environment and natural resources

Spotted owls create forest management challenge

CORVALLIS - The arrival of a threatened species on its land is giving the College of Forestry at Oregon State University some new challenges - and opportunities - that may sound familiar to other forest landowners in Oregon.

A breeding pair of northern spotted owls has recently taken up residence in the McDonald-Dunn Research Forest operated by the college near Corvallis, with its nest site less than two miles from the nearest residential areas.

The owls' arrival has already forced the college to place 70 acres of land around the nesting site off-limits to pretty much everything, and prompted the creation of a "habitat conservation plan" that, when approved, will ultimately affect all 11,500 acres of this Coast Range forest.

"We're now facing the same type of requirements for endangered species protection that many other Oregon landowners have had to deal with," said David Lysne, director of the research forests. "But the good news is it's a dynamite research opportunity for our students and scientists, and it doesn't appear we'll have to make major changes in our forest management plans."

The arrival of the owls, Lysne said, might have been far more of a problem if the college did not already have very progressive, environmentally-sound land management plans in place.

While allowing for timber production, the existing plan seeks to create diverse types of forest structure, provide multiple types of habitat for many different animal and plant species, and - most importantly - give university scientists and students an unparalleled outdoor laboratory.

That's not to deny, however, that the presence of a threatened species has made life more complicated for college officials.

"Our primary mission with this land is education and research," said Ruthe Smith, a wildlife biologist with the OSU Research Forests. "But if we didn't create this habitat conservation plan, federal regulations would preclude us from doing the types of forest management activities we need."

The area near where the owls are nesting had been targeted by the university for experiment with "uneven-aged" forest management techniques - which scientists believe may provide some solutions for producing timber while providing habitat more suitable to a variety of animal species.

But many of the actions necessary to create that uneven-aged structure would be impossible without the habitat conservation plan, Smith said.

Even when the new plan is approved, she said, it may temporarily cause the area near the owls' current nest to become less suitable habitat - it's already marginal. For that reason an "incidental take permit" will be part of the new habitat conservation plan proposal. If the owls' current habitat becomes insufficient, in all likelihood they will move at least temporarily to an old growth forest on nearby Mary's Peak, university officials say.

In the long run - which university, state and federal officials all agree is by far the most important - the new management plans will make McDonald-Dunn Forest into a model for forest lands that produce timber, protect watersheds, nurture soils and fisheries, and provide the necessary habitat for virtually all native plant and animal species.

"Landowners all over Oregon are learning new ways to produce timber while better protecting animal species and using new types of ecosystem management," Lysne said. "At first much of this has been quite controversial. But the OSU College of Forestry is determined to find ways to do this successfully, and our spotted owls certainly give us a good opportunity."

Final approval of the habitat conservation plan now being developed by OSU officials is hoped for by January, 1998.

Most of McDonald and Dunn Forest is second-growth forest heavily logged in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Before that, repeated fires set by Native Americans maintained it as oak savanna, prairie grasses and open meadows.

Spotted owls have probably moved in and out of the forest for decades, Lysne said, although they were only officially identified in the 1970s.

The owls now in the forest have been tagged with radio transmitters so university biologists can study their movements and ecology. They are living quietly in a steep-sloped, Douglas-fir forest that's 120-160 years old - quite oblivious to the plans and strategy meetings swirling around them.

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David Lysne, 541-737-3562

Bacterial disease worsening in nursery industry

CORVALLIS - A bacterial disease that plagues Oregon's $419 million nursery industry has recently developed resistance to both of the chemicals used to control it, according to a new study at Oregon State University.

These Pseudomonas syringae bacteria, which cause a disease commonly known as bacterial blight, are already responsible for more than $8 million in annual losses to the nursery industry.

As chemical resistance spreads it's reasonable to believe that problem will worsen - a survey of 44 Willamette Valley nurseries showed pathogens are now prevalent everywhere, with 467 strains isolated from 25 plant species.

However, OSU scientists have identified types of chemical treatments and plant management strategies that will provide some help to operators of Oregon nurseries, which are the state's most valuable agricultural sector.

Until more permanent solutions are developed, prices for many nursery plants may rise and homeowners may also face a more serious threat to some of their ornamental plants and fruit trees, said Heather Scheck, a doctoral candidate in the OSU Department of Botany and Plant Pathology.

