environment and natural resources

OSU profs take conservation biology ideas to Croatia

CORVALLIS, Ore. - In a country still reeling from a fierce civil war, where many buildings are pock-marked by bullet holes and other battle scars, building an economy based on eco-tourism is a concept that seems rather optimistic.

But the natural beauty of Croatia, combined with a growing national movement of conservation biology, suggests the idea may not be so far-fetched. And the idea of using natural resources as a way to gain an economic toehold in the new European Union may be gaining popularity in other small nations.

Two Oregon State University fisheries and wildlife biologists returned recently from Rovinj, Croatia, where they were invited to present an intense short course in conservation biology by the Croatian Biological Society. And though the focus of their presentations wasn't necessarily on the economic potential of nature, the interest was definitely there, they say.

"Croatia is now where Costa Rica was in the 1970s," said Scott Heppell, a fisheries ecologist and physiologist in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences. "Costa Rica made a decision to have an economy that is largely centered around natural resource-based tourism. That doesn't just happen. You have to plan for it."

Selina Heppell, a wildlife population biologist who is married to Scott, pointed out that Croatia's conservation efforts to date have largely revolved around setting aside parks and recording natural history. What the country hasn't done, she added, was use science to determine best management practices.

"Because of the war and the emerging European Union, there has been pressure to catch up economically," Selina Heppell said. "Scientists in nature conservation have not been very effective voices in that debate. For most people, the knowledge that 200 different species of sponges live along a section of the coastline isn't a compelling reason to not pour sewage into the ocean."

That may be changing. In their course, the Heppells worked with 22 graduate students and post-docs from six different countries - Poland, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. They represent a growing movement in European academic circles to better incorporate science into natural resource management and at least explore nature-based tourism as an economic alternative.

Comparisons to the United States - even in its early days of conservation biology popularized by Aldo Leopold, John Muir and others - are difficult to make, the Heppells say.

"The U.S. has always had this huge land mass with tremendous natural resources," said Selina Heppell. "The Croatians, and most other small European countries, don't have that luxury. It isn't just a matter of size, but also of age. Humans have had an impact on the landscape in Europe - in an industrial sense - for thousands of years longer than we have.

"They're not going to be able to set aside Yellowstone-sized tracts of land."

Over a six-day period, the OSU ecologists presented 20 different lectures on a variety of topics, including the use of science in conservation biology, biodiversity, wildlife population trends, extinction risks, exotic species, climate change, marine resources and others. They emphasized the science of conservation biology - evidence-based, hypothesis-driven research to understand the responses of nature to human perturbations.

Their international class of students quickly adapted to the Heppells' American style of teaching - which they describe as interactive and conversational, as opposed to lecture-oriented. Missing from the conversation, they point out, were government officials who could help take conservation biology concepts to the realm of policy.

"We talked with lots of faculty and a few administrators, which is the appropriate level, because the push for conservation biology will start at the university level first," Selina Heppell said. "The University of Zagreb is going through major curriculum changes to be accepted into the European Union, and faculty see this as a chance to incorporate the science of conservation biology into the university."

The Heppells also had a chance to tour parts of the country, especially the scenic coastline, which is dotted with numerous offshore islands in the Adriatic Sea. Croatia is home to small numbers of European brown bears, as well as wolves, fur-bearing mammals called kuna that are in the fisher family, and numerous birds, including the world's only coastal population of griffon vultures. The coastal area includes endangered sea turtles and dolphins.

Situated between the land masses of Europe and the Middle East, Croatia boasts a remarkable level of biodiversity for a country its size, the Heppells point out. There is strong potential for eco-tourism in the natural areas of the mountains and coast, they add, but the protection and management of these lands will require careful planning.

"The country is starting over in many ways," said Scott Heppell. "They're transforming from a Soviet industrial model to some new kind of economic system, and at the same time, recovering from a civil war. But Croatia is starting to rebuild and rethink itself. The Canadian and German governments are helping to rebuild houses in abandoned communities so people will have something to come back to.

"The Croatians are thinking in news ways about economics and about their natural resources," he added. "The two may go hand-in-hand." The Heppells have been invited to return to Croatia in May and teach a new set of courses.

