environment and natural resources


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,



PORTLAND - Native prairies, probably the single most endangered ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest, were historically shaped by fire, one expert said today, but in the future they may be brought back to health by one of the more noisy, pedestrian inventions of the modern age - the lawnmower.

This is one of the conclusions emerging from years of research on how best to recover the native prairies that once dominated such regions as the Willamette Valley of western Oregon, which have shrunk to less than half of 1 percent of their former abundance, along with the multitude of plants and animal species which depended upon them.

"It's no secret that fire was a major factor in shaping these historic prairie ecosystems, and that suppression of fire, along with agriculture and urbanization, led to their demise," said Mark Wilson, an associate professor of botany and plant pathology at Oregon State University.

"However," Wilson said, "the rules have all changed now. We have huge fuel loads, hotter burns, invasive weeds and fragmented parcels of prairie to deal with, and we can't really expect fire to have the same effects that it did 200 to 300 years ago. Fire is not a silver bullet for prairie management."

Wilson spoke today at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America, and outlined future management regimes for prairie recovery in which fire may be one of the tools used, but by no means the only one and sometimes not even the most important one.

In recent research, scientists have found that fire was particularly effective at removing tall shrubs and trees that have replaced some native prairies - that's a good start, you can't very well have prairie unless you get rid of most of the trees first. But fire also releases nutrients and other resources that can favor non-native or exotic growth at the expense of native prairie plants. In one study in a wetland prairie, native herbaceous cover remained steady after seven years of prescribed fire, but non-native herbaceous cover almost doubled.

Some of these non-native herbaceous plants are aggressive pests, Wilson said, and can lead to an eventual decline in native plant abundance. Fire can also harm some federally protected plant species, and its use is a particular concern when used in some of the drier sites.

What's the alternative? Well, in some cases, Wilson said, it makes more sense to use a mower.

"We're not suggesting that we take native prairie and try to turn it into a lawn," he said. "But sometimes you can mow at precise times and heights, such as 4-6 inches, and kill upper-level biomass that you don't want while preserving low-growing, native plants that you are trying to encourage."

There may also be a role for selective, careful use of herbicides, Wilson said, especially on lands that have had no native plants on them for a very long time, or in spot applications on good prairie.

"In too many places, when our primary management tool was fire, we just haven't been getting the recovery of native prairie that we had hoped for," Wilson said. "Fire is non-selective, it's expensive and dangerous. There are still places and times when it will make sense to use fire, but it's not an open and shut case."

The advent of invasive species will mean that lands which are being restored as native prairie will need active management forever, Wilson said. But the good news, he said, is that many areas of native prairie are now getting pretty good stewardship, with good results.

Fender's blue butterfly, for instance, was an insect species once believed to be extinct before OSU researchers 15 years ago re-discovered some small populations, living on a particular native plant - Kincaid's lupine - that was essential to their survival. Now officially listed as endangered, the population numbers of this butterfly have exploded in recent years along with the recovery of native prairies at various sites.

According to scientists, Oregon's native prairies are an ecosystem that dates to the last Ice Age and were nurtured by frequent fire, often set by Kalapuya Indians. Prior to European settlement, both wetland and native upland prairie were the dominant land form in the Willamette Valley. They featured a range of native grasses, flowers, shrubs, insects and other plant and animal species that were rare or nonexistent elsewhere in the world.

At this point native prairies are even more at risk than the region's old growth forests. And a variety of groups - university researchers, student volunteers, the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nature Conservancy - have collaborated to help bring these ecosystems back from the brink of extinction.

The arrival of settlers, plowing of farmland, growth of roads and cities, and suppression of fire all contributed to the destruction of these ecosystems, researchers say.

Story By: 

Mark Wilson, 541-737-5244

Multimedia Downloads

Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge

This mower is used for an experiment within an upland native prairie at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge.

research prescribed burn

The start of a research prescribed burn within an upland native prairie at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge. A Fish and Wildlife Service fire crew set and controlled the fire.