"Pseudomonas thrives in wet, cool climates like we have in western Oregon," Scheck said. "It produces a toxin that kills flowers and new growth, and causes cankers on more than 160 green and woody plants, including many of those produced in Oregon's ornamental nursery industry."

"The bacteria can kill young plants or flowers," she said, "but more commonly it maims the plant, ruins its appearance and makes it unsalable."

Growers in recent years have complained that the chemicals they most often used to control bacterial blight - copper and streptomycin - seemed to be losing their effectiveness. And the disease often made plants appear at their worst during spring, the prime sales season.

The OSU study, supported by the Oregon Association of Nurserymen, the Oregon Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, found the problem.

"We discovered that different phenotypes of Pseudomonas syringae have rapidly evolved in the past 10 years with resistance to either copper, streptomycin or both," said Scheck.

A collection of bacteria made by OSU in 1983 contained no strains of bacteria resistant to both these chemicals - now, 24 percent are.

"This problem pervades the Willamette Valley, which is the heart of the state's nursery industry," Scheck said. "You don't see it so much at retail nurseries, because the affected plants are often recognized and destroyed before they ever get there. But some plants infected with resistant bacteria may inadvertently be making it through to consumers."

However, OSU's research program has found some approaches that help address this problem.

Studies show that streptomycin resistance, if found, means the bacteria is virtually invulnerable to that chemical. But it appears that copper formulations with a higher concentration of "free ions," in a wettable power form, still provide some control.

Brand names of chemical products which meet that criteria and are available in most garden stores include Microcop, C-O-C-S, and Kocide 101 in its wettable powder form.

Other non-chemical measures that can help include more physical spacing of plants and good pruning to maintain air flow within the canopy. Cover from rain is also very helpful, and growth of more plants either under cover or in greenhouses may be one solution available to the nursery industry.

Among the plants that are by far the most vulnerable to bacterial blight, Scheck said, are lilacs and Japanese maples. The disease is getting sufficiently worse and lilacs are so prone to it, she said, that some Oregon nursery growers have abandoned efforts to cultivate them.

Continued research at OSU will work to find other types of treatments that can address this problem, Scheck said. It's not clear how many other areas of the nation may be facing similar concerns, although some spots in California and the Midwest may be affected, she said.

So far, there has been little success in finding genetic resistance among plant species that are susceptible to the bacteria, she said.

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Heather Scheck, 541-737-5254

Scientists warn about impacts of climate change

WASHINGTON, D.C. - An Oregon scientist and several other leading experts today will brief President Clinton and Vice President Gore on the verifiable reality of global climate change, the environmental, economic and social havoc it may cause, and the need for the United States to lead the world in addressing this problem.

"The evidence is overwhelming that the climate is warming and the vast majority of scientists are in agreement," said Jane Lubchenco, a distinguished professor of zoology at Oregon State University and chair of the board of directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"It's no longer possible to say we don't have a scientific basis for taking action," Lubchenco said. "Climate change is with us, the issue is urgent and it needs immediate attention. The sooner we take action, the more options we will have. Because carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for 100-150 years, there is a long, long time between when we start fixing the problem and when we'll see results. We have a moral obligation to act now."

Lubchenco and three other scientists, who have been strong advocates for international actions to address global climate change on many fronts, will present today's briefing at the request of the president and vice president. She also co-authored a professional paper being published tomorrow as part of a special section in the journal Science, which outlines the range of impacts humans are having on the planet Earth.

Later this year, important decisions will be made by the U.S. and more than 165 other nations - through the Framework Convention on Climate Change - on what steps to take and policies to develop about climate change. One international goal already in place is to limit global greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000.

"These non-binding targets are not being met, and governments need to exhibit stronger leadership in setting binding emission reduction goals," Lubchenco said.

Topics at the White House briefing will include the potential of climate change to affect agriculture, forestry, plant and animal biodiversity; cause sea levels to rise; cause health and infectious disease problems; and increase the frequency of severe or unusual weather, such as hurricanes, droughts and floods.

Lubchenco and five other leading scientists recently drafted a letter urging the U.S. to have a clear plan for limiting greenhouse gas emissions in place prior to a December, 1997, meeting in Kyoto, Japan, and suggested that proposals currently being considered "do not come close to stabilizing concentrations of greenhouse gases."

Since the release of that letter less than a month ago, more than 2,500 prominent scientists - including 101 from Oregon and 33 members of the National Academy of Sciences - also signed it.

Lubchenco, who is the Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology at OSU, is also helping to lead a group of concerned ecologists who warn that a major part of the problem is the speed of global warming.

