environment and natural resources


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


CORVALLIS - Environmental philosophers, Christian, Buddhist and Islamic scholars, a noted astronomer and a Pulitzer Prize-winning Native American author will join forces at Oregon State University Oct. 28-30 for a special symposium examining the relationship between nature and different conceptions of sacredness.

Called "Nature and the Sacred: A Fierce Green Fire," the symposium will be held at LaSells Stewart Center in Corvallis. Cost is $90. Registration information and the entire schedule of the symposium is available at http://oregonstate.edu/cla/natureandsacred.

"The symposium is going to be a creative conversation about the relation of nature to the sacred and what that means in our lives," said Charles Goodrich, an instructor with the Spring Creek Project at OSU. "The diversity of our speakers is exceptional. Experiencing their wisdom and their insights will be inspiring."

Leading off the symposium will be a lecture Thursday at 7 p.m. by N. Scott Momaday, one of the country's leading Native American scholars and authors, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, "House Made of Dawn."

Presenters on Friday and Saturday include:

  • Marcus Borg, the Hundere Chair in Religion and Culture at OSU and one of the nation's foremost biblical and historical Jesus scholars;


  • Joanna Macy, a leading peace activist and Buddhist scholar who wrote "Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age";


  • Kathleen Dean Moore, a distinguished professor of philosophy at OSU, an award-winning author and director of the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature and the Written Word;


  • Seyyid Hossein Nasr, a professor of Islam studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and one of the world's foremost scholars of Islam;


  • Chet Raymo, an astronomer and professor of physics at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, and a science columnist for the Boston Globe.

On Friday evening, Raymo will read from his works on astronomy in tandem with a performance by the Corvallis-OSU Symphony. The concert, says Goodrich, will be a "feast for the ears, the mind, the eyes, the heart."

"Imagine Haydn's 'Oratorio' along with readings in celebration of creation by astronomer Chet Raymo and images from the Hubble telescope of explosions at the beginning of time," Goodrich said. "Then, for the grand finale, the world premier of 'In the Beginning,' (OSU professor) Michael Coolen's piece for orchestra, choir and universe - it will be an exceptional evening of science, music and poetry."

The symposium will conclude on Saturday with a celebration of action on behalf of nature, Goodrich said. Saturday's program, "Catching Fire: Vision into Action," is free and open to the public. It will include readings by writers Susan Zwinger, John Daniel, Robin Kimmerer and others; a performance and workshop by African drumming group Common Pulse; a nature writing workshop; musical performances and poetry readings; mask making; and information tables and displays.

Story By: 

Charles Goodrich, 541-737-6198

Salmon experts: Current policies don't work; ideas unveiled

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Current efforts to save wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest and California almost certainly will fail. This appears to be the grim conclusion of 30 salmon scientists, policy analysts and wild salmon advocates participating in a year-long initiative to create policy options that would sustain wild runs of salmon in the West.

While agreeing that a new approach is needed, participants differ widely on what it will take to save wild salmon. Many of the suggested remedies - from reducing the population of the Northwest to removing major dams from rivers to advocating significant lifestyle changes - would likely be politically or culturally unpalatable. Yet their proponents say success would require that level of commitment.

Many of the prescriptions for sustaining wild salmon runs will get an opportunity to be presented and defended at a special symposium Sept. 15 in Anchorage, Alaska, on the final day of the annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society. About 2,000 fisheries scientists, managers, and other professionals are expected to attend the meeting.

The Salmon 2100 Project was organized by the Center for Water and Environmental Sustainability at Oregon State University, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency Research Laboratory in Corvallis.

"We're not asking the question about whether we should be saving wild salmon runs," said Robert T. Lackey, a senior fisheries biologist at EPA and a courtesy professor in the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. "That question is a value judgment that people ultimately will decide. Our goal was to have 30 people, from different backgrounds and perspectives, answer the question: What specific policies must be implemented in order to have a high probability of sustaining significant runs of wild salmon through 2100 in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and southern British Columbia?"

Lackey said that all participants believe there are policies that could safeguard wild salmon runs. Many of those recommendations, however, are contradictory, would require changes in the Endangered Species Act and other laws or would be unlikely to achieve public acceptance, he said.

