OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

environment and natural resources

OSU study examines uneven approaches to evaluating Measure 37 claims

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Since the passage of Measure 37 in 2004, government officials have been grappling with its implementation in cities and counties throughout the state. The ballot measure enables landowners to seek compensation if their property values are reduced by land use regulations. But how should a reduction in value be determined?

A new study published this week by Oregon State University Extension Service examines the uneven way that Measure 37 claims have been evaluated across the state. In particular, the study looks at the economics of determining if, and to what degree, a “reduction in value” was caused by a land use regulation.

The study compares two approaches to calculating reduction in value: the “single exemption” approach used by most local governments throughout the state which relies on standard appraisal methods; and the “before-and-after” approach used by the Portland Metro Council.

The two approaches to calculating “reduction in value” will nearly always lead to different dollar estimates, according to William Jaeger and Andrew Plantinga, economists in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences and the authors of the report.

“In fact,” Jaeger said, “there appear to be many cases where one approach will lead to approval of a Measure 37 claim, while the other approach would lead to denial of the claim.”

The study finds that the standard appraisal methods used in the “single exemption” approach do not consider how land markets – supply and demand – are affected by the land use regulations. The authors suggest that this approach is misleading, and ultimately invalid, as a way to determine whether land use regulations have caused a reduction in value or for estimating the amount of reduction.

“The potential change in value when removing a regulation from one single property does not take into consideration what the market effects of that regulation were when it was applied to many properties,” Jaeger said. “Giving one landowner a single exemption may create ‘monopoly benefits’ that are a result of the regulations but not available to other landowners.”

In contrast, the Portland Metro Council takes a before-and-after approach to see whether there is evidence of a reduction in value for a property. They calculate the market value of the land before land use regulations were enacted, adjusting for inflation, and compare that figure to the property’s current market value.

This approach has led Portland Metro to deny all seven of the claims they have evaluated so far. By contrast, those local governments taking the “single exemption” approach have almost always validated the claims.

“Calculating changes to a single property will almost always lead to the conclusion that there has been a reduction in value, even when the value of the property actually increased following introduction of the land use regulations,” Jaeger said.

“An individual waiver is like a monopoly,” he added. “Exempting one property owner from a land use regulation may be valuable, but that value may be due to the fact that other land owners are denied that same exemption.”

According to the study, the value of a “single exemption” cannot be equated to the reduction in market value caused by a regulation. The effects of applying a regulation to many properties are not reversed by removing that regulation from one single property.

To prove their point, the authors looked at the current Measure 37 claims surrounding the Portland area and evaluated what would happen if the urban growth boundary were removed. Based on this “single exemption” approach, they found that Portland would be more than three and one-half times its current size.

One implication is that there will be cases, perhaps many cases, where the “single exemption” approach will indicate a valid Measure 37 claim when, in fact, no reduction in value has occurred.

“Across Oregon there is a widely held perception that land use regulations are denying many landowners lucrative opportunities. But this perception fails to recognize the direct and indirect ways that the land use regulations themselves have increased land values.” Plantinga said.

When land use regulations limit development, these limitations can preserve the surrounding areas, maintain open space, or protect groundwater resources. In short, these regulations protect the kinds of amenities that, over time, become valuable attributes for the first parcel of land that is developed, surrounded by lands that are restricted to development.

“This added value stems from the regulation that has kept all other landowners from developing their land first, or from using their land in ways that would detract from the existing amenities, such as junk yards, gravel pits, or incinerators,” Plantinga said.

The study concludes that in order to calculate the reduction in value of Measure 37 claims in a credible, valid and accurate way, governments must compare “before-and-after” (the approach used by the Portland Metro Council) or “with-and-without” situations where the land use regulations are either applied, or removed, from all relevant properties. To do this they must use something other than standard appraisal methods.

“There are many issues related to Measure 37 that the legislature needs to consider, but unless they recognize how the issues are distorted by using an invalid measure of reduction in value, the other questions are going to be much more difficult to address,” Jaeger said.