"In ecology, we understand that the biological impact of environmental changes can vary a great deal, depending on how quickly they occur and whether or not plants and animals have time to adapt," Lubchenco said. "That's an important point too often lost in other debates, and one we want people to appreciate."

The public and political leaders should also appreciate, Lubchenco said, that the presence of a few isolated critics or scientific holdouts - and vocal objections from the coal or oil industry - do not change the scientific consensus which is emerging about climate change.

Lubchenco and her colleagues strongly endorse the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. With input from about 1,500 of the leading scientists in the world, the IPCC has concluded that human-induced global climate change is, in fact, under way. The group says global temperatures have increased by 0.5 to 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century, and may rise up to 6.3 degrees more in the next century.

The rate of this change would be faster than any natural variations that have occurred in the past 10,000 years, scientists say, and due to other human influences might be coupled with pollution, habitat fragmentation, habitat loss and the disappearance of many plant and animal communities.

"During rapid climate change, disturbances like fires, floods, erosion, droughts, storms, pests and pathogen outbreaks may increase," Lubchenco and the other ecologists wrote in one letter to Clinton, "with adverse effects on . . . water supply, soil fertility and carbon sequestration."

Such changes, the scientists say, could also result in rapid sea level rise of up to three feet by the year 2100, massive beach erosion, species extinction, widespread tree mortality, wildfire and the replacement of forests by grassland. Diseases such as malaria and dengue fever might expand as the world becomes more tropical. Vegetation patterns could change radically. There may be other problems scientists have not yet even anticipated.

Due to these concerns, the ecologists recommended to Clinton that policies be implemented which would limit the rate of global warming to no more than 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit per century.

The move towards immediate action about global climate change, Lubchenco says, continues to pick up allies. A letter has been recently signed by 2,000 economists who suggest that "there are many potential policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for which the total benefits outweigh the total costs." Options they point to include market-based "carbon taxes" or the auction of emission permits.

But there will be no substitute for the U.S. becoming a leader in tackling this problem, Lubchenco said.

"The United States is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases," Lubchenco said. "We represent 4 percent of the world's population but contribute 22 percent of the carbon. We need to wean ourselves from fossil fuels, we need a greater investment in alternative energy sources, we need some of the market-based approaches that the economists are talking about. And the sooner we begin these changes the better."

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Jane Lubchenco, 541-737-5337

Eastern Oregon fostering juniper boomtowns

BURNS - Imagine a world without adolescents. Not bad, you might say, but what about a world that doesn't even have many middle-aged residents?

A vegetation "belt" from eastern Oregon south into Nevada has a perplexing population of young and old juniper trees with little in between. While junipers can live to be 1,600 years or older, 97 percent of the trees in the area are less than 100 years old.

And that has implications for other plants and animals that must compete with the juniper.

Researchers at Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center in Burns, operated by Oregon State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, are tracking this population trend, trying to predict the consequences.

Just as the human baby boom in the United States can be traced to changes in the economy and post-World War II marriages, the spread of these young junipers has historical underpinnings.

It's not that trees more than 100 years old are dying particularly fast, according to Rick Miller, an OSU range scientist. The population shift is due to a rapid spread of young junipers that began in the 1870s, he said.

"About 100 years ago, growing conditions were ideal and the area had been overgrazed by an influx of cattle, sheep and horses that came with homesteaders," Miller said. "Junipers were also cut for fence posts and other building materials. So, what you see today are the larger, older trees in the fire-safe rimrock areas and the trees that began to quickly propagate during the 10-15 year intensive grazing period that began in the 1870s."

Miller said grazing affects juniper growth indirectly. Animals eat most of the vegetation between trees so when there is a fire, there is less burnable material to carry it across the range from tree to tree.

This "natural fire suppression" allowed many more junipers to live than in the centuries before grazing, according to the scientist.

"Most of this we can deduce from grazing and fire records, but we are still looking at a relatively small time span in the 10,000-year history of the western juniper belt that runs from John Day down to northwestern Nevada," said Miller.

"Looking at the rings of core samples from 1,300-year-old junipers gives us more information," Miller said. "For instance, we can look at fire and precipitation cycles and see that big fires are usually preceded by two to three years of good growth climate."

Tony Svejcar, a USDA researcher at the station, says the difficult part of his and Miller's work is "coming up with a management plan for thousands of acres, based on our smaller plot experiments and observations."

