environment and natural resources

Clearing fire-prone vegetation near home crucial in drought

REDMOND - Property owners in rural or remote forested areas of eastern and western Oregon should be reducing vegetation on their property to lower fire risk later in the season, advises Stephen Fitzgerald, a forestry specialist with the Oregon State University Extension Service.

"It's been dry this winter - really dry for this time of year," warned Fitzgerald. "And it's probably not going to get much better, given the poor winter snow pack."

Earlier this month, OSU and U.S. Forest Service bio-climatologists projected that the drought severity in the Pacific Northwest will only get worse in the coming months and reach levels that were generally seen during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Some early spring rain has dampened the soil and raised local streams, but hasn't significantly changed the outlook for summer.

"Rural and remote homes, especially those that are in or adjacent to forest and rangelands, are at higher risk for wildfire than city dwellings," said Fitzgerald.

Having local fire protection does not guarantee safety from wild fire.

"Don't live under the illusion that fire fighters will be able to extinguish a wildfire before it gets to your home and property," Fitzgerald warned. "Late winter and early spring is a great time to reduce fuels and other fire hazards around homes and property. Think of it as part of your spring clean-up."

To lessen the risk of wildfire, Fitzgerald offers a few simple steps to protect homes and property in wooded and rural areas. Most of these tasks can be completed in just one weekend.

  • Create a "green-belt" - such as a lawn, that is at least 10 to 30 feet wide around homes.
  • Landscape with fire-resistant plants.
  • Clean and remove conifer needles and other debris from roofs and gutters.
  • Prune trees up to eight to 10 feet to eliminate "fuel ladders." The pruning height can be varied so trees are more natural appearing.
  • Reduce the number of shrubs under trees and in non-irrigated portions of the lot.
  • Thin trees so that there is about 10 feet between tree crowns; clean up thinning debris.
  • Consider removing trees up against houses and branches overhanging the roof. If the trees can't be removed - for sentimental or other reasons - at least prune the branches so they are not in contact with the side of the house or roof.
  • Keep firewood stacked 30 feet away and uphill from homes.
  • Replace a wood shake roof with a fire-resistant roof as soon as possible or when most feasible.

    "One of the challenges homeowners encounter when cleaning up their property is what to do with all that debris," said Fitzgerald.

    Options include burning small piles, chipping the material or bringing the debris to local landfills. Contact local fire departments for burning regulations before striking a match, advises Fitzgerald.

    Portable chippers can be rented to grind up woody debris. The chipped material can then be spread out on the soil surface beneath your trees, used as landscape mulch or spread on a garden path.

    Some county landfills offer "free days" for bringing in yard debris. The landfill then chips the material to make large batches of mulch used by public works departments and others. Check with your local county landfill to see if they offer such a program.

    Think about fire prevention when planning a new home in a forested area, advises Fitzgerald.

    Use fire-resistant siding and non-combustible composition, tile or metal roofing materials.

    Limit the amount of deck area because hot embers can ignite wooden decks or use fire-resistant deck material.

    Build on a level portion of your property when possible (fire burns faster on slopes).

    Install alternative water (e.g. cistern or pond) sources for firefighters because electric power often fails or is shut off during a fire, making your well and outside faucets unusable. Create adequate access to your property for fire-fighting equipment to enter and exit easily. Check with your local fire protection district for entrance/exit (ingress/egress) standards. Don't forget to display reflective address numbers where your driveway meets the street. Most local fire departments have reflective address signs available.

    For more information on wildfire prevention, Fitzgerald suggests these websites:

  • Firewise Home Page: http://www.firewise.org/
  • Oregon Department of Forestry: http://www.odf.state.or.us/ (Click on "Fire in the Forest")
  • Colorado State Forestry Service: http://www.colostate.edu/Depts/CSFS/homefire.html
  • Fire-Resistant Plant List for Oregon: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/emergency/FireResPlants.pdf

    Contact rural fire protection district offices for fire-related information and burning regulations. Local field offices of the Oregon Department of Forestry and local county offices of the OSU Extension Service can also help provide additional information or help direct you to other sources of information.