To view the entire report, “The Economics Behind Measure 37,” go to: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pdf/em/em8925.pdf

Source: 

William Jaeger,
541-737-1419

 

Conference to analyze impact of climate change on forests

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A conference on Feb. 13-14 at Oregon State University will outline the findings of leading researchers on the dramatic changes, difficult challenges and possible opportunities facing Pacific Northwest forests as a result of global climate change.

Scientists will explore a future that will likely produce warmer temperatures, reduced snow pack, lower summer stream flows, changing tree species, and increased vulnerability to insect epidemics or catastrophic fire – but also one in which humans can manage forests to address some of these concerns, and use forests and forest products to help store atmospheric carbon and mitigate the effects of global warming.

The meeting, which is open to the public, will unveil a new book on these topics, titled “Forests, Carbon and Climate Change.” The report was produced as a collaborative project of the OSU College of Forestry, Oregon Department of Forestry, and the Oregon Forest Resources Institute.

Attendance is free, but pre-registration is required. Details on the conference, agenda, speakers and registration can be found at the OFRI web site, at http://www.oregonforests.org/conferences/carbon

“The impact of climate change on our forests is going to be dramatic,” said Hal Salwasser, dean of the OSU College of Forestry, and author of the introduction in the new book.

“Forests are going to be significantly affected by climate change, and this will almost certainly call for a change in the way we manage them,” Salwasser said. “At the same time, forests have a powerful role to play in helping to offset the severity of global warming, and there is much we can do to prepare for the future if we start now. It is time to pay more attention to this issue and begin to act.”

In his introduction, Salwasser points out that forests have repeatedly undergone vast changes in response to the ebb and flow of Ice Ages, other prehistoric shifts in Earth’s climate and even the arrival of the first people in North America thousands of years ago. The process is not new, he said, and the past can provide a guide to the future. This time, scientific research will provide a better understanding of what changes to expect and how to minimize their impacts, though we will have to adapt to faster climate change than did our predecessors, Salwasser said.

“The changes are already under way,” Salwasser said. “In coming years we will likely see tree species shifting north in latitude and up in elevation. We’ll need to reduce drought stress through increased thinning, and prepare for increases in fire intensity and more insect outbreaks.”

Salwasser said he would recommend – right now – that forest land owners plant a diversity of tree species and do some experimentation with seedlings from warmer growing zones.

In the long run, the management of Pacific Northwest forests will need to be done in consideration of global warming, including its causes and possible ways to mitigate the effects.

“We have to be realistic and approach the concerns globally,” Salwasser said. “For instance, deforestation in the tropics is still putting about one-fourth the carbon dioxide into our atmosphere as all fossil fuel emissions combined, so this is a huge problem – and not one we can realistically offset with more forest growth in temperate zones.”

Internationally, some way must be found to help the developing world make economic progress without the destruction of their native forests, Salwasser said, and in the U.S., ways must be identified to stop the conversion of forests to urban areas – the nation is losing about one million acres of forest a year this way.

Depending on the predictive model used, the Pacific Northwest faces increased temperatures of 7 to 8.5 degrees (Fahrenheit) by late in this century, the report said, dwarfing the amount of change during the past century. The impacts on fish may be severe – more precipitation falling as rain instead of snow, lower summer stream flows, warmer stream temperatures. And fire is a huge variable – without aggressive programs to thin forests or use controlled fire, catastrophic fires could move through the Pacific Northwest landscape, releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and further compounding global warming.

Programs that grow vigorous new trees, harvest the timber and turn it into durable wood products are one way of storing carbon and addressing the problems, Salwasser said. Conservation of high carbon-storing old forests will be part of the solution. Also, creating energy from biomass instead of allowing uncontrolled wildfire can be a valuable tool.

Other presenters at the conference will discuss such topics as the carbon cycle, climate change at multiple scales, the effect of climate change on vegetation growth, management approaches to a changing climate, a “skeptic’s view” of this issue, opportunities for carbon storage, potential revenue from the trading of carbon “credits,” the West Coast Governors’ Global Warming Initiative, and other topics.

“There are still things we need to learn, but we already know enough to get started,” Salwasser said. “The scientific consensus is that global warming is happening and we must learn how to adapt to it. Nowhere are the challenges, or the opportunities, any greater than in our forests.”