Two of the management tools the researchers have identified are cutting junipers and prescribed burning of sections of rangeland.

"Management experiments do yield dramatic changes," Svejcar said. "An uncut range plot might yield only 100 pounds of forage, while the cut plot produces 1,000 pounds per acre.

"When junipers don't dominate the plot, there is less erosion and more plant and animal diversity," Svejcar added. "Still, we do know that we're not keeping up with the juniper expansion even with prescribed burning and cutting."

"We're just trying to present alternatives for managing the land," said Miller. "That may be burning or cutting or leaving it alone. Do you want a landscape that is dominated by junipers or do you want to shoot for the maximum biodiversity, including other plant life, birds and small mammals?"

Eighty percent of the juniper belt is on federal land, noted Svejcar. While fire and cutting are the most effective management tools, the questions are: when and where?


Rick Miller 541-573-2064

OSU ecologist joins call for new climate policies

CORVALLIS - An ecologist at Oregon State University has joined a group of the world's most prestigious scientists in calling today for new policies on global warming that are based on the best available science, not politics or money from special interest groups.

Many of these experts, which include numerous Nobel laureates, are meeting today in Washington, D.C., to present Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt with a landmark declaration on climate change, and urging the U.S. to act immediately to prevent potentially devastating consequences of human-induced global warming.

Among the 1,504 signatories of that "Call to Action" from 62 different countries is Jane Lubchenco, Distinguished Professor of Zoology at OSU and chair of the board of directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, one of the world's leading professional science organizations.

In July, Lubchenco and several other leading experts briefed President Clinton and Vice President Gore on the verifiable reality of global climate change, and urged the U.S. to take a strong stance at upcoming meetings in Kyoto, Japan, aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

"The evidence is overwhelming that the climate is warming and the vast majority of scientists are in agreement," Lubchenco said at that time. "It's no longer possible to say we don't have a scientific basis for taking action."

The scientists meeting today say that they are acting in the face of a misleading multi-million dollar ad campaign funded by several fossil fuel companies, and calling upon government leaders to choose policies supported by the best science, rather than the most money.

This "science summit" is being held one week before the White House deliberations on global warming. The White House, the researchers said, has yet to announce its proposals to limit global warming and has scheduled a conference on the subject for Oct. 6.

A recently released poll commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund, the researchers said, reveals that the American public believes global warming is real and represents a serious threat. Two-thirds of voters see global warming as a serious threat now and believe the problem is likely to get worse. Voters also express enthusiasm for an international agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The scientists' statement today points out that five years ago, in the "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity," about 1,600 of the world's senior scientists said that human activities can inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and critical resources. But since that time, they said, "progress has been woefully inadequate, some of the most serious problems have worsened, (and) invaluable time has been squandered because so few leaders have risen to the challenge."

They warn of atmospheric and ecological disruption, rising sea levels, more severe weather events, encroachment of tropical diseases, species extinction, water and food scarcity, loss of biodiversity and many other impacts.

The important first step is now to complete a strong and meaningful climate treaty in the December, 1997, meetings at Kyoto, the scientists said.

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Jane Lubchenco, 541-737-5337

Pollution "credits" may help clean Oregon streams

CORVALLIS - Oregon may soon begin one of the nation's first experiments with "pollution credit trading," an innovative approach to cleaning up streams that might save money, reduce the level of pollutants and create a new atmosphere of cooperation, rather than confrontation, in pollution control.

According to Oregon State University engineers who have studied the concept and who may help set up a pilot project in eastern Oregon, pollution credit trading can help create a "win-win" approach, address the intractable issue of "non-point-source" pollutants and provide cleaner water at minimal cost.

"We don't want to sell this as the simple solution to all of our water pollution problems," said Marshall English, an OSU professor of bioresource engineering. "But I don't think there's any doubt it could be beneficial in certain situations, and the EPA is very positive about getting some projects going."

According to English, pollution credit trading is meant to supplement, not replace, existing regulatory approaches. And it's not intended to circumvent restrictions on some of the most toxic compounds, such as dioxins, PCBs or other serious toxins.

But with other pollution concerns such as unwanted nutrients or sediments, there are a variety of ways it can be implemented and the range of participants - industries, cities, sewage treatment plants, even individual farms and ranches - can be broad.

In the simplest sense it allows one entity, like a sewage treatment plant, to increase the amount of pollutants it may inject into a stream if it arranges and pays for another entity - perhaps a group of agricultural operations - to reduce their polluting activities by an even larger amount.