  • Source: 

    Stephen Fitzgerald, 541-548-6088

    Byrne lecture to address climate change

    CORVALLIS - Is global climate change happening now? Should we be seriously concerned about even greater change during this century? Or, as best-selling author Michael Crichton would have us believe, are we just in a "state of fear?"

    The next speaker in the John Byrne Lecture Series at Oregon State University will shed some light on this overheated subject. Bruce Wielicki, a senior NASA Earth scientist, will speak on "Global Climate Change: Serious Risk or Environmental Hoax?"

    The lecture will be Monday, April 4, at 7:30 p.m. in the LaSells Stewart Center on the OSU campus. The talk, which is sponsored by Oregon Sea Grant and the OSU College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, is free and open to the public.

    Wielicki has given climate lectures at the Carnegie Centennial Lecture series, but also to church groups, Rotary clubs, and teacher workshops. He has provided input on climate to public science museums in New York and London, and has appeared on National Public Radio.

    Wielicki is the senior scientist for Earth science at NASA's Langley Research Center, and has been involved in climate research for over 25 years, publishing more than 60 journal articles. He has received NASA's science medal as well as its leadership medal, and served on a wide range of both U.S. and international scientific committees for climate research.

    In his lecture, Wielicki will summarize some of the science behind climate change concerns and highlight some of the key uncertainties and challenges. "Some of the challenges are scientific," he notes, "but others are societal and organizational."

    The Byrne Lecture Series, named for former OSU President and NOAA Administrator John Byrne, presents public lectures on subjects of broad topical interest in marine and atmospheric sciences, particularly on themes of resources, policy and communicating science to an interested but non-specialist audience.


    Bruce Wielicki, 757-864-5683

    McDonald-Dunn Forest meeting planned

    CORVALLIS - The Oregon State University College Forests will hold its annual public meeting on Tuesday, April 5.

    This meeting, to discuss future plans and issues relating to the McDonald and Dunn Forests operated by the OSU College of Forestry, will begin at 7 p.m. in the main meeting room at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, 645 N.W. Monroe Ave.

    Further information about the meeting can be obtained from the College of Forestry at (541) 737-4452.

    Story By: 

    Trisha Wymore, 541-737-6702

    Researc indicates no relief for drought, fire concerns

    CORVALLIS - It does not appear there will be any major relief this spring or summer from the unusually dry weather that has recently hit the Pacific Northwest, according to new projections of drought severity and fire risk that are based on "general circulation" models that forecast global climate.

    The analysis, which was developed by researchers at the U.S.D.A. Forest Service and Oregon State University, also shows that the northwestern part of the country will face forest and rangeland fires this year that could be unusually severe and generally the worst of any area in the nation.

    Wet weather has recently predominated in the Southwest, Central and Atlantic coast regions of the United States. As a result, 2005 should be a fairly mild fire season in most areas of the nation.

    But the same forecasts for a period from now to August show some pockets of drought severity and associated fire risks in southern Florida, Maine and southeastern Arizona. And there is a major problem of historic proportions developing in a six-state region that includes Oregon, Washington, northern California, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

    "We project that the drought severity the northwestern states are now experiencing will only get worse in coming months, and reach levels that were generally seen during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s," said Ronald Neilson, a bioclimatologist with the U.S. Forest Service and professor of botany at OSU.

    Severe drought does not automatically translate into major fires, said Neilson and colleague James Lenihan, a fire and ecosystem modeler.

    "It takes ignition sources such as lightning storms to trigger multiple fires, and that doesn't always happen," Lenihan said. "But those events are fairly common and, because of that, fires will often occur if vegetation, moisture and climatic conditions are right, which it appears they will be this year."

    The latest consensus forecast for fire risk this spring and summer indicate huge forest and rangeland fire outbreaks in northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington, and more isolated but severe fire potential in forests near Eugene, Roseburg, Bend and the Portland area in Oregon.

    Other severe fires are forecast for parts of southwestern Idaho and parts of Montana.