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Hal Salwasser,
541-737-1585

Study finds net energy of biofuels comes at a high cost

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new economic analysis of biofuels by Oregon State University sets a cautionary tone for the large-scale production of biofuels in Oregon. Results of the study suggest that the “net energy” of biofuel is expensive when all costs of its production and delivery are taken into account.

The study was released this week by a team of economists in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences that included William Jaeger, Robin Cross and Thorsten Egelkraut.

By subtracting the energy spent to produce raw materials and to process and transport the biofuel, the researchers found that the cost of the net gain in energy for these biofuels may be more than seven times higher in some cases when compared to gasoline.

“There is a commercial market for biofuels in Oregon given current subsidies,” Jaeger said. “But success in the marketplace doesn’t mean cost-effectiveness in achieving the state’s goals of energy independence and reducing greenhouse emissions.”

The study was prompted by increasing interest in domestically grown biofuels as an alternative to foreign imports of oil. The economists examined three biofuel options for Oregon: ethanol made from corn, ethanol made from wood cellulose, and biodiesel made from canola.

For each option, the researchers examined the cost of production, its contribution to energy independence and its environmental impact in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. They calculated “net energy” as the amount of energy in the biofuel minus the amount of energy it takes to produce, process, and transport the biofuel.

Their results suggest that ethanol made from wood cellulose produced the greatest net energy, netting 84 percent of its energy after production fuel costs were subtracted. Biodiesel made from canola netted 69 percent of its energy after subtracting production fuel costs. And ethanol made from corn netted a mere 20 percent of its energy after subtracting the energy spent to produce it.

The economists combined net energy calculations with estimates of production costs and greenhouse gas emissions and compared the results with similar calculations for gasoline and diesel. They found that each of the three biofuel options would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but at a significant cost. For example, the cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by switching to corn-based ethanol was calculated to be more than 200 times higher than other existing policy options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A number of factors limit the economic viability of biofuels in Oregon, Jaeger explained. For example, relatively little corn is grown in Oregon compared to the Midwest, so corn for ethanol would need to be imported from other parts of the country. Canola and wood-based cellulose are both available in Oregon and Washington; however the production of canola is limited and the production of wood-based ethanol is not yet commercially viable.

The co-products or byproducts created during biofuel production add another variable to the economic picture.

“Many of these products – meal, glycerin or lignin – have energy and market value in their own right,” Jaeger said. “Canola meal left over after extracting the oil can be fed to livestock. But, if canola were to contribute just one percent of Oregon’s current petroleum energy consumption, enough canola meal would be produced to feed five times the number of cows we currently raise in the state.”

For comparison, the authors calculated that the net energy benefits from increasing automobile fuel efficiency by one mile per gallon would be equivalent to three or four corn ethanol plants or 13 biodiesel plants like those evaluated in their report.

The study focused on three large-scale biofuels options, but did not evaluate on-farm or small-scale production and distribution. The authors point out that their estimates are based on current technologies and prices, and that future trends could shift the prospects for these biofuels positively or negatively.

Based on their analysis, the authors concluded that these three biofuel options appear to be a costly way to achieve limited progress toward energy independence or reduce greenhouse emissions in Oregon.

“Biofuels and bioproducts have an important role to play in Oregon’s future, but Oregon’s approach will be different than the Midwest’s,” said Bill Boggess, executive associate dean of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “We need to carefully consider what bioproducts make sense in Oregon for the long-term and focus research on economically sustainable bio-based energy systems.”

To view the entire report, “Biofuel Potential in Oregon: Background and Evaluation Options” and its summary, go to: arec.oregonstate.edu

Source: 

William Jaeger,
541-737-1419

OSU Extension teams with community partners to test Sweet Home well water

SWEET HOME, Ore. – An Oregon State University Extension Service program is teaming with the Sweet Home Rotary Club and other partners to offer free well water testing in the area.

Analytical Laboratories & Consultants of Eugene also is playing a key role in the project.

Sweet Home area residents who pre-register for a class on well management will receive the free water tests, choosing from three different sessions – one on Saturday, Feb. 3, from 10 to 11:45 a.m., and the others on Thursday, Feb. 8, from 1:30 to 3:15 p.m. and 6 to 7:45 p.m. Classes will be held at the Sweet Home School District administration building board room, 1920 Long Street in Sweet Home.

