environment and natural resources


CORVALLIS, Ore. - A new report concludes that wood is one of the most environmentally sensitive building materials for home construction - it uses less overall energy than other products, causes fewer air and water impacts and does a better job of the carbon "sequestration" that can help address global warming.

The research showed that wood framing used 17 percent less energy than steel construction for a typical house built in Minnesota, and 16 percent less energy than a house using concrete construction in Atlanta. And in these two examples, the use of wood had 26-31 percent less global warming potential.

This $1 million study was prepared by the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials, a non-profit corporation of 15 research universities. It was published in the Journal of Forest Products and is the first major update on this topic since a 1976 report by the National Academy of Science.

The type of information and data provided in this report may be increasingly useful as consumers and government agencies try to identify construction techniques and materials for homes and other structures that minimize environmental impacts, said James Wilson, a professor of wood science and engineering at Oregon State University, and vice president of this research consortium.

"There's a significant consumer movement and even some voluntary standards that are interested in 'green,' or environmentally conscious construction methods," Wilson said. "We need to have a good understanding of the overall effects that different types of construction have in such areas as energy consumption, global warming, air and water impacts, or solid waste disposal."

California and some other states are already moving towards "environmentally preferable purchase" standards that identify the best materials to use for energy conservation, environmental protection and other issues, Wilson said. And it's quite possible that some states or localities may legally require such approaches in the future for construction of public buildings, he said.

After some experimentation with new building approaches such as concrete or steel in recent decades, Wilson said, it appears that for environmental purposes we may return to one of the most ancient, tried-and-true materials of them all - wood.

"We've seen a general substitution for wood in many aspects of home construction for years, using less of it for siding, windows, roofing, other purposes," Wilson said.

"Price and availability of wood were some of the factors involved, along with building codes," he said. "And about five years ago the steel industry began a big push for more use of steel in home construction, which didn't accomplish as much as that industry hoped for, but did have some impact."

The new study that was done looks at the total "life-cycle assessment" of different construction products and techniques, considering such issues as how materials are grown, mined, processed, produced, used and ultimately disposed of, to give a better picture of their overall impact on the environment. It considers effects on energy use, air and water emissions, global warming and other topics.

Although many people are not aware of their overall makeup, houses require a broad range of natural resources, such as limestone, clay, iron ore, sand, gypsum, wood fiber, resins, coal and more. The process of building them uses energy in the form of electricity, diesel fuel, gasoline, wood, coal, or nuclear power. The cumulative impact of using all these natural resources and energy can be significant in ways that are not always apparent - everything from the electricity used in running a steel mill to the mining of raw materials or the diesel fuel that powers a truck hauling logs.

Compiled in a database, this type of information can help consumers, builders, architects, policy makers or government regulators make more informed choices, Wilson said. This particular project examined the implications of a wood frame housing design versus a steel frame design for the cold Minneapolis region, and a wood frame versus concrete design for the hot, humid Atlanta area.

In the Minneapolis example, steel framing, compared to wood, used 17 percent more energy; caused 26 percent more global warming potential; caused a 14 percent higher level of air emissions of concern; more than 300 percent, or triple the level of water emissions of concern; and had about the same solid waste disposal impact.

In the Atlanta example, concrete construction, compared to wood, used 16 percent more energy; caused 31 percent more global warming potential; caused a 23 percent higher level of air emissions of concern; had the same impact on water emissions of concern; and created 51 percent more solid waste. Wood had a particular value in addressing the global warming issue, the data indicate. The growth of wood in renewable forests works to "sequester" and remove carbon from the atmosphere, and fewer carbon emissions are created in the processing needed to produce wood products than their steel and concrete counterparts.

The report also suggested ways to redesign houses to lower fossil fuel use, reduce the use of excessive amounts of materials, recycle demolition wastes and other improvements. In continued research, Wilson said, scientists hope to expand their studies of wood and other types of construction materials as they relate to even more environmental issues. It will consider more housing examples, different regions of forest resources and manufacturing, use of resins and other structural products that play a role in house construction.

The data base created in this study will be freely available to anyone, researchers say. More detail on the study can be found on the Web at www.corrim.org.

