environment and natural resources

Population expert to attack ecological 'backlash'

CORVALLIS - Paul Ehrlich, perhaps the world's leading expert on global overpopulation and the myriad problems it can cause, will convey his newest environmental warning in a lecture April 9 at Oregon State University.

In a new book titled "Betrayal of Science and Reason: How Anti-Environmental Rhetoric Threatens Our Future," Ehrlich criticizes those groups - from political pundits to special interest lobbies and the public news media - who he says too often promote "feel-good fables" that make light of very real threats to the environment.

Ehrlich will examine that topic in his OSU address at 7 p.m. in the LaSells Stewart Center. It is free and open to the public.

He will also speak at Lewis and Clark College in Portland on Friday, April 11, at 7:30 p.m. on the topic "Overpopulation: Why It's Important and What Should be Done About It." Tickets for that address are $25 and can be obtained by calling (503) 768-6672.

Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies at Stanford University, became internationally prominent three decades ago with his publication of "The Population Bomb," a hard-hitting analysis of the looming crisis overpopulation poses on a global scale.

"Ehrlich has consistently been at the forefront of critical issues of the day," said Jane Lubchenco, a distinguished professor of zoology at OSU and recent president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"His new book exposes the destructive 'brownlash' activities which seek to prevent society from dealing reasonably with serious environmental challenges," she said. "Ehrlich is quick, provocative, and usually right."

During his career, Ehrlich has studied evolution, the dynamics and genetics of population, the effects of crowding on human beings, and the influence of the popular press on the conduct of science. Field work has taken him to every continent, the Arctic and Antarctic, and even the ocean floor.

Most recently, he has expressed alarm about those who downplay the reality of global environmental problems, despite a frequent consensus in the science community on such topics as desertification, food production, global warming, ozone depletion, acid rain and species extinction.

Ehrlich has authored more than 700 scientific papers and many books. He is a fellow of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, recipient of a MacArthur Prize and been honored widely for his ecological advocacy.

Story By: 

Robert Mason, 541-737-4107

Tests show increasing prevalence of West Nile virus in Oregon, Washington

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University technicians have documented more than a hundred pools of mosquitoes in eastern Oregon that have tested positive for West Nile virus, and though no human cases have yet been reported, the state is urging caution.

“The risk of an individual contracting West Nile virus is low, but we do encourage people to take appropriate precautions to protect themselves against mosquito bites,” said Emilio DeBess, the state public health veterinarian with the Oregon Department of Human Services.

Tests for West Nile virus in mosquitoes and animals that can carry the virus are conducted annually at the Oregon State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. Thus far, OSU diagnosticians have documented 78 mosquito pools with West Nile virus from Morrow County; 24 pools from Umatilla County; six pools from Baker County; and five from Malheur County.

Two birds from Morrow and Umatilla counties tested positive for West Nile as did a horse from Umatilla County, according to Jerry Heidel, director of OSU’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

“Many of the positive tests have occurred just recently,” Heidel said, “so there is a possibility that the prevalence of West Nile virus may be increasing in mosquito populations, as well as the birds and horses that they bite.”

OSU diagnosticians tested 2,260 pools of mosquitoes from eastern Oregon and found 70 of those pools to contain mosquitoes with the virus. Two of 70 birds tested came back positive; and one of 12 horses.

The diagnostic laboratory, which is part of OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, also test 260 pools of mosquitoes from Washington state and found 143 of those pools contained the virus – 140 from Benton County (Washington) and three from Adams County.

Previous studies by researchers at OSU and elsewhere suggest that “amplification” of West Nile virus prevalence comes when mosquito pools are in close proximity to flocks of birds – especially those that migrate.

Testing of mosquitoes is not conducted throughout the entire state, so there likely are pools of mosquitoes that contain West Nile virus that have not yet been detected, Heidel pointed out. Rocky Baker, an OSU diagnostician and supervisor of the Molecular Diagnostics section at the laboratory, has indicated they will be conducting tests throughout the mosquito season, which lasts until the first heavy frosts occur.

DeBess, who works for the Oregon Department of Human Services, said high numbers of mosquito pools with the virus can lead to further human and animal infections. In 2008, Oregon reported 16 human cases to the Centers for Disease Control.