OSU sociologist Denise Lach, also a project leader, said it was intriguing to note what policies were not suggested by the participants.

"No one suggested population control, abrogating Native American treaties, or shifting from hydropower to nuclear, coal or other types of fuel," she said. "And no one advocated stopping the harvest of salmon, which are the only endangered species that we actually still hunt."

The policy suggestions tend to fall into four general categories, the project leaders say.

One group of analysts believes the way to preserve runs is through science and engineering, and suggests a variety of actions ranging from using hatcheries to genetically modify fish to the creation of artificial streams and spawning channels that would bypass dams and areas of poor habitat. One prescriptive suggestion was to focus fiscal resources on fertilizing or otherwise improving the oceans environment rather than trying to improve habitat on land.

A number of proposals were regulatory in nature. Suggestions included reforming bureaucracies, creating a "salmon czar," establishing a Homeland Security-type of agency to oversee salmon protection and recovery, and implementing much stronger regulations aimed at improving and protecting habitat.

A third group of policy suggestions fit into what Lackey called a "triage approach," placing resources and regulatory approaches in specific areas that were more likely to be successful, and ignoring the huge political and societal obstacles associated with other major initiatives.

"There was a school of thought among the 'triage group' that sustaining wild salmon runs in the Columbia River and the Sacramento River would require removing the dams, and that simply was not going to happen in the view of these proponents," Lackey said. "If the dams are needed for generating power and providing water for irrigation and flood control, salmon are not going to be a priority, they say, so we'd be better off focusing our resources elsewhere, such as coastal streams."

Within that triage group, though, were others who suggested the United States and southern British Columbia adopt a "Yellowstone approach" to managing wild salmon runs, Lackey pointed out. In those proposals, salmon would be akin to the buffalo at Yellowstone, with certain watersheds set aside for protection. Such an approach would require a change in the Endangered Species Act.

The fourth group of policy suggestions involved a series of smaller actions, Lackey said.

"The general feeling of these people is that we've been getting into this problem since 1850, and it's been death by a thousand cuts," Lackey said. "So to make things right, we need to make improvements by a thousand smaller measures - fixing a bit of habitat here, improving a dam there."

The leaders of the Salmon 2100 Project - Lackey, Lach and Sally Duncan, a research associate with OSU's Department of Sociology - say they don't favor any single proposal or set of proposals. Their goal was to get the most creative thinking out of a wide range of people with different backgrounds.

"We don't have a dog in this fight," Lach said. "The participants represent the range of policy perspectives and they definitely don't agree amongst themselves - except on the point that current recovery efforts are not likely to be successful."

The American Fisheries Society will publish a book including all of the proposals this January. And in keeping with the spirit of the project, it will include no recommendations or consensus.

The participants will be identified as individuals, not as being affiliated with agencies or groups.

Lackey, Lach and Duncan initially conducted a careful analysis of the long-term future of wild salmon in the region and concluded that four "core policy drivers" will affect any attempt at creating new policies aimed at sustaining wild salmon runs. These four factors include priorities for commerce, increasing scarcity of natural resources, regional human population increases, and individual choices.

They note that the drive for economic efficiency and low-cost production - which they call the rules of commerce - works against increasing the number of wild salmon. If the supply of wild salmon becomes too small or too expensive, "we'll buy them from Chile, Scotland, or British Columbia, which is where most salmon come from now," Lackey said.

The key natural resource for wild salmon is water, and demands on it are increasing. Land use demands also are on the rise, degrading habitat. Both are affected by the third policy driver, which is population growth.

"This region is historically under populated, as demographers like to say," Lach said. "It is 'fill-in' country, and solid estimates are that we should expect four to five times the people here by 2100 that we have now. None of the policy suggestions are taking that into account. None. To a person, [project participants] say if that model is true, what's the use?"

The final deciding factor in creating new policies will be individual and collective choice, Duncan said. Saving wild salmon sounds noble, she points out. Changing behavior is more difficult.

