcher Elizabeth Sulzman's findings fly in the face of what scientists believe about long-term carbon storage by soils and their potential role in ameliorating global climate change.

Sulzman's work - presented at the recent national Ecological Society of America meeting and soon to be published in the international journal Biogeochemistry - shows that the additional organic matter, in the form of conifer needles, may actually prime soil microorganisms to degrade both the new, as well as older, more stable soil carbon stores.

Working at the National Science Foundation-funded H.J. Andrews Long-Term Ecological Research site, located in Oregon's Central Cascade mountain range, Sulzman has shown that exposing forest soils to twice the normal amount of organic matter increased soil carbon releases by 34 percent more than expected. Rather than storing carbon, the additional material fueled a boom of microbial activity that further decomposed soil carbon reserves - ultimately resulting in a net loss of carbon from the soil, returning it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

From roots to decaying wood, there is a tremendous amount of organic material stored beneath the earth's surface. Depending on the forest, 30-50 percent of tree weight can be below ground. Soil microorganisms work to transform all plant material, both above and below ground, into pools of carbon that can remain in the soil for thousands of years.

As soils warm, microbial activity increases. Therefore, soils typically lose more carbon under warmer conditions. "If climate change leads to even warmer temperatures, we could have even greater carbon loss from these soils," said Sulzman, an assistant professor in OSU's Department of Crop and Soil Science. "This would be a double whammy for atmospheric carbon dioxide levels."

It is well-documented that plants are able to use elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide to enhance their growth, a seemingly fortuitous by-product of pollution. But the work of Sulzman and others is finding that above-ground productivity doesn't necessarily translate into long-term storage of carbon below ground, as has long been assumed.

For the past several years, government policies have promoted land management activities designed to store carbon in the soil, so-called carbon sequestration, as a way to mitigate rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. While attempting to better understand forest carbon dynamics and the potential for carbon sequestration in these lands, Sulzman's work has given scientists grounds to question this logic.

"It goes against conventional wisdom," said Sulzman's East Coast collaborator, Richard Bowden, an associate professor at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. Bowden is a researcher at the Harvard Forest Long-Term Ecological Research site in Massachusetts.

"If we add more organic matter, soil should store more carbon," he said. "But if we add organic matter and lose it faster for as yet unknown reasons, we need to think seriously about how well soils can store carbon."

Forest management options, such as leaving slash on the ground or removing it through harvests or burns, subsequently have impacts on carbon storage. "When any management alters the forest floor it has implications for carbon storage, which must be considered," said Sulzman.

"We don't know how forests are really working, and we're asking them to clean up our carbon dioxide pollution," pointed out Bowden, adding that a better understanding of both how forests work as well as their limitations is needed to inform forest policy. "These findings are causing us to rethink our understanding of soil biology at this and other forests where we are conducting these experiments," said Kate Lajtha, a professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at OSU and a colleague of Sulzman.

Sulzman, a scientist with OSU's Agricultural Experiment Station, is collaborating with scientists all over the world in an attempt to better define below-ground processes that control carbon dynamics. Her work is vital to the debate as it's the only research of its kind being conducted in conifer systems. As such, it will also play a role in future forest management.

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Elizabeth Sulzman, 541-737-8936

OSU SCIENTISTS TO DISCUSS GROWING FIRE THREAT

BLACK BUTTE RANCH - Forestry experts from Oregon State University will discuss local forest health and fire danger at the Black Butte Ranch Fire Station on Thursday, Oct. 14.

In addition to recommending increased care around properties, Hal Salwasser, dean of OSU's College of Forestry, and Stephen Fitzgerald, associate professor with the OSU Extension Forestry Program, will promote new management plans and more investment in fire science research, especially along the "urban-wildland interface" where human habitation meets Oregon's natural lands.

"We want to put researchers to work in your neighborhoods and watersheds to get ahead of the danger that waits with every dry, hot summer," said Salwasser. Despite decreasing public funds, OSU is committed to expanding research in urban-wildland interface areas such as Bend, Black Butte Ranch, Camp Sherman and Sisters, Salwasser said. The university is raising private funds to endow a chair in fire science and to establish a fellowship for graduate students to study interface issues.