Fender's blue butterfly

A male and female Fender's blue butterfly on spur lupine. Spur lupine is the alternative host to Kincaid's lupine. Although it is not a listed species, spur lupine is very important to the process of restoring prairies for Fender's blue.


PORTLAND - A huge, largely underground industry has been built on the moss that drapes some forest trees, raising ecological concerns, questions about export of potentially invasive species, and other issues that have scientists, land managers and businesses unsure about how to monitor, regulate or control this market amid so many uncertainties.

A report on this trade in forest moss - sometimes legal, sometimes on the black market - was made today by a botanist from Oregon State University, speaking at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America.

"Certain types of mosses and lichens, often those that hang on hardwood trees such as vine maple or big leaf maple, are prized for their use in the floral trade," said Patricia Muir, an OSU professor of botany and plant pathology. "The moss is used in planters, wreaths, hanging baskets, other floral displays. And it has become a big business and big money."

How big? That's part of the problem, no one really knows. The newest studies done by Muir suggests it must be at least $5.5 million a year, but it could also range up to $165 million annually, mostly in the Pacific Northwest and parts of the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern U.S.

Sometimes the moss is harvested legally, by permits on public lands or contractual arrangement on private land, Muir said. But there's strong evidence that the amount taken by permit or private legal arrangements is just the tip of the iceberg of actual harvests.

"Any penalties for illegal taking of moss are usually small and rarely enforced," Muir said. "There also is a lack of record keeping and reporting on many public lands, and clearly some illegal harvesting on both public and private forests."

But legalities aside, millions of pounds of moss are leaving America's forests every year, and that has ecologists concerned.

"When large amounts of moss are taken from an area, we aren't sure what species may grow back in its place," Muir said. "There may be some

inadvertent removal of endangered species. We could be shipping dangerous insect pests overseas in untreated moss samples. And moss may play an important role in nutrient cycling that is not yet fully understood."

Moss also holds about 10 times its weight in water, Muir said, and acts as a natural sponge, a hydrologic buffer to help control the flow of water in forests.

Some threatened species such as the marbled murrelet build their nests in moss mats. And the moss is habitat for hundreds of insect species.

"We don't really know whether the removal of this much moss is a serious problem, because no one has studied it very carefully," Muir said. "Right now it's safe to say that whatever we decide about a reasonable amount of moss to allow harvested is just a seat-of-the-pants guess."

And that assumes, she said, that there is an effective management or enforcement structure in place to control moss harvest, once quotas are decided upon. In fact, there is not.

"Amid land managers, there's a lot of frustration about any type of enforcement of moss regulations," Muir said. "When you consider all the issues relating to timber, streams, fisheries, salmon, endangered species, there is hardly anyone left who has time to worry about moss."

Ideally, Muir said, enlightened managers would know more about their moss resource, how fast it regrows, what amount could be safely removed, and which sensitive habitats should be avoided. Harvesters would be trained, perhaps have a long-term lease on a parcel of forest land, and there would be some enforcement of rules and permits in a system that encouraged trust, respect and responsibility.

The moss industry is unorganized, which is part of what makes it so difficult to regulate. Some of the harvesters are "mom and pop" businesses that are difficult to tell from a couple out for a walk in the woods, Muir said. The moss may bring the harvesters 50 cents to $2 a pound when they sell it to a wholesaler, more often at the low end of that range.

But the pounds can add up. Muir estimates - again, with a huge range of variability - that between 2 and 82 million pounds of moss is used in, or exported from the U.S. each year, with a final market value that could approach $165 million. Domestic sales, which are largely unknown, are estimated based on the value of export sales that are easier to track, an d the known ratio between the amount of moss used locally versus that which is exported. Muir estimated the moss being harvested in the U.S. could fill between 600 and 2,400 semi-trucks per year. In her survey, Muir contacted 361 land managers, 97 botanists and 98 businesses. About 64 percent of botanists felt the volume of moss being removed was of concern.