"If you live in a house, send your kids to school, drive a car, and even go down to a fast-food joint for French fries, in a real sense, you are damaging salmon habitat," Duncan said. "Do we want comparatively cheap electricity or wild salmon? Are we willing to pass legislation that will take our private property and turn it into salmon habitat?

"Ultimately, it is possible that sustaining wild salmon may not be enough of a priority for people to choose it over their current lifestyles," she added. "It would be far less disruptive socially to decide simply that hatchery fish provide an acceptable alternative."

Story By: 

Robert T. Lackey, 541-7554-4607

Forecast: Analog year could mean extreme weather events

CORVALLIS - Climate forecasters predict the future by examining recent sea surface temperatures, regional climate patterns, and even Atlantic Ocean hurricanes - and this year these indicators show a close similarity to conditions prior to the winter of 1995-96.

If such a pattern holds true, says George Taylor, this winter in Oregon could be a doozy.

Taylor is a faculty member at Oregon State University who serves as the state climatologist. He said the 1995-96 fall and winter will long be remembered for a powerful wind storm in December, two ice storms, and the massive "100-year flood" in February, which closed schools, isolated communities, and caused millions of dollars of damage.

"It was a wild year," Taylor said. "And because there is a strong correlation between conditions during the first several months of this year and early in 1995, it would appear the chances for an extreme event this winter are quite high."

Every year Taylor makes a prediction for fall and winter weather based on a number of factors, culminating in selecting "analog years" that most closely resemble current conditions. He takes into account long-term wet and dry cycles (known as the multi-decadal phase), El Nino and La Nina episodes, sea level pressures, temperatures, wind speeds, solar cycles and even hurricanes, which have a surprisingly strong correlation to Northwest climate.

"Based on a composite of analyses, we are usually able to identify four or five analog years that had similar conditions during the first several months of the year, which helps us predict what the weather may be like in the fall and winter," Taylor said. "The 1995-96 year was weighted twice as strong as any other year.

"That doesn't mean the outcomes will be similar," he warned. "Let's just say things are leaning in the direction of extreme events and that an active year seems likely."

Taylor said the trend this fall and winter appears to be warmer and wetter than normal, throughout the state:

  • Oregon Coast: Temperatures will be above normal October-December and January-March; precipitation will be near normal October-December and above-normal January-March.
  • Willamette Valley: Temperatures will be above normal October-December and January-March; precipitation will be slightly above-normal October-December and above-normal for January-March.
  • Southwest Interior: Temperatures will be above normal October-December and January-March; precipitation will be slightly above-normal October-December and above-normal for January-March.
  • Northeast Oregon: Temperatures will be above normal October-December and January-March; precipitation will be slightly above-normal October-December and above-normal for January-March.
  • Southeast Oregon: Temperatures will be above normal October-December and January-March; precipitation will be slightly above-normal October-December and above-normal for January-March.

    Other analog years for 2005-06, and their extreme events, include 1952-53 (flooding and wind storms); 1973-74 (flooding); and 1969-70 (ice storms).

    Last year Taylor predicted a wet, early fall despite a summer drought and was right on the mark. He also correctly predicted a wet spring. But, he added, "we experienced a very dry mid-winter last year, and that is something we never anticipated."

    Taylor said every year his most frequent request is to predict whether it will snow in the low elevations. Every year, he disappoints his followers.

    "Snow is just so hard to predict," he said, ruefully. "The only thing we can say is that there's a better chance of snow after Jan. 1."

    In his annual forecast, which is available online at http://www.ocs.oregonstate.edu/index.html, Taylor gives ample room to his "competitors." The Country Farmers Almanac, for example, predicts snow flurries as early as December and "true winter weather" in February with severe snowstorms. Harris Almanac offers a forecast that is generally cooler and slightly drier than Taylor predicts. And the Old Farmers Almanac predicts a comparatively warm and wet winter - somewhat in line with Taylor.

    "Now we just wait and see what happens," Taylor said.

  • Story By: 

    George Taylor, 541-737-5694

    OSU Extension publishes new book on Oregon's eastside forests

    CORVALLIS - The Oregon State University Extension Service has published a new book, "Ecology and Management of Eastern Oregon Forests: A Comprehensive Manual for Forest Managers."