West Nile virus frequently is detected through dead birds, which are sent to OSU for testing. Persons noticing dead birds – especially crows, magpies, jays and robins – should contact local county health departments.

Humans infected with West Nile virus may experience mild flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches and swollen glands, according to DeBess. In some serious cases, the central nervous system is infected and individuals can contract meningitis or encephalitis. Not all humans infected become ill, however, DeBess added.

DeBess offers several suggestions for reducing risks of contacting West Nile virus:

  • Eliminate all sources of standing water that can be a breeding ground for biting mosquitoes, including water troughs, bird baths, clogged gutters and old tires;
  • Avoid outdoor activities at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active;
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when in mosquito-infested areas;
  • Use mosquito repellents containing DEET, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus and Picardin, making sure to follow directions on the container;
  • Make sure screed doors and windows are in good repair and fit tightly.

More information is available on the Oregon Department of Human Services West Nile Website at: http://oregon.gov/DHS/ph/acd/diseases/wnile/survey.shtml


Story By: 

Jerry Heidel, 541-737-6964;

OSU holds Earth Week celebration

CORVALLIS - A series of speakers and demonstrations highlight Oregon State University's annual Earth Week Celebration, April 21-24. All activities are free and open to the public.

Focal point of the week is to celebrate the Earth and get out information to promote environmental awareness, said Rich Bowden, an OSU master's candidate in entomology who is organizing OSU Earth Week events.

Self-proclaimed storyteller and wilderness hermit Lou Gold will help start the week with "Lessons from the Ancient Forest: Earth Wisdom and Political Activism," at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, April 21 in OSU's Memorial Union East International Forum.

Gold will use slides and stories to illustrate his belief that America's ancient forests, wild salmon and other sectors of wilderness are at risk. He has presented his show some 600 times to more than 100,000 people.

The OSU Memorial Union Quad will be the scene of the Earth Week Information Fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday and Tuesday (April 21-22). The fair features ways to decrease the environmental impacts of everyday life.

Oregon State's Earth Week celebration is part of the worldwide observance of Earth Day each April 22. The first Earth Day in 1970 rallied more than 20 million Americans from around the country to environmental issues. The event spread globally and on the 20th anniversary in 1990, more than 200 million people in 141 countries participated in environmental activities.

Earth Week at OSU includes: Monday, April 21

10 a.m.

Information Fair, featuring ways people can learn to live in closer harmony with the earth. Memorial Union Quad (through 2 p.m.).

10 a.m.

Jane Lubchenco, an internationally known researcher and educator at OSU, will talk on "Science for Sustainability," as she focuses on her belief that the world is entering the century of the environment and changes are needed. Memorial Union Room 206.



"Non-Economic Arguments for Biodiversity," will be presented by Peter List, OSU professor of philosophy. Memorial Union Room 206.

1 p.m.

"Salmon in Hot Water," a discussion by Hiram Li, OSU professor of fisheries and wildlife. Memorial Union American Indian Conference Room.

4 p.m.

"Oxygen: An Essential Biomolecule and an Environmental Mutagen," presented by Christopher Matthews, OSU distinguished professor and chairman of biochemistry and biophysics. Memorial Union Room 208.

7:30 p.m.

"Lessons from the Ancient Forest: Earth Wisdom and Political Activism," by Lou Gold, environmental activist. Memorial Union East International Forum.

Tuesday, April 22

10 a.m.

Information Fair, featuring ways people can learn to live in closer harmony with the earth. Memorial Union Quad (through 2 p.m.).

1 p.m.

"Nature Snatchers," a presentation by Bob Mason, OSU associate professor of zoology. Memorial Union American Indian Conference Room.

2 p.m.

"Green Politics," a discussion by Blair Bobier, statewide coordinator for the Pacific Party. Memorial Union American Indian Conference Room.

Thursday, April 24

4 p.m.

A discussion of Northwest fishery resources with representatives from the Center for Salmon Disease. Memorial Union Council Room.


Rich Bowden, 541-737-6354

A step closer to a silent spring

CORVALLIS - Think about it - have you seen any wild honeybees lately? Probably not. And it may be a long time before you ever see one again.