"That's one of the keys," English said. "This is not viewed as a one-to-one tradeoff of pollutants. The overall goal is to significantly reduce the total level of pollution. But if it's done right, you can accomplish that and still save large amounts of money."

The savings, he said, may come in the form of less treatment technology required by a city or business to reach certain levels of pollution control, or perhaps new and profitable industrial ventures that might otherwise have to be curtailed because they created some new pollution concern.

And the opportunity, he said, is to reduce pollutants from the area now considered most difficult to affect - "non-point-sources," such as farms, ranches, homes, ordinary urban or residential activities - which, in any one case, don't seem like a big deal. But their cumulative impact can be huge.

A case similar to that may be the first major experiment in Oregon, and among the first in the nation, to use the new concept.

The Umatilla River basin is facing concerns about unhealthy levels of phosphorus being released into the river from a variety of sources, which can cause problems for fisheries and other aquatic life. One potential impact is that the city of Pendleton may need to make costly improvements to its sewage treatment facility to lower its output of phosphorus.

"If we are able to successfully develop this as an EPA-endorsed pilot project, the idea would be for Pendleton to create financial incentives and provide monitoring programs that could reduce phosphorus loading from farms, ranches, mines or other entities in the basin," English said. "We may be able to substantially reduce the amount of phosphorus now going into the Umatilla River and still save a lot of money that Pendleton will otherwise have to spend on sewage treatment."

Right now, English said, the only approach in Oregon to help control agricultural-related pollution is the use of "best management practices," which are good so far as they go. But that doesn't mean there is no more that could be done, he said.

"The key here is you have to consider the political and economic realities of more and more stringent governmental regulations," English said. "By trading pollution credits and creating financial incentives, we can avoid treating people as enemies or lawbreakers. Instead we make them into voluntary partners, working towards a common goal, and using very progressive farming, ranching or industrial practices. That's critically important."

This concept has already been used successfully to address acid rain concerns in the eastern U.S., English said. And in a pilot project under way in Minnesota, which bears similarity to the eastern Oregon situation, a private industry is being allowed to expand its activities - and associated pollutant loading - while it helps pay for erosion control, improved livestock management, wetland enhancement and other activities that more than offset any added pollutants it creates.

To facilitate this process, environmental planners eventually envision the creation of pollution "credits" that can be bartered and sold. A credit might be defined as a certain amount of sediment, chemical or some other pollutant.

Systems to implement this concept are still evolving, English said, and by design are meant to be flexible to help deal with the wide range of pollutants that may affect lakes, streams, or groundwater.

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Marshall English, 541-737-6308

Higher-than-normal fire expected in West

CORVALLIS, Ore. – For much of the American West, it’s hot, dry and it’s going to be a bad fire year.

Researchers have just completed an updated national drought and fire forecast for the next six months, suggesting severe drought in much of California and parts of the Pacific Northwest, along with forest and rangeland fires that correspond somewhat – but not exactly – to the drought conditions.

By far the worst drought conditions, referred to as “extremely dry,” are found in California, western Oregon and Washington, and pockets of North Carolina and northern Wisconsin. Meanwhile, much of the Midwest and Northeast is getting soaked with rain.

Major fires, however, are not anticipated in every place that is dry, while some areas with normal moisture are at high risk of having tens of thousands of acres go up in flames – especially northwest Texas and eastern New Mexico. And along with its ongoing drought, huge fires are indeed projected for much of northern California and the Sierra Nevada range.

Almost all of Texas, the Southwest, California and the Pacific Northwest are expected to have higher-than-normal levels of fire, compared to a base period of 1971-2000. Nationally, the acreage that is expected to burn is about average, but there’s an unusual concentration of the activity in the West.

According to Ron Neilson, a professor of botany at Oregon State University and bioclimatologist with the Pacific Northwest Research Station of the USDA Forest Service, a major variable is an ignition source.

“It’s usually lightning storms that trigger multiple fires,” Neilson said. “Our computer models are pretty accurate at determining the vegetation, moisture and climatic conditions that set the stage for fire, but can’t always predict whether or not something will actually light them.”

Part of what’s interesting about this year, Neilson said, is that it appears an El Niño is beginning and there may even be tentative shifts in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, both of which are large climatic forces that can affect weather on broad regional or global scales.