Water samples will be tested for nitrates, coliform bacteria and arsenic, said Gail Andrews, coordinator of the OSU Extension Service’s Well Water Program. The arsenic samples will go to the Analytical lab in Eugene, which is doing the testing at a reduced cost for this community project. A microbiologist has volunteered to test the bacteria samples, and the Lebanon Hospital is allowing her to use their incubator. Trained students and community volunteers will screen the samples for nitrate during the class.

“It’s the great community involvement that has allowed this project to come together,” Andrews said. “The Sweet Home area is one of the few regions in Oregon that has had widespread arsenic in groundwater that supplies the water to wells used for drinking.

“In Oregon, household well owners aren’t required to test their water and it’s possible that people in the area may unknowingly be drinking water that contains arsenic.”

Interested persons may register for the class and pick up sample bottles from now through Feb. 7 from the Sweet Home Community Pool, the Sweet Home Boys and Girls Club, or the Sweet Home Forest Service Ranger Station during their regular business hours.

The OSU Well Water Program has held numerous such classes and workshops throughout Oregon, Andrews said, but usually tests only for nitrates. Testing for arsenic and bacteria is more expensive. However, a grant obtained by the Sweet Home Rotary Club will help pay for tests to the first 100 residents living in the region as outlined by area code – Sweet Home (97386), Foster (97345), Crawfordsville (97336) and Cascadia (97329).

For more information on safe drinking water from household wells, visit the OSU Well Water Program’s website at http://wellwater.oregonstate.edu

“It’s an important test,” Andrews said, “and the class will provide valuable information on proper care of household wells and drinking water safety.”

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Gail Andrews,
541-737-6294

Andrews Forest nominated for major national research effort

BLUE RIVER, Ore. – Leaders of the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in the central Cascade Range of Oregon this month officially nominated it to become a core research site in NEON, the most ambitious and comprehensive ecological observation program ever planned in the United States.

If the effort is successful, this research site will become the primary biological “representative” of western Oregon and Washington, parts of northern California and southeastern Alaska – a huge Pacific Northwest land area that runs from the Pacific Ocean to the eastern edge of the Cascade Range.

Major construction programs, new research infrastructure, scientific instrumentation and other initiatives would turn the forest into one of the most intensively monitored ecosystem sites in the world, and part of a national initiative that will be supported by the National Science Foundation and managed by a new private entity, NEON, Inc.

The Andrews Forest is now operated by Oregon State University and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service as part of NSF’s Long Term Ecological Research system. But under NEON, it would undergo a quantum transformation to help answer some of the world’s most pressing ecological issues.

“The National Ecological Observatory Network, or NEON, is seen as the way the address some of what we call the grand challenge questions,” said Barbara Bond, a professor of forest science at OSU and co-director of the Andrews Forest. “These are things like predicting climate change, managing invasive species, or understanding the ecology of infectious disease.

“The type of integrated technology that NEON will provide will give us the big answers to the big questions,” she added.

Only one “core” research site will be chosen to represent large parts of a four-state, Pacific Northwest region, and experts say that the Andrews Forest – as a result of its history, ecological research orientation, location, elevation, over 50 years of existing data, geology, vegetation and many other features – is ideally suited to be that site. In particular, the H.J. Andrews is dominated by a sloping, hilly topography, a departure from the flatland locations that will be used in many other NEON sites, but hilly or mountainous terrain similar to a vast portion of the American West.

Besides these “core” research sites, other smaller ecological monitoring facilities would be set up at different locations, perhaps including one or more “land use gradients” that could include a site in downtown Portland, areas near the Portland and Eugene urban fringe, and extending into the Cascades.

The core research site would include a new, 3,000-square-foot headquarters building, several large monitoring towers, a tree canopy microclimate system, and other technology that would convert the area into a “cyber forest,” with sophisticated new instrumentation sending back constant streams of data about everything from air movement to pollutant monitoring and stable isotope composition.

Each of 20 core NEON sites around the nation, including Alaska and Hawaii, will have similar technology, instruments, research protocols, and coordinated scientific approaches so that data at various sites can be combined to answer ever more complex questions, using such things as advanced computation, computer modeling and ecological studies at all time and geographic scales.

