environment and natural resources


CORVALLIS - Researchers from Oregon State University are spearheading a new nationwide effort to limit the spread of sudden oak death in nurseries across the country.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week the formation of a Rapid Response Project to coordinate research and extension activities among several of the nation's universities and agencies.

Jennifer Parke, plant pathologist at Oregon's Agricultural Experiment Station, and C.Y. Hu, assistant director of the station, proposed the project in conjunction with colleagues at the University of California. The project connects researchers in several states for more rapid progress in managing the disease in nurseries.

The pathogen that causes sudden oak death affects far more than just oaks. Dozens of plants that define Oregon landscapes can harbor the pathogen, including rhododendron, madrone, camellia, viburnum, and huckleberry. Parke and her colleagues at OSU have found hundreds of other plants that are potentially susceptible, native as well as ornamentals. It is the threat to horticultural plants that has prompted creation of the Rapid Response Project by the USDA.

The United States is the world's largest producer and market for nursery and greenhouse crops, and the nursery and greenhouse industry is the fastest growing segment of U.S. agriculture, according to the USDA Economic Research Service. In terms of economic output, nursery and greenhouse crops represent the third most important sector in U.S. crop agriculture. Oregon's greenhouse and nursery industry is the state's largest grossing agricultural industry, and is second in the nation in the production of woody plants.

In March, 2004, several nurseries in southern California were found infested with the pathogen. Although the infected plants were destroyed at a cost of several million dollars, hundreds of thousands of plants potentially infected with the pathogen had already been shipped from the California nurseries to 39 other states. The pathogen has now been detected in several states. A federal quarantine has been put in place to prevent further shipments of infested nursery stock from California.

In addition to severe economic losses to the nursery industry due to crop losses and quarantines, the shipment of contaminated plants could transmit disease to gardens, parks and native vegetation throughout the U.S., according to Parke.

The pathogen that causes sudden oak death was first identified in 1993 in nursery plants in Germany and the Netherlands. It is now widespread in Europe, according to Parke.

OSU forest pathologist Everett Hansen discovered sudden oak death in forests in southwest Oregon in 2001 and since then has led an aggressive program to eradicate the disease. Hansen, Parke and fellow plant pathologist Bob Linderman, from the USDA Agriculture Research Service, have developed methods of diagnosis to understand more about this pathogen, how it spreads, how it infects plants, and how it can be controlled.

Working with researchers from the University of California, USDA and Oregon departments of agriculture and forestry, the OSU scientists created their own rapid response to sudden oak death. In California, where the disease first surfaced in 1995, the pathogen was too widespread to contain or eradicate by the time it was identified. By contrast in Oregon, rapid identification has made it possible to contain the disease and limit new cases, according to Parke.

The Rapid Response Project will bring researchers together from across the country to focus on ways to contain further spread of the pathogen and prevent its movement from nurseries to native vegetation.

Story By: 

Jennifer Parke, 541-737-8170

Report proposes wolf reintroduction in Scottish Highland test case

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers are proposing in a new report that a major experiment be conducted to reintroduce wolves to a test site in the Scottish Highlands, to help control the populations and behavior of red deer that in the past 250 years have changed the whole nature of large ecosystems.

The proposal is modeled after research done in the United States, at Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere, which has demonstrated that the absence of large predators such as wolves and cougars has allowed deer, elk and other animals to badly overgraze lands and ravish entire terrestrial ecosystems.

If successful, the experiment might demonstrate the same ecosystem recovery is possible in Scotland that has been accomplished in some parts of the U.S. where wolves have been brought back.

“Wolves were last found in Scotland more than 250 years ago, and as a result it’s likely that very few natural areas now bear much resemblance to their native conditions,” said William Ripple, a professor of forest ecosystems and society at Oregon State University, and one of the world’s leading experts in the study of the interaction of grazing ungulates and large predators.

“There’s an increasing awareness that the loss of large predators is a global issue, both marine and terrestrial,” Ripple said. “The effects ultimately extend to forests, grasslands, streams, fisheries and wildlife. We see the same kinds of impacts time after time.”