“Lately we’ve had unusually turbulent weather in the U.S. for the summer months,” Neilson said. “The Midwest is getting heavier-than-normal rain and we’ve had some very unusual and powerful storms in the West as well. Everywhere I go people keep saying the weather is just really, really weird.”

The concern, Neilson said, is that an evolving El Niño reinforced by a changing Pacific Decadal Oscillation could be exactly the type of conditions that may set the stage for the broad, turbulent storms that can produce a lot of lightning to start fires.

Among the findings of the latest forecast:

  • Severe or extremely dry conditions are now found in almost all of central California and the Sierra Nevada mountain range, much of western Oregon and Washington, and parts of coastal and central North Carolina, central Florida and northern Wisconsin.
  • Extreme drought conditions exist north of Los Angeles; in all three directions from San Francisco; in pockets of southwest, west central and northwestern Oregon; and western Washington including the Olympic Peninsula.
  • Much of the Midwest is far wetter than usual, along with the Northeast and parts of northern Minnesota and North Dakota.
  • Very large amounts of fire are projected for northern California and small parts of southwest Oregon; coastal areas north of Los Angeles; large portions of the Sierra Nevada in California; and a huge area of northwestern Texas and eastern New Mexico.
  • Significant amounts of fire that are considered “above normal” are predicted for most of Texas and the Southwest; many parts of Oregon and eastern Washington; and northern Montana.
  • Drought doesn’t always mean fire. In the Pacific Northwest, some of the very driest areas, such as the northwestern corner of Oregon and most of western Washington, are not projected to have unusually high levels of fire.
  • Almost no areas east of Texas and the Rocky Mountains are expected to have higher-than-normal amounts of fire, except for some small pockets in central Florida, northern Georgia and northwestern Nebraska.
  • A total of 3.66 million acres of the U.S. is expected to burn.

These projections, which reflect observed weather conditions through June of 2009, were made with the Mapped Atmosphere-Plant-Soil System developed by researchers from the USDA Forest Service and OSU. The systems have simulated drought and fire back in time to 1895, are constantly updated, and incorporate data from different global climate models, as well as vegetation growth, fuel loads, soil moisture, climatic trends and other factors. Data and findings from the system have been used extensively by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The projections are prepared by Neilson and James Lenihan, also a fire and ecosystem modeler with the Forest Service, and incorporate work from the OSU Spatial Climate Analysis Service.More information can be found on the web at http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/mdr/mapss/index.shtml

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Ron Neilson, 541-750-7303

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Field study links sunlight to amphibian deformities

CORVALLIS - Zoologists at Oregon State University today presented the first major field study which concludes that the levels of ultraviolet, or UV-B, radiation now found in sunlight can cause physical deformities in amphibians, a problem that has alarmed researchers around the world.

The findings were announced in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They confirm prior lab studies done on this topic, scientists say, and may serve as an ominous early warning of some of the real impacts of global climate change.

In this experiment, which was done with long-toed salamanders in lakes of the central Oregon Cascade Range, more than 90 percent of the salamander embryos that were not shielded from UV-B radiation either died or hatched with deformities.

By comparison, almost all of the embryos protected by special filters from the UV-B radiation levels that are currently present in sunlight survived and were perfectly normal.

"The findings were astounding to us," said Andrew Blaustein, an OSU professor of zoology and expert on amphibian declines around the world. "The point to remember is that these were not artificially-elevated levels of UV-B light or results from a laboratory. These salamanders were exposed to nothing more than ambient, natural levels of sunlight while living in their normal habitat.

"The salamander embryos that were not protected from natural sunlight mostly died," Blaustein added. "The few that managed to survive were almost always deformed."

Other possible causes of amphibian deformities which have been proposed, such as attacks by certain parasites or exposure to pesticides, were not present in this field experiment, Blaustein said. This suggests that UV-B exposure, by itself, is adequate to cause high levels of death or deformity in some species. But it does not preclude the possibility that other forces, including parasites or pesticides, may be relevant in other areas, or that combinations of the various causes may sometimes be at work.

The global decline in amphibian populations, and more recently the disturbing number of deformed amphibians, have caused many researchers to believe they may be an early indicator of serious environmental problems. At various locations, acid rain, habitat destruction, pollution, predation and other factors have all been implicated in amphibian declines, and disappearing species have been found from Europe to North America, Australia, Asia, Africa and elsewhere.