This simple insect, a buzzing harbinger of spring and supplier of honey since the settlers at Jamestown tackled the wilderness in the early 1600s, is disappearing from North America.

Yes, there's a thriving beekeeping industry in the U.S. - it can provide the chemical treatments necessary to protect hives from parasitic mites that are quietly killing all the wild bees. So you can still see a honeybee if you visit a 2,000-tree fruit orchard that's renting them for pollination.

But elsewhere? In your home garden, or cherry tree, or on your flowers?

Forget about it. Without the grandeur of a California condor or the headlines of a spotted owl, the wild honeybee is practically gone. Not an "endangered species" in any legal sense, of course. It's just gone.

"The mite problem had been getting steadily worse, and then the harsh winter of 1995-96 caused a horrendous crash in wild bee populations in the Midwest and eastern United States," said Michael Burgett, a professor of entomology at Oregon State University.

"Right now 85-95 percent of the wild honeybees have died, and pretty soon the only wild hives around will be colonies that escaped from human-kept hives," he said. "Then they'll die too."

Burgett, a honeybee and pollination expert, has trekked literally around the world studying the problems facing honeybees - including 17 trips just to Thailand, the ancestral and evolutionary home of an insect that, after 375 years of residence, we think of as "native" to the United States.

He was among the first to warn about the impending doom wild colonies faced from parasitic "varroa" and tracheal mites accidentally imported into the U.S. in the 1980s - a tragedy now blossomed into a full-scale epidemic.

These mites, Burgett said, have now spread around most of North America and are wreaking havoc on wild hives - whose numbers, by one rule of thumb, used to at least equal the three million commercial hives in the U.S.

"But that doesn't begin to describe the role honeybees used to play," Burgett said. "Colonies were carried from Europe and then across prairies in covered wagons. In 19th century America, a nation of small farmers, everyone had a couple bee hives for honey and pollination. It's part of our heritage."

The human side of the story, Burgett said, is reflected in stories he's heard of home gardeners offering to pay commercial beekeepers to leave a hive near their backyard. "They miss the sight and sound of the bees," he said.

The commercial and practical side of disappearing honeybees revolves around miticides, pesticide resistance, "mite-resistant" genetic strains of bees, and the need for research into new bee species usable for pollination.

"From a purely practical point of view, this is not a natural disaster that modern agriculture can't deal with," Burgett said. "Beekeepers who know what they're doing can keep their honeybee hives alive, although it's expensive and the mites have doubled the usual amounts of winter kill."

And largely sight-unseen, there are still about 3,500 other species of bees in the U.S. to perform many or most pollination needs for the home gardener. Some sound classy, like bumblebees. Others are ratty little insects like the mason bee, sweat bee or "mining mud bee." They're often tiny, solitary, live in holes and add little ambiance to a warm spring afternoon.

"Of course, even in commercial apiculture these mites are still a big problem," Burgett said. "There are 90 crops around the U.S., valued at about $10 billion, that depend on commercial pollination. And 99.9 percent of that managed pollination is done with honeybees."

Because of that ongoing demand - and the demise of the wild honeybee that used to pick up much of the pollination slack - the business of many commercial beekeepers is flourishing. Pollination fees doubled in the past 10 years and wholesale honey prices are up 90 percent in the past two years.

Researchers, of course, will try to develop better solutions. Some honeybees may eventually develop what Burgett calls "mite tolerance," although the process will be slow. And any genetic resistance that does develop might be watered down by the continued presence of mite-infected commercial hives.

"By keeping the weaker bees alive, we're encouraging survival of the weakest," Burgett said. "That's not great. But commercially, we simply can't afford to let all the non-resistant bees die. It's too Draconian.

Meanwhile, wild colonies will largely disappear. The garden will still bloom and be pollinated by some little bug. The grocery will still have fruit.

But the meandering honeybee bouncing from flower to flower in the warm sun is gone. And the spring will be a little more silent.

Story By: 

Michael Burgett, 541-737-4896

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.

Story By: 

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.

Story By: 

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."

Story By: 

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.

Story By: 

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