    The forests of eastern Oregon are diverse, as well as complex and the objectives of forest managers and owners are many. In modern times, these forests are in need of management, explained Stephen Fitzgerald, OSU Extension specialist and co-author of this 208-page illustrated book.

    "Lack of timely management action, early harvesting practices and fire suppression policies over thousands of acres and many decades has significantly reduced the value of many eastern Oregon forests, and increased their risk to fire, insects and disease," said Fitzgerald.

    Eastern Oregon has many types of forests, ranging from ponderosa pine to lodgepole pine to mixtures of pines and firs. Each provides multiple values to Oregon including clean water, recreation, wildlife habitat and a source for lumber.

    Active management can restore forest potentials and many of these values, according to Fitzgerald and OSU Extension forester Paul Oester, two of the authors of the new "Ecology and Management" book, also known as Manual 12.

    Other authors include William Emmingham, an emeritus OSU Extension silviculturist; Greg Filip, former OSU Extension forest pathologist; and W. Daniel Edge, OSU Extension fisheries and wildlife specialist.

    "The book is really a 'how to' manual that is well illustrated with color figures, tables and photos," said Fitzgerald. "Plus it contains thinning guidelines that help landowners decide how much to thin their particular forest."

    With nine chapters, the book explains forest ecology, silviculture, and management of ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, and mixed conifer forests. Other chapters cover insects and disease, reforestation methods, managing for range values and managing for wildlife.

    "If you are interested in solving this puzzle of complexity and successfully managing your east-side forestland, this manual is for you," he said.

    To preview a portion of book or download an order form off the web, go to: http://eesc.orst.edu/agcomwebfile/edmat/Manual12.pdf. The book costs $25 plus $5 shipping and handling. Or call 1-800-561-6719 to order.



    Stephen Fitzgerald, 541-548-6088

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    Study: Vast sagebrush ecosystems a victim of climate change?

    CORVALLIS, Ore. - The sagebrush lands of the Great Basin, one of the largest ecosystems in the United States, may be reduced to a fraction of their current area due to ecological changes already under way and climate shifts that will hasten their demise, a new study suggests.

    This vast, semi-arid region, dominated by frost-tolerant sagebrush and native grasses, is already suffering impacts from invasive species, fire suppression and the encroachment of other woody vegetation. The future will also bring increases in temperature that may allow frost-sensitive species from the Southwest to move hundreds of miles north and further displace the sagebrush, scientists say.

    These findings were presented recently at a professional meeting and are being published in the Transactions of the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference by researchers from Oregon State University and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service.

    The hottest climate scenario would reduce sagebrush to about 20 percent of its current area in the Great Basin, a fairly rapid change in hundreds of thousands of square miles of the American West. Increases in woody vegetation and fire are predicted. Only a few small areas of sagebrush in southern Wyoming, the northern edge of the Snake River plateau, and small areas of Washington, Oregon and Nevada are expected to survive and persist under all scenarios, researchers say.

    "Increases in temperature due to global warming will be the driving force in these changes, along with less-predictable changes in the summer rainfall regime," said Ronald Neilson, a professor of botany at OSU and ecologist with the Forest Service. "A major change will be that as the climate warms, woody vegetation now confined by cold temperatures to the Southwest may move into the higher plateaus of the Great Basin.

    "Given the flat nature of much of this terrain, once the woody vegetation gets up and over the 2,000-foot elevation, it will be like opening the floodgates," Neilson said.

    Changes in precipitation are most difficult to predict in future climate scenarios, said Neilson and Dominique Bachelet, an OSU associate professor of bioengineering. Earlier work by these researchers suggested both a decrease in frosts and increases in precipitation over much of the interior West, triggering a dramatic increase in wood expansion at the expense of sagebrush shrub land, and a corresponding increase in fire due to the increased fuel load.

    More problems with fire in the wild land-urban interface are also probable, the researchers said. The amount of fire suppression conducted by land managers is an unknown variable that will affect total vegetation growth, and could result in a dramatic increase of the overall biomass of these regions in future years, Bachelet said.

