environment and natural resources

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


CORVALLIS - The frequent gridlock in forest management planning may not be broken until the increasingly important role of social values is brought into play, experts say, with approaches that recognize different opinions, reflect public attitudes and generate a consensus among widely varying groups.

A new book on this and related topics, titled "Two Paths Towards Sustainable Forests," examines the way that both the United States and Canada are wrestling with similar issues and sometimes finding similar approaches that actually work - often at a local level, where laws and regulations receive less emphasis, and people talk one-on-one or in small groups to work through their differences.

The book, by researchers at Oregon State University, the University of New Brunswick and the University of California-San Diego, is one of the first to examine the social and economic aspects of sustainable forestry and its impact on policies in the two nations, its authors say.

"Most people believe that we need programs for sustainable forest management, but the problem is in how to agree on the specific components we want to sustain," said Bruce Shindler, an associate professor of forest resources at OSU and co-author of the book. "What's very interesting is that there are some good success stories we can point to. But they seem to be working in spite of the governmental agencies and environmental interest groups, not because of them."

Real success is being found mostly in places where the traditional conflicts between regulators, courts, private industry and environmental advocacy groups have been set aside while resource agencies and citizens work at the local level to achieve a compromise everyone can live with, Shindler said.

"For example, here in Oregon community residents and forest managers on the Deschutes National Forest have crafted a workable plan for 12,000 acres in the Metolius Basin," Shindler said. "It's using prescribed fire and thinning projects to help improve forest health and create jobs. The plan was made possible by enlightened federal agency leaders and concerned citizens like the Friends of the Metolius, all coming together to forge an acceptable solution."

This type of consensus, he said, was neither easy nor quick. It took several years of working together where people expressed their concerns, groups on all sides felt they were genuinely listened to, and the varying concerns about the forest were understood by virtually all participants.

According to Shindler, this type of open, public interaction to develop plans has too often been the exception, rather than the rule, in the history of modern forest management in the U.S. and Canada.

Public agencies that were used to developing their own plans based on multiple use management and timber extraction were slow to understand the compelling public demand for a more meaningful role for citizens. Essentially, people want to be heard and understand how decisions are made, he said.

"The questions about forest management are not just about ecology or economics," Shindler said. "We live in a political era, and in the end these decisions are about people and the resources that are important to their livelihood and quality of life."

"Researchers have learned that any plan that does not adequately take into account public concerns is going to eventually fail," Shindler said. "Some agencies have resisted this level of public participation because it's time consuming and cumbersome, but others have found there is really no short cut. In the 1980s there were more than 1,200 forest plans developed across the U.S., and about 80 percent of them were appealed, usually because they did not adhere to laws about providing adequate public access to the planning process. It was a time when trust between agencies and citizens was substantially eroded and we've been living with contentious relations ever since."

Both the U.S. and Canada are struggling with many of the same issues in this area, the book authors said. And some changes are happening. One significant development in Canada is a system of 11 "model forests" where local citizens have more voice and control over forest management activities. Local watershed councils are blossoming across much of the western U.S. and citizens are taking greater responsibility for outcomes on public and private lands. In the case of managing wildfires, many partnerships are beginning to emerge between resource agencies and citizen groups for creating defensible spaces and reducing forest fuel.

The authors point to several broad needs that must be addressed:

  • A reform of government institutions is needed to eliminate many of the barriers between the agencies responsible for economic development, recreational services and environmental protection.


  • Planning and management activities must be more integrated, working to eventually eliminate the boundaries between departments that manage timber, wildlife, and other resources.


  • More experimentation with new ideas is needed, such as certification of "green" wood products or other incentive-based programs that encourage voluntary, environmentally-sensitive behavior.


  • Federal governments must recognize that land management is not a "one size fits all" concept, and allow for more regional or local systems of ecosystem management.


  • Civic discourse and public input should be given a "seat at the table" on a par with conventional science and regulatory management, because ultimately society will determine what it wants from forest plans.


  • Forest agencies must be willing to work across traditional boundaries and even share power if necessary.

"Across both countries a number of incremental steps have been taken toward creating institutional change," the authors write. "They may have been slow and tentative, but there is evidence we are lurching ahead in the right direction."

Story By: 

Bruce Shindler, 541-737-3299

From printed electronics to chlorophyll from Oregon spinach: OSU Venture Fund powers startups

CORVALLIS, Ore. — An innovative tax credit program aimed at fast-tracking commercialization of university research stands as a bright spot in Oregon’s sputtering economy. It is enabling two Oregon startup companies to receive funding that will help them grow faster and employ Oregonians sooner.