In the East, the concern about moss harvests in some areas is sufficiently high that the Monongahela National Forest has stopped issuing any harvest permits. In the Pacific Northwest, some business owners are concerned enough about illegal harvests that they have hired private security guards to patrol lands on which they have legally leased the moss rights.

"There's still a lot we don't know here, but there clearly are ecological concerns," Muir said. "Moss harvesting is a big business and it's all around us. We were doing some research up the McKenzie River valley near Eugene and we had a hard time finding a place in the forest, within a reasonable distance from roads, where the moss had not already been picked."

Story By: 

Patricia Muir, 541-737-1745

Multimedia Downloads

mossy vine leaf maple

mossy vine leaf maple

big leaf maple

big leaf maple

This mossy vine leaf maple and a big leaf maple are two of the types of trees often found dripping with moss in the Pacific Northwest, which are also the basis for a multi-million dollar industry, much of it illegal. New research by Patricia Muir, a botanist at OSU, helps to outline the scope of this business and the ecological concerns it may raise.

Plant Pathologist Appointed to Federal Committee

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Jeffrey Stone, an associate professor of botany and plant pathology at Oregon State University, has been reappointed a member of the Invasive Species Advisory Committee of the National Invasive Species Council.

This committee is comprised of 30 representatives of science, conservation, agricultural communities, state and tribal governments, and industry organizations that are affected by invasive species. Appointments to the committee are made by Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary of the Interior.

Stone studies the mycology, ecology and evolutionary biology of fungal parasites of conifers. His research program is investigating the distribution, biology and effects of a pathogen of Douglas-fir, as well as issues relating to the sudden oak death pathogen. He joined the OSU faculty in 1987.

Story By: 

Jeff Stone,

Doescher to Direct Popular Degree Program

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Paul Doescher, a professor of forest resources in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, has been named director of OSU’s undergraduate degree program in natural resources.

This degree is an innovative collaboration of the colleges of agricultural sciences, forestry, liberal arts, and science at OSU. It is offered at the Corvallis campus, at the OSU-Cascades Campus in Bend, at Eastern Oregon University, and via OSU’s distance education program.

Doescher has been at OSU since 1980. In his new position he replaces Bo Shelby, also a professor in the Department of Forest Resources, who has directed the natural resources degree program since its inception in 1992. During its 14-year history, student interest and participation in the program has grown rapidly and allowed its expansion to the new campuses.

Story By: 

Ed Jensen,

Winter Seminar Series to Explore “Geovisualization”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – If you ever wanted to see towering mountains that rise from the seafloor as you glide over them, or gain a whole new perspective on the world around you, the 2007 Winter Seminar Series offered by the Department of Geosciences at Oregon State University may provide that chance.

The series, titled “Geovisualization: A Window to Earth Surface, Structure and System,” will be held from January through March and provide 10 leading experts in the field of visualizing spatial data.

The presentations are free and open to the public, and each of them will begin on a Tuesday at 4 p.m. in Gilfillan Auditorium on the OSU campus. More details on the lectures and presenters can be found on the web at http://dusk2.geo.orst.edu/geoviz07.html

“Geovisualization combines approaches such as 3-D mapping, image processing, computer graphics, animation, simulation, and virtual reality to help present information in a new way,” said Dawn Wright, professor of geosciences at OSU and an expert in geographic information science. “This is a particularly hot area of research right now. We believe it will let us identify patterns, develop a greater understanding and lead to solutions for both some scientific and societal problems.”

Support for the seminar series is provided by the OSU Department of Geosciences, the OSU Foundation’s L.L. Stewart Faculty Development Fund, the OSU IGERT Program in Ecosystem Informatics, and Oregon Space Grant.