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James Wilson, 541-737-4227


CORVALLIS - Gail Andrews, a water quality educator with Oregon State University Extension, will teach two classes called "Rural Living Basics: Well Water and Septic Systems" on Sept. 28 and 29 at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, Sixth Street and Monroe Avenue.

Located in the library's main conference room, the classes are free and open to the public. However, pre-registration is required. To register, call Elena at (541) 737-2041 or send e-mail to maus@engr.orst.edu.

The classes are meant to help rural residents learn how to care for their private water systems to protect their family's health, their homestead investment and their community's groundwater, Andrews said.

Class times are Tuesday, Sept. 28, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and Wednesday, Sept. 29, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Doors will open half an hour before the class for individual questions and browsing publications.

Both classes are the same, but are meant to accommodate people's busy schedules, Andrews said.

Participants who bring about a cup of well water in any clean container will receive a free screening of the water for nitrate.

The Southern Willamette Valley Groundwater Management Area is sponsoring the event.

For more information, contact Andrews at (541) 737-6294 or visit the Web site at http://groundwater.oregonstate.edu/willamette/.


Gail Andrews, 541-737-6294


CORVALLIS - Ross Stein, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, will present the 2004 Condon Lecture at Oregon State University on the mechanisms that trigger earthquakes.

The lecture will be at LaSells Stewart Center on the OSU campus on Wednesday, Oct. 6, beginning at 8 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

The presentation is titled "Earthquake Conversations," referring both to an accessible discussion of earthquake mechanisms and to the fact that earthquakes seem to "speak" with each other across time and space.

Stein has been a leader in research on the earthquake danger of "blind" faults that curve over horizontally in their upper reaches, so as to never reach the surface. He has advised international reinsurance companies on the earthquake risks facing Istanbul and Tokyo, and been honored by awards from the USGS, American Geophysical Union, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Stanford University.

Stein's presentation at OSU will include animations of earthquakes in action. He also will demonstrate earthquake triggering using a tabletop model.

The Condon Lecture Series at OSU was established to honor Thomas Condon, a pioneer in Oregon geology. Its purpose is to help interpret the results of significant scientific research for non-specialists.

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George Moore, 541-737-1244

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Ross Stein

Ross Stein

Forest fire prevention efforts will lessen carbon sequestration

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Widely sought efforts to reduce fuels that increase catastrophic fire in Pacific Northwest forests will be counterproductive to another important societal goal of sequestering carbon to help offset global warming, forestry researchers at Oregon State University conclude in a new report.

Even if the biofuels were used in an optimal manner to produce electricity or make cellulosic ethanol, there would still be a net loss of carbon sequestration in forests of the Coast Range and the west side of the Cascade Mountains for at least 100 years – and probably much longer, the study showed.

“Fuel reduction treatments should be forgone if forest ecosystems are to provide maximal amelioration of atmospheric carbon dioxide over the next 100 years,” the study authors wrote in their conclusion. “If fuel reduction treatments are effective in reducing fire severities in the western hemlock, Douglas-fir forests of the west Cascades and the western hemlock , Sitka spruce forests of the Coast Range, it will come at the cost of long-term carbon storage, even if harvested material are used as biofuels.”

The study raises serious questions about how to maximize carbon sequestration in these fast-growing forests and at the same time maximize protection against catastrophic fire.

“It had been thought for some time that if you used biofuel treatments to produce energy, you could offset the carbon emissions from this process,” said Mark Harmon, holder of the Richardson Chair in the OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society. “That seems to make common sense and sounds great in theory, but when you actually go through the data it doesn’t work.”

Using biofuels to produce energy does not completely offset the need for other fossil fuels use and completely negate their input to the global carbon budget, the researchers found. At the absolute maximum, you might recover 90 percent of the energy, the study said.

“That figure, however, assumes an optimal production of energy from biofuels that is probably not possible,” Harmon said. “By the time you include transportation, fuel for thinning and other energy expenditures, you are probably looking at a return of more like 60-65 percent. And if you try to produce cellulosic ethanol, the offset is more like 35 percent.”

“If you take old, existing forests from these regions and turn them into almost anything else, you will have a net loss in carbon sequestration,” Harmon said.

That could be significant. Another recent OSU studied concluded that if forests of Oregon and northern California were managed exclusively for carbon sequestration, they could double the amount of sequestration in many areas and triple it in some.