One of the more disturbing concerns, especially on a global scale, may be the role of rising levels of ultraviolet light which are linked to depletion of Earth's protective ozone layer. Such increases in UV-B radiation have been demonstrated both in polar and temperate regions, Blaustein said - including one Canadian study which found increased UV-B levels over a five-year period at the same latitude as the recent experiments done in Oregon.

In previous studies, Blaustein and his colleagues demonstrated that natural levels of UV-B radiation were causing high levels of embryo mortality in several species of frogs, toads and salamanders.

The latest research examined long-toed salamanders, partly because they were known to have low levels of the enzyme photolyase, which plays a key role in repairing DNA damaged by UV-B. This salamander in particular, and many other amphibians in general, are vulnerable species because they have no hair or feather protection, lay unshelled eggs and at various stages of development may be exposed to a wide range of environmental insults.

But they also have thrived since before the age of the dinosaurs.

In the OSU study, some eggs in a Cascade Range pond were protected from UV-B radiation, while others were not. Of those not protected, 85 percent died and 92 percent of the survivors had some type of developmental deformity, affecting their bodies, heads, eyes, tail, growth rate or other area. Of those shielded from natural UV-B levels, only 5 percent died and less than 1 percent had any deformities.

Collaborating on this study were scientists from Yale University, the University of Maine, and the Oregon Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit of the U.S. Geological Survey.

It's difficult to project the findings of studies such as this to potential impacts on other plant and animal species, Blaustein said. Many plants, insects, mammals, birds and fish are sensitive to UV-B radiation. Among those known to be the most sensitive are algae, some aquatic insects and fish, coral, and ocean plankton, which forms the basis of the marine food chain.

High levels of ultraviolet light exposure in humans has been linked to cataracts, immune suppression and skin cancer.

But beyond the larger concerns for other species, Blaustein said, the declining populations and disappearance of amphibians are a serious problem in their own right. These frogs, toads, salamanders and other species have survived for hundreds of millions of years - until now - and play key roles in numerous ecosystems, often serving as both prey and predator to other species.

"What you're seeing here are profound deformities and death being caused in a wild species by nothing more than the UV-B radiation levels now being found in sunlight," he said. "In my opinion, studies such as this suggest people should be taking concerns about climate change very seriously. It's increasingly clear a lot of ecosystems are already suffering significant impacts."

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Andrew Blaustein, 541-737-5356


CORVALLIS - A major winter storm expected to lash the Pacific Northwest in the next 24 hours with snow and freezing rain might be only the prelude to more serious weather problems to come, experts say, because an old-fashioned "pineapple express" is bearing down on Oregon and Washington, and a serious flood could be the result.

These warm, extremely wet weather events usually emerge from the sub-tropics two or three times each winter and often account for the single rainiest day of the year, according to George Taylor, the state climatologist at Oregon State University.

But when combined with the large amounts of low elevation snow that has occurred in the past couple weeks, a pineapple express can be the trigger that causes serious flooding, Taylor said. Exactly those conditions are now present in Oregon, and the remaining wild card is how much rain the storm brings. If it's very high, the region may experience a major flood.

"After a transition day on Tuesday, our forecasts clearly show that temperatures will rise, some snow melt will begin and it's going to rain for the next four or five days," Taylor said. "It's less certain exactly how much rain we will get."

What's pretty clear, however, is that the stage is set.

"The two largest flooding events in the Pacific Northwest during the past 100 years were in 1964 and more recently in February, 1996," Taylor said. "The '96 flood was accompanied by record-setting rains, such as the eight inches that Corvallis got during a four-day period. But in terms of low-elevation snow, our current conditions more closely resemble those of 1964."

The '64 flood is generally considered the worst in recorded Pacific Northwest history, Taylor said. It struck a huge area, causing 47 deaths in four states, inundating a region from Northern California through Oregon, Washington and Idaho. To this day there's a marker in place above the Rogue River near Agness in Southern Oregon, where the river crested about 100 feet above its normal level.

"Obviously we have no indication at this point that the flooding we may experience soon would resemble either of those two major events," Taylor said. "But we do have a great deal of snow on the ground and a big sub-tropical storm headed this way. It's a serious concern."

Just in the past couple weeks, he said, the snow pack in most of the Pacific Northwest has gone from below normal to well above normal, and at the moment it extends to the floor of the Willamette Valley. At mid-elevations of about 3,000 to 4,000 feet in the Cascade Range, there currently is about 10-15 inches of "snow water" waiting for warmer conditions to cause melting. The lower elevation snow will go first, Taylor said.