    "What's most certain is the rising temperature, which is going to allow a lot more oak, mesquite and invading grasses into new areas," Neilson said. "Precipitation is harder to predict and may be quite variable, due to inter-decadal climate patterns that appear to be getting even more volatile and intense. We could see some decade-long periods of drought during what should be a period of overall higher precipitation."

    There may actually be more plant and animal diversity under the new scenario than the sagebrush ecosystems of the past, the study indicated. And the increased amounts of vegetation in the Great Basin, inadvertently, might support a U.S. policy of increased carbon sequestration in ecosystems. But as huge areas of the American West face these changes in their ecology, some existing sagebrush ecosystem species may also go extinct.

    Seven different climate scenarios were considered in this study, and it's uncertain exactly which one will prevail. As models continue to get more refined they seem to be trending toward the hotter climate scenarios, Neilson said. And the rate of ecological change may be so rapid that the early winners will be invasive weeds that can travel easily and adapt to a wider range of conditions, he said.

    The existing sagebrush biome of the western U.S. is one of the two or three largest ecosystems in the nation, comparable to the Great Plains and the eastern deciduous forest. The system tends to be very hot in the summer and subject to recurring hard frosts in the winter - a climate to which hardy sagebrush with its deep roots is particularly suited. Sagebrush and the species associated with it - such as sage grouse, sage thrashers and pygmy rabbits - dominate large areas of Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and other western states.

    These ecosystems have already undergone intense changes since European settlement, with some estimates that intensive agriculture, grazing pressure and other impacts have reduced the sagebrush lands to less than half of their original size.

    "Aside from the findings of this study in particular, one thing I find most striking is the overarching impact of humans," Bachelet said. "We've brought fire suppression, air and water pollution, we've introduced competitive exotic species, and we are responsible for the incessant expansion of agricultural and urban areas. This has created huge changes for natural systems to adapt to, and may be the ultimate cause of mass extinctions."

    Story By: 

    Ronald Neilson, 541-750-7303

    Invasion of New Beach Grass Could Weaken Shoreline Protection

    CORVALLIS, Ore. - An invasion of American beach grass is under way along the Oregon coast, threatening to change dune ecology and reduce the ability of dunes to protect roads, property and towns from coastal storms.

    Scientists at Oregon State University have documented a slow but steady takeover by this beach grass, an invasive species. They found that protective “foredunes” covered by the new grass species are only about half as high as those created by the European species of grass that were formerly dominant.

    This phenomenon has already occurred from Long Beach, Wash., to Pacific City, Ore., and is continuing to spread, the researchers say.

    “This decrease in dune height may translate into a significant decrease in coastal protection from storms and tsunamis,” said Eric Seabloom, an OSU assistant professor of zoology.

    In continuing studies, scientists plan to use oceanographic models to show just how much protection is lost when European beach grass is replaced by American beach grass.

    The European grass – also an invasive species – has been dominant since it was first introduced to the area around the turn of the 20th century, to help stabilize blowing sand on the coast.

    “It did its job extremely well,” said Sally Hacker, an OSU associate professor of zoology and expert on marine and estuarine communities. “Without it, the sand would cover towns and roads.”

    The European beach grass did so well that by the 1930s it had spread along the entire Oregon coast, and created an extensive “foredune” system, large protective sand hills found in front of almost every sandy beach in Oregon. These dunes can provide significant protection for homes, roads, towns and other infrastructure, and serve as a barrier against flooding during major storm surges and perhaps even tsunamis.

    But the second invasion by the American beach grass species had gone practically undetected. Introduced near the mouth of the Columbia River in the mid-1930s, also to stabilize beaches, American beach grass tends to out-compete its European cousin. The status of this beach grass variety went unnoticed for more than 50 years, until Seabloom and a colleague discovered it had crept as far south as Tillamook Head and as far north as the Olympic Peninsula.

    Surveys of the entire Oregon coast have determined that the current range of domination of American beach grass extends from Long Beach, Wash., to Pacific City, Ore. But even beyond that, from Pacific City south, most of the beach grass is the American beach grass, with just a few pockets of European beach grass.