The new study found that, in a Coast Range stand, if you removed solid woody biofuels for reduction of catastrophic fire risks and used those for fuel, it would take 169 years before such usage reached a break-even point in carbon sequestration. The study showed if the same material were used in even less efficient production of cellulosic ethanol, it would take 339 years.

The researchers did not consider in this analysis how global warming in coming years might affect the increase of catastrophic fire, Harmon said. However, “fire severity in many forests may be more a function of severe weather events rather than fuel accumulation,” the report authors wrote, and fuel reduction efforts may be of only limited effectiveness, even in a hotter future.

“Part of what seems increasingly apparent is that we should consider using west side forests for their best role, which is carbon sequestration, and focus what fuel reduction efforts we make to protect people, towns and infrastructure,” Harmon said. “It’s almost impossible anyway to mechanically treat the immense areas that are involved and it’s hugely expensive. As a policy question we have to face issues of what approaches will pay off best and what values are most important.”

The report was just published in Ecological Applications, a professional journal. The lead author was Stephen Mitchell, who conducted the work as part of his doctoral thesis while at OSU, and is now at Duke University. Among the findings:

  • Fuel reduction treatments that have been proposed to reduce wildfire severity also reduce the carbon stored in forests;
  • On west side Cascade Range and Coast Range forests, which are wetter, the catastrophic fire return interval is already very long, and the additional levels of fuel accumulation have not been that unusual;
  • A wide range of fire reduction approaches, such as salvage logging, understory removal, prescribed fire and other techniques, can effectively reduce fire severity if used properly;
  • Such fuel removal almost always reduces carbon storage more than the additional carbon the stand is able to store when made more resistant to wildfire, in part because most of the carbon stored in forest biomass remains unconsumed even by high-severity wildfires;
  • Considerable uncertainty exists in modeling of future fires, and some fuel reduction techniques, especially overstory thinning treatments, could potentially lead to an increase in fire severity.

The study authors concluded that fuel reduction may still make more sense in east-side Cascade Range and other similar forests, but that the west-side Cascades and Coast Range have little sensitivity to forest fuel reduction treatments – and might be best utilized for their high carbon sequestration capacities.

“Ultimately, the real problem here is global climate change,” Harmon said. “Insect epidemics are increasing, trees are dying. There are no quick fixes to these issues.”

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Mark Harmon, 541-737-8455

Fall freeze cause of spring's western juniper damage and dieback

PRINEVILLE - A wide scattering of western junipers in central and eastern Oregon are showing increasing signs of freeze damage and dieback this spring. And that could be bad news during the next wildfire season, say Oregon State University scientists who are monitor the problem.

Reports of red, dying junipers are coming in from Harney, Grant, Wheeler, Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson Counties, according to Tim Deboodt, staff chair of the Crook County office of the OSU Extension Service.

"The calls started trickling in about six weeks ago and now it has turned into a tidal wave of calls," Deboodt said. "The first sightings were on south-facing slopes. We are now seeing a red tint on all slopes, not just those that are south facing."

The juniper freeze damage is showing up as reddish brown, crumbling foliage. Some young trees have turned completely red, while some of the older trees suffer from dead foliage in crowns. The foliage death seems to start at the top of the junipers and works its way down, the scientists say.

"As you grab the needles, they crumble in your hands," Deboodt said.

Deboodt and other OSU researchers hypothesize that the juniper damage and dieback are from freeze damage from a severe cold snap last fall.

"On the 29th of October, a cold air mass moved in from Canada," said Deboodt. "For the next four days, overnight lows were around zero. OSU climatologist George Taylor reported that Seneca recorded minus 11 degrees on Oct. 31. And I've heard that Fort Rock and Christmas Valley got to minus 20 degrees."

Deboodt collected foliage, branches, stems and roots from damaged and dying junipers to be analyzed for disease or pest problems at OSU's Plant Clinic in Corvallis. There was no evidence of any diseases or pests, according to OSU plant pathologist Melodie Putnam.

"I did not see any evidence of any foliage, branch, stem, or root disease," said Putnam. "This is definitely not a disease problem."

Last fall's freeze damage wasn't apparent until spring because the junipers are fairly inactive until the weather warms up, explained Steve Fitzgerald, forester with the Deschutes County office of the OSU Extension Service.