The speakers and their topics include:

  • Jan. 9: Mark Harrower, University of Wisconsin, “Visualizing Geographic Processes”;
  • Jan. 16: Tim Holt, OSU Department of Forest Science, “Games Get Serious: Computer Games for Visualization and More”;
  • Jan. 23: Rob Edsall, Arizona State University, “Interactive Spatiotemporal Representations, Visualizations of Health Statistics”;
  • Jan. 30: Mike Bailey, OSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, “3-D Scientific Visualization, High Performance Computer Graphics”;
  • Feb. 6: Mark Gahegan, Penn State, “Visualization, analytics and Spatial Decision Support in the Geosciences Network”;
  • Feb. 13: May Yuan, University of Oklahoma, “Temporal GIS for Meteorological Applications and Representation Models for Dynamic Geographic Phenomena”;
  • Feb. 20: Kirk Goldsberry, UC Santa Barbara, “Real-time Traffic Maps for the Internet and Mobile Devices”;
  • Feb. 27: Julie Dillemuth, UC Santa Barbara, “Multi-domain Geovisualization of News Stories”;
  • March 6: Randy Keller, University of Oklahoma, “Constructing, Editing, and Visualizing Integrated Models of Earth Structure”;
  • March 13: Bob Crippen, NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, “NASA Shuttle Radar Topography Mission Visualization of Earth Landscapes.”
Story By: 

Dawn Wright,


PORTLAND - In the next 100 years, Alaska will experience a massive loss of its historic tundra, as global warming allows these vast regions of cold, dry, lands to support forests and other vegetation that will dramatically alter native ecosystems, an Oregon State University researcher said today.

Polar regions such as Alaska will be among the first to illustrate the profound impacts of climate change, said Dominique Bachelet, an associate professor in the OSU Department of Bioengineering and expert on the effects of climate change on terrestrial vegetation.

She spoke at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America.

More precipitation, an overall loss of soil carbon, a probable reduction in forest fires and a likely increase in insect and pathogen attacks on trees are also projected by some of the most sophisticated computer models yet developed, Bachelet said.

"The effects of climate change in Alaska will be among the most visible in the world," Bachelet said. "The tundra has no place else to go, and it will largely disappear from the Alaskan landscape, along with the related plant, animal and even human ecosystems that are based upon it."

The newest research suggests that 90 percent of Alaska's tundra that was present in 1920 will be gone by 2100, less than a century from now, under one of the climate models projecting the most extreme warming. A model with more conservative estimates indicates that 77 percent of the tundra will disappear during that time.

Temperatures have already been above the historical norm in Alaska for the past 17 years. But about 100 years from now, the average annual temperature in Alaska may soar up to 13 degrees Fahrenheit higher in the worst case scenario predicted by climate models.

Tundra is a cold, comparatively dry ecosystem that now covers much of Alaska, characterized by the permanently frozen deep soil layers called permafrost, few or no trees, grasses and dwarf shrubs, and an extremely short growing season. But it also supports brown bear, wolf, wolverine, caribou, arctic hare, mink, weasel, lemming and millions of migrating waterfowl. In summer it can feature thousands of lakes and large marshy areas.

According to Bachelet, despite some of the criticisms aimed at them, climate models appear to work better and achieve higher accuracy over longer rather than shorter periods of time.

"If you ask these models to predict exactly what the global climate will be in the summertime five years from now, that's much more difficult because of the natural, short-term variations in weather and climate," Bachelet said. "But based on everything we've learned, when we predict what's going to happen during a 20-year period about a century from now, we can be fairly confident. We also test these models by running them backward into the past, and the results are quite accurate."

Bachelet and her colleagues at OSU and the U.S. Forest Service have developed the Dynamic Global Vegetation Model MC1, an improved way of predicting what certain climate scenarios will mean in terms of vegetation growth, plant and soil processes, carbon storage or emissions, forest fire and other important ecological effects.

The latest simulations with this model were done with Alaska as a prelude to work with much of the world's Arctic region, Bachelet said.

"Some of this is not that surprising; the winters in Alaska are already getting milder and the summers warmer," Bachelet said. "Were already seeing glacial melting, movement in fish migrations, Inuits who are having to change their fishing and hunting habits because of melting ice."

But any changes so far pale in comparison of what's to come, and fairly soon, Bachelet said. Among the predictions:

  • Boreal mixed forests could yield to a maritime and temperate conifer forest much like those of southeast Alaska, and cover huge areas of Alaska.