As fires in 2002 and 2003 demonstrated, interface regions are particularly vulnerable to wildfire. Past Oregon wildfires have cost millions. While the 2004 fire season was calm in comparison, many of Oregon's forests are still thick with surface and ladder fuels, and pose a growing threat to the more than 240,000 homes built along the urban-wildland interface.

Historically, periodic, low-intensity fire is a natural part of the Cascade ecosystem, but today's fires are less frequent and more severe. Fitzgerald attributes the current unhealthy forests to multiple factors: a century of fire suppression policy, failure to thin tree and shrub understories, selective logging of large, fire-resistant trees and a shift in forest composition from predominantly pine to fir. Drought, insect infestations and disease also increase the wildfire threat. The complexity of the problem calls for immediate and long-term solutions with the collaboration of residents, land managers, and the scientific community. Homeowners on the interface should prune and thin trees, remove vegetation and woodpiles near homes, and remodel and build with fire-resistant materials. But property care alone is not enough, said Salwasser.

"We need bold management activities beyond the interface that thin lots of smaller trees, and reduce surface and ladder fuels under bigger older trees," he said. "We need to return forests to conditions where fire is more natural, manageable, less costly and less damaging to both ecosystems and properties." "The worst we can do is nothing," added Fitzgerald. "The current passive management system will only cause the situation to deteriorate further."

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Hal Salwasser, 541-737-1585

UNUSUAL OSU SYMPOSIUM TO LOOK AT NATURE AND THE SACRED

CORVALLIS - Environmental philosophers, Christian, Buddhist and Islamic scholars, a noted astronomer and a Pulitzer Prize-winning Native American author will join forces at Oregon State University Oct. 28-30 for a special symposium examining the relationship between nature and different conceptions of sacredness.

Called "Nature and the Sacred: A Fierce Green Fire," the symposium will be held at LaSells Stewart Center in Corvallis. Cost is $90. Registration information and the entire schedule of the symposium is available at http://oregonstate.edu/cla/natureandsacred.

"The symposium is going to be a creative conversation about the relation of nature to the sacred and what that means in our lives," said Charles Goodrich, an instructor with the Spring Creek Project at OSU. "The diversity of our speakers is exceptional. Experiencing their wisdom and their insights will be inspiring."

Leading off the symposium will be a lecture Thursday at 7 p.m. by N. Scott Momaday, one of the country's leading Native American scholars and authors, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, "House Made of Dawn."

Presenters on Friday and Saturday include:

  • Marcus Borg, the Hundere Chair in Religion and Culture at OSU and one of the nation's foremost biblical and historical Jesus scholars; 
  • Joanna Macy, a leading peace activist and Buddhist scholar who wrote "Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age";
  • Kathleen Dean Moore, a distinguished professor of philosophy at OSU, an award-winning author and director of the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature and the Written Word; 
  • Seyyid Hossein Nasr, a professor of Islam studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and one of the world's foremost scholars of Islam;
  • Chet Raymo, an astronomer and professor of physics at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, and a science columnist for the Boston Globe.

On Friday evening, Raymo will read from his works on astronomy in tandem with a performance by the Corvallis-OSU Symphony. The concert, says Goodrich, will be a "feast for the ears, the mind, they eyes, the heart."

"Imagine Haydn's 'Oratorio' along with readings in celebration of creation by astronomer Chet Raymo and images from the Hubble telescope of explosions at the beginning of time," Goodrich said. "Then, for the grand finale, the world premier of 'In the Beginning,' (OSU professor) Michael Coolen's piece for orchestra, choir and universe - it will be an exceptional evening of science, music and poetry."

The symposium will conclude on Saturday with a celebration of action on behalf of nature, Goodrich said. Saturday's program, "Catching Fire: Vision into Action," is free and open to the public. It will include readings by writers Susan Zwinger, John Daniel, Robin Kimmerer and others; a performance and workshop by African drumming group Common Pulse; a nature writing workshop; musical performances and poetry readings; mask making; and information tables and displays.

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Charles Goodrich, 541-737-6198

OSU nontraditional forestry student finds time to rally support for college

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Val Goodness believes in bringing many voices to the discussion of sustainability.

As a 50-year-old nontraditional student at Oregon State University, she has learned that balance can be achieved between the goals of environmentalists and the needs of the forest industry, due in large part to the faculty, staff and students she’s come to know as an undergraduate in the College of Forestry.