"It takes several months for the foliage to dry out and show the extent of the damage," said Fitzgerald.

The verdict is still out on how widespread the damage and dieback will become.

"As spring changes to summer we'll have a better idea of the damage that was done," said Katie Kause, urban forester with the Oregon Department of Forestry in Prineville.

Foresters and range experts worry that the widespread juniper die-off may contribute to fire hazards this coming summer and fall.

"Unless there are high winds and high temperatures, I think that healthy juniper stands are relatively fireproof," Deboodt said. "But when large, continuous blocks of trees die, what is the risk of wildfire? When they are holding dry needles that can burn like gasoline, what are we looking at?"

To avoid increased fire hazard, Kause and OSU Extension forester Stephen Fitzgerald recommend that property owners with dead junipers remove them and take them to a landfill.

If there is only partial dieback, then junipers should be pruned.

"Some of the junipers have not died, but have branches that were affected adversely from the freeze and have died back," said Kause. "In this case landowners will want to consider only removing the dead branches by making selective pruning cuts, rather than removing the entire tree."

For more information about juniper dieback or depositing landscape material at the local landfill, call your local county office of the OSU Extension Service or your local landfill.


Tim Deboodt, 541-447-6228

Math discovery may aid natural resource management

CORVALLIS, Ore. - With the aid of a chance discovery by a graduate student, scientists from Oregon State University have identified, dusted off and found a new use for an old math theory from the early 1800s that could revolutionize the management of lands, protection of species and study of ecology.

The discovery promises for the first time to address the enormous complexities of the natural world with the powerful tools of advanced mathematics - which, until now, have been of limited use in the study of many natural resource issues. Existing mathematical approaches have often been relegated to the sidelines, in favor of time-consuming and costly experiments or trial-and-error management.

The findings are being published in the journal American Naturalist and are co-authored by Jeffrey Dambacher, Hans Luh, Hiram Li and Philippe Rossignol.

"This research should have major implications for the management of natural resources around the world," said Philippe Rossignol, a professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU. "We're going to be able to apply mathematics to predict what might happen with a great deal more certainty than ever before. It could significantly improve the ability of ecologists, land managers and other scientists to address many issues, anything from the clarity of Crater Lake to fisheries management or emerging diseases."

OSU researchers are already using the new approaches and formulas described in this research to tackle problems from invasive species in Yaquina Bay to the ecological impact of bullfrogs and the stability of an Oregon sea urchin fishery. But the concepts are so useful and so broad, the scientists say, that these projects are barely scratching the surface of this technology's potential.

This new insight in ecological science began when OSU researchers were struggling to resolve a mathematical paradox first suggested in 1973 by a famous ecologist named Robert May, who produced a mathematical theory that made perfect sense but seemed at odds with the way the world really worked.

"One of the basic concepts of ecology for generations had been that the complexity of the natural world is a big part of what makes it persistent, that the many interrelationships, interactions and food webs among different species evolved into stable systems that worked well together," said Hiram Li, an OSU professor of fisheries and wildlife.

"But Robert May came along with a mathematical theory that suggested that increased complexity in a natural system should actually make it less stable," Li said. "The math seemed to work perfectly, but our observations of the real world ran contrary to this."

For 30 years researchers have debated this paradox between the way the world appeared to work - a "tangled web" of thriving organisms, as Charles Darwin described it - with May's mathematical description of the way it should work. Since the mathematical theory had not been reconciled with real-world observations, many field ecologists dismissed its importance. Applied mathematics are being used to manage fishing, hunting and control of pests, Li said, in situations that only relate to one or two species - but they have not been applied to ecosystems or communities.


"What we came to realize, however, is that May's mathematical analysis was not really wrong, it just didn't go far enough, as even May conceded," Rossignol said.

"So what we've tried to do is shine some light into this black box, by identifying more degrees of stability and using more variables, allowing the math to consider complexity and eventually arrive at different conclusions."

The researchers were struggling with their approach when Jeffrey Dambacher, then an OSU graduate student, had a chance conversation about what was needed with some faculty in OSU's Department of Mathematics. They mentioned a largely forgotten theorem of matrix algebra developed in the early 1800s by the French mathematician Augustin Cauchy. The theory, so far as they knew, had never yet found any useful application. But it appeared to be ideal for the problem at hand.