  • The only large area of remaining tundra in Alaska 100 years from now will be on its north coast.


  • Because of increases in precipitation and despite an increase in statewide biomass, forest fires should become less frequent overall and could shift from central Alaska to the northeast.


  • Insects and pathogens, which can adapt more readily to changing environmental conditions, may cause massive epidemics of plant disease and insect attack - in some cases causing large forest die-offs that could then lead to more fires, adding complexity to the picture.


  • The average annual temperatures in much of Alaska could increase by more than 13 degrees above a 1920-2000 average by the last decade of the 21st century, according to the most extreme climate scenario, and eight degrees under a more conservative scenario.

There are some variables that could affect these projections, Bachelet said, such as major changes in ocean circulation patterns that could have unpredictable effects on regional climate. One such change that has been suggested - a shutdown of a major ocean current and circulation pattern in the North Atlantic ocean that currently is responsible for warming much of Europe - might have other ripple effects that would cause regional climate impacts to vary.

"You'll always have some uncertainties when you are trying to predict the localized impact of global climate change," Bachelet said. "But it's pretty certain that our global climate is warming up, and at this time, it looks like one of the major impacts will be on the tundra ecosystem of Alaska."

Story By: 

Dominique Bachelet, 360-570-2015


CORVALLIS - Oregon State University and the Portland architectural firm Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership have been awarded a $100,000 planning grant from the Kresge Foundation of Troy, Mich., to develop an environmentally sensitive design for a new Earth Systems Science Center building.

The proposed 115,000-square foot building would be constructed on the Corvallis campus and designed to house the research and educational activities of OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences and the Geosciences Department of the College of Science.

This pre-design effort will set the stage for the fund-raising portion of the project. The cost of the building - an estimated $70 million - would be funded through a combination of private gifts, bonds and some federal support.

As a model of sustainability, the building will serve as a teaching tool that incorporates green building functions such as water conservation, landscaping, solar design, and building materials, while providing "an inspiring, productive research and learning environment," said Mark Abbott, dean of OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.

"The Kresge Foundation's generous planning support will make possible a new Earth Systems Science Center building that will be a national showcase and model for environmentally sustainable laboratory building design," Abbott said. "The building itself will become part of the university's educational mission."

The new building's design, construction, and operation will use high performance systems to reduce its impact on the environment, and the facility will include exhibits highlighting the unique features of the building.

Scientific investigations to understand the origin, dynamics, and sustainability of the Earth and its resources will be conducted by university researchers and students in the Earth Systems Science Center's advanced laboratories. The building will also include classroom and display spaces that promote environmental education and awareness for students and the general public.

When completed, the Earth Systems Science Center will be a signature building reflecting the oceanographic, meteorological, climate, and geosciences missions of the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences and the College of Science.

The Kresge Foundation's Green Building Initiative brings national attention to the importance of environmental sustainability through the development of sensitive building designs by nonprofit organizations. The grant will support integrated design workshops, energy analysis and modeling to minimize the building's energy use and evaluate the feasibility of solar, wind, and other advanced technologies, and ecological site planning for environmentally sustainable water management and landscaping approaches.

Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership is a leader in the adoption of environmentally responsible building standards, practices, and technologies, and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, the Oregon Natural Step Network, and the Sustainable Products Purchasers Coalition.

Story By: 

Mike Freilich, 541-737-3504


CORVALLIS - Researchers from Oregon State University have received a three-year, $449,970 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to develop regional "exposure scenarios" for Native American tribes living in different eco-regions of the United States.

These exposure scenarios are designed to help tribes estimate risks from environmental pollutants from which their members may contact through their lifestyles.

EPA standards are based primarily on urban and suburban populations and are not suitable for typical tribal communities whose members pursue subsistence, or traditional lifestyles that may include more frequent "living off the land," said Anna Harding, an associate professor of public health at OSU and co-investigator in the study.

Especially, she added, when those lands may be contaminated.