    “Lower dune heights, increasing wave heights that have been observed over the last 50 years, and global climate change could create a scenario in which the dunes no longer serve a coastal protection function,” Hacker said.

    Beyond the protection concerns, there are other ecological issues in play as well.

    While the foredune system created by European beach grass is good for coastal landowners, it is not so good for endangered beach plant species and the federally-threatened Western snowy plover, scientists say. As more sand accumulates in growing stands of beach grass, the land behind the dune tends to get “terrestrialized,” or turned into wetlands and forest habitats.

    “The willows and other trees and larger shrubs you often see behind the dunes are an indication that wetlands are being formed in the mini-valley behind the dunes,” Hacker said.

    As that process advances, beach habitat disappears, taking with it the plovers’ critical nesting grounds. The southward march of the American beach grass species could reverse the terrestrialization trend, as the American variety creates a much smaller foredune.

    Hacker and Seabloom have received funding from Oregon Sea Grant to study the impacts and interactions of these invasive grasses on the Oregon coast. They are also working with Peter Ruggiero, a geomorphologist in the Department of Geosciences at OSU, to understand the coastal protection capabilities of dunes along the coast.


    Sally Hacker,

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    A housing development behind a foredune created by European beach grass at Pacific City, Ore.

    A foredune created by European beach grass at Cape Kiwanda, Ore. The bright green grass in the middle of the photo is American beach grass invading the foredune.

    European beach grass on the beach at Cape Kiwanda, Ore.

    Conservation Biology Program at OSU Ranked First in Nation

    CORVALLIS, Ore. – Conservation biology research at Oregon State University has been ranked in a new survey as the best of 315 such programs in the United States and Canada.

    The rankings, done for the first time by the journal Conservation Biology, the leading professional journal in this field, point out that OSU had the second highest number of publications, the greatest number of “citations” that reflect the scientific significance of a publication, and the number one overall ranking.

    California universities – at Santa Barbara, Davis, Santa Cruz, and Berkeley – held four of the next five highest rankings, along with the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The University of Washington was ranked seventh and Stanford University tenth. In this evolving field, the research programs of these leading West Coast universities were far ahead of many prestigious schools in the Ivy League, Big Ten and other major eastern colleges.

    Conservation biology is one of the younger scientific disciplines, but of growing importance. It brings together scientists from such traditional fields as botany, ecology, atmospheric science, oceanography, forestry, fisheries, agriculture and zoology – as well as social and economic perspectives - to study and learn how to protect the Earth’s biological diversity. Research can range from endangered species and ecosystem function to the effects of global warming, often exploring the environmental and ecological impact of humans.

    “We’re particularly proud of this ranking, as it speaks not only to our faculty strengths, but to so much that we value at OSU,” said OSU President Ed Ray. “As the planet’s climate changes and the world looks for answers, OSU’s work in this field will be of ever increasing importance, and our faculty will be collaborating with colleagues in similarly outstanding programs to push the frontier of conservation biology forward.”

    OSU in recent years has also received extremely high rankings in related fields, such as first in agricultural sciences, geosciences and forest ecology. A survey last year of forest faculty, in fact, showed that peers rate the OSU College of Forestry the best in North America.

    Conservation biologists are integrating the findings of physical sciences, such as marine or atmospheric science, with the biological sciences, in ways that will help humans understand or predict the dangers facing various species and ecosystems, and ways those concerns might be addressed. They provide information about the many valuable services provided by biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, the threats posed by overpopulation, the effects of habitat loss.

    Oregon provides a unique setting for conservation biology research, experts say, with an enormous diversity of land forms and biodiversity. Within a few miles, the region changes from ocean ecosystems to one of the world’s largest temperate rain forests, agricultural valleys, populated urban areas, alpine peaks and high desert. Studies in recent decades have ranged from near-shore ocean ecosystems to forest ecology, endangered species, terrestrial pollution, salmon health, stream ecology, the impacts of climate change and amphibian declines.