In what has been called restoring “landscapes of fear,” scientists point not just to the effect of large predators in helping to control the populations of grazing animals, but also their behavior. The threat of predation and attack can fundamentally change the movement and activities of grazing animals 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in ways that such approaches as human hunting fail to do.

The native red deer in Scotland – essentially the same animal as elk in the United States – have not faced predation or fear such as that for 250 years. Deer densities in that country are now thought to be so high they are close to the food-limiting carrying capacity of the land, and have serious consequences on native Scots pine and birch regeneration.

In Yellowstone National Park in the U.S., the reintroduction of wolves after decades of absence is now allowing willow, aspen and cottonwood trees to thrive once again in some places, instead of being eaten as young shoots by elk. This is helping to control stream erosion. The interactive webs of birds, insects, fish and beaver are returning to health. These processes, called “trophic cascades,” result when the loss of one key predator can have cascading effects on an ecosystem that go far beyond the obvious.

The new report is just being published in the journal Biological Conservation, co-authored by Ripple, Adrian Manning of the Australian National University in Canberra, and Iain Gordon of CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems in Australia.

It outlines a situation in Scotland that may be especially challenging. The land has been so systemically changed, for such a long period, that even local residents may have no memory of what it once looked like.

“The long-term absence of any organism or ecosystem from a region can be a major barrier to restoration,” the scientists wrote in their report. “Over generations, human memory of an ecosystem, or the presence of a particular organism diminishes, and expectations of good ecological conditions are gradually lowered. The idea of reintroductions and large-scale ecological restoration seems too intractable, complex, open-ended, confronting or radical to be feasible.”

In light of that, the scientists are proposing a substantial test case – on a Scottish island or a major fenced area – that would allow the reintroduction of wolves on a more limited area, and a careful monitoring of their effects on red deer populations, behavior, and hopefully ecosystem recovery.

Researchers believe that areas in Scotland now dominated by pure pine trees were once a diverse mixture of mixed pine, birch forest, abundant alder, rowan, willow, aspen, bird cherry and juniper, with scattered oaks, lichens, trees with holes and cavities for nesting, large downed logs, and multiple other features.

In many areas, diverse forests of Scotland have now simply been replaced by overgrazed moorland.

Because of the potentially profound affect of wolves on red deer behavior as well as populations, researchers said in the report that relatively few wolves might have a large impact.

A controlled experiment demonstrating the whole ecosystem benefits that might result from such an approach, the researchers said, would be well worth the “considerable media attention” and potential controversy such a project might entail.

Story By: 

William Ripple, 541-737-3056

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Does Scotland need wolves?
A deer exclusion fence in the Scottish Highlands, at lower left, shows areas heavily browsed by red deer, compared to a healthier and more diverse forest ecosystem in the center of the image. Concerns about overgrazing by deer in this nation are raising questions about the reintroduction of wolves, the type of key predator which Oregon State University researchers have found tend to restore a normal ecosystem balance. Photograph by Alison Hester.

Research indicates ocean current shutdown may be gradual

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The findings of a major new study are consistent with gradual changes of current systems in the North Atlantic Ocean, rather than a more sudden shutdown that could lead to rapid climate changes in Europe and elsewhere.

The research, based on the longest experiment of its type ever run on a "general circulation model" that simulated the Earth's climate for 21,000 years back to the height of the last Ice Age, shows that major changes in these important ocean current systems can occur, but they may take place more slowly and gradually than had been suggested.

The newest findings, to be published Friday in the journal Science, are consistent with other recent studies that are moving away from the theory of an abrupt "tipping point" that might cause dramatic atmospheric temperature and ocean circulation changes in as little as 50 years.

"Research is now indicating that this phenomenon may happen, but probably not as a sudden threshold we're crossing," said Peter Clark, a professor of geosciences at Oregon State University. "For those who have been concerned about extremely abrupt changes in these ocean current patterns, that's good news.

