environment and natural resources

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Esquivel to Meet With Students, Give Talk at OSU for PeaceJam

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel will visit the Oregon State University campus on Feb. 22-24, where he will call on Pacific Northwest high school students, teachers and OSU students to step forward to create a better world through community service and global action.

He also will present a free public lecture on Friday, Feb. 22, beginning at 8 p.m. in the Memorial Union Ballroom titled “Human Rights and Justice for All.”

His appearance is part of PeaceJam, an international education program that works with Nobel Prize laureates to engage youth in volunteerism and encourages them to work to transform themselves, their local communities and, ultimately, the world.

“This is the fourth year that Oregon State University has had the honor to host PeaceJam, which is an extraordinary opportunity for high school and college students to personally interact with a Nobel Prize recipient,” said Frank Ragulsky, OSU’s student media adviser and a campus coordinator of PeaceJam.

“It is a memorable experience for students and the benefit continues as they return home and become more actively involved in their own communities,” he added.

Esquivel received the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership and advocacy for human rights and democracy in Latin America.

More than 200 high school students and teachers from Oregon, Washington and California will attend the two-day PeaceJam conference Feb. 23-24 at OSU. A number of OSU students will serve as mentors during the conference. PeaceJam co-founder, Dawn Engle will kick-off the conference.

The students will work in groups of about a dozen on a variety of community service projects in the Corvallis area, attend workshops, and have the opportunity to present individual or school plans for furthering peace to Esquivel.

This year’s community service projects will focus on the Global Call to Action, a movement inspired by the 12 Nobel Peace laureates, who sit on the PeaceJam International board of directors. They are asking youth to take leadership in eradicating world hunger, preserving the environment and leading us to a time of peace.

For more information, go online to oregonstate.edu/peacejam or www.peacejam.org.

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OSU Professor Recognized for Work in Weed Science

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A weed science professor at Oregon State University has received the Weed Science Society of America's highest honor for her contributions to the profession.

Carol Mallory-Smith, an associate department head at OSU's Department of Crop and Soil Science, was named a fellow of the society at the nonprofit professional organization’s annual meeting.

"It's a very select group that receives this award each year – available to only 0.25 percent of the membership," said Jill Schroeder, 2007-08 president of the society. There were three recipients this year who joined the roughly 200 people who have been named fellows since the award was created in 1964.

Schroeder said Mallory-Smith is “best known for her work on gene flow and herbicide resistance. She continues to do some unique research about gene movement out of weeds and into crops or vice versa."

Mallory-Smith is studying how genes from canola contaminate vegetable crops. She's also looking at how substances from juniper trees might be able to inhibit the germination of weeds. In the past, she has studied Orobanche minor, a parasitic weed that attaches to clover and snuffs the life out of it. Found in Oregon in 1998, it could destroy the state's clover industry if not controlled, said Mallory-Smith, who helped identify other plants that attract the weed as well as herbicides that kill it.

Additionally, her work with Italian ryegrass gave growers additional options for controlling the plant with herbicides. She and other OSU researchers also found that crop rotations can be used to reduce California brome in wheat production because California brome seed lasts only two years in the soil.

Mallory-Smith, who was born in Troy, Ore., began teaching at OSU in 1994 after earning a doctorate in plant science at the University of Idaho in 1990.

She said she enjoys the variety of work that her job offers.

"On any day I can be working with five or six different crops and all of the weeds that accompany them,” she said. “I am never bored. The best part of my job is working with graduate students and growers."

Respected by students in her department, they named her an Outstanding Teacher in Crop and Soil Science in 1997 and again in 2007.

Mallory-Smith has been a member of the Weed Science Society of America since 1987 and was its president in 2005-06.



Carol Mallory-Smith,

OSU Research Could Lead To Bio-fuels Processed From Algae

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University are working to find an efficient method of processing bio-diesel fuel and ethanol from one of the world’s most plentiful organisms – algae – which could lead to breakthroughs in reducing the world's dependency on petroleum.