The combination of rapid snow melting and significant precipitation is the recipe for a flood, he said. In the next few days, at least some minor flooding along local streams might be expected, but it will take fairly significant rain to cause problems with the major river systems, including the Willamette River.

"That's what we don't know at the moment, exactly how much rain to expect," Taylor said.

"The name that has caught on with the media and public is pineapple express, although I think of these storms as a subtropical jet stream," Taylor said. "Regardless, they are warmer storms coming in from the southwest, and they are particularly unpredictable in the amounts of moisture they carry. It's usually a lot, but we can't say for sure how much."

In 1996, Taylor said, some areas of the Oregon coast range were just drenched. Laurel Mountain northwest of Corvallis got 28 inches of rain in four days, and one location near Forest Grove added 20 inches of rain to 15 inches of melting snow water to cause the Tualatin River to hit its highest level ever recorded.

The current five day forecast from the Flood Forecasting Center suggests that the Willamette Valley might get 2-3 inches of rain in the next few days, with far more in the Coast Range and some larger amounts in Washington, Taylor said.

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George Taylor, 541-737-5705


CORVALLIS - Oregon State University's research and development of innovative wood-based materials is about to get a big boost, thanks to the JELD-WEN Foundation, based in Klamath Falls.

The foundation has announced a gift of $3.5 million to create the JELD-WEN Chair in Wood-Based Composites Science in OSU's College of Forestry. The gift will allow the university to expand its composites program in the Department of Wood Science & Engineering with an additional senior scientist who will focus on research and teaching.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for the college, the university and our partners in the Oregon wood products industry," said OSU President Ed Ray.

"JELD-WEN's generosity is enabling us to increase our research output in ways that will help Oregon companies become more globally competitive. At the same time, this new faculty member will help undergraduate and graduate students develop promising careers through mentoring and teaching.

"The combination of directly benefiting students while supporting Oregon industries with research critical to their success is central to OSU's land-grant mission," Ray added.

Scientists in this discipline examine how wood and natural fibers - in combination with adhesives and other materials such as plastics, metals or cement - can form new materials with commercial value. Ongoing research at OSU includes investigations into composite materials engineered for desired strength, flexibility, durability, physical appearance and improved utilization of natural resources.

OSU researchers say the practical applications for these new composites are extensive, ranging from homebuilding to auto parts to high-tech electrical components.

"We will use the JELD-WEN gift to hire someone who is among the top scientists in the field," said Tom McLain, department head of wood science and engineering. "The funding and the prestige associated with the JELD-WEN chair should allow us to recruit someone of world-class caliber."

Besides conducting his or her own research program, the holder of the JELD-WEN chair will also teach classes and mentor junior faculty.

"This gift will be a big boost to our entire program," McLain predicted. "Everyone associated with wood composites at OSU, from undergraduates on up, will benefit by working with the JELD-WEN chair holder, and by the working relationships that we continue to establish with the JELD-WEN corporation."

Legally separate from the JELD-WEN Foundation, JELD-WEN, Inc., is the world's leading manufacturer of windows and doors and is Oregon's largest privately held company.

Rod Wendt, secretary and a trustee of the JELD-WEN Foundation, says his organization is pleased to make the award.

"The OSU Department of Wood Science & Engineering and JELD-WEN have had a long-term relationship over 30 years now, involving research and sharing of ideas and new technologies," Wendt said. "This grant recognizes the importance of that friendship and working relationship and declares our intent in maintaining and building an even more active permanent association with the university."

Wendt, who also serves as president and CEO of the JELD-WEN corporation, believes the endowment will help advance OSU's international reputation. "The chair will propel Oregon State University to an expanded leadership role in the nation and world in the wood science arena and help companies who offer related products in Oregon, around the nation and globally," Wendt emphasized.

JELD-WEN has recruited and hired OSU graduates since the company's inception in 1960, and has made contributions to a variety of OSU programs since the early 1980s. Students in disciplines including business, engineering and forestry regularly intern at JELD-WEN.

The JELD-WEN Foundation was founded in 1969 and for the most part funds projects in communities where company operations exist. Over the past five years, the foundation has made grants totaling nearly $25 million. Primary program areas of support for the foundation include college scholarships, United Way, and capital project-oriented grants. Capital grants are typically renovation or construction-oriented and align with the foundation's top priority areas: social welfare, education, health care, youth activities, and arts and culture.


Tom McLain, 541-737-4257