"The EPA guidelines say, for example, that the average adult will consume about 17.5 grams of fish a day," Harding said. "But studies suggest that the average for Native Americans in areas where subsistence fishing is practiced may be over a pound a day, so the exposure scenario will underestimate risks for these people. And if the fish happen to come from a water source that is contaminated, the health risks may be much greater than currently accounted for."

Stuart Harris, director of the Department of Science and Engineering at the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said "the need for understanding the pathways that directly involve the traditional American Indian cannot be understated."

"Our ties to the environment are much more complex and intense than is generally understood," said Harris, who also is co-investigator on the study. "My tribal culture and religion are essentially synonymous with and inseparable from the land."

Modern tribal diets and lifestyles, while significantly different from the average suburban resident, are likely not as healthy as they once were, said Barbara Harper, an OSU public health toxicologist and the study's principal investigator. "Our approach is to reconstruct original diets and lifestyles that reflect tribal health and natural resource restoration goals," Harper said.

Using literature review, as well as new research on activity levels associated with those lifestyles, will enable tribes to evaluate risks based on their current resource-intensive lifestyles, as well as on their fully traditional lifestyles, she added.

"There are certain exposures that are potentially underestimated for a broad cross-section of tribal members," Harper said. "For example, animal parts have many non-food uses that could contribute to personal exposure. Teeth and bones are used for decoration and whistles, skin is made into clothing, fish belly fat is rendered and used as a base for body paint, and so on.

"As with game, plants are used for more than just nutrition," she added. "Daily cleaning, preparation and ingestion of stored plants - and crafting of plant materials into household goods - occur throughout the year."

On average, Harding says, Native Americans engaged in subsistence activities eat more game and fish, drink more water, and consume more native plant and animal foods than the average American. EPA surveys show that the average American, for instance, will inadvertently consume about 50 milligrams of soil a day, through daily activities outside or eating vegetables like carrots that may include traces of dirt.

However, the subsistence intake rate for a tribal member is estimated to be 400 milligrams of soil a day, eight times higher than that of a suburban lifestyle.

"These differences become critical when assessing risks to environmental contaminants," Harding said. "Our goal with the study is to develop regional exposure scenarios for tribes living in five different ecosystems so that any tribes living within those areas can examine their own exposure factors and evaluate their risk for contamination."

Working with Harper, Harding, and Harris on the grant are Therese Waterhous, an OSU nutrition researcher; Tony Wilcox, an OSU exercise physiologist; and several graduate students.

Participating tribes located in various eco-regions include:

  • The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the Spokane (eastern Oregon and Washington) - lower Columbia basin plateau;


  • The Elem Tribe (Clear Lake, CA) - northwest forest/Mediterranean California;


  • The Swinomish (Puget Sound area, WA) - marine/west coast forest;


  • The Chippewa (Minnesota) - northern forest/Great Plains;


  • The Aroostook Band of MicMac (Maine) - northern forest/Atlantic highland.

The researchers will develop scenarios for the different ecosystems describing key resources in the area, traditional diets, and traditional activities. Such activities may include hunting and fishing, gathering foods and medicines, making material items, farming, gardening with irrigation, raising livestock, and pursuits associated with cultural heritage and identity, such as sweat lodge ceremonies.

Exposure factors evaluated will include exposure to air, water, soil, and natural resource use for food and materials specific to the local environment.

"There are many potential exposure pathways that are unique to Native Americans but not accounted for in scenarios developed for the general public," Harding said. "These pathways may be significant to people with traditional specialties, such as flint knapping, pottery and basket-making., or using certain paints and dyes, smoke and smudges.

"We're not specifically looking for contaminants," she emphasized. "Our goal is to describe the exposure scenarios for different ecosystems that will enable the tribes to determine their own exposure risks."

Harding said an advisory council that includes representatives from each of the participating tribes will evaluate and validate the researchers' findings.

"It is a huge undertaking," she said, "but this represents an important partnership between tribal and university scientists to develop new knowledge about how tribes may be exposed to environmental contaminants when practicing traditional activities as part of their cultural lifestyle."

Story By: 

Anna Harding, 541-737-3830