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Selina Heppell, 541-737-9039

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OSU researchers track contaminants to the most pristine areas

CORVALLIS, Ore. - High in mountain lakes and far north in Alaskan wilderness, researchers from Oregon State University are finding some of the world's most toxic chemicals, possibly from sources as far away as Europe and Asia.

"We've found persistent chemicals - such as mercury and PCBs - in lakes in very remote areas," said Michael Kent, director of the center for salmon disease research at OSU. "And we've found evidence of toxic effects in fish in these lakes."

Kent heads the fish pathology investigation of the Western Airborne Contaminant Assessment Program (WACAP), a collaboration of government and university scientists conducting a six-year study in national parks from California to Alaska.

Far from the crowds of national park visitors, OSU researchers trek to wilderness lakes in the high Sierras, Rockies, and Cascade Mountains, as well as Alaska back country. They carry the bare essentials: 2,000 pounds of scientific equipment, inflatable boats, hand pumps, dry ice, food and shelter for eight people for three days. In the winter, they sample the snowpack and return with sleds and backpacks full of frozen samples. They are measuring mercury and other contaminants in snow, soil, air, water, fish and vegetation in places once thought to be among the most pristine areas in the world.

"Places that are far removed from human activity, places high in altitude or high in latitude, were thought to be pristine," said Carl Schreck, a professor in OSU's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife who heads the fish physiology investigations. "They are not. Nothing is pristine anymore, and that makes it hard to determine a baseline for measuring environmental change."

The researchers' sampling methods target different time periods. They sample this year's snowpack to get a snapshot of current airborne pollutants; they examine lake sediments for evidence from as far back as the 1870s.

"We have seen physiological and pathological changes in the fish in these lakes and we have seen an accumulation of toxic chemicals in the water that could only have come in by air," Kent said.

Although the specific sources of these airborne contaminants are as yet unknown, other studies have shown that air masses can cross the Pacific Ocean from Asia to North America in just a few days.

These air masses can carry coal smoke (a major source of mercury) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) emitted from industrial sites in Russia, China and elsewhere. When the air masses hit the mountains of western North America, the pollutants they carry begin to settle.

Staci Simonich, a professor in OSU's Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, is an expert in tracking signatures of airborne pollutants in global air currents. She leads the project's assessment of persistent organic pollutants.

"These compounds can travel long distances in the atmosphere, and they concentrate in cold environments." Simonich explained. "Their chemistry allows them to volatilize and rise, then settle out for a time before volatilizing and rising again. As they warm and cool they hop-scotch their way into higher elevations."

Many of these organic compounds settle in fatty tissues of fish, wildlife - and humans - and can reduce immune functions and reproductive success, and increase risk of cancer. Preliminary results indicate the presence of persistent organic pollutants, including compounds banned in the U.S. such as dieldrin, in water, snow and lichen at several of the study sites.

The Western Airborne Contaminant Assessment Program has study sites in eight parks at high elevation or high latitude, including Sequoia, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Olympic, Mount Rainier, Denali, Noatak, and Gates of the Arctic national parks.

These are remote places. In one of the study sites in Alaska, no one had visited the place since the team was there two years earlier.

"A float plane drops us off with all our equipment, and we hope the weather holds so the plane can come back to get us in three or four days," said Adam Schwindt, an OSU researcher with the WACAP team. "We're catching and dissecting fish all day, in a place surrounded by brown bears."

After thorough laboratory and data analyses, the researchers will report their findings on the contaminant impacts to high elevation and high latitude ecosystems to the National Park Service in 2007.

"National parks as remote, ecologically sensitive sites may become the bellwether to understand the environmental impact of these toxic compounds in North America," said Dixon Landers, WACAP's lead scientist from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Western Ecology Division.

For more information on the project, go online at: http://www2.nature.nps.gov/air/studies/air_toxics/wacap.cfm

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Staci Simonich, 541-737-9194

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Anti-biotech groups obstruct forest biotechnology

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The potential of forest biotechnology to help address significant social and environmental issues is being “strangled at birth” by the rigid opposition of some groups and regulations that effectively preclude even the testing of genetically modified trees, scientists argue in a new report.