    Unlike short-term weather forecasts, these projections are ultimately based on long-term, global climate models and a "general vegetation model" created by researchers from the Forest Service and OSU, including the work of associate professor of geosciences Chris Daly and the OSU Spatial Climate Analysis Service.

    These systems have simulated drought and fire in the American West, for instance, fairly accurately backwards in time to 1895, and can also be used to make both near-term and longer projections into the future. They are constantly updated, and now include the latest actual weather information through the end of last January.

    In terms of the current projections for a tier of states in the northwestern U.S., it appears the situation is going to go from bad to worse. It bears some similarity to conditions last seen in 2001.

    "We use five different global climate models as the underlying basis for our projections, and they are all showing the same thing," Neilson said. "It is going to become extremely dry in many parts of the Pacific Northwest and northern Rocky Mountain states, and the fire risk is going to be significantly higher than normal. There is nothing to indicate a wet spring."

    Fire is one obvious implication, the researchers said, but stream flows, fisheries, agriculture, recreation and industry may all be affected.

    According to Lenihan, the major storms that inundated southern California and other parts of the Southwest this year have significantly reduced the fire risks in that region, at least for this year. Vegetation growth that occurs during years with heavier rains, however, can sometimes set the stage for major fires in following years if drought resumes.

    The models that simulate the droughts and the likelihood of fire are complex and sometimes counter-intuitive, the researchers said, involving such things as vegetation growth, fuel loads, soil moisture, climatic trends and other factors.

    "Last year was a pretty severe drought over quite a bit of the nation, but for various reasons our model didn't really suggest a bad fire year for 2004, and in fact it was a pretty mild year," Lenihan said.

    "That was fortunate, because there's some evidence that the low-risk fire years are more difficult to predict than those with higher risk," he said. "When our models show a very high level of fire, as they do now, they are usually pretty accurate."

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Graphic images mapping the U.S. drought and fire risk conditions are available to illustrate this story, at the web site of OSU News and Communication Services, at http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ncs/photos/index.html

    Story By: 

    Ron Neilson, 541-750-7303

    Oregon "Plant Atlas" offers mass of new data

    CORVALLIS - A new Oregon Plant Atlas is now available on the web, the result of years of work and a grass-roots effort by hundreds of volunteers and botanical professionals. It may benefit everyone from land use planners to scientists, home gardeners or lovers of wildflowers.

    The atlas is being released by the Oregon Flora Project, which is based in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at Oregon State University.

    The Oregon Flora Project is an ambitious initiative to study, catalog and make available information on literally every vascular plant in the state - each of the 4,516 species, subspecies and varieties of flowers, grasses, ferns, trees and other plants that grow in the wild. The challenge is huge, because the ocean dunes, forests, valleys, mountains and high desert of Oregon make it one of the most botanically diverse states in the nation.

    A flora of Oregon was last done more than four decades ago and is badly out of date.

    The new atlas was one of the key goals of the flora project, along with production of the actual flora - or reference manual for identifying plants - and a plant checklist and photo gallery. The atlas is on the web at http://www.oregonflora.org.

    "The information in the Oregon Plant Atlas will be useful for a broad spectrum of users," said Linda Hardison, an OSU research associate and coordinator of the Oregon Flora Project. "It's a real treasure trove of data. Anyone looking for information about a particular Oregon plant can discover where it is known to occur, other plants that may be found at that location, and a great deal more."

    Other maps that illustrate rainfall, topography, and ecoregions can also be superimposed over the plant location maps, providing more information about the plant and its native ecosystem.

    The creators of this web-based system envision it being used primarily by botanists and other science professionals, but also by land developers, restoration experts, ecologists and historians. Botanists might use it to track the spread of invasive weeds in the state. A home gardener who wants to plant some native plants or wildflowers could easily determine what would grow well in a certain location. K-12 teachers and students could use the atlas in class projects.

    And anyone who simply wants to go for a walk in the woods now has more information available than ever before about the local plants they might see on their stroll.