    In recent years, OSU scientists from oceanography and zoology discovered and warned about the “hypoxic zones” of increasing concern off the Oregon coast, in which changing ocean conditions are causing large-scale die-offs of crabs and other marine species. Several papers from the College of Forestry have questioned conventional approaches to salvage logging and replanting after forest fires.

    One recent study co-authored by an OSU researcher indicated that much conservation biology research around the world is dictated by personal interests and convenience, rather than the greatest threats to biological diversity. Other work that has gained international attention outlined the role of wolves, cougars and other top predators in protecting plant and animal diversity in national parks and elsewhere.

    Conservation biology research at OSU has earned millions of dollars of research support from leading federal agencies, private foundations and local governments, and the university recently formed an Institute for Natural Resources to better link scientific research with the biological, social and policy issues it could help address. OSU also benefits from its close collaboration with other federal research agencies that are on or near the university’s campus.

    “Many of the highly ranked schools, such as Oregon State University and Colorado State University, have a rich history of applied ecological research stemming from their designation as federal land grant universities,” the journal noted in its report. “These schools in particular have close ties to federal and state natural resource–based agencies, as evidenced by their interactions with researchers at several U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency laboratories.”

    Story By: 

    Ed Ray,

    Forecast: After Slow Start, Western Oregon May be Cooler, Wetter – and Snowier?

    CORVALLIS, Ore. – In his years of producing a fall and winter weather forecast for the state, George Taylor has rarely if ever predicted snow for western Oregon – and true to form, he won’t go too far out on a limb this year.

    But Taylor, who manages the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University, concedes that it is a good likelihood this year.

    “The stars are lined up that way,” he said with a laugh.

    Taylor and colleague Cadee Hale have just issued the Oregon Climate Service’s forecast for October through March and the bottom line is that once we get through October, temperatures are expected to be slightly cooler than average in western Oregon, with average to above-average precipitation. And, they say, there is “a good chance” for low-elevation snow in western Oregon.

    Oregon residents east of the Cascades, on the other hand, will see warmer-than-average temperatures and average precipitation through the fall and winter.

    The brightest forecast may be for skiers and ski resort owners: Snowpack in the Cascade Mountains is expected to be well above-average this year.

    “We anticipate a very good ski season,” Taylor said.

    One of the reasons for predictions of cooler temperatures and a higher possibility of snow in western Oregon is the development of La Niña-like conditions near the equatorial Pacific. While it is too early to conclude that a La Niña event will take place this winter, cooler temperatures in the tropical Pacific and stronger trade winds suggest it is a possibility.

    La Niña events usually result in cooler, wetter winters for the western portions of the Pacific Northwest.

    Every year Taylor makes a prediction for fall and winter weather based on a number of factors, culminating in selecting "analog years" that most closely resemble current conditions. He takes into account long-term wet and dry cycles (known as the multi-decadal phase), El Niño and La Niña episodes, sea level pressures, temperatures, wind speeds, solar cycles and even hurricanes, which have a surprisingly strong correlation to Northwest climate.

    "Based on a composite of analyses, we are usually able to identify four or five analog years that had similar conditions during the first several months of the year, which helps us predict what the weather may be like in the fall and winter," Taylor said.

    Taylor and Hale were able to find four analog years with conditions comparable to this winter. Each had some extreme weather events during those years.

    • 1952-53 – A major flood hit western Oregon in January, and a major windstorm that same month caused significant damage;

    • 1953-54 – A heavy rainstorm fell in western Oregon in November; two strong windstorms followed in December, and three major storms – with wind, rain and snow – struck in January.

    • 1970-71 – A major windstorm in March affected the entire state. December was wet with snow in the low elevations. A heavy snowstorm struck the entire state in January, dumping 11 inches of snow in Salem and nine inches in Portland.

    • 1988-89 – There was heavy rain with localized flooding in November, followed by an extremely dry month in December. Record low temperatures and heavy snow arrived in February, resulting in five deaths. Central Oregon was hit by flooding in March, the same month a major windstorm killed three people.

    It is difficult to predict extreme weather events based on analog years, Taylor pointed out, and there is a possibility of heavy rains, windstorms and even heavy snow. Three of the four analog years included snowstorms and two of those years had heavy snow, even in western Oregon.