Steps must be taken to create a regulatory environment that considers genetically modified trees on a scientific, case-by-case basis, and is focused on the end product rather than the process, say researchers from Oregon State University, Carnegie Mellon University and other institutions in an article in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Lacking that, the potential will be lost to use this powerful tool to create trees that grow faster, better resist drought or disease, restore threatened species, reduce costs, contribute to renewable energy, sequester carbon, improve environmental cleanup, and produce badly needed products for global consumers, the scientists said.

“This is a noose that’s been slowly tightening for many years,” said Steven Strauss, a distinguished professor of forest biotechnology at OSU, and one of the world’s leaders in the application of genetic science to forestry.

“Everyone wants safe and responsible regulations that protect the environment,” Strauss said. “But some extreme opponents who see anything that is genetically modified as a mortal sin are successfully putting in place details that will make it virtually impossible to move ahead with genetic modification in forestry or woody energy crops.

“They don’t even want to see field research,” Strauss said, “which is required for analysis of ecological effects as well as benefits, and they have been making strides toward shutting the industry down.”

Some major successes with biotechnology have taken place in crop agriculture, Strauss said, and because of the enormous benefits, that industry has learned to wade through the regulatory maze and bureaucratic hurdles in a number of countries, including the United States. By contrast, genetic modification studies in forest trees take longer, require work with more diverse species, and have larger environmental restrictions on research and application.

“Opponents are taking advantage of the well-intentioned but vague language in the Convention on Biological Diversity and the associated Cartagena Protocol to stimulate the imposition of regulations that make progress almost impossible,” Strauss said. “They treat a small-scale research plot the same as use of a genetically-modified tree over an entire region.”

And while earlier kinds of genetically modified trees almost exclusively contained genes from other species, many current advances are being made with native genes and natural growth processes, which are increasing as genomic science advances. No distinction is being allowed for that type of science, the researchers said.

The researchers said they believe that the convention has become a “platform for imposing broad restrictions on research and development of all types of transgenic trees regardless of their ecological and economic benefits.”

This convention is one of the largest international treaties, first developed in 1992, and was initially designed to protect biodiversity, not preclude use of genetically modified organisms.

“The activism against genetically modified trees through the Convention on Biological Diversity has been against all forms of genetic modification, regardless of the goals or environmental benefits sought,” the researchers wrote in their report. “This activism has also been in direct opposition to widespread scientific and professional opinion from around the world, including from ecologists, that the trait, not the recombinant method, should be the focus of assessments.”

Another key part of the problem, the researchers said, is finding enough scientists to participate in contentious and time-consuming debates where “the quality of scientific discussions tend to be extremely low and highly combative.”

The researchers believe that major changes in the structure and interpretation of the treaty are required to prevent its continued misuse in ways that they argue “is clearly against its original spirit and intent.”

Editor’s Note: The full article in Nature Biotechnology can be found at this URL: http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v27/n6/full/nbt0609-519.html

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Steven Strauss, 541-760-7357

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Starker lectures to address local impacts, global trends

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Four national experts will speak at the 2005 Starker Lectures at Oregon State University, on the theme "Local Impacts of Global Trends."

The Starker Lectures are supported by the OSU College of Forestry and the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, and are free and open to the public. They can also be streamed live to personal computers at http://oregonstate.edu/media/events/php, seen on local cable television, and will be re-broadcast on the Oregon Public Affairs Network.

The forestry and other scientists in this year's lecture series are:

  • Oct. 27: Lloyd C. Irland, lecturer and senior scientist with the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, will present "U.S. Forest Ownership: Historic and Global Perspective," at 4 p.m. in the LaSells Stewart Center on the OSU campus;
  • Nov. 3: Diane Snyder, executive director of Wallowa Resources and member of the Oregon State Board of Forestry, will speak on "Global Changes, Local Actions: Managing Change in Rural Wallowa County," at 4 p.m. in the LaSells Stewart Center;
  • Nov. 17: Patricia Marchak, sociologist with the Liu Institute for Global Issues and emeritus professor at the University of British Columbia, will speak on "The State of Nature and the Nature of States" at 4 p.m. in Room 107 of Richardson Hall on the OSU campus;
  • Dec. 1: Clark Binkley, managing director of International Forestry Investment Advisors, will present "From Timber Famine to the Wall of Wood: Implications for the Timberland Investors and the Pacific Northwest," at 4 p.m. in the LaSells Stewart Center.