    The plants included in the survey are those that are growing in Oregon "without cultivation," educators say. In other words, it might not include an exotic plant obtained from a nursery. But if that same plant escaped the confines of someone's backyard and began to reproduce naturally in the wild - whether it's native to Oregon or an invasive newcomer - it would be included in the atlas.

    The atlas currently has 385,000 records of observed plants or plant collections that have been incorporated into a computerized database with many sophisticated mapping capabilities.

    Some records are what botanists call "vouchered," meaning the plant record comes from an actual dried specimen documented in a herbarium, such as the large OSU Herbarium or others like it.

    "Unvouchered" observations of plants are made from many sources, including state agencies, interested volunteers, and private groups, especially the Native Plant Society of Oregon.

    "Volunteers have been indispensable to the creation of this atlas and other goals of the Oregon Flora Project," Hardison said. "Hundreds of people have contributed both money and time to assist with this work, including more than $300,000 in the past 10 years to help keep the project going." Even though the flora project information is relevant to federal and state research projects, and work is under way to secure more stable and long-term funding, the work still depends on individual donations to fund basic expenses, Hardison said. Anyone wishing to make a tax-deductible donation to support this work can send a check to Friends of the Oregon Flora Project, Box 402, Corvallis, Ore., 97339.

    People wishing to volunteer their time to assist with the project may contact Hardison at (541) 737-4338. There is work for people of all skill levels and ages, and past volunteers have included everyone from professional botanists to retired people looking for an excuse to go for a walk outdoors.

    The organization recently experienced a profound loss, as the founder and director of the Oregon Flora Project, Scott Sundberg, passed away last December.

    "The staff and supporters of the project have done a tremendous job at maintaining progress," Hardison said. "Completion of the Oregon Flora Project will be a fitting tribute to Scott, who devoted much of his life to creating a new flora for the state."

    Some volunteers with the work have become its most enthusiastic supporters.

    "In a way, it is fitting that this should have been such a grassroots sort of thing," said Jerry Igo, a naturalist and botanist from Mosier, Ore. "Instead of a huge federal agency that could have put a few million into a flora project, but hasn't and won't, it is heartening to see that many dedicated people will get it done.

    "Thomas Jefferson told Lewis and Clark to go out there and identify everything," Igo said. "Well, it's been nearly 200 years and it is high time we had an inventory."

    Story By: 

    Linda Hardison, 541-737-4338

    Program brings outdoor issues to inner city youth

    PORTLAND - An inner city outreach program working with Portland Public Schools has been nationally recognized for its success in building bridges between natural resources issues, urban youth and the need to encourage more young scholars to pursue careers in the environmental sciences.

    The program, organized by the College of Forestry at Oregon State University and supported by three other land management and research agencies, recently received the Annual Diversity Award for Partnership Achievement from Gale Norton, U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

    "This is a chance to spark an interest in natural resource issues among young Portland-area students, and help steer them toward some subjects they might otherwise not have considered," said David Stemper, manager of pre-college programs for the OSU College of Forestry. "We also try to connect them to internships and job opportunities, even during high school, and ultimately take their interests to the next level at OSU or a community college."

    Called the Inner City Youth Institute, the program since 1999 has been operating in northeast Portland, mostly at Grant High School and three area middle schools. The program director works with teachers and students, providing natural resource exploration opportunities, unique projects, mentors, and funding for field expeditions, equipment and substitute teachers.

    Students have responded positively. At Portland's Jesuit High School, Danielle Jackson said that the program has piqued her interest in watersheds. "The McKenzie River is my favorite," Jackson said, noting that she is considering studying hydrology at OSU.

    Oriented around field trips, the program is hands-on and offers contextual learning. Both high school and middle school students are working in the Columbia Slough on a salmon restoration project. In this instance, the city of Portland is planning next summer to do some dredging of silt in various areas to improve what was historically a site for salmon maturation and migration.

    But management officials wanted some baseline data on what bird and mammal species are now using the area and might be affected by this project - and the students are providing that. In this context, the program is more than just a student exercise, it produces original research and data being used by land management agencies.