    “I will say that there is a good chance of at least one low-elevation snow event,” Taylor said. “And the mountains should see a lot of snow after a slow start. We expect mountain snows to accumulate quickly in November and become significant in January and February.”

    The entire forecast and background on how Taylor and Hale arrive at their conclusions is available at the Oregon Climate Service website at: http://www.ocs.oregonstate.edu/index.html

    Story By: 

    George Taylor,

    New Tools Available to Tackle Epidemic of Swiss Needle Cast

    CORVALLIS, Ore. – Forestry researchers at Oregon State University have developed a computerized risk analysis system to help predict the vulnerability of specific sites to Swiss Needle Cast, a serious problem in Coast Range forests that can cut tree growth and causes losses of more than $200 million a year.

    The model, which is now in prototype form and should be fully available to landowners by early next year, may be an important tool to help address a resurgence of the Swiss Needle Cast epidemic that has occurred just in the past couple years, almost doubling from its level in 2004.

    Other initiatives are also under way in the Swiss Needle Cast Cooperative based at OSU, which was founded 10 years ago as a cooperative effort of private industry, academia and other government agencies.

    “This new risk-rating model should be a reliable predictive tool so that landowners can make more informed decisions on what tree species to plant,” said David Shaw, an assistant professor in the Department of Forest Science at OSU, and director of the cooperative. “Some of our co-op members are pretty excited about its potential to help address this problem.”

    Swiss Needle Cast, a fungal disease of Douglas fir that is native to the Pacific Northwest, is mostly a problem in areas within 20 miles of the ocean, where warm, wet conditions favor its growth. It’s a cyclical problem that is made more severe by warmer winters, wetter springs and extended drizzle.

    Historically, the fungus was a minor concern in this region, which was dominated by hemlock and Sitka spruce trees, with only smaller amounts of Douglas fir. But with intensive forest management during the past century, the varied tree species were often harvested and replaced with a monoculture of Douglas fir, which grew well and commanded higher market prices.

    “Other than with the concerns about Swiss Needle Cast, Douglas fir grows exceptionally well in the Coast Range, and in past decades a couple million acres were converted to it,” Shaw said. “But now we have a perfect storm of conditions favoring this fungus, with dense plantations of the trees it infects and favorable climate conditions.”

    At its worst, Swiss Needle Cast can cut Douglas fir growth by up to 50 percent, causing new-growth tree needles to turn yellow and be “cast off.” As recently as 2004, efforts to change the mix of tree plantations had shown some success and cut the acreage of significant infection in half, to less than 200,000 acres. But a new survey shows the disease has made a dramatic recovery and once again is nearing peak levels, affecting 338,000 acres. A particular hot spot is the low elevation areas and hills around Tillamook, where conditions appear optimal for the disease.

    “Most of what we’re seeing is probably variation driven by weather,” Shaw said. “This is not a problem we’re going to eradicate any time soon, so we have to develop ways to deal with it.”

    The new model is being developed at OSU with funding from the Swiss Needle Cast Cooperative, by Jeff Stone, an associate professor of botany and plant pathology, and Len Coop of the Integrated Plant Protection Center. It can tell landowners whether a very specific plot of land will be at low, moderate or high risk to develop significant Swiss Needle Cast infection. This can help guide decisions on what to plant for future tree rotations. The model incorporates a diverse range of data about topography, climate, local weather patterns, historic disease problems and other relevant issues.

    For those with existing problems, there are fewer options. Use of fungicides is effective but too expensive to use on a broad scale. OSU studies in the Swiss Needle Cast Cooperative have determined that thinning of the weakest Douglas-fir and replacement with hemlock or spruce can be of some value. It helps to avoid nitrogen fertilization, which favors the growth of fungus. And in extreme cases, some landowners may even consider conversion of their existing forest to different species.

    Within five to 15 years, Shaw said, other research may produce Douglas fir varieties with improved Swiss Needle Cast tolerance, through studies that are now under way.

    A series of workshops will be conducted next year to help private and industrial landowners learn more about the new risk-rating model and other steps to address this problem, Shaw said.

    Story By: 

    David Shaw,