Goodness is happy to have found a place that feels like home in the Department of Natural Resources. Her life has been a series of challenges, including escape from domestic violence, and the strain of raising an autistic son, Caleb, who is almost 14. Now, as a single parent struggling to find the money to survive and to attend school, Goodness has faith that she’ll not only thrive, but that her education at OSU will give her the chance to help change the world.

“We can be the sustainability leaders of the country and the world, if only we can be given the chance,” she said.

Although challenged by lack of money, and tied down by her son’s need for constant support and supervision, Goodness has been finding ways to give back. She’s volunteered with the OSU Women’s Center, ASOSU’s Get Out the Vote and the OSU Student Sustainability Coalition, and more recently, has found ways to volunteer for the College of Forestry.

Recent statewide budget concerns have meant some potentially serious cuts to the college, and Goodness pitched in to help. As a student at Lane Community College she worked on fundraising efforts, and she wanted to put those skills to use for OSU.

“This is our future, for our state and our country,” she said of the College of Forestry. “We’ve fallen behind in this country in technology, academics and education. This is the prime opportunity to take advantage of the great minds at OSU. These are great students who want to give back. Why cut funding to the college when the potential is so great?”

With that in mind, Goodness wrote heartfelt letters to key legislators, and pledged to help in any other way she could.

“I can do phone banking, make cookies,” she said. “This is something really valuable and important. My school deserves it. They believe in me and support me. We need to help in any way we can.”

Salwasser was so impressed with her letter that he forwarded it onto other OSU officials, and made a point to meet with Goodness personally, to thank her for her dedication to the college.

Goodness believes that ideas will come out of the work forestry students are doing that will revitalize Oregon’s economy and provide a smarter, more cost-effective approach to using forest resources. Cutting back funding for such work would negatively impact Oregon at time when the state needs its most creative minds.

Part of Goodness’ dedication to sustainability is her grounding in Native American tradition. Her heritage includes Blackfoot and Tsalagi, and she has volunteered with the OSU Longhouse, and will be the activities director for the Longhouse beginning in September.

“I believe we can learn about sustainability from indigenous people,” Goodness said. “We’ve not been hearing their voices for a long time. We should implement some of their ideas and make them more available as stakeholders. They have valuable input.”

Goodness received a Ford Foundation scholarship for full tuition during her first two years of undergraduate work. If she goes onto graduate school, which she hopes to do, and maintains a high GPA, the scholarship will also pay 80 percent of her graduate school tuition. Meanwhile, she will continue to balance her school workload with her dedication to Caleb, who can only attend school part time because of his autism. But the struggle, she believes, will be worth it.

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It's time to clear fire-prone vegetation near your home

REDMOND - Fire experts say a low snow pack thus far this winter may lead to another catastrophic fire season - just one year after Oregon suffered through the worst series of fires in recent memory. More than 2,000 fires burned nearly a million acres of Oregon forestland in 2002, according to Oregon Department of Forestry.

Property owners in rural or remote forest areas should begin taking responsibility now - before the growing season - for reducing fire risk, even if they have fire protection, advises Stephen Fitzgerald, forester with the Oregon State University Extension Service in central Oregon.

Involved with forest fire issues for the past 12 years, Fitzgerald is the author of the book, "Fire In Oregon's Forests: Risks, Effects, and Treatment Options," recently published by the Oregon Forest Resources Institute.

Rural and remote homes are at higher risk for fire than city dwellings, said Fitzgerald.

"Although you may have rural fire protection provided by a local fire protection district, don't live under the illusion that firefighters will be able to extinguish a wildfire before it gets to your home and property," warned Fitzgerald. "In the event of a large wildfire, firefighters may not enter property that has hazardous fuel conditions, placing themselves and fire-fighting equipment at risk."

Late winter and early spring is a great time to take action and reduce fuels and other fire hazards around homes and property, he said.

To lessen the risk of wildfire, Fitzgerald offers a few simple steps to protect home and property in wooded and rural areas. Most of these tasks can be completed in just one weekend.