Both companies have licensed technologies developed at Oregon State University, and both are benefitting from OSU’s University Venture Development Fund, which was launched in 2007 by the Oregon Legislature with the goal of helping move university research to the marketplace more quickly. Oregon residents who contribute to the UVDF receive a 60 percent state tax credit for gifts to the fund.

Inpria, one of the startup companies, has developed a new way to create thin films for displays and other large-area electronics using low-cost printing processes. Current manufacturing processes use large, expensive vacuum deposition systems that require high temperatures, are associated with high levels of waste and often use toxic compounds.

“By developing novel inorganic materials that can be printed, we hope to dramatically reduce the manufacturing costs of high-performance, large-area displays while reducing the toxicity and energy required in fabrication,” said Andrew Grenville, a veteran of technology development at Intel who founded Inpria and serves as the company’s president. “If you can do large-area electronics manufacturing with the economics of printing, it’s a complete game-changer.”

OSU professors Douglas Keszler and John Wager are among the company’s co-founders.

Through a partnership, Inpria recently created a landmark LCD display using its technology. UVDF money helped the company leverage funding from other sources to explore additional markets, Grenville said.

Life Microsystems, another OSU-based startup receiving UVDF support, is capitalizing on the work of researchers George Bailey and Carole Jubert of the Linus Pauling Institute. Jubert developed a low-cost method for isolating pure chlorophyll from Oregon spinach. Early testing done in Bailey’s laboratory suggests that chlorophyll has the capability to bind with toxins in the human body, reducing DNA damage and potentially preventing cancers caused by exposure to environmental toxins such as aflatoxin and polyaromatic hydrocarbons in jet fuel, diesel fumes, cigarette smoke and others.

Ultra-pure chlorophyll sells for more than $100/mg due to its susceptibility to degradation; however, Life Microsystems recently isolated a much more stable crystalline form of ultra-pure chlorophyll using the latest liquid extraction technology.

“This is a worldwide first,” said Scott Gustafson, a veterinarian and the CEO of Life Microsystems. He is partnering with OSU professor John Mata. “The University Venture Development Fund provides an essential bridge of funding that allows us to take technologies licensed from OSU and turn them into a profitable business. It’s helping us tell people about the scientific breakthroughs made, which will result in adding value to Oregon’s agricultural products and improving human and animal health.”

Gustafson is also using his company’s technology to isolate and concentrate beneficial compounds in other Oregon agricultural products, such as black raspberries.

“These are just two examples of how vital research at Oregon State is being transformed into viable business enterprises through use of the venture funds,” said Brian Wall, OSU director of technology transfer and chair of the funds advisory committee. “By giving to the venture fund, donors not only receive tax benefits, but they literally help fuel Oregon’s economy. Additional awards will be provided as more donations are received, transferring basic research into applied, spurring more innovations, and increasing economic development.”

Donating to the fund extends even further due to an “evergreen” clause that is part of the legislation, Wall said. Twenty percent of revenue generated from inventions entering the marketplace through license agreements will replenish the venture fund and provide new tax credits for future donors.

As part of the University Venture Development Fund, the state legislature authorized eight Oregon universities to receive a total of $14 million in tax credit-eligible gifts. OSU’s share is the largest at $5.35 million. Other OSU projects receiving UVDF funding include:

  • $60,750 to Les Fuchigami in the College of Agricultural Sciences to finalize the development of a handheld meter that can easily, instantly and non-destructively determine the chlorophyll, nitrogen and water content of plant leaves, and show the results in a color-coded map.
  • $69,780 to Rich Carter, OTRADI researcher in the College of Science, to explore the industrial production of a novel organocatalyst to improve drug production.
  • $122,000 to Joe Beckman and the OSU Linus Pauling Institute to complete the prototype and demonstrate the utility of a simple tool that will improve the quality and speed of mass spectrometer analysis.
  • $71,200 to Kaichang Li, Oregon BEST researcher in the College of Forestry, for commercial application of a new formaldehyde-free wood adhesive from renewable materials.
  • $91,850 to Rich Peterson, ONAMI researcher in the College of Engineering, to complete bench-top demonstrations of an ultra-high temperature pasteurization system for processing tap water. This briefcase-size invention will be used as part of a portable kidney dialysis machine, licensed to OSU startup Home Dialysis Plus, as well as for other medical or scientific uses that require water of high chemical and biological purity.
  • $19,971 to a student project led by Chih-Hung Chang, an Oregon BEST and ONAMI researcher in the College of Engineering, to demonstrate the high efficiency of thin film solar cells by ink jet printing and business plan creation.

Additionally, six promising technologies have been chosen for a program where teams of MBA students in the College of Business perform market analysis and prepare business plans for each of the selected OSU-developed innovations.



Gregg Kleiner, 541-740-9654


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.

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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.

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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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