Researchers at OSU in the College of Forestry and College of Engineering, in fact, are already working to create some of the advanced technology that will be used in NEON – novel ways to provide power for instruments to study the interactions among climate, soils, and vegetation.

Millions of dollars have already been spent by the National Science Foundation just in planning NEON, and millions more are in the budget for this year awaiting final Congressional approval. Organizers hope the plan will link studies from the genome to the biosphere, and dramatically improve both our understanding of nature and the effects of human interaction with it.

Managing the Earth in a sustainable fashion for future generations, scientists say, requires better answers to what are being called the “grand challenges.” The National Research Council identified these critical environmental questions in 2001, and they include questions about biodiversity, biogeochemical cycles, climate change, hydroecology, infectious disease, invasive species and land use. At stake, scientists say, is sustained ecosystem function, management of a changing planet, supplies of clean water, defense against new and spreading diseases, and human welfare.

“The ecological changes we will face in the United States are enormous, and it’s going to take the type of infrastructure envisioned by NEON to address them,” Bond said. “This is clearly the way to go. I’m guessing that only in hindsight will we really appreciate just how valuable this initiative is, the way it will empower us to answer questions we otherwise just could not tackle.”

In addition to becoming a key player in the NEON initiative, Bond said, the increased monitoring and technology made possible by that plan would greatly enhance the current work at the Andrews Forest. Already well known for its old-growth and watershed science studies that have helped shape major forest management policy changes in the U.S., the Andrews Forest now is employing some of the same type of sensor engineering, mathematical and computer systems, and social science studies that NEON proposes.

“At the Andrews we already have one of the premier forestry research sites in the world, including programs integrating forestry with the humanities that are a model for the nation,” Bond said. “NEON would only make these programs better.”

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Barbara Bond,
541-737-6110

History of forest battles offers view to future

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Some of the changing social values and demands to ensure “species viability” that ultimately caused the collapse of national forest management plans in the 1980s and 90s have been addressed, scientists say, but other topics still have similar potential for conflict.

A historical analysis by researchers at Oregon State University, published in the professional journal Forest Policy and Economics, concluded that many lessons have been learned by management agencies following the contentious battles of the last 20 years, when one Forest Service management plan after another was invalidated by courts due to inadequate measures to protect wildlife species.

A fundamental change has taken place in management agencies, which now incorporate ecological science much more heavily into their decisions, have a greater understanding of what it takes to protect habitats and species, and have raised the bar in terms of protecting species at the expense of dramatically lower timber harvests on public lands.

But the heightened attention being paid to species protection, researchers say in their report, is no guarantee that other forest management controversies based on different conflicts won’t result in the same “crisis management and angry voices” that have become the undesirable norm in recent decades.

“Some lessons have been learned, and some changes made in regulations as a result of different political administrations,” said Sally Duncan, policy research director with the Institute for Natural Resources at OSU. “But substantive change is a very slow process and there will be more crises in forest management; you can count on that. It may just be in different areas.”

This analysis was done, researchers say, to help determine why forest plans developed in the 1980s and ‘90s so regularly ended up in court, and why “ad hoc” groups of scientists who examined the plans so consistently concluded that they did not allow for enough species protection – beginning with the northern spotted owl, but later broadening to concerns much beyond that.

“The plans crafted by the Forest Service in the 1980s were universally deemed inadequate,” said Jonathan Thompson, an OSU doctoral candidate in the Department of Forest Science. “We wanted to understand how the same basic set of laws and regulations could result in such completely different conclusions, and hopefully learn how these types of problems might be avoided in the future.”

The issues that led to forest management gridlock began with the rise of the modern environmental movement in the 1960s, and were intertwined with the post-World War II demand for more housing, increasing urbanization, and timber production gradually giving way to a view of forests as places valuable for recreation, fish and wildlife protection, and scenery.

The Forest Service had become “by default a timber agency” and struggled to adapt to these social changes and ever more conflicting mandates, the report noted, and like many large bureaucratic institutions was reluctant to change.