"It became immediately clear that this mathematical approach would take us in the direction we needed," Rossignol said. "It gives us a way to describe complex natural populations in more realistic terms, consider indirect interactions and really provide a much more accurate view of how natural systems will work. We'll be far more accurate with our predictions and can use this approach in the new field of adaptive management, improving our natural resource management approaches as we go."

The OSU scientists have fine-tuned this approach in continued research and outlined it in their new publication for other scientists to use in a comparatively simple, well-defined system.

"We're now bridging the world of biology and mathematics in a way that will let people approach complex problems using descriptive, qualitative information," Li said. "It complements data-hungry mathematical models by identifying key interactions to focus on when gathering quantitative data from a complex system. This reduces the need for complex, expensive and time-consuming experiments.

"With this approach, I can now do a computation in minutes that used to take forever. I'd literally write equations by hand on 20 feet of rolled-out butcher paper and hope I didn't make a mistake along the way."

The technique is also reliable, Li said. Using only text descriptions, these qualitative models have duplicated the predictions of studies done with classical ecological experiments.

In one recent usage, an OSU graduate student used this system to study the stability of an Oregon sea urchin fishery and answer questions about the long-term value of reserves. This would have been almost impossible with real-world experiments, but after the computer ran through 12 million mathematical combinations of possible outcomes, the scientists had the answers they had sought.

This research was supported by grants from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.


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Philippe Rossignol, 541-737-5509

Conference to Explore Sustaining Oregon Forests

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Sustaining the health of Oregon’s forests in the midst of regional, national and global change will be the focus of a two-day conference and workshop at Oregon State University on Nov. 6-7, featuring the chief of the U.S. Forest Service and other prominent experts.

The event, “At the Crossroads: Sustaining Oregon’s Forests in a Rapidly Changing World,” will bring both new and traditional constituents into discussions of how to ensure that the state’s forests can continue to provide the benefits that Oregonians expect and value.

Gail Kimbell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, will headline a host of speakers and workshop leaders from government, science, industry, landowners, tribes and environmental organizations.

Other leading presenters include John C. Gordon, Pinchot professor emeritus of the Yale School of Forestry, and member of the National Commission on Science for Sustainable Forestry; Marvin Brown, OSU forester; Gary Hartshorn, president and CEO of the World Forestry Center; Richard Devlin, Oregon Senate majority leader; Laurie Wayburn, president of the Pacific Forest Trust; Steve Hobbs, OSU forester and member of the Oregon Board of Forestry; and Mike Houck, executive director of the Urban Greenspaces Institute.

In two days of presentations and panel discussions, participants will explore the impacts of Oregon forests in the context of regional, national and global change. Presenters will involve attendees in developing potential strategies for sustaining Oregon’s forests and their contributions to the state’s quality of life.

“The goal of the conference is to engage a broad spectrum of political, social and economic stakeholders and decision-makers in Oregon’s forests,” said Lisa Gaines, associate director of the Institute for Natural Resources and co-chair of the conference.

Participants will examine trends in forest management, ownership demographics, other factors driving change, and what these changes might mean for Oregon.

The conference is also an opportunity to assess implications of existing policies regarding forest stewardship and governmental roles, as well as potential policy changes, officials say.

The event will be in the CH2M-Hill Alumni Center. More information on registration, fees and the agenda can be found on the Web http://inr.oregonstate.edu/atthecrossroads/index.html.

Story By: 

Lisa Gaines,

Massive Fires Consistent with Climate Change, Predicted Years Ago

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The catastrophic fires that are sweeping Southern California are consistent with what climate change models have been predicting for years, experts say, and they may be just a prelude to many more such events in the future – as vegetation grows heavier than usual and then ignites during prolonged drought periods.

“This is exactly what we’ve been projecting to happen, both in short-term fire forecasts for this year and the longer term patterns that can be linked to global climate change,” said Ronald Neilson, a professor at Oregon State University and bioclimatologist with the USDA Forest Service.

“You can’t look at one event such as this and say with certainty that it was caused by a changing climate,” said Neilson, who was also a contributor to publications of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a co-recipient earlier this month of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

“But things just like this are consistent with what the latest modeling shows,” Neilson said, “and may be another piece of evidence that climate change is a reality, one with serious effects.”