    "The ICYI experience encourages high school teachers to incorporate natural resource management issues into their classroom curricula," Norton said in making the recent award. "Thank you and keep up the good work."

    Collaboration and funding support for this project comes from OSU, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Pacific Northwest Research Station.

    Topics of study for the students include such things as exploration of salmon habitat and stream ecology, forestry and terrestrial ecology, and wildlife survey and management issues. All of the issues are explored at least in part with a forestry context, and the students often get a chance to work with natural resource professionals and sophisticated equipment. Recently, Portland students were doing studies in the Bull Run watershed with a $700 turbidimeter, conducting water quality assessments. Further expansion of the program is being considered, Stemper said, and one immediate goal is to further develop the program's non-profit branch in order to facilitate funding by private foundations.

    About two years ago one participant who was then in the eighth grade, Laura Harris, said she "just liked trees and exploring in the woods, and these trips give me a chance to do that."

    "I either want to be a rock star or do something in science," Harris said at the time. "Maybe forest biology or marine biology."

    Story By: 

    David Stemper, 503-725-5752

    Multimedia Downloads


    A student uses a tree corer.
    Students place salmon carcasses in watersheds.

    Oregon BEST, OSU team to help Iraq engineers rebuild their war-torn nation using green practices

    PORTLAND, Ore. – While Oregon’s economy remains sluggish and the war in Iraq continues, the Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center (Oregon BEST) has helped Oregon State University broker funding for a unique project that could boost business for the state’s green building and renewable energy sectors while helping the people of Iraq rebuild their war-ravaged infrastructure.

    Engineering faculty from OSU, working with the Michael Scott Mater Foundation, used a $27,000 grant from Oregon BEST to leverage more than $400,000 that will support a two-week, hands-on workshop in August for 20 Iraqi delegates who will visit Oregon to learn about green building, sustainable design and renewable energy from researchers at OSU, University of Oregon and Portland State University.

    “This will be the first time an event of this type has been undertaken in the United States,” said Scott Ashford, head of the OSU School of Civil and Construction Engineering, which is organizing the visit through its Kiewit Center for Infrastructure and Transportation.

    Joshua Mater, CEO and founder of the Mater Foundation, said the American Embassy in Bagdad is excited about the project.

    “We’ve been informed that Gen. (Ray) Odierno, who took over for Gen. (David) Petraeus, has received briefings on the project,” Mater said. “And we’ve even had calls from Hollywood producers who want to make a documentary about this project. It’s very exciting.”

    In addition to learning from their U.S. academic counterparts, the group of university presidents and engineering professors from 13 Iraqi universities will also visit a range of green building and renewable energy projects under way in the state and spend time with some of Oregon’s leading construction, engineering and architecture firms, including CH2M HILL, Granite Construction, Gerding Edlen Development, SERA Architects and others.

    Delegates will also meet with Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and tour state agencies, including the Oregon Department of Transportation.

    “This is an extraordinary opportunity for Oregon businesses, universities and state agencies to make connections with Iraqi engineering professors and others involved in the rebuilding efforts under way in that country,” Ashford said. “Our Iraqi colleagues will have a tremendous impact on their students in Iraq, where they are tasked with essentially rebuilding the infrastructure of an entire country.”

    The seminar is a part of the SENERGI Initiative (Sustainable ENERGy and Infrastructure) at OSU, which is having an impact on sustainability by sharing the university’s leadership on efficient use of limited resources, Ashford said.

    “Oregon is internationally known for our green building and renewable energy research and innovation, and this is an excellent way to share that with the global community, which could lead to increased business for Oregon companies,” Ashford said. “Although their contribution is often overlooked, construction managers have a tremendous impact on green building, because they are the people tasked with making sustainable projects a reality.”

    The exchange will also benefit Oregon faculty members and students, offering exposure to international and cultural differences that will prepare students to compete in the global marketplace.

    “Not only will engineers from Iraq learn about green built materials and environments, but Oregon’s engineering faculty and students will learn how to incorporate sustainable engineering and design into new cultures – making them more competitive in a green jobs market,” Ashford said.