A host of environmental laws passed in the 1960s and ‘70s added to the pressures, membership in environmental groups surged, and interest groups became adept at using court challenges to halt timber sales. As forest plans began to fail, specialized science groups were appointed to examine the types of species protection provided in these plans, and frequently found them inadequate.

“The species protection standards were very new, and the regulations were often vague, hard to interpret, sometimes almost impossible to achieve,” Thompson said. “Management agencies often did not have the scientific background, ecological expertise or the latest data, all of which were available to the groups examining their plans, and the scientists and agencies often came to very different conclusions.”

Prior to the 1980s, the researchers noted, ecological science was often a minor part of forest plans and scientists in that field were rarely consulted. Now it has become a primary force in these plans and some scientists are being criticized for being “too involved” in policy issues and management decisions.

Another hypothesis the study explored was the level of risk to species. At first, many forest planners believed that a few, isolated old-growth reserves would take care of most species concerns. But for the northern spotted owl, necessary room for protection rose from an initial estimate of 30 acres to 3,000. By the early 1990s, the number of species under consideration was more than 1,000. Species protection moved from a minor constraint on timber production to a driver of planning and management.

The end result of all these forces, researchers said, was a major decrease in timber production from public lands, a disruption of traditional approaches used by the Forest Service, a groundswell of environmental awareness and concern, and major political and court fights.

Many participants interviewed in the research, the study authors said, now feel that problems with species protection are largely in the past, that management agency approaches have changed, more science is being used in plan development, and a broad body of case law is now available to add consistency to the process – at least so far as it relates to species viability.

But the broader controversies of recent years, the study noted, showed a process “crippled by the incremental nature of scientific understanding, institutional problems, and larger social dynamics” – forces that have not gone away.

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Sally Duncan,
541-737-9918

Pesticide Roundup nets 17,000 pounds of toxics; more to come in February

EUGENE, Ore. – Hauling bulging sacks and rusting containers, more than 50 farmers turned in old pesticides, fertilizers, and solvents in Lane County's first agricultural chemical collection program last November. Now organizers are set to repeat the success in an upcoming collection effort, sponsored by the Oregon State University Extension Service and other local agencies.

Farmers in the McKenzie River and Middle Fork Willamette watersheds brought in more than 17,000 pounds of agricultural chemicals, according to one of the organizers, Ross Penhallegon, a horticulturalist with the OSU Extension Service in Lane County.

“It was truly amazing to see all the old chemicals that came in,” said Penhallegon. “Obsolete pesticides such as DDT, aldrin and chlordane, sacks of caked fertilizer, waste oil, solvents with no label…some of the old pesticides, especially those such as DDT, were taken off the market decades ago.”

Another collection event is scheduled in early February. The goal of this agricultural collection program is to remove potential groundwater contaminants out of the area and dispose of them properly at hazardous disposal sites, explained Penhallegon.

Participating growers were under an amnesty of sorts. Growers were invited to bring in and safely dispose of the hazardous waste from their farms, no questions asked and no disposal fees charged, on several days this past November. Normally disposing of hazardous waste from farms is prohibitively expensive for many growers.

“Until the collection event, most farmers had few options for disposing of unwanted chemicals, since many of the chemicals had become illegal to use,” Penhallegon said. The collection of the chemicals was handled by trained personnel and shipped to a hazardous waste disposal site near Kent, Wash.

The southern Willamette Valley is heavily dependent on well water for drinking and agriculture and is especially vulnerable to groundwater contamination, especially from nitrogen. Scientists from the OSU Extension Service, the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, along with other agencies and citizen volunteers have worked for more than 15 years to closely manage and protect the area’s aquifers.

Another similar event has been slated for Feb. 7-9 and Feb. 21 for commercial growers at the Glenwood Collection Center in Springfield. Farmers who would like to participate in this program need to complete a farm chemical survey and submit it to OSU Extension Service Lane County by Jan. 26.

The Eugene Water and Electric Board, Springfield Utility Board, Lane County Waste Management, the South Willamette Valley Groundwater Management Program and other local and state entities also sponsor the chemical collection program.