“In the past it appears the ocean did change abruptly, but only because of a sudden change in the forcing,” he said. “But when the ocean is forced gradually, such as we anticipate for the future, its response is gradual.  That would give ecosystems more time to adjust to new conditions."

The findings do not change broader concerns about global warming. Temperatures are still projected to increase about four to 11 degrees by the end of this century, and the study actually confirms that some of the world's most sophisticated climate models are accurate.

"The findings from this study, which also match other data we have on recorded climate change, are an important validation of the global climate models," Clark said. "They seem to be accurately reflecting both the type and speed of changes that have taken place in the past, and that increases our ability to trust their predictions of the future."

The intensity of computation on this experiment, involving a quadrillion calculations each second, was so great that it took more than a year to run, Clark said. It was the longest such study of its type that ever examined past climate in such detail and complexity. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and other agencies.

It included the height of the last Ice Age about 21,000 years ago, the emergence of the Earth from that Ice Age around 14,000 years ago, and some other fairly sudden warming and cooling events during those periods that are of considerable interest to paleoclimatologists.

The period when the Earth emerged from its last Ice Age actually had amounts of natural warming similar to those that may be expected in the next century or two, with some of the same effects – melting ice sheets, sea level rise, and increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Studies of those periods, researchers say, will provide valuable insights into how the Earth may respond to its current warming.

A particular concern for some time has been the operation of an ocean current pattern called the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, or AMOC. This current system is part of what keeps Europe much warmer than it would otherwise be, given its far northern latitudes, and there is evidence that it has "shut down" with some regularity in Earth's past – apparently in response to large influxes of fresh water, and sometimes quite rapidly.

"Our data still show that current is slowing, and may decline by 30 percent by the end of this century," Clark said. "That's very significant, and it could cause substantial climate change. But it's not as abrupt as some concerns that it could shut down within a few decades."

Climate changes, Clark said, are actually continuing to occur somewhat more rapidly than had been predicted in recent years. Arctic Sea ice is both thinning and shrinking, and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are going up faster than had been projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Story By: 

Peter Clark, 541-737-1247


CORVALLIS - An illustrated lecture featuring spectacular photos of the Earth taken from photographers around the world will be held at Oregon State University on Wednesday, May 12, in LaSells Stewart Center.

University of Alaska professor Richard Steiner will present the lecture, "Oasis Earth, Planet in Peril," which begins at 7 p.m. in the center's Austin Auditorium. It is free and open to the public.

The lecture features hundreds of slides from NASA, the United Nations and Canon, Inc. The images were selected from more than 70,000 photographs submitted by photographers from more than 150 countries to the United Nations Environment Program/Canon International Photographic Competitions for the Environment.

Among the images selected for the show are dolphins spiraling around a swimmer, a gliding manta ray, a portrait of an Eskimo father and son, and a beam of sunlight slicing through a multicolored sandstone labyrinth. The landscapes and portraits are balanced with images that show the effects of human activity on the planet.

"Life on Earth is an extraordinary, mysterious improbability and should be understood and appreciated as such. It is important to be optimistic about what we can achieve," Steiner said.

Steiner has previously presented "Oasis Earth" in South America, Central America, Europe, Japan and Korea. He believes that seeing the photos from around the world will help people understand the precious nature of the planet and the urgency for action to protect it.

Steiner is a conservation specialist for the University of Alaska Marine Advisory Program, based in Anchorage. He has been a faculty member at that university for 23 years, stationed primarily in the remote areas of Alaska. He has long been an advocate of protecting environmental heritage and has worked throughout the world on conservation and sustainable development issues.

As the marine adviser for the Prince William Sound region of Alaska from 1983 to 1997, he was directly involved in oil and environmental issues, and provided leadership in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

The event is sponsored by several Oregon State University departments and off-campus organizations.


Doug Russell, 541-737-5009

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CORVALLIS, Ore. - The exposure of amphibians to damaging levels of ultraviolet-B radiation in sunlight is likely a significant part of global amphibian declines, researchers say, despite some recent suggestions to the contrary and a scientific controversy about what role UV-B actually plays in this crisis.