    The Starker Lectures are sponsored by the Starker family, in honor of T.J. and Bruce Starker, prominent leaders in Oregon's development of modern forest management.

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    College of Forestry, 541-737-2004

    Campana to direct OSU Water and Watersheds program

    CORVALLIS, Ore. - Michael E. Campana, a hydrogeologist and international expert on a range of complex water management issues, has been named the director of the Institute for Water and Watersheds at Oregon State University.

    Campana is currently the director of the Water Resources Program at the University of New Mexico, and will begin his position at OSU next spring. He will succeed John Bolte, interim director of this OSU institute that involves the work of more than 80 faculty members in six colleges.

    Campana, who received a doctorate in hydrology from the University of Arizona, has done extensive research on water resources in developing countries, transboundary water resource issues, water allocation and availability, and other areas. He is also founder and president of a charitable foundation that funds and undertakes water, health and sanitation projects in developing nations.

    "Oregon is facing a variety of water and environmental problems," Campana said. "OSU's water expertise must be brought to bear in solving these problems, and the Institute for Water and Watersheds needs to reach a point where it is the first organization Oregonians think of when water issues arise."

    Campana said he hopes to focus the institute's efforts on large, multidisciplinary, long-term projects, and significantly increase external funding for water research activities at the university, which is now about $11 million a year. He also hopes to boost educational and outreach programs, aid the creation of science-based water policy, bring more leading national experts to Oregon for lectures and other work, and develop more student scholarships for OSU water programs.

    Much of his recent work has been in foreign countries in Central America, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia, Campana said, and he plans to increase OSU's international visibility in projects such as this. Campana has served on a number of federal research committees, is the past chair of the 10,000-member Association of Ground Water Scientists and Engineers, and has participated in many other national and international water research and management initiatives.

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    Michael Campana, 505-277-5249

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    Michael Campana

    "Bottom-up" forestry success stories outlined in video

    CORVALLIS, Ore. - Improved communications and relationship building at the local level may offer at least a partial solution to the complex fire management and fuel buildup issues in western forests, according to experts at Oregon State University. Success stories in this arena offer lessons for others.

    To help bring these lessons and techniques to a much broader audience, forest social scientists at OSU have produced a free training video and brochure to aid land managers, interest groups and the public in creating more effective citizen-agency partnerships - an attempt to replace traditional conflicts with communication and cooperation.

    "It's been clear for a while now that some of the problems that always seem to end up in court at a state or national level can actually have solutions at a local level," said Bruce Shindler, a professor in the OSU Department of Forest Resources. "And these solutions seem to have a lot more to do with trust, personal relationships and communication than they do with forest science or ecology. So what we're trying to do is identify what has worked and help more people use these approaches."

    Toward that goal, Shindler and graduate student Ryan Gordon created a 25-minute DVD, "Communication Strategies for Fire Management," and a written supplement, "A Practical Guide to Citizen-Agency Partnerships." Both are free on request, via e-mail at bruce.shindler@oregonstate.edu

    The underlying problems are huge, the scientists say.

    "Almost everyone in the West is aware of the critical situations facing many of our forests, which have trees at high density, decades of fire suppression, problems with disease, insect infestations and catastrophic wildfire," Shindler said. "And this is not just a rural or natural resource issue. The National Fire Plan indicates there are 11,000 communities in the West facing serious risks from wildfire."

    In recent years, forest researchers and ecologists have developed a fairly broad range of tools to help address these problems - everything from controlled use of fire to thinning, selective herbicides, understory mowing and other approaches. But fuel reduction and land management strategies have often failed when they lack a buy-in from local communities, residents and interest groups, Shindler said.

    In studies in eight western states, Shindler has examined how people work together on natural resource issues, what the general public knows, how they feel about agency actions and competency, and many other topics. Mistrust of government agencies is often high, and the recent past has been marked more by failed initiatives and courtroom combat than active programs to restore forest health.

    "The scientific knowledge base about fuel reduction and land management has improved dramatically and we're still learning more all the time," Shindler said. "But the problem is not that simple. We find success when the local community is involved in fire plans from the beginning, feels they are part of the solution, where relationships are built, and people understand the complexity of the issues."

    Three success stories where that has actually occurred are outlined in the new OSU video, from case studies on the Sisters Ranger District in the Central Oregon Cascade Range; the "Seven Basins" area near Rogue River in Southern Oregon; and at Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park.