    The relationship between OSU and the Iraqi campuses started a year ago, when then-U.S. Army Capt. Josh Mater, an Oregon State alumnus, gathered engineering textbooks worth $10,000 for donation to Dhi Qar University. Mater had been stationed in Iraq as part of rebuilding efforts, and had seen firsthand the dire need for supplies. He and his family, through the Michael Scott Mater Foundation, paid to ship the textbooks to Iraq. The foundation, which he founded, is named for Mater’s late father; his mother, Catherine Mater, is director of sustainability for the College of Engineering at OSU.

    In February, the presidents of Dhi Qar University in southern Iraq, and Babylon University east of Baghdad, visited Corvallis to meet with OSU President Ed Ray and other campus leaders, tour the College of Engineering research facilities and sign memoranda of understanding between their institutions and Oregon State.

    Since then, the project has come together quickly for OSU and the Mater Foundation with assistance from the U.S. Embassy in Bagdad and the U.S. Department of State helping to fast-track the project in Iraq.

    “But none of this would have happened without the initial $27,000 investment from Oregon BEST,” he said. “And this is just the beginning. I believe we’ll be able to secure much higher levels of future funding from the U.S. Department of Defense, which is great news for Oregon’s economy.”

    The initial funding from Oregon BEST helped leverage an additional $240,000 from the U.S. Department of State in Iraq and $50,000 from an OSU engineering alumnus. These funds were matched with cost sharing from the OSU College of Engineering ($75,000), the Michael Scott Mater Foundation ($14,000) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (up to $19,000).

    “This is an excellent example of how Oregon BEST helps Oregon businesses and Oregon universities collaborate to help create jobs and develop a trained green jobs labor pool for the state’s emerging green economy,” said David Kenney, president and executive director of Oregon BEST. “This unprecedented visit will lead to stronger ties between Oregon and Iraq, which can create jobs for our state’s green building and renewable energy sectors.”

    Following their stay in Oregon, the delegates will return to Iraq to apply their knowledge to the reconstruction efforts in their country and to improve the engineering curriculum at their universities.


    David Kenney, 503-725-9849

    Public invited to celebrate centennial of Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center

    HERMISTON, Ore. – Oregon State University's Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center will celebrate its 100th birthday on June 30, and staff members are inviting the public to join the festivities.

    The celebration begins at 2 p.m. at the center, which is located at 2121 South First St. in Hermiston, with a slide-show history of the experiment station and its successful collaborations with the community. There also will be exhibits, lab and field tours and entertainment for kids. Official presentations begin at 6 p.m., followed by a complimentary family-style dinner at 6:30 p.m. Live entertainment by country and folk singer John Wambeke is from 7 to 8 p.m.
    Exhibits will feature 4-H projects, the Master Gardener program, and research and extension at the center. Tours around the station will showcase crops in the field; lab tours will highlight plant pathology, molecular genetics, riparian and agricultural entomology, horticulture and agronomy.

    In 1909 the 40-acre "Umatilla Experiment Farm" began its mission to discover, teach and demonstrate how to make a living on the semi-arid land populated with little more than sagebrush in northwestern Umatilla County. During the 1930s the center moved to a larger tract of 260 acres, about four miles south of its former location.

    Over the last 18 years, the center has installed five center-pivot irrigation systems funded through donations by local businesses and growers. It is one of the few experiment stations in the nation with its own extensive irrigation equipment to use for research. Public donations and grants also funded two 36-by-72-foot screen houses to help researchers study plant diseases carried by insects.

    "HAREC researchers have helped growers turn what some once considered a wasteland into an irrigated production area of high-value crops," said Sandy DeBano, professor of fisheries and wildlife at the center. "For example, the value of watermelon – one of the prominent crops in the Hermiston area – can exceed $10,000 per acre."

    Researchers at the Hermiston Center also are helping to produce potato varieties whose colored pigments increase antioxidant value and are marketed for their nutritional value, unique color and tuber shape.