To learn more about the program contact:

• Amy Chinitz at 541-744-3745, if you live in the Middle Fork Watershed (i.e., south Springfield, Pleasant Hill, Jasper, Fall Creek, Lowell, Dexter, and Oakridge)

• Karl Morgenstern at 541-341-8552 or Nancy Toth at 541-344-6311, ext. 3318, if you live in the McKenzie Watershed (i.e., Leaburg, Marcola, Walterville, Vida, etc.)

• Ross Penhallegon at 541-682-4243 or Audrey Eldridge at 541-776-6010, ext. 223, if you live in the Upper Willamette (i.e., Eugene, Cheshire, Coburg, Junction City, Veneta, etc.)

For further information or to print off the survey form, visit the OSU Extension Service Lane County website at: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/lane/horticulture/index.php.

Source: 

Ross Penhallegon,
541-682-4243

Environmental Author, Panel to Consider Future

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A prominent environmental author and scholar will be interviewed in a panel discussion at Oregon State University on Thursday, Jan. 25, exploring the topic “What Are Our Obligations to Future Generations?”

David Orr, a pioneer of environmental literacy in higher education, author of five books and a distinguished professor of environmental studies at Oberlin College, will be the featured speaker at the event, which will be from 2-3 p.m. in the Memorial Union, Journey Room. The discussion is free and open to the public.

Panelists posing questions to Orr include Charlie Tomlinson, mayor of Corvallis; Courtney Campbell, chair of the OSU Department of Philosophy; Cristina Eisenberg, OSU graduate student and president of the Graduate Student Association of the OSU College of Forestry; and Kathleen Dean Moore, OSU philosophy professor and author of “The Pine Island Paradox.”

The event is sponsored by the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word; and the Starker Lectures in the OSU College of Forestry.

Orr and the panelists will explore such topics as the fossil fuels we burn or conserve; the toxins we choose, or choose not to introduce into the air and water, the natural resources we mine or steward, and the carelessness or creativity brought to important decisions that may affect future generations.

Orr is the author of five books, including “Earth in Mind” and “The Last Refuge: Patriotism, Politics, and the Environment,” and editor of The Campus and Environmental Responsibility.

Orr will also deliver a Starker Lecture, "To Ourselves and our Posterity: Climate Change and the Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property," at 4 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 25 in the CH2M-Hill Alumni Center, Cascade Ballroom 110.

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Charles Goodrich,
541-737-6198

'Getting Biofuels Right' Topic of Lecture at OSU

CORVALLIS, Ore. – “Getting Biofuels Right: The Biofuel vs. Food and Environment Dilemma” is the subject of a free public lecture at Oregon State University on Monday, Feb. 25, by G. David Tilman, an ecologist with the University of Minnesota.

The lecture begins at 7 p.m. in the C&E Auditorium at OSU’s LaSells Stewart Center.

Tilman’s presentation is part of a 2007-08 OSU lecture series called “Food for Thought: History, Technology, Gastronomy,” sponsored by the university’s Horning Endowment in the Humanities, in collaboration with the Outreach in Biotechnology Program.

Concerns over rising oil prices and greenhouse gases from fossil fuels have caused biofuels to be touted as a solution to both our energy and climate change dilemmas. Yet available biofuels, Tilman says, offer no real solution. Corn ethanol and soybean biodiesel provide small energy gains, but both directly and indirectly release more greenhouse gas than fossil fuels. Moreover, any food-based biofuels made by converting rain forests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands release substantially more carbon dioxide than the annual greenhouse gas reductions that these biofuels provide by displacing fossil fuels.

In this lecture, Tilman suggests solutions: Biofuels can be produced from perennials grown on agriculturally degraded lands without displacing food production or causing loss of biodiversity through habitat destruction. Similarly, biofuels made from waste biomass, manure, corn stover, forest slash, or thinnings offer immediate and sustained advantages and net energy gains.

Tilman is the Regents’ Professor and McKnight Presidential Chair in Ecology at the University of Minnesota, and director of the university’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. His research explores how managed and natural ecosystems can sustainably meet human needs for food, energy, and ecosystem services.

He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. Tilman was founding editor of the journal Ecological Issues. His many awards include the Ecological Society of America’s Cooper Award and its MacArthur Award, the Botanical Society of America’s Centennial Award, and the Princeton Environmental Prize.