    The advances made near Sisters, Ore., are particularly interesting. A local interest group called Friends of the Metolius has worked with Forest Service officials in intensive public meetings and outreach efforts. Local residents even contributed about $35,000 to set up demonstration sites, where people can see the results of prescribed fire, thinning, mowing and other forest treatments. Local leaders helped organize tours after a recent fire in the nearby Cascade Range. A bus driver volunteered her time to help take dozens of affected residents into the burned areas and agency resource specialists led discussions about the effects of the fire. And a 14,000-acre land management plan with many progressive features has been largely embraced by everyone from agency officials to community leaders and environmental interest groups.

    In Southern Oregon, the OSU Extension Service also became involved with local citizens, and the results again look promising - small groups of involved people, out in the woods, discussing the issues and becoming part of the solution.

    These "bottom-up" approaches, Shindler said, are almost the opposite of top-down leadership by high government or agency officials. The process is grass roots, and it seems to work.

    "I knew it was going to take a lot of personal commitment on my part to build relationships and trust," said Bill Anthony, district ranger on the Sisters Ranger District. "That only comes from spending time with people, interacting with them, sitting down in the middle of them."

    When officials realize the problems are as much about trust and relationships as they are about science and land management techniques, the door is often open to progress, Shindler said.

    "It's not always easy," he said. "These are fire managers, not public relations professionals. But that's what our new video and support materials are about, to help show more people what has worked elsewhere and might also work in their communities. We hope more people can take advantage of it."

    Story By: 

    Bruce Shindler, 541-737-3299

    OSU Extension offers well water, septic system workshops

    CORVALLIS - The Oregon State University Extension Service is offering three sessions of a free class this October to rural residents interested in learning how to maintain their drinking water wells and septic systems.

    The class, called "Rural Living Basics," will also provide information on protecting community groundwater.

    The sessions will be offered in Linn, Benton and Lane counties and are free of charge, though interested persons should register in advance (information provided below). Instructors are Gail Andrews and Jacqueline Fern of the OSU Extension Service.

    A free nitrate screening of well water is offered as part of the class. For the screening, bring a half cup of untreated well water in a clean container a few minutes before the class begins. Results will be available by the end of the class.

    "It is especially important for households with pregnant women or newborns to test for nitrates because of a rare type of blue-baby syndrome," Andrews said. "All residents with private wells should be aware of their nitrate level."

    The "Rural Living Basics" class is sponsored by the Southern Willamette Valley Groundwater Management Area project team, a multi-agency partnership working to address local nitrate contamination issues. Project information is available at http://groundwater.oregonstate.edu/Willamette. Information on the OSU Well Water Program is available at well.water@oregonstate.edu, or by calling 541-737-6295. Class sessions are scheduled for:

    Albany: Oct. 27, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at the Linn County/OSU Extension Downing Room, 4th Street and Lyons. To register, call the Linn County Extension office at 541-967-3871, or e-mail Laurie.Gibson@oregonstate.edu

    Corvallis: Oct. 25, from 6:30 to 9 p.m., at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, 6th Street and Monroe. To register, call the OSU/Benton County Extension Office at 541-766-6750, or e-mail marie.madison@oregonstate.edu

    Eugene: Oct. 19, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at the OSU/Lane County Extension Office, 950 W. 13th Ave. To register, call the office at 541-682-4243, or 1-800-872-8980, or send an e-mail to LaneCounty.Extension@oregonstate.edu

    Story By: 

    Gail Andrews, 541-737-6294

    Array of sensors watching the forest breathe

    BLUE RIVER, Ore. - A sophisticated array of electronic sensors in the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest is giving ecologists at Oregon State University a view of the forest ecosystem they've never had before: They are literally watching the forest breathe, the plants interact with and feed the soil microbes and rivers of air pour up and down slopes in ways never before understood.

    The studies relate to a concept that explorers such as Columbus and Magellan demonstrated 500 years ago - the Earth is not flat. Neither are forests in mountainous terrain, but many existing concepts and models of forest processes have been based on the way these systems function on fairly flat land.

    Now, with years of work at one of the nation's premier outdoor ecological laboratories in the central Oregon Cascade Range, a new understanding is emerging of how the forest watersheds and "airsheds" interact, creating complex micro-climates and hydrological cycles in the steep, hilly terrain.