    The ongoing restoration of the Umatilla River continues to be a priority with Hermiston researchers. Irrigators and tribal leaders worked together in the 1980s to restore water to the Umatilla River, which now again sustains salmon and provides water for crops. The interaction between agriculture and ecosystem services provided by local streams and rivers, including fish production, is a major source of study at the center, DeBano said.

    For 100 years OSU research at the Hermiston Center has served Umatilla County, which ranks third in farm sales in Oregon and also grows field and sweet corn, canola, grass seed, peas, carrots and onions.


    Sandy DeBano, 541-567-6337, ext.116


    CORVALLIS - Oregon State University Extension Service will explore a series of sustainability issues on a new cable network modeled after C-SPAN. Beginning Thursday evening, Dec. 9, viewers with cable access can tune in to some of OSU Extension's award-winning programs on the new Oregon Public Affairs Network (OPAN).

    The series of eight 30-minute programs cover current public issues from rural community development to urban runoff to watershed restoration. Most stations will air the series on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. Check local listings.

    The first program, "Towns in Transition," follows the fate of three natural resource-dependent communities in the Pacific Northwest as they manage changes in their local industries.

    Following each program, viewers can go to a special web site to learn more. Online, they can access hundreds of publications and videos produced by OSU Extension experts.

    OPAN is a new nonprofit television network bringing public issues and government to the living rooms and computer terminals of Oregonians. Modeled on the nationally successful C-SPAN, OPAN is a partnership among OSU, the State Legislative Media Service, the Oregon Wireless Instructional Network (WIN) and local cable access centers in six counties - Multnomah, Lane, Polk, Linn, Benton and Deschutes.

    OPAN is broadcast from 6 to 8 p.m. each night, and also will provide daily gavel-to-gavel legislative coverage in Portland and the Corvallis area. Programs can also be viewed online at http://www.opan.org.

    The eight OSU Extension programs that will air on OPAN include:

    • Dec. 9: "Towns in Transition: Managing Change in Natural-Resource- Dependent Communities"


    • Dec. 16: "The Miracle at Bridge Creek"


    • Dec. 23: "Rethinking the American Dream and Why Should I Bother? Waste Prevention in the Work Place"


    • Dec. 30: "Beyond Recycling: Waste Prevention in Manufacturing and Distribution" and "Better Than Recycling: Waste Prevention in the Office"


    • Jan. 6: "Strangers in Our Waterways"


    • Jan. 13: "We all Live Downstream"


    • Jan. 20: "After the Rain: Urban Runoff"


    • Jan. 27: "Life on the Edge: Improving Riparian Function and Buying Time: Instream Restoration"

    Local cable networks that will broadcast the OSU Extension series include: the Eugene area, Channel 21; Corvallis/Albany, Channel 27; Washington and Clackamas County areas, Channel 28; the Portland area, Channel 29; Monmouth/Independence, Channel 17; Bend, Channel 11; Lane and Douglas County areas, Channel 9.

    For more information about OPAN programming, see: http://www.opan.org. For more information about OSU Extension programs and publications, see: http://extension.oregonstate.edu.

    Story By: 

    Lynn Ketchum, 541-737-0802


    CORVALLIS, Ore. - Research about wolves that began in Yellowstone National Park has been replicated in an adjacent area, and a growing body of evidence leads scientists to conclude that this historic predator may have an ecological impact far more important than realized in the American West.

    The near extinction of the gray wolf across most of the West in the past century now appears to have removed the natural element of "fear" from these ecosystems. It has triggered a cascade of ecological effects on everything from elk populations to beaver, birds, fish, and even stream systems - and helped lead directly to the collapsing health of aspen and some other tree species and vegetation.

    Two recent studies by forestry scientists from Oregon State University, published in the journals BioScience and Forest Ecology and Management, outline a role for the gray wolf that is complex and rarely understood, but helps explain many major problems facing western streams, forests and wildlife.

    "It would appear that the loss of a keystone predator, the gray wolf, across vast areas of the American West may have set the stage for previously unrecognized and unappreciated ecological changes in riparian and upland plant communities, and the functions they provide," the scientists concluded.