Scientists from the United States, Canada and Spain have outlined their understanding of UV-B's biological effects on amphibians in an article in Ecology, a professional journal.

In it, they respond to some recent studies that have called into question whether UV-B radiation is causing severe health problems or mortality in amphibians.

"At this point, we believe the broad body of research conclusively demonstrates that UV-B radiation can cause damage to many species of amphibians at every stage of their life cycle, from egg to adult," said Andrew Blaustein, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University and the lead author on the Ecology commentary. "It appears the damage may be even worse than we originally thought a few years ago, and it's clear that rising levels of UV-B radiation, which could be caused by erosion of Earth's protective ozone layer, can play at least a part in the amphibian declines we're seeing around the world."

Most scientists now believe, Blaustein said, that a wide range of causes explain the totality of amphibian declines, and those causes include habitat destruction, disease, parasites, introduced exotic species, environmental contaminants and other aspects of global climate change. In some cases complex chains of interlaced ecological effects can lead to amphibian disease, deformity or death.

But UV-B radiation is still high on the list of concerns, the researchers say.

"At first our field studies showed only the damage that increased levels of UV-B radiation could do to amphibian embryos, where they caused mortality in some species and not in others," Blaustein said. "But with more research we've seen how UV-B radiation can affect growth and development in larvae, cause changes in behavior, some deformities, and make the amphibian more vulnerable to disease and death. And in adults, it appears that UV-B radiation can cause retinal damage and blindness."

The evidence gathered from numerous scientists around the world is both alarming and compelling, Blaustein said. Every single amphibian species exposed to natural levels of UV-B radiation has now been found to have some type of health problem, either immediately or later in life.

"Given the numerous other organisms and biological systems that other scientists have already demonstrated to be impacted by UV, it makes sense that some amphibians too would be sensitive to UV radiation," said Lee Kats, a professor of biology at Pepperdine University and another author of the Ecology study.

Some recent studies that have questioned these effects did not have an adequate base of field experiments, made too many assumptions about how UV-B radiation in the life cycle of one species would relate to other species, and fail to understand the natural behavior of amphibians and their evolution, the researchers said in their Ecology article.

"For instance, some researchers have now theorized that amphibians could avoid the effects of UV-B radiation simply by avoiding sunlight or laying their eggs in deeper water," Blaustein said. "But that ignores millions of years of evolution, in which amphibians have developed certain types of behavior for specific reasons. Some species lay their eggs in warm, shallow waters because they are seeking sun and heat, and they need to hatch and grow quickly before the water evaporates or freezes. "Those types of behavior do not change overnight just because the Earth's atmosphere may have changed," he said. "It's not that simple. Moreover, as ponds dry and water levels decrease, amphibians cannot just get out of the sunlight, and they are bombarded by intense UV radiation."

Amphibian declines are an issue that first came to light about 15 years ago and have raised warning flags among many ecologists, who believe they may be a harbinger of ecological changes that are first affecting some of Earth's most sensitive animals and may later cause more widespread damage to other species. Aside from amphibian deaths, population declines and localized extinctions, another issue that has raised concern is amphibian deformities. A near epidemic of deformed legs, eye damage and other ailments has been found in more than 60 species of frogs, toads and salamanders in 46 states and across four continents.

At one site near Corvallis, Ore., 75-80 percent of the frogs are deformed, mostly linked to a parasite and other ecological changes. And egg mortality in embryos of the western toad and some other species in parts of the Oregon Cascade Range have approached 100 percent in some recent years.

Story By: 

Andrew Blaustein, 541-737-5356


CORVALLIS - Managers of the McDonald-Dunn College Forests at Oregon State University have begun a summer program to salvage a portion of the many downed trees that fell during a major winter ice storm last January.

Weeks of work by forest volunteers and staff following the storm helped to clear most trails and roads, but many areas of the forest remain covered by high densities of fallen trees, officials say.