    The studies should be further amplified in coming years with a new $1.1-million grant from the National Science Foundation that will help place a new generation of battery-free, interactive sensors over a much larger area to further enhance the data stream coming from the forest into OSU laboratories.

    "Topography has an enormous impact on forest ecology. It creates all kinds of different interactions compared to flat land," said Barbara Bond, a professor of forest tree physiology in the OSU Department of Forest Science. "You get different temperature gradients, micro-climate, humidity, air and water movement, carbon dioxide concentrations and sometimes protective buffers."

    But historically, Bond said, flat terrain has been an easier, less costly environment in which to do experiments, and much of the science about forest processes is based on data from such areas. Most research has also been done by people from individual disciplines, looking at tiny pieces of the puzzle.

    "What we need to do now is look at where we really grow most of our trees, which is in mountainous terrain," Bond said. "And we need to bring together the ecosystem scientists, the atmospheric experts, the engineers and soil scientists, and try to put all the pieces back together to really understand how the whole system works."

    The current research at the H.J. Andrews Forest is doing that, Bond said, and already yielding surprising results. Among the findings:

  • The night drainage of cold air down slopes is fast, deep and well developed, like a river of air careening down the landscape;
  • These large air flows carry with them respired carbon dioxide from plants and trees, which provides a signal based on carbon isotopes that is related to plant stress, and could be used to monitor plant stress over large areas;
  • Fluxes of carbon move back and forth between trees and soils on a constant basis, as the soil provides water and nutrients to the plants, and the plants in turn feed the soil microbes.

    "What we've learned about the interactive relationship between plants and microbes has been one of the most fascinating results," Bond said. "This is a two-way street, with water and nutrients going up, and sugars coming down from the leaves into the soil to feed the microbes there. The plants are like the farmers of the below-ground microbial community."

    This process is also fast. During daylight there's a flush of new carbon moving from the atmosphere into the tree that appears to work its way into the soil within literally a few hours. And measurement and monitoring of this process, researchers believe, may ultimately provide a picture of tree stress - such as during periods of drought or climate change.

    "We believe that a comprehensive understanding of a forest airshed will give us a range of information about the health and physiological status of the forest, much like a doctor can tell a lot about your health from a blood sample," Bond said. "Related to the issue of climate change, we may be able to see trees under stress much earlier, well before they begin to show visible symptoms or problems."

    In the field work on this project, scientists take gas samples from soil depths at different times of day, including the middle of the night. Study plots are also located adjacent to other sites where such issues as tree growth, stream flow and stream chemistry are being analyzed, to ultimately provide a very comprehensive view of forest ecology.

    The studies may also raise questions about other important topics related to climate change, such as carbon sequestration. Growth of forests has often been viewed as a mechanism to remove or "sequester" carbon from the atmosphere and help offset the increases provided by human activity, including the use of fossil fuels.

    "However, results from this and other studies are suggesting that a lot of carbon does not go to plant or tree growth at all, but rather is just being pumped through the roots into the soil, where a lot of it is quickly respired back into the atmosphere," Bond said. "This means that carbon sequestration may not be tightly linked to the photosynthetic rate of plants. It may not be that simple."

    Elizabeth Sulzman, an assistant professor of soil science at OSU working on this project, said there's a remarkable variation in soil activity in forests that must be considered before researchers will fully understand the big picture.

    "Soil can be so different from one spot to another, just a foot or two away," Sulzman said. "It has a lot to do with distance from plant roots and the sugars or exudates they provide. The link between soil, plant and atmosphere still has a lot of questions we have to answer."

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    Barbara Bond, 541-737-6110

    Documentary DVD examines Columbia River history

    CORVALLIS - A new documentary DVD from the Oregon Sea Grant program headquartered at Oregon State University examines a turning point in the history of the Pacific Northwest.

    For millennia Celilo Falls was a great Native American fishery on the mid-Columbia River, and it drew native peoples from throughout the West to trade for salmon. But in 1957 the federal government began operation of a giant hydroelectric dam at The Dalles that wiped out Celilo Falls and ended the fishery there.

    The documentary, "Celilo Falls and the Remaking of the Columbia River," provides a glimpse of life at Celilo as it once was and considers the cultural, social, and political forces that brought about its end, signaling a new era in the relationship between people and nature.