    The studies were authored by William Ripple, a professor, and Robert Beschta, a professor emeritus, in the OSU College of Forestry.

    In their research, the scientists explore a concept that has been called "the ecology of fear."

    The ecological and historical significance of wolves is only partly due to the actual impact they have by preying on other animals, both large and small, the OSU researchers have found. Just as important is the fear that many larger animals have of wolves, and the resulting behavioral changes in elk and some other grazing animals.

    "Prey species will alter their use of space and their foraging patterns according to the features of the terrain and how that affects the risk of predation," Ripple and Beschta noted in their study. "They forage or browse less intensively at high-risk sites."

    Some of those sites, the researchers say, are streamsides rich in aspen, cottonwood, willow and other edible vegetation. When healthy and normal, such areas naturally grow large trees and other streamside vegetation that provides the basis for supporting beaver, other wildlife, fish populations, native bird communities, and stable channel banks.

    The OSU scientists, in previous work, documented that the loss of aspen and cottonwood trees in Yellowstone National Park dated almost exactly to the extermination of the last wolf packs in the park in the mid-1920s.

    The elk moved in, ate young trees before they could become established, and the entire riparian ecosystem began a slow demise that was only reversed recently - when wolves were re-introduced to the park.

    In their newest work, the researchers have found exactly the same forces at work along the Gallatin River in southwestern Montana. Coincidental with the return of wolves to that area, there has been a dramatic recovery of willow populations along streams, and other possible factors such as changing climate conditions have been ruled out as a possible cause.

    A modest recovery of willows may not seem that significant. But the OSU researchers say it has set the stage for ecological "spin-offs," including an increase in plant biomass, improved streambank stability, better floodplain functioning, reduced soil erosion, and better food web support for everything from beaver to river otter, fish, birds, amphibians, and insects. Biodiversity will increase and rising beaver populations will lead to even more changes, including sediment retention, wetland maintenance and nutrient cycling.

    And the story, the OSU scientists say, appears to be much larger than just Yellowstone National Park or the mountainous regions around it, as demonstrated by a broad range of research.

    One study suggested that the loss of wolves has allowed increases in deer populations across much of North America, which led to a browsing pressure on plants that was unprecedented. Predation effects involving wolves and elk were also found in aspen growth in Jasper National Park. In Grand Teton National Park, the local extinction of grizzly bears and wolves caused an increase in herbivory on willow by moose, and ultimately decreased the diversity of neotropical migrant birds.

    The role of fear, while emphasizing the value of wolves, is not exclusive to them, the scientists said. Even the fear of human sport hunters has a role.

    One study in Montana showed that elk adjusted their foraging behavior by browsing far from roads to avoid human contact and possible predation. And research in Colorado has found that aspen was far more heavily browsed, and used year-round by elk, where sport hunting was excluded.

    Ultimately, however, the value of large predators needs to be reconsidered, the reports conclude. The body of evidence has become compelling, the OSU researchers say, that predation by top carnivores, especially wolves, may be pivotal to maintaining biodiversity in some ecosystems.

    More information on this research can be found on the Web at www.cof.orst.edu/wolves.

    "The ranges of large carnivores are continuing to collapse around the world," the scientists note in their report. "In North America, the gray wolf and the grizzly bear have faced nearly complete extirpation in the lower 48 states, although populations of these carnivores have been increasing in recent years."

    "Growing evidence points to the importance of conserving these animals because they have cascading effects on lower trophic levels."

    A similar point, they said, was made by the great naturalist Aldo Leopold in 1949, who predicted this crisis.

    "I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves," Leopold wrote 55 years ago. "I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anemic desuetude, and then to death."

    Story By: 

    William Ripple, 541-737-3056

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    Aspens in Yellowstone National Park

    A withering stand of aspen in Yellowstone National Park reflect a phenomenon that researchers from Oregon State University believe is now far more widespread - the loss of wolves in the American West leading to the decline of tree and stream ecosystems.