environment and natural resources

Study Finds Low-Density Housing Sprawl “Ubiquitous”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study on housing by researchers from Oregon and the Midwest has found that housing growth is ubiquitous throughout the country, and the “sprawl” once associated primarily with urban areas has become a dominant feature of the rural landscape.

The trend toward low-density housing has significant consequences, the researchers say, as more and more people seek the American dream of the past half-century – a house on five acres next to a stream and wooded hillside.

“The proliferation of low-density housing can result in a loss of traditional timber and agricultural land that is subsumed by development,” said Roger Hammer, a demographer and assistant professor of sociology at Oregon State University. “Living near urban areas is no longer considered a necessity as more people become willing to commute an hour each way to work, or can telecommute and work at home.”

Hammer and colleagues Volker C. Radeloff, from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and Susan Stewart, from the U.S. Forest Service in Evanston, Ill., have created a new website that looks at housing location nationally and state-by-state back to 1940 and ahead to the year 2030. Their projections can be broken down to the county and even neighborhood level for every state. That specificity, which is smaller than U.S. Census block groups, is a level of detail that is unprecedented, the researchers say. http://silvis.forest.wisc.edu/library/HousingData.asp.

Their data show tremendous housing growth in the West and the Southeast regions of the United States over the past few decades. A higher percentage of public lands in the West has prevented even more dispersed growth and steered many of the new housing units to transportation corridors.

In the South, the Carolinas and Georgia have grown substantially, Hammer said, in large part because of expanding metropolitan areas and a growing number of seasonal and retirement homes in non-metropolitan areas. Part of that growth is attributed to a “ricochet” effect of retirees and others – sometimes referred to as snowbirds – moving from colder climates to the South, but unable to afford higher-priced locales in Florida and settling instead in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

The seasonal home phenomenon also is responsible for growth in northern Wisconsin and Michigan. Although the researchers didn’t specifically look at seasonal homes, they conservatively estimate that there are more than 3.6 million of these dwellings in the United States. The rate of seasonal homes has more than doubled since 1940, from 5.6 per 1,000 persons to 13 per 1,000 persons.

This trend toward rural sprawl has major environment impacts, according to Radeloff, who is an associate professor of forest and wildlife ecology.

“With housing development, we see an increase in exotic, invasive plants and negative effects on many forest bird species, habitat fragmentation and rising numbers of human-caused wildfires,” Radeloff said. “People like to live near lakes, in the mountains, and close to the coasts. But as more and more people move away from the cities, we have to recognize that there are consequences.”

Radeloff said there are several responses individuals and society should consider to the rural sprawl trend. Homeowners can choose to plant only native and non-invasive plants on their property, and restrict their pets to fenced areas, especially during sensitive times like wildlife breeding seasons. County and municipal administrators can monitor where they will allow housing developments based on environmental impacts. And on a national basis, the United States should consider policies that encourage, if not subsidize sensible local land use, and move away from policies that foster housing sprawl.

“We don’t need Congress to decide land use,” Radeloff emphasized, “but we do need programs that provide assistance to develop comprehensive land use plans that take the needs of both people and the environment into account.”

Areas with natural resource amenities and recreation often are targets for this “rural sprawl,” according to Stewart.

“Rural sprawl often takes small communities by surprise and can overwhelm their capacity for planning and land use enforcement,” she said. “Our housing growth trends are coming into conflict with our love of nature and we need to resolve the conflict while we can.”

The shift of more housing into rural areas also has placed homeowners in conflict with another part of nature – wildfires. In February, OSU’s Hammer testified in Washington, D.C. to the House Interior, Environment & Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee on wildfire management. In that hearing, he told the House that the confluence of forest management decisions and housing location decisions will put more Americans at-risk from wildfires during the next several years.

“Large forest fires are not new to this country and especially to the West,” Hammer said. “But as more and more people move into these rural areas, the problem will continue to worsen.” http://silvis.forest.wisc.edu/Library/WUILibrary.asp.


Media Contact: 

Roger Hammer,

OSU Press Publishes New Book on Mount St. Helens Eruption, Renewal

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Twenty-eight years after a massive volcanic eruption reshaped Washington’s Mount St. Helens, a new book is being published that examines the effect the event had on the landscape – and the people who lived there.

Published by the Oregon State University Press, “In the Blast Zone: Catastrophe and Renewal on Mount St. Helens” is a collection of essays and poetry by noted authors, scientists, poets and others. It was edited by Charles Goodrich and Kathleen Dean Moore of OSU, and Frederick J. Swanson of the U.S. Forest Service.

A tour featuring the editors and some of the contributing writers will begin on Friday, May 16, at OSU in the Valley Library rotunda. The event begins at 7:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public. Additional readings are listed below.