    The Native American experience at Celilo is conveyed through previously unpublished color film footage of the fishery and many historic photographs, while the history of the development of the Columbia for industry and commerce is presented through archival film footage from the Bonneville Power Administration, the Oregon Historical Society, and other sources.

    The documentary was written, edited and produced by Joseph Cone, assistant director of Oregon Sea Grant. He is the author of "A Common Fate: Endangered Salmon and the People of the Pacific Northwest" and co-editor of "The Northwest Salmon Crisis: A Documentary History."

    The 31-minute documentary is available from Oregon Sea Grant, 322 Kerr Administration, OSU, Corvallis OR 97331-2131. To preserve as much as possible the original quality of the historic film and photographic images, the program is available only on DVD. Price per DVD is $19.95 plus shipping ($2 first copy; $1 each additional copy).


    Joseph Cone, 541-737-0756


    CORVALLIS - A group of experts from four western states and British Columbia are going to spend the next year producing what they say will be one of the most blunt, honest evaluations ever done on the status of wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest and what it would actually take to save them.

    These salmon and policy experts will collaborate on two symposiums and a published book with their conclusions, which may represent a wide diversity of opinion and suggested changes - some of which could be extreme.

    The initiative, called the Salmon 2100 Project, is being organized by the Center for Water and Environmental Sustainability at Oregon State University, and the EPA laboratory in Corvallis, Ore.

    "We don't really expect to end up with a single solution everyone will agree on, there may be a suite of options for the public and policy makers to sort through," said Robert Lackey, a senior fisheries biologist at the EPA and courtesy professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU. "But we're going to find out what the leading experts in this field really believe has to be done if we are serious about saving wild salmon."

    "Their statements will be what they believe personally, based on many years of experience, and will not be a reflection of a government, group or agency policy," Lackey said. "We expect some of the proposed solutions will be pretty drastic."

    According to Lackey and Denise Lach, co-director of OSU's Center for Water and Environmental Sustainability, many leading experts have grave doubts whether the vast amount of resources and funds that have been poured into salmon protection and restoration have worked.

    "Many of the people who are participating in our project are interested precisely because they have spent their careers working on salmon recovery projects that ultimately did not succeed," said Lach. "We've spent billions of dollars, caused a lot of social disruption, but to what purpose? And if the truth is that wild salmon are going to largely disappear in this region, are we being honest with the public?"

    The problems leading to the decline of wild salmon runs are well catalogued, Lackey and Lach said. They include water pollution, loss of habitat, over-fishing, dam construction and operation, water use for irrigation and other purposes, competition with hatchery-produced salmon, predation by other species, diseases and parasites, and climatic and oceanic shifts.

    And the greatest future threat, in addition to all of that, may be huge population growth that compounds any or all of these other problems.

    Much less clear, they say, is what - if anything - can realistically reverse this process and preserve wild salmon runs beyond 2100.

    "People often say they want to preserve wild salmon, so we want to lay out for the public and policy makers what it will actually take to do that, in the opinion of some of the leading experts," Lackey said. "The forces at work are getting more difficult all the time, the pressures of population, commerce, energy demands, water scarcity. The real solutions may call for huge, huge changes, and we may need to do more than just talk while we ignore fundamental trends."

    "And it may be that society will decide, once people really understand the facts, that salmon are not worth that much trouble and expense," Lackey said. "Saving salmon is not just about a fishery, it's about our social values, our goals and competing public priorities. But the first step is an honest, blunt assessment so we can make informed choices."

    The 28 participants in this project include science and policy experts with a background in academia, regulatory agencies, Indian tribes, environmental groups, industry and others. Several are retired, and none will be speaking on behalf of the agency or organization they work for, now or in the past.

    The challenge put to the group, Lackey and Lach said, is to identify and describe specific, practical policy options that, if adopted, would successfully sustain significant numbers of wild salmon through this century.

    Two symposiums will be held to present preliminary conclusions in February and September, 2005, and a book on the conclusions of participants will be published by January, 2006, officials say.

    All of the participants in the project are donating their time and publications for free. The book that results from the project will be published by the American Fisheries Society.

    Story By: 

    Robert Lackey, 541-754-4607