He has written or edited five books and published more than 200 papers in peer-reviewed literature, making him the world’s most highly cited environmental scientist for 1990–2000 and for 1996–2006, according to the Institute for Scientific Information.

The Food for Thought lecture series also is supported by the Wait and Lois Rising Lectureship Fund and the OSU history department.

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Elissa Curcio,
541-737-8560

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Prof. David Tilman, Director-Cedar Creek Natural History Area

G. David Tilman

Nitrogen study may improve accuracy of ecological predictions

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The pattern of nitrogen release from decaying plant material is remarkably similar and predictable across the planet, researchers have concluded in a new study, which should make it easier to understand nutrient dynamics, vegetation growth, estimate carbon release and sequestration, and better predict the impacts of climate change.

The findings, to be published Friday in the journal Science, are the results of one of the largest and longest studies ever done on nitrogen release during plant decomposition, involving dozens of researchers working for 10 years in 27 sites, ranging from Arctic tundra to tropical forests of North and Central America.

“The availability of nitrogen is one of the key factors limiting vegetation growth around the world, but its release from plant litter can be very slow,” said Mark Harmon, a professor of forest science at Oregon State University and the coordinator of the study. “For the first time, we studied this process at enough sites and over a long enough time period to really understand what’s happening.”

The surprise, researchers said, is that the basic pattern of nitrogen release is pretty much the same wherever it occurs, and is driven primarily by the initial concentration of nitrogen present in the decaying plant material. It has little to do with location, soil types, microbes present, or other factors.

The speed of the process is affected by climate, particularly temperature and precipitation, the study concluded. But the overall pattern, or “trajectory” of nitrogen release remains much the same regardless of the site.

There is significant interest in the way that nitrogen recycles in the ecosystem, scientists say, because it plays such a critical role in the growth of almost all vegetation – grasses, shrubs, trees and agricultural crops. The presence or absence of adequate amounts of nitrogen can often dictate what types of vegetation are able to survive in a certain area, and how quickly it grows. Very little of this nutrient is made available from geological sources.

Plant growth, in turn, is one of the main factors that affects the input or removal of carbon from the atmosphere – an issue of growing importance during an era of global warming. Plant decomposition releases more carbon each year than all of the fossil fuel combustion produced by humans, the researchers note in their study.

“If we hope to better predict carbon dynamics, climate change and other issues, we first must understand these basic ecological processes,” Harmon said.

In plant decomposition, it’s not unusual for the microbes which are decomposing the plant matter to first retain nitrogen from the dying plants and other sources, until they have all they need for the decomposition process, Harmon said. This “immobilization” of nitrogen can actually cause a reduction in available soil nitrogen for an extended period of years, until at some point the plant material is sufficiently broken down that nitrogen in excess of decomposer needs becomes available.

It had been thought that this process might be highly variable, depending on several interacting factors. In fact, the study found that it is pretty predictable, affected primarily just by the initial nitrogen concentration in the plant material which is decaying.

“It was really surprising to see how similar these processes were across wide geographic and climatic scales,” Harmon said. “The basic trajectory is much the same regardless of many variables. A fairly simple model can accurately predict it.”

The overall decomposition process, he said, does speed up in warmer or wetter conditions, which many anticipate as a result of climate change and global warming. In that event, nitrogen should more rapidly be made available to plants, at least initially spurring increased vegetation growth and offsetting carbon losses from increased decomposition.

Less clear is the overall long-term impact on carbon sequestration and storage, Harmon said. That may depend on whether the growth that occurs is in the form of vegetation parts that quickly die, such as leaves, or in wood that lives much longer. So whether increased vegetation growth on a global basis will increase enough to offset global warming is still uncertain, he said, and requires further study.

This research, called the Long-Term Inter-site Decomposition Experiment, or LIDET study, was funded by the Long Term Ecological Studies program of the National Science Foundation. Participants included OSU, Colorado State University, University of California/Berkeley, LSI Logic, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, Northern Arizona University, and 23 other institutions that conducted the field work.

A wide range of “biomes,” or general types of ecosystems, were included in the research to increase its applicability on a global scale. Among the sites was the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in the Cascade Range of Oregon, one of the state’s leading programs of long term ecological research.

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