The latest models, Neilson said, suggest that parts of the United States may be experiencing longer-term precipitation patterns – less year-to-year variability, but rather several wet years in a row followed by several that are drier than normal.

“As the planet warms, more water is getting evaporated from the oceans and all that water has to come down somewhere as precipitation,” said Neilson. “That can lead, at times, to heavier vegetation loads popping up and creation of a tremendous fuel load. But the warmth and other climatic forces are also going to create periodic droughts. If you get an ignition source during these periods, the fires can just become explosive.”

The problems can be compounded, Neilson said, by El Niño or La Nina events. A La Niña episode that’s currently under way is probably amplifying the Southern California drought, he said. But when rains return for a period of years, the burned vegetation may inevitably re-grow to very dense levels.

“In the future, catastrophic fires such as those going on now in California may simply be a normal part of the landscape,” said Neilson.

Fire forecast models developed by Neilson’s research group at OSU and the Forest Service rely on several global climate models. When combined, they accurately predicted both the Southern California fires that are happening and the drought that has recently hit parts of the Southeast, including Georgia and Florida, causing crippling water shortages.

In studies released five years ago, Neilson and other OSU researchers predicted that the American West could become both warmer and wetter in the coming century, conditions that would lead to repeated, catastrophic fires larger than any in recent history.

At that time, the scientists suggested that periodic increases in precipitation, in combination with higher temperatures and rising carbon dioxide levels, would spur vegetation growth and add even further to existing fuel loads caused by decades of fire suppression.

Droughts or heat waves, the researchers said in 2002, would then lead to levels of wildfire larger than most observed since European settlement. The projections were based on various “general circulation” models that showed both global warming and precipitation increases during the 21st century.

Story By: 

Ronald Neilson,


ROME, Italy - Practitioners of religion and spirituality often operate in a sphere quite separate from that of science, but in mid-October a diverse group of environmental experts, water managers and others will meet with spiritual and religious leaders at Vatican City to see what they can learn from each other.

Organizers of the conference say they hope to explore the process of spiritual transformation and see what lessons it could provide for conflict resolution with some of the world's most pressing problems - particularly environmental issues, but perhaps other concerns as well.

The event is sponsored by the Department of Geosciences at Oregon State University, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican, the International Water Academy in Oslo, Norway, and the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security in California.

The list of attendees include people you don't often find in the same room - water management scientists, a Catholic bishop, government agency leaders, a Jewish rabbi, experts on Hindu philosophy, a military leader, a Muslim scholar and more.

According to Aaron Wolf, associate professor of geosciences at OSU and an expert in water resource issues as well as conflict resolution, this event should provide a unique opportunity to explore real-world environmental problems from a more philosophical, even spiritual perspective.

"In resolving conflicts over water management, there actually is a very high success rate and a global history of peaceful negotiation, rather than armed hostilities," Wolf said. "But the process itself can be painfully long and drawn out, sometimes taking decades while ecosystems are falling apart. We need to find ways we can more quickly move towards the needed compromises and agreements."

A breakthrough in such processes, Wolf said, often comes when the parties begin to look beyond their own demands and see what the broader societal needs are, in something like a water basin that may cut across many political and cultural boundaries. And that process of "getting outside of yourself" and trying to consider the greater world around you, the needs of the broader community, is also found in one other important area - spiritual transformation.

"The tools we often work with, such as rational discussion and economic inducements, are fine up to a point," Wolf said. "But the breakthroughs in these conflicts are often rooted in philosophical and psychological change of the participants.

"We think there's a great deal here we can learn from the spiritual and religious community," Wolf added. "And the science community, in turn, may have some ideas that will be useful to problems rooted in religious differences. I'm optimistic that this discussion could lead to something profoundly important."

Among the ideas to be explored at this meeting are:

  • Does the world of spiritual transformation have tools or approaches that may help bolster the difficult dynamics of international environmental negotiations?
  • Does the rich record of success in water negotiations offer approaches to other complex problems, including those with a religious underpinning?
  • How do the world's religions address environmental protection?
  • What does personal transformation in a spiritual context offer to the process of watershed transformation?
  • Can aspects of spiritual transformation - guided imagery, prayer, ceremony, silence or transformative listening - be of value in resolving environmental conflicts?
  • How does personal faith affect decision making?