Applying the findings to mass-produce algae and extract its oils could be five to 10 years in the future, but the advantages are worth the wait, according to Ganti Murthy, assistant professor of biological and ecological engineering at OSU.

Algae are versatile organisms that are "plant-like" but do not have a root system or leaves. Plants pull water and nutrients through their roots and release vapor through their leaves in a process called transpiration. The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that an acre of corn transpires about 4,000 gallons of water a day. Because algae do not have such a vascular system, they use water only as a medium for growing.

"In a closed growing system,” Murthy said, “algae require 99 percent less water than any other crop.”

Another advantage to growing algae is that varieties of the organism have been found flourishing in all kinds of environments – from the Arctic to tropical areas – and in both fresh and salt water. Therefore, Murthy said, growing algae "is not a food-versus-fuel issue; algae can be grown using waste-water and in areas that cannot support agriculture."

Algae also are highly productive compared to conventional crops. For example, a productivity model estimates that 48 gallons of bio-diesel can be produced from an acre of soybeans, whereas algae could produce 819 gallons – and theoretically as much as 5,000 gallons – from a single acre.

One of algae's most remarkable qualities is that it can grow using carbon dioxide generated from fossil-fuel combustion, according to Murthy. Greenhouse gases from industry and coal-fired electrical-generating plants can be piped to algae ponds, where carbon dioxide is a necessary ingredient for growth. In fact, research has shown that algae can grow 30 percent faster than normal when fed carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel combustion.

At the OSU Sustainable Technologies Laboratory, Murthy has built two small photobioreactors to grow microscopic algae in a closed system. They are simple, plastic cylinders that have advantages over an open-pond system in greater productivity, reduced contamination and better control of growth. It takes about three weeks for the algae—combined with light, water, carbon dioxide and mineral nutrients—to multiply and turn the water green.

The primary focus of the OSU lab is to discover efficient ways to extract the oils (also called lipids) and process them into bio-diesel fuel and ethanol, with fertilizer and animal feed as co-products. The biggest challenge, according to Murthy, is separating water from the micro algae he is testing (Chlorella and Dunaliella), which must continually be mixed with carbon dioxide and light as they grow. A combination of straining and centrifuging is the current method of extraction.

Of the more than 3,000 known strains of algae, Murthy grows both fresh water and salt water varieties. The photobioreactors hold about six gallons of water and produce about .17 pounds of algae with each batch.

"Depending on the algae growth conditions, we can usually extract 20 to 30 percent oil from it, and up to 60 percent is possible," he said.

Commercialization of algal bio-fuel and ethanol is a long way off. Yet, with many questions to answer and challenges to overcome, Murthy is undaunted. "A lot of people are working on it," he said, "It's just a matter of putting it together, making it work."

Murthy's work at OSU has been funded by a grant from the Agriculture Research Foundation.



Ganti Murthy,

OSU Researcher Documents Rare Wolverine in California

TRUCKEE, Calif. – A rare wolverine has been documented in the Tahoe National Forest by a researcher from Oregon State University working with colleagues at the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station – the first confirmed sighting of the animal in nearly three-quarters of a century.

Katie Moriarty, a graduate student in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, has been conducting research in the forest on the effects of landscape change on American martens. The project, funded primarily by the Pacific Southwest Research Station, uses a large array of cameras that remotely capture images of martens and other animals through the use of motion sensors or heat detectors.

However, one of the cameras captured an image from behind of a larger animal with telltale black and brown markings that experts say is a wolverine.

William J. Zielinski, a research ecologist with the Pacific Southwest Research Station, sent the image to Jeff Copeland, a noted wolverine expert with the Rocky Mountain Research Station. Copeland said he “couldn’t convert it into anything else” other than a wolverine.

“It looks like the real deal,” Copeland added.

Zielinski said reports of wolverine sightings occur occasionally in California, but none of those sightings have been confirmed. The last documented occurrence of a wolverine in the state dates back to the 1920s, he said.

The North American wolverine is the largest member of the weasel family and adults can weigh as much as 40 pounds. With its bushy tail and broad head, it resembles a small bear and has a similar diet – insects, berries, small animals, birds and carrion.