The salvage plan is designed to protect forest health by reducing the potential for bark beetle infestation, due to the high densities of downed and decaying wood. It will also reduce fire danger from downed wood, recover the value in some of the fallen timber and improve aesthetics along forest roads and trails. Operations will continue all summer.

Not all of the downed trees will be salvaged. Some will be left because the cost to recover the wood is too high, and other wood will be left to meet the wildlife habitat requirements in the college's forest plan. A large number of trees will be left on upper Dan's trail in order to preserve the condition of the trail, avoid excessive overstory removal and preserve the scenic value of the trail.

As the salvaging efforts proceed, sections of roads and trails will be closed periodically. Upper Dan's, Homestead and possibly Calloway Creek trails will be closed for brief periods of time.

Recreational users of the forest are asked to not attempt clearing trees from the trails by themselves. Clearing trails can be dangerous and cutting trees will greatly reduce the timber value when it is salvaged.

For further information, please refer to the kiosks and signboards at all forest entry points. Forest visitors can also call the forest update number at (541) 737-4434 for weekly updates, or the main office at (541) 737-4452.


OSU College Forests, 541-737-6072


CORVALLIS - A group of leading experts will meet at Oregon State University on June 15 for a one-day professional conference that will explore the future impact of climate changes on the Pacific Northwest.

The event is not open to the general public, but is expected to attract prominent experts in climate change, terrestrial and marine ecosystems, water resources and other topics. It is being coordinated by the Institute for Natural Resources at OSU, and its findings will assist a state Advisory Group on Global Warming that is advising Gov. Ted Kulongoski on climate mitigation strategies for Oregon.

At the symposium, experts will share their knowledge about the present status of global climate change research, state and regional efforts for greenhouse gas reduction, scenarios for climate change, possible impacts in the Pacific Northwest, and areas of consensus and uncertainty.

Story By: 

Renee Davis-Born, 541-737-9937


WILSONVILLE - A public forum will be held in Wilsonville on Wednesday, June 30, to discuss the findings of a multi-year, $500,000 study on fish deformities in the Newberg Pool, a stretch of the Willamette River south of Portland that has been the source of significant public concern since 1992.

Scientists from Oregon State University will present the most updated information on fish health, water pollutants and directions for future research at this forum, and also answer questions and listen to suggestions. The event will be at the Wilsonville Public Library, 8200 S.W. Wilsonville Road, from 6-8 p.m.

The forum is free, but advance online registration is requested by telephone at 541-737-8105 or at this website: http://www.science.oregonstate.edu/mfbsc. The website will also provide a wide range of other information and resources about this issue.

In the 1990s, researchers observed that fish deformities in this section of the Willamette River were far higher than in some other areas, with more than 50 percent of some species showing lesions and other deformities.

An interim report submitted earlier this year indicated that parasites are the primary cause of the problem, rather than toxic pesticides, heavy metals, other chemicals or organic pollutants.

In an analysis of more than 15,000 fish, researchers have examined a wide range of possible causes, but ultimately it became clear that virtually all of the deformities were being caused by two parasites, which pose little threat to human health but for some reason are more prevalent in this part of the river. The parasites can be destroyed either by freezing or cooking of infected fish.

One area for continued research will be to determine why the Newberg Pool has higher levels of these parasites and the deformities they cause, the scientists said. In comparing water from the Newberg Pool to other sites, the study found no significant difference in levels of heavy metals, dioxins, or other "legacy" pollutants from the past such as DDT or PCBs, he said, all of which were present but at extremely low levels.

The Wilsonville forum is being sponsored by the OSU Marine and Freshwater Biomedical Sciences Center, with support from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Science.

Story By: 

Larry Curtis, 541-737-1764


CORVALLIS - The issue of water allocation in the Upper Klamath Basin encompasses many complex questions, among them: How the price of energy affects the viability of irrigated agriculture in the region.