  • Create a "green-belt" (i.e., lawn) 10- to 30-feet wide around your home.
  • Landscape with fire-resistant plants in both irrigated and non-irrigated portions of your landscape.
  • Clean and remove conifer needles and other debris from your roof and gutters annually.
  • Prune trees up to eight to 10 feet to eliminate "fuel ladders." You can vary the pruning height so your trees are more natural appearing.
  • Reduce the number of native shrubs under trees and in non-irrigated portions of your property.
  • Thin trees so there is about 10 feet between tree crowns; clean up thinning debris. Consider removing trees up against your house or with branches overhanging the roof, or at least prune branches up so they are not in contact with the side of the house or roof.
  • Keep firewood stacked 30 feet away and uphill from your home.
  • Replace a wood shake roof with a fire-resistant roof as soon as possible or feasible.

One challenge homeowners face when cleaning up their property is what to do with all the debris. Options include burning small piles, chipping the material or bringing the debris to your local landfill. Contact local fire departments for burning regulations before you strike a match, advises Fitzgerald.

Portable chippers can be rented to grind up woody debris. The chipped material can then be spread out on the soil surface beneath your trees, used as landscape mulch or spread on a garden path.

Some county landfills offer "free days" for bring in yard debris. The landfill then chips the material to make large batches of mulch used by public works departments and others. Check with local county landfills to see if they offer such a program.

Think fire prevention when planning a new home in a forested area, advises Fitzgerald. Use fire-resistant siding and non-combustible composition, tile or metal roofing materials. Limit the amount of deck area because hot embers can ignite wooden decks. Build on a level portion of your property when possible (fire burns faster on slopes). Install alternative water (e.g. cistern or pond) sources for firefighters because electric power often fails or is shut off during a fire making your well and outside faucets useless.

Create adequate access to your property for fire-fighting equipment to enter and exit easily. Check with local fire protection districts for entrance/exit standards. Don't forget to display reflective address numbers where your driveway meets the street. Most local fire departments have reflective address signs available. For more information on wildfire prevention, Fitzgerald suggests these websites:

Contact your rural fire protection district office for fire-related information and burning regulations. Local field offices of the Oregon Department of Forestry and your local county office of the OSU Extension Service can also help provide additional information or help direct you to other sources of information.

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Stephen Fitzgerald, 541-548-6088

OSU helps tree farmers plan across generations

OREGON CITY - Planting a tree is a long-term investment. So when it comes time to pass on the family tree farm, long-term planning is necessary.

A new program from Oregon State University Extension Service is helping forest owners plan transitions from one generation to the next.

"When you are managing a crop that spans generations, you need to talk about long-term goals and values with your family," said Mike Bondi, OSU professor and Extension forester in Clackamas County.

Bondi and Pat Frishkoff, former director of OSU's Austin Family Business Program, have designed a program to help families discuss sensitive issues and plan for the future of the family tree farm. The program explores the human side of transitioning forest land from one generation to the next.

"Forest owners may be worried how to keep the farm in the family," said Bondi. "Or they may find it hard to choose which family member should be given the responsibility for managing the family farm.

"Where most families struggle is being able to openly communicate about family values, priorities, wishes, and commitments," Bondi added. "It isn't easy."

Recently, 60 family members joined Bondi and Frishkoff in the OSU Extension program to talk openly about what works in family businesses and what doesn't. Several families were there with grandparents, parents and children.

At one point, Frishkoff separated the younger generation from the older generation and asked each group to list questions or statements they wanted to address to the other generation. The lists reflected concerns about money, careers, philosophy and future choices.

"This was an extremely useful way to get all of the fears, concerns, wishes and dreams out on the table for the entire group in a non-threatening way," Bondi said. "Pat focused attention on the tough issues, helping families define what their farm means to them, what their vision for the future is and how to set goals to reach their wishes."

At the end of the one-day workshop, each family left with a transition planning notebook and the beginning of a plan for transitioning ownership and management of the family farm.

"Because of the interactions between our family and the interactions we had with other families, we have prevented misunderstandings about expectations that would cause problems," said Scott Russell, a tree farmer from Scappoose, who came to the workshop with his wife and two sons.

"It really helped us to see the issues that need to be resolved now as opposed to later," agreed his son, Carl.

For more information about the program, "The Future of Your Tree Farm: The Human Side of Transitioning to the Next Generation," contact the Clackamas County office of the OSU Extension Service, at 503-655-8631.

 

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Mike Bondi, 503-655-8631