Wolverines are more common in the north-central United States, including Minnesota, Michigan and North Dakota, and also can be found in Idaho, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.

Moriarty, who is pursuing a master’s degree in wildlife science at Oregon State, said the sighting on camera of a wolverine was “hugely unexpected.”

“This may be an important scientific ‘stumble,’” she said. “Wolverines are, at the least, extremely rare and some people consider then to have been extirpated in California. I had hoped to get marten detections with the cameras, and I have captured a couple, but getting a wolverine was quite a surprise.

“This season, I’ve obtained images of black bear, bobcat, many coyotes, spotted skunk, Stellar’s jay, common ravens, mice, and long- and short-tailed weasels,” Moriarty added. “It’s a fantastic wildlife assemblage.”

Moriarty has been working in the Tahoe National Forest under the tutelage of Zielinski, a wildlife ecologist, and Eric Forsman, a wildlife ecologist at OSU and the U.S. Geological Survey. Both are members of Moriarty’s graduate committee.

Zielinski, who is an expert at detecting rare mammals including wolverines, lynx, marten and fishers, said the U.S. Forest Service will begin seeking more evidence of wolverines in the region. In addition to the camera array, researchers will try to collect hair and scat samples and compare them to an existing DNA database that may tell them from where the wolverine originated.


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Bill Zielinski,

Multimedia Downloads

A California wolverine

A California wolverine

Social Critic David Korten to Speak

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An examination of the global corporate economy and how it can shift into a human-scale community is the focus of a speech by social critic David Korten on Thursday, March 13, at Oregon State University.

The lecture, “Navigating the Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community,” will begin at 7 p.m. in OSU’s Gilfillan Auditorium. It is free and open to the public.

The speech is the final event in OSU’s Ideas Matter series, “Who Owns the Sky? The Tragedy or Triumph of the Commons.”

Korten’s classic bestseller, “When Corporations Rule the World,” was one of the first books to articulate what he calls the destructive and oppressive nature of the global corporate economy. In his new book, “The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community,” Korten demonstrates that corporate power is a contemporary manifestation of what he calls “empire” – the organization of society by hierarchies of domination grounded in violent chauvinisms of race, gender, religion, nationality, language, and class.

Advocating for an earth community, Korten will talk about how humans can choose to turn this moment of “planetary crisis” into a new era, grounded in the life-affirming values of community, caring and cooperation that are shared by most of the world’s people and reflected throughout human history.

The series is sponsored by the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word, and the OSU Department of Philosophy. For information, go to http://springcreek.oregonstate.edu.


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Charles Goodrich,

New OSU Program Designs With Nature

CORVALLIS, Ore. – This year, students at Oregon State University are learning to design with nature through a new undergraduate program in Ecological Engineering.

Combining the tools of engineering design with an understanding of how complex natural systems interact, the new program is part of both the College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Engineering.

"Agriculture is where ecological engineers can contribute in many ways to a sustainable system that integrates human values with natural structures and functions," said John Bolte, head of OSU's Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering.

Citing examples of using plants to clean water, air and soil, Bolte said ecological engineering "is a new and rapidly growing industry that needs professionals who understand agriculture, plant systems and engineering design."

The program is taking education out of the laboratory and into the field, where large-scale, interconnected systems interact in unpredictable and sometimes unruly ways. Students study river systems, wetlands, agricultural lands and other places in nature to learn how to design functioning ecological systems to meet human needs.

"There is no other institution teaching this approach, and no better place to do it than Oregon State," said Lou Licht, president and founder of Ecolotree, Inc., the nation's oldest phyto-remediation business. "For the past 17 years, we have had to train 'conventional engineers' ourselves through internships. OSU's new program of ecological engineering has the potential to provide industry, communities and government agencies with off-the-shelf, work-ready ecological engineers."

In his business, Licht, a 1978 OSU graduate in agricultural engineering, uses poplar and willow trees with other plants to accomplish the remediation required by law in places such as