Oregon State University economist William Jaeger has published a new brief that examines the effect of changing energy prices on irrigated agriculture in this basin straddling the border between California and Oregon.

The analysis was prompted by the potential increase in energy prices currently paid by irrigators in the region under a 1956 contract, negotiated by PacifiCorp's predecessor in exchange for rights to operate hydropower facilities on the Klamath. Those prices - from one-fifth to one-10th the price paid by other irrigators in Oregon - are being reviewed as part of the relicensing process for the Klamath River hydropower operations, scheduled to be completed by 2006.

The analysis suggests that most of these irrigated lands are highly productive, and would continue to be profitable to irrigate even with higher energy prices.

However, farming on some of the land that is sprinkler-irrigated might become unprofitable if energy prices rise. This loss of profitability could lead to water transfers such as water banking to become attractive for some irrigators.

"The analysis draws on two-and-a-half years of work with Klamath farmers, agencies and local experts," said Jaeger, one of a team of scientists from OSU and the University of California who produced a much longer report on water allocation in the Klamath Project in 2002.

"As a 'brief,' this document is not meant to provide a comprehensive evaluation of all aspects of the issues," said Jaeger. "It's meant to be a forward-looking analysis of how possible changes in energy pricing could affect profitability of irrigated agriculture in the basin."

This report is the third in a series of briefs written in response to questions from the Klamath Basin community following publication of the larger report.

"People in the basin are facing some big issues and these briefs provide pertinent facts in condensed form," said Bill Braunworth, Extension agriculture program leader "We anticipate that additional briefs could be prepared on other aspects of water allocation in the Klamath Basin."

This brief, "Energy Pricing and Irrigated Agriculture in the Upper Klamath Basin," along with other briefs and the larger report "Water Allocation in the Klamath Project, 2001," can be found at http://eesc.oregonstate.edu/klamath.

Story By: 

William Jaeger 541-737-1419

Science Pub Corvallis presents ‘Catch of the Day: Sustainable or Not?’ on July 13

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The fish and seafood bounty just off the Oregon coast is one of the state’s most precious and appreciated natural resources, from iconic silver salmon to razor clams to ling cod. But how can you make sure that enjoying any of these delicacies isn’t contributing to the stress that climate change, invasive species and human impacts have on Oregon’s special coastal ecosystems?

Join Oregon State University Associate Professor of Fisheries Selina Heppell on Monday, July 13, for an exploration of that question as part of Science Pub-Corvallis, the monthly series that features informal, lay-friendly science presentations in the friendly atmosphere of the Old World Deli, 341 SW 2nd St. in downtown Corvallis.

Heppell’s presentation, “Catch of the Day: Sustainable or Not?,” gets underway at 6 p.m. Science Pub Corvallis regulars know that patrons should arrive early to ensure seating and a chance to get food and drinks before the presentation begins. Each presentation since the series began in April has drawn a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 patrons.

In addition to her position in OSU’s top-ranked Dept. of Fisheries and Wildlife, part of the College of Agricultural Sciences, Heppell is an adjunct faculty member in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. She serves on the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, and her coastal research focuses on fishers, populations of various fish species and ways to harvest them sustainably.

Her research often focuses on the oldest and slowest-growing animals in the sea: turtles, sharks, sturgeon and west coast rockfish. “These marine animals share three traits: long lifespans, late age at maturity and threats from overharvest,” writes Heppell on her Web site. “…I am particularly interested in how these animals will respond to climate change and increasing human populations on our coastlines.”

Heppell often works with her husband, Scott Heppell, also a faculty member and researcher in Fisheries and Wildlife. Their work has taken them, among other places, to Eastern Europe, where they teach a course on conservation biology, and the Caribbean to study sex-changing fishes.

Corvallis Science Pub presentations are free and open to the public, though attendees are responsible for their own food and drink. Corvallis Science Pub is a joint presentation of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the Downtown Corvallis Association and OSU. For more information, visit http://www.omsi.edu/index.php/sciencepubcorvallis or Corvallis Science Pub on Facebook.


Selina Heppell,