There are 25 invited participants in the conference, including religious, political, agency and even military leaders.

They represent countries from the United States to Nepal, Jordan, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Botswana, the Netherlands and others. The event will be from Oct. 13-15 at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican.

It is supported by an $800,000 grant from the Carnegie Corp. of New York, for this conference and others like it on the general topic of conflict resolution. With that funding, OSU and the Pacific Institute also recently brought together a different but equally diverse group - arms control experts and water resource managers.

The immediate and practical goal of the conference, Wolf said, is to identify mechanisms that could reduce the risks of water conflicts, improve the success of negotiations between groups and nations, and develop new tools for conflict resolution.

But those tools, he said, will likely have a wide range of applications far beyond the problems of water resources.

Story By: 

Aaron Wolf, 541-737-2722


CORVALLIS - A soil scientist at Oregon State University has discovered that adding additional organic matter to Oregon's forest soils may actually increase rather than hinder the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Researcher Elizabeth Sulzman's findings fly in the face of what scientists believe about long-term carbon storage by soils and their potential role in ameliorating global climate change.

Sulzman's work - presented at the recent national Ecological Society of America meeting and soon to be published in the international journal Biogeochemistry - shows that the additional organic matter, in the form of conifer needles, may actually prime soil microorganisms to degrade both the new, as well as older, more stable soil carbon stores.

Working at the National Science Foundation-funded H.J. Andrews Long-Term Ecological Research site, located in Oregon's Central Cascade mountain range, Sulzman has shown that exposing forest soils to twice the normal amount of organic matter increased soil carbon releases by 34 percent more than expected. Rather than storing carbon, the additional material fueled a boom of microbial activity that further decomposed soil carbon reserves - ultimately resulting in a net loss of carbon from the soil, returning it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

From roots to decaying wood, there is a tremendous amount of organic material stored beneath the earth's surface. Depending on the forest, 30-50 percent of tree weight can be below ground. Soil microorganisms work to transform all plant material, both above and below ground, into pools of carbon that can remain in the soil for thousands of years.

As soils warm, microbial activity increases. Therefore, soils typically lose more carbon under warmer conditions. "If climate change leads to even warmer temperatures, we could have even greater carbon loss from these soils," said Sulzman, an assistant professor in OSU's Department of Crop and Soil Science. "This would be a double whammy for atmospheric carbon dioxide levels."

It is well-documented that plants are able to use elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide to enhance their growth, a seemingly fortuitous by-product of pollution. But the work of Sulzman and others is finding that above-ground productivity doesn't necessarily translate into long-term storage of carbon below ground, as has long been assumed.

For the past several years, government policies have promoted land management activities designed to store carbon in the soil, so-called carbon sequestration, as a way to mitigate rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. While attempting to better understand forest carbon dynamics and the potential for carbon sequestration in these lands, Sulzman's work has given scientists grounds to question this logic.

"It goes against conventional wisdom," said Sulzman's East Coast collaborator, Richard Bowden, an associate professor at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. Bowden is a researcher at the Harvard Forest Long-Term Ecological Research site in Massachusetts.

"If we add more organic matter, soil should store more carbon," he said. "But if we add organic matter and lose it faster for as yet unknown reasons, we need to think seriously about how well soils can store carbon."

Forest management options, such as leaving slash on the ground or removing it through harvests or burns, subsequently have impacts on carbon storage. "When any management alters the forest floor it has implications for carbon storage, which must be considered," said Sulzman.

"We don't know how forests are really working, and we're asking them to clean up our carbon dioxide pollution," pointed out Bowden, adding that a better understanding of both how forests work as well as their limitations is needed to inform forest policy. "These findings are causing us to rethink our understanding of soil biology at this and other forests where we are conducting these experiments," said Kate Lajtha, a professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at OSU and a colleague of Sulzman.

Sulzman, a scientist with OSU's Agricultural Experiment Station, is collaborating with scientists all over the world in an attempt to better define below-ground processes that control carbon dynamics. Her work is vital to the debate as it's the only research of its kind being conducted in conifer systems. As such, it will also play a role in future forest management.


Elizabeth Sulzman, 541-737-8936