“Blast Zone” explores the mountain’s devastation and renewal, posing the question of what a radically altered landscape can reveal about nature and how to live our lives. Contributing writers include noted Oregon author Ursula K. LeGuin, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, Northwest Writing Institute founder Kim Stafford, aquatic scientist Jim Sedell, Oregon poet and writer John Daniel, photographer Gary Braasch and others.

Their diversity of experiences and perspectives with Mount St. Helens – and sometimes with the eruption itself – bring a multi-layered look at one of the most significant natural events to strike the Pacific Northwest in modern times.

Jerry Franklin, a contributing writer, facilitated numerous research projects in the Mount St. Helens blast zone following the eruption and still studies the ecosystem’s recovery. Another essayist, Robin Kimmerer, is a member of the Citizen Band Potawatomi who writes about traditional knowledge of the area’s ecology and how it contributed to the restoration efforts.

The editors also offer personal perspectives.

Swanson, long fascinated with volcano science, previously co-edited a scientific review, “Ecological Responses to the 1980 Eruption of Mount St. Helens.” Goodrich, the program director for OSU’s Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature and the Written Word, was backpacking 12 miles southeast of St. Helens when it erupted on May 18, 1980. Moore, who directs the Spring Creek project and serves as OSU’s first Writer Laureate, moved into her Corvallis home the day of the eruption and still has a small bottle of ash scraped from the hood of her car.

In the book’s foreword, Scott Slovic writes: “One comes away from reading this book with a powerfully transformed view of Mount St. Helens and volcanoes in general, carrying in one’s imagination ideas of green moss and blue butterflies, birdsong and wind, ideas that have now begun to complicate the image of St. Helens as a stark post-eruption moonscape…”

The paperback retails for $15.95 and is available in book stores, by calling 1-800-426-3797, or by going online to http://oregonstate.edu/dept/press/i-j/IntheBlastZone.html

Stops on the reading tour include:

• Corvallis: Friday, May 16, Oregon State University’s Valley Library rotunda, 7:30 p.m.

• Portland: Sunday, May 18, Powell’s Books, 4 p.m. (Ursula LeGuin, Kim Stafford and others will join the editors).

• Eugene: Wednesday, May 21, University of Oregon Bookstore, 7 p.m.

• Bellingham, Wash.: Tuesday, May 27, Village Books, 7 p.m.

• Olympia, Wash.: Wednesday, May 28, Orca Books, 7 p.m.

• Seattle, Wash.: Thursday, May 29, University Bookstore, 7 p.m.


Media Contact: 

Micki Reaman,

Abrupt global warming could shift monsoon patterns, cut agricultural output

CORVALLIS, Ore. – At times in the distant past, an abrupt change in climate has been associated with a shift of seasonal monsoons to the south, a new study concludes, causing more rain to fall over the oceans than in the Earth’s tropical regions, and leading to a dramatic drop in global vegetation growth.

If similar changes were to happen to the Earth’s climate today as a result of global warming – as scientists believe is possible – this might lead to drier tropics, more wildfires and declines in agricultural production in some of the world’s most heavily populated regions.

The findings were based on oxygen isotopes in air from ice cores, and supported by previously published data from ancient stalagmites found in caves. They will be published Friday in the journal Science by researchers from Oregon State University, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Desert Research Institute in Nevada. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation.

The data confirming these effects were unusually compelling, researchers said.

“Changes of this type have been theorized in climate models, but we’ve never before had detailed and precise data showing such a widespread impact of abrupt climate change,” said Ed Brook, an OSU professor of geosciences. “We didn’t really expect to find such large, fast environmental changes recorded by the whole atmosphere. The data are pretty hard to ignore.”

The researchers used oxygen measurements, as recorded in air bubbles in ice cores from Antarctica and Greenland, to gauge the changes taking place in vegetation during the past 100,000 years. Increases or decreases in vegetation growth can be determined by measuring the ratio of two different oxygen isotopes in air – the composition of which is essentially the same around the world at any one point in time.

They were also able to verify and confirm these measurements with data from studies of ancient stalagmites on the floors of caves in China, which can reveal rainfall levels over hundreds of thousands of years.

“Both the ice core data and the stalagmites in the caves gave us the same signal, of very dry conditions over broad areas at the same time,” Brook said. “We believe the mechanism causing this was a shift in monsoon patterns, more rain falling over the ocean instead of the land. That resulted in much lower vegetation growth in the regions affected by these monsoons, in what is now India, Southeast Asia and parts of North Africa.”

Previous research has determined that the climate can shift quite rapidly in some cases, in periods as short as decades or less. This study provides a barometer of how those climate changes can affect the Earth’s capacity to grow vegetation.

“Oxygen levels and their isotopic composition in the atmosphere are pretty stable; it takes a major terrestrial change to affect it very much,” Brook said. “These changes were huge. The drop in vegetation growth must have been dramatic.”

Observations of past climatic behavior are important, Brook said, but not a perfect predictor of the impact of future climatic shifts. For one thing, at times in the past when some of these changes took place, larger parts of the northern hemisphere were covered by ice. Ocean circulation patterns also can heavily influence climate, and shift in ways that are not completely understood.

However, the study still points to monsoon behavior being closely linked to climate change.

“These findings highlight the sensitivity of low-latitude rainfall patterns to abrupt climate change in the high–latitude north,” the researchers wrote in their report, “with possible relevance for future rainfall and agriculture in heavily-populated monsoon regions.”


Media Contact: 

Ed Brook, 541-737-8197

Studies Confirm Greenhouse Mechanisms Even Further Into Past

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The newest analysis of trace gases trapped in Antarctic ice cores now provide a reasonable view of greenhouse gas concentrations as much as 800,000 years into the past, and are further confirming the link between greenhouse gas levels and global warming, scientists reported today in the journal Nature.

They also show that during that entire period of time, there have never been concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane as high as the current levels, said Edward Brook, an associate professor of geosciences at Oregon State University, and author of a Nature commentary on the new studies.

“The fundamental conclusion that today’s concentrations of these greenhouse gases have no past analogue in the ice-core record remains firm,” Brook said in the report. “The remarkably strong correlations of methane and carbon dioxide with temperature reconstructions also stand.”

The latest research, done by members of the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica, extend the data on trace gases back another 150,000 years beyond any studies done prior to this, Brook said. Ultimately, researchers would like to achieve data going back as much as 1.5 million years.

The tiny bubbles of ancient air trapped in polar ice cores have been used to provide records of trace gases in the atmosphere at distant points in the past, and better understand the natural fluctuations that have occurred, largely as a result of cyclical changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun.

“These natural cycles that occur on the order of tens or hundreds of thousands of years can help us understand both the forces that have controlled and influenced Earth’s climate in the past, and the implications of current changes on future climate,” said Brook, who is co-chair of an international group that organizes global studies in this field.

According to the data, the current levels of primary greenhouse gases – those that are expected to cause global warming – are off the charts.

The concentration of carbon dioxide is now a bit more than 380 parts per million, compared to a range of about 200-300 parts per million during the past 800,000 years. The current concentration of methane is 1,800 parts per billion, compared to a range of about 400-700 parts per billion during that time.

In every case during that extended period, warm periods coincide with high levels of greenhouse gases. Of some interest, the latest studies are showing that the temperature increases have been even more pronounced during the most recent 450,000 years, compared to several hundred thousand years prior to that.

“It appears there may even be very long-term natural cycles that have operated on much longer periods of 400,000 years or more,” Brook said. “We still have quite a bit to learn about these past cycles and all the forces that control them.”

Most of the time during the past 800,000 years, the Earth has experienced long, cooler periods about 80,000 to 90,000 years long, which eventually lead to ice ages. Those have been regularly interrupted by “interglacial” periods about 10,000 to 20,000 years long that are considerably warmer – this is the stage the Earth is in right now. Abrupt climate changes on much shorter time scales are also possible, researchers believe, possibly due to shifts in ocean circulation patterns or other forces.

Scientists are continuing to search for the optimal sites in Antarctica that will allow them to take the ice core records back even further, Brook said.

Media Contact: 

Edward Brook,

Changing Ownership of Timber Lands Raises Social, Economic Challenges

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Almost all large, publicly-traded forest product companies have shed their timber lands in the past 20 years, a reflection of global economic pressures, new tax laws and other forces – and this phenomenon has changed the very nature of commercial forestry.

In their place are new real estate investment trusts and timberland investors that are focused on maximizing their profits, mixed in with remaining small and private forest landowners and companies struggling to survive. These wide-ranging changes are poorly understood and may not serve the best long term interests of society, according to recent studies in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University.

This revolution in America’s forest ownership and management has taken place quietly and largely under the radar, but it has huge business, social and environmental implications, said John Bliss, OSU professor and holder of the Starker Chair of Private and Family Forestry.

“In forestry, we grew up with the idea that large, public forest product companies would always own and manage forest lands,” Bliss said. “That was naïve. By and large they have gotten out of that business completely.”

These “vertically integrated” public forest product companies used to own large tracts of their own forest lands as well as the mills to process the timber, Bliss said. At the same time they retained professional land managers, employed huge numbers of forest and mill workers, and had a long-term commitment to forest products as their primary business. They dwarfed small forest landowners in size, and sometimes disparaged them as “less professional” and not using the latest practices or technology, Bliss said.

But in the last couple decades, these companies – International Paper, Georgia Pacific, Boise Cascade, Pope and Talbot – have either sold off their timber lands or gone out of business altogether. What’s left is a grab bag of small forest landowners, new types of large timber land owners, and commercial mills that have to buy timber wherever they can get it. The motivations and goals of these people and entities are quite different from those of the past, experts say.

“A lot of this was driven by very tough global competition and changes in tax laws,” said Erin Kelly, an OSU forestry doctoral student. “The tax laws were created at the federal level for business in general and had little to do with forestry. But the end result was that ownership of timber lands was dragging down the bottom line for the big forest product companies.”

More favorable tax situations were enjoyed by real estate investment trusts (REITs) or timber investment management organizations (TIMOs) which provided mechanisms that helped avoid corporate taxes and long-term capital gains. At the same time, large public companies faced cost-cutting, mergers and acquisitions, a drive for maximum efficiency and improved profits.

“Several CEOs of large public timber companies have said that they simply had no choice,” Bliss said. “It was either recognize the efficiency of new business models or go out of business.”

But those changing ownership structures, researchers say, have had multiple impacts. Real estate investment trusts, for instance, have a mandate to maximize the value of the lands they own. They don’t have a mill they are required to keep busy, and their managers don’t much care whether the land produces timber or gets turned into golf courses, resorts or subdivisions. And who, ultimately, are the new owners? They could be just about anybody, including the ordinary investor – pension funds, mutual funds and insurance companies hold many of these REITs and TIMOs, which can help them diversify their holdings.

“People who used to be in the timber production business are now in the investment business,” Kelly said. “The end result is a lot of pressure to take timber lands out of production for whatever other use makes more money. The largest private landowner in the United States right now is a real estate investment trust in Seattle. But whether this best serves the long-term good of society is a different question.”

At the same time, the remaining small timber land owners or small private companies are trying to produce wood and forest products in competition with large, multinational industries all over the world.

“In today’s global, intensely competitive free market, smallness of enterprise is not generally viewed as an asset,” the scientists wrote in one recent study. “Particularly in commodity markets, economies of scale in ownership, management, production, transportation and marketing all favor bigness.”

The challenge, OSU experts say, is to identify approaches or techniques that can allow economic survival of today’s smaller or more disjointed forest land owners. No easy solutions exist, Bliss said.

“There has been the idea that smaller landowners or companies in the U.S. could turn more to ‘green’ wood products that are produced in environmentally sensitive ways,” Bliss said. “But so far the American consumer has not generally indicated a willingness to pay more for these products.”

There may be some opportunities to grow older, very high quality logs in long rotations that can be used for specialty products and command higher prices, Bliss said. Some forest lands have also been sold to environmental groups for conservation purposes, which can be locally important but offer less of a widespread solution. Hunting leases and other ecotourism options provide some potential for income. And intensively-managed plantations on the best forest lands may help keep them economically viable.

Small forest landowners often provide the commitment to caring for the land, diversity of uses, personal attachment, flexibility and ethical underpinning that are viewed as very positive forces, Bliss said. These people are not always driven by the need to maximize production or convert forest lands for a quick profit – but they must compete in the marketplace in order to survive.

“The squeeze is on, there’s no doubt about it,” Bliss said. “Our challenge is to accept these new realities and find ways for the smaller owners to survive, hopefully even thrive.”

Media Contact: 

John Bliss,

New Studies Highlight Concern over Rising Jellyfish Populations

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Jellyfish populations appear to be increasing along the West Coast and in the Bering Sea and scientists studying the phenomenon are concerned because jellyfish may feed on the same plankton species targeted by herring, sardines and anchovies, juveniles salmon and other fishes.

Compounding the situation, the scientists say, is that there are few predators for adult jellyfish.

“A few birds and fish will eat the jellies in their larval or juvenile stages,” said Richard D. Brodeur, a NOAA biologist and adjunct professor in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. “But once the medusae reach a certain size, not much eats them.”

Newly published studies by Brodeur, OSU oceanographer Lorenzo Ciannelli and others are looking at the link between climate change and jellyfish populations and they have found this relationship is complex. The prevailing school of thought has been that as ocean waters warm, jellyfish populations will increase. But they have discovered that food sources, reproduction dynamics and ocean currents all play a role in jellyfish populations.

In a paper just published in Progress in Oceanography, the scientists describe a steep increase in jellyfish populations in the Bering Sea through the 1990s, peaking in the summer of 2000. But during the years of 2001 through 2005, when scientists recorded some of the warmest temperatures ever in the Bering Sea, jellyfish populations declined.

“They were still well ahead of their historic averages for that region,” said Ciannelli, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. “But clearly jellyfish populations are not merely a function of water temperature.”

One key to learning more about jellyfish expansion has been Ciannelli’s work looking into the organisms’ complex life cycle. Adult males release their sperm into the water column and fertilize the eggs that female adults have released. From each fertilized egg, a larva is produced that attaches itself to a rock or some other solid surface and produces a polyp. These polyps reproduce asexually and eventually the young medusae detach themselves and begin the life cycle anew.

The researchers’ preliminary findings suggest that warmer ocean waters may enhance the stage where polyps transform into colonies, but that hypothesis is based on lab work, not field research. The reason, Ciannelli says, is that polyps are notoriously difficult to locate because of their small size.

“We think that higher temperatures lead to a higher metabolic rate and faster division of cells,” he said. “It accelerates the whole system. But finding polyps in the Bering Sea is like trying to do research on the dark side of the moon.”

Ciannelli and his colleagues are funded by the National Science Foundation to better understand how these polyps are distributed. One hypothesis is that there is a single unique source that produces the small jellyfish in the Bering Sea and their expansion is a product of currents. An alternative theory is that the jellyfish are using pockets of warm water to establish new colonies, which would be consistent with global warming scenarios, he said.

“What we’re trying to figure out is where the energy of the food web is going,” Ciannelli pointed out. “If it is going to the jellyfish, which are eating the plankton, it creates an overall sink because they have few predators. It is diverting the energy of the ocean from the pelagic to the benthic system.”

Scientists have begun looking more closely at food sources for jellyfish off the West Coast of the United States and their findings are surprising. In a paper published in the April 2008 issue of the Marine Ecology Progress Series, a team of scientists including Brodeur quantified diet and predation rates for large jellyfish from an upwelling region in the northern California Current. They found that in an area north of Cape Blanco, Ore., abundant populations of jellyfish ate an average of one-third of all the euphausiid – a type of zooplankton – eggs available each day. Consumption of other taxa reached 10 to 12 percent of the standing stocks.

On the other hand, copepods, important components of the marine food web, were consumed at relatively low levels – less than 1 percent a day. Lead author on that study was Cynthia L. Suchman, who conducted her research out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore., where Brodeur works.

Few scientists are conducting long-term jellyfish studies and the authors suggest that zooplankton studies and predation impacts by jellyfish should be incorporated into long-term studies and ecosystem models. “Unfortunately,” Brodeur said, “there hasn’t been a great deal of funding for jellyfish studies, so we don’t know as much as we should about their impact.”

Trawl surveys by Brodeur and his colleagues found that the spatial overlap between jellyfish and most pelagic fishes, including salmon, was relatively small. But in a forthcoming article in Marine Biology, the researchers point out that the overlap with “planktivorous” fishes that consume copepods and euphausiid eggs – including Pacific sardines, the northern anchovy, Pacific saury, and Pacific herring – was considerable. These prey species also are critical to the diets of salmon and other species in the ocean.

“We’ve been collecting data now for about nine years and it appears, at least on a preliminary basis, that when cold water regimes are prevalent, jellyfish numbers increase,” Brodeur said. “During the warmer years, when food sources are scarcer, there may be fewer jellyfish, but they grow quickly – whether because of elevated metabolic rates or less competition, we don’t know.”

This summer Brodeur will be involved in a series of cruises off the Oregon coast to sample jellyfish populations and see what effect this year’s cold-water La Niña phenomenon may have had.

“It won’t be a good sign for the ecosystem if we get a lot of jellies out there,” he said.

Their research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service.


Media Contact: 

Ric Brodeur,

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OSU Aims to Hire 2 Researchers by September to Study Honeybee Health

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University hopes to hire two research and Extension faculty members by September to examine the health of the state's honeybees and find out if any hives have been wiped out by a mysterious phenomenon that has caused losses in colonies throughout the country.

Honeybees are crucial pollinators for many of Oregon's crops, including blueberries, pears, cherries, apples and vegetable seeds.

The positions will be funded through a $215,000 emergency package approved last week by the Joint Legislative Emergency Board, which oversees budget requests when the state legislature is out of session. The money will also be used to increase the diagnostic capability at OSU's Insect ID Clinic and buy lab supplies for honeybee research. The funding is for 10 months, but the university hopes the legislature will renew funding in the 2009-11 budget for the Oregon University System.

OSU will conduct a nationwide search to fill the two new openings, said Stella Coakley, an associate dean at OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences. One position is for a lead scientist who will identify and work to resolve problems facing honeybees in Oregon. Ideally, the candidate would be an entomologist with expertise in apiculture and experience with honeybee health issues, Coakley said.

The other position is a research and Extension assistant who would aid the lead scientist and OSU insect clinic entomologist, Jim Young. Young presently is funded to devote four hours a week to honeybee health issues, but with the new funding, he will spend 10 hours a week on this. He also plans to analyze random samples of honeybees from across the state to form a general assessment of the health of hives.

Oregon does not have a full-time expert who specializes in diagnosing problems facing honeybees. The Oregon Department of Agriculture used to employ a honeybee expert but eliminated that position in the 1990s amid budget cuts.

Young is the only OSU employee paid to handle issues involving the health of honeybees. On his own time, Professor Emeritus Michael Burgett answers the public's questions about bees but isn't paid to do so.

Burgett and agricultural economists from Montana State University and North Carolina State University received a grant this year from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to calculate how many honeybee colonies have died in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho in 2007-08 and to assess the economic impact of these deaths on agriculture. Burgett said he expects the findings to be published in December or January.

Young oversees OSU Extension's Honey Bee Diagnostic Services (http://www.bcc.orst.edu/bpp/insect_clinic/bees.htm), which was created this year in response to concern from farmers, apiculturists and the general public. The lab diagnoses non-viral diseases and pests, including American and European foulbrood, chalkbrood, stonebrood and tracheal mites.

In April, Young mailed a survey, which is voluntary and anonymous, to 120 beekeepers in Oregon to find out what diseases and pests were affecting their honeybees. About 30 have been returned, he said.

"The replies are so scattered that there does not appear to be any pattern," Young said.

He said that some reported cases of American and European foulbrood, varroa mites, and nosema. Three or four beekeepers thought their hives suffered from colony collapse disorder, but that doesn't mean they actually had the condition, Young said.

Colony collapse disorder occurs when adult honeybees disappear from a hive, either entirely or in large numbers. The phenomenon came to light in late 2006, when beekeepers on the East Coast began to see their honeybee colonies dwindle. A cause has not been determined, but one possible suspect is a virus. The disorder has since spread to other states and may now be present in the Pacific Northwest, including Oregon.

Media Contact: 

Stella Coakley,

Coffee Grounds Perk up Compost Pile With Nitrogen

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Coffee grounds can be an excellent addition to a compost pile. The grounds are relatively rich in nitrogen, providing bacteria the energy they need to turn organic matter into compost.

About 2 percent nitrogen by volume, used coffee grounds can be a safe substitute for nitrogen-rich manure in the compost pile, explained Cindy Wise, coordinator of the compost specialist program at the Lane County office of the Oregon State University Extension Service.

"A lot of people don't want to use manure because of concerns about pathogens," said Wise.

Contrary to popular belief, coffee grounds are not acidic. After brewing, the grounds are close to pH neutral, between 6.5 and 6.8. The acid in the beans is mostly water-soluble, so it leaches into the coffee we drink.

Since 2001, Wise has trained and coordinated OSU compost specialist volunteers. They have collected and composted nearly 200 tons of coffee grounds from 13 coffee shops and kiosks in Eugene, Springfield, Florence, Cottage Grove and Veneta. That's the equivalent of about 25 large dump trucks full of coffee grounds.

Lane County alone is estimated to generate a million pounds of used coffee grounds per year, said Wise.

"Recycling this valuable soil amendment and compost ingredient makes sense both economically and environmentally," she said.

Wise is encouraging gardeners and those that compost in other communities to arrange to collect coffee shop grounds for composting. But be sure to make prior arrangements with a coffee shop to collect grounds. Then, take a clean five-gallon bucket with a lid, label it with your name and telephone number on the bucket and lid and leave it at the shop and then pick it up at the shop's convenience.

Here are some suggestions for using composted grounds in the yard and garden from the OSU Extension compost specialists:

  • Mix grounds into soil as an amendment. Make sure to keep them damp. Add some nitrogen fertilizer if you do this, as coffee grounds encourage the growth of microbes in the soil, which use up nitrogen. While microbes are breaking down the grounds, the nitrogen will provide a source of nutrients for your plants.

  • Spread grounds on the soil surface, then cover them with leaves or bark mulch.

  • Add grounds to your compost pile, layering one part leaves to one part fresh grass clippings to one part coffee grounds, by volume. Turn once a week. This will be ready in three to six months.

  • Or, put them in an existing unturned pile. Just make sure to add a high carbon source, such as leaves to balance it.

  • Grounds may be stored for future use. They may develop molds but these appear to be consumed during the composting process. Or a large plastic bag works for storage as well.

  • Paper coffee filters may be composted with the grounds.

Keep in mind that uncomposted coffee grounds are NOT a nitrogen fertilizer. Coffee grounds have a carbon-to-nitrogen ration of about 20 to 1, in the same range as animal manure. Germination tests in Eugene showed that uncomposted coffee grounds, added to soil as about one-fourth the volume, showed poor germination and stunted growth in lettuce seed. Therefore, they need to be composted before using near plants.

Wise and her composting protégés have been conducting informal research on composting coffee grounds. So far, they have observed that coffee grounds help to sustain high temperatures in compost piles. High temperatures reduce potentially dangerous pathogens and kill seeds from weeds and vegetables that were added to the piles. They have noticed that coffee grounds seem to improve soil structure, plus attract earthworms.

When coffee grounds made up 25 percent of the volume of their compost piles, temperatures in the piles stayed between 135 degrees and 155 degrees for at least two weeks, enough time to have killed a "significant portion" of the pathogens and seeds. In contrast, the manure in the trials didn't sustain the heat as long..

"We were amazed at the results we got with coffee grounds when we did the trial," said Wise.

Jack Hannigan, an Extension-trained compost specialist, is pleased with the results he gets from the coffee grounds he collects from the Fast Lane Coffee Company in Springfield to use on his farm in Pleasant Hill.

"I make hotbeds that run about 150 degrees," Hannigan said. "It kills the weeds. I can get the piles hotter and break down the compost better with coffee grounds than I can with manure. It works great."

Coffee grounds also can be added directly to soil but the grounds need a few months to break down, Wise said. "We're not certain about how coffee grounds act with the soil, but anecdotally people say they do dig it into the soil," she said.

An additional benefit of diverting coffee grounds from the landfill is that it helps cut greenhouse gas emissions, said Dan Hurley, waste management engineer for Lane County's Short Mountain Landfill.

"To keep organics out of the landfill is a good thing for reducing greenhouse gas emissions because organics decompose and produce methane. Methane is about 25 times as bad as carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas," said Hurley.

Recycling coffee shop grounds also fosters interactions between community residents and local businesses. The coffee grounds stay in their communities, meaning that fuel isn't being used to truck them from far-flung areas of the county to landfills

The OSU Extension Service offers several resources online to learn more about making and using compost:

Growing Your Own—Recycle with Compost Pile

Gardening with Composts, Mulches and Row Covers

Como hacer y usar el compost (in Spanish)

Improving Soils with Organic Matter

Media Contact: 

Cindy Wise,

Loss of Wolves Causes Major Ecosystem Disruption at Olympic National Park

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Olympic National Park was created in 1938, in part “to preserve the finest sample of primeval forests in the entire United States” – but a new study at Oregon State University suggests that this preservation goal has failed, as a result of the elimination of wolves and subsequent domination of the temperate rainforests by herds of browsing elk.

The park, with streamside ecosystems that have been largely denuded of the young trees needed to replace the old ones, and stream systems that bear little resemblance to the narrower and vegetation-lined rivers of the past, is now anything but “primeval” and a very different place than it was 70 years ago, researchers say.

The extermination of wolves in the early 1900s set off a “trophic cascade” of changes that appear to have affected forest vegetation and stream dynamics, with possible impacts on everything from fisheries to birds and insects, the scientists wrote in their report, just published in the journal Ecohydrology.

Members of the Press Expedition, hiking in 1890 through what is now Olympic National Park, found the banks of the upper Quinault River “so dense with underbrush as to be almost impenetrable,” they wrote at the time. Logs jammed the rivers, dense tree canopies shaded and cooled the streams, and trout and salmon thrived along with hundreds of species of plants and animals.

“Today, you go through the same area and instead of dense vegetation that you have to fight through, it’s a park-like stand of predominantly big trees,” said Bill Ripple, a co-author of the study and forestry professor at Oregon State University. “It’s just a different world.”

That world may still be quite beautiful with its jagged, glacier-covered peaks and towering old-growth trees. But it’s not the same one that so impressed President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909 that he created Mount Olympus National Monument – in large part to help protect elk herds that had been decimated by hunting. The Roosevelt elk, a massive animal that now bears his name, can weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

With protection from hunters and extermination of wolves not long after that, elk populations surged, and OSU researchers say that in the intervening decades the very nature of Olympic National Park has changed dramatically.

“Our study shows that there has been almost no recruitment of new cottonwood and bigleaf maple trees since the wolves disappeared, and also likely impacts on streamside shrubs, which are very important for river stability,” said Robert Beschta, lead author of the study and professor emeritus of forest hydrology at OSU. “Decreases in woody plant communities allow river banks to rapidly erode and river channels to widen.”

“Tree and shrub species along stream banks and floodplains started crashing first,” Beschta said. “Then, apparently, the rivers began to unravel. Now we have large areas where the forest understory vegetation is mostly just grasses and ferns.”

The study showed that river dynamics are quite different than they were historically. Streams that once were held together in tight channels by heavy bank vegetation are now wider and braided, with exposed gravel bars a common feature. The water is open to the warming sun and less enriched by plants and insects. Nearly half of the terraces along the Queets River have disappeared because of accelerated erosion over a period of multiple decades.

“We’ve seen the impact of wolves on the ecosystem in Yellowstone, the effect of cougars in Yosemite National Park, the same basic story about the importance of key predators being played out in many different places,” Ripple said. “What’s so surprising here is that it’s happening in a temperate rainforest, which is hugely productive and has such high levels of vegetation growth. But even there, when the ecosystem gets overwhelmed with many large herbivores, the vegetation just can’t keep up.”

In an area outside Olympic National Park where little foraging by elk occurred, tree recruitment has been normal and healthy in recent decades.

Since the Olympic National Park ecosystem bears some similarity to much of the temperate rainforests in the Coast Range of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia – with a mild climate and heavy levels of rainfall – it’s reasonable to believe similar forces are at work elsewhere when historic predators have been removed, the scientists said.

“Unlike some of the studies we’ve done in the Rocky Mountains, arid desert or canyon ecosystems, for us this one is hitting a little closer to home,” said Beschta, a forest hydrologist who has studied Pacific Northwest streams for more than 30 years. “These processes are at work right in our backyard.”

In multiple studies in the U.S. and Canada, usually in national parks where supposedly “pristine” ecosystems are still available, the OSU scientists in recent years have documented the critical impacts on ecosystems when key predators disappear – usually wolves or cougars. It has been shown that such predators help control the grazing impacts of elk and deer on several levels, by keeping their population levels down, but also in changing their patterns of behavior – a process that has been called “the ecology of fear.”

In the most classic case where these predators have been brought back into the ecosystem – wolves in Yellowstone National Park – OSU scientists have found that some stream ecosystems are now starting to recover where they had been in serious decline for more than half a century. Streamside trees and shrubs, beaver dams, and native plants, animals and fisheries are being restored.

An effort was considered to restore wolves to the Olympic National Park ecosystem in recent years, but no decision or actions have been undertaken to accomplish that, the OSU scientists said.

To view the Elk Video News clip:



Media Contact: 

Robert Beschta,

Multimedia Downloads


Elk grazing in Olympic National Park

Robert Beschta

OSU forestry researcher Robert Beschta

OSU Professor to Test Beijing Air Quality at Olympics

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A researcher from Oregon State University will travel to smog-cloaked Beijing this month to monitor the air quality before and during the Olympics and see what impact cleanup efforts have had.

"Hopefully, the research will help the Chinese government to better understand how it can control air quality in large cities," said Staci Simonich, an associate professor of chemistry and toxicology.

China has been taking steps to clean up its sky in preparation for the Olympics. The government announced this month that it has banned about 300,000 high-emission vehicles – about 10 percent of the total in Beijing – from the capital's roads until Sept. 20. It also said high-pollution businesses have been closed or moved, some provinces have been banned from burning straw, and thousands of government vehicles have been parked in the garage.

Simonich, who will be in China from July 19 to Aug. 15, forms part of a team of researchers who have been testing various aspects of the air quality in a project called CAREBEIJING. Led by Peking University, it was launched in 2006 with the mission of formulating a strategy to control air pollution during the games, which run from Aug. 8-24.

While in Beijing, Simonich will devote her attention to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are produced by burning carbon-based materials such as gas, coal and wood. She'll focus on them because she's an expert on that subject and because they're a serious health concern in China given that some cause cancer, she said.

Simonich isn't worried about these hydrocarbons causing cancer in the athletes and visitors because they will be there only for a short time. But other pollutants, like particulate matter and ozone, could cause Beijing's guests to experience temporary respiratory problems, she said.

Standing on a rooftop at Peking University, Simonich will use a pump to suck air into white, rectangular, filters that will trap particles containing hydrocarbons. She'll begin sampling the air around the last week of July. After she leaves, a student from Peking University will conduct the tests during the last week of the games. Simonich will send the filters to her lab at OSU and determine which hydrocarbons are present. She'll also test them on bacteria to see if they cause cancer.

Simonich became involved in CAREBEIJING after inviting two of its participants to speak at OSU. Her visit will be the third time in recent months that OSU researchers have collected air samples in Beijing. Her graduate students gathered air samples in August 2007 and January of this year. Simonich expects to know the results of those tests as well as the ones from August 2008 within a year.

The Chinese government and the U.S. National Science Foundation will fund her trip and research.

Simonich specializes in studying how pollutants travel through the atmosphere. She runs a lab at OSU that identifies and tracks chemicals, like pesticides, that hitch rides along airstreams that start in Asia and blow across the Pacific Ocean to mountains in the western United States. She also is a member of a National Academy of Sciences committee that studies pollutants entering and leaving the United States.


Media Contact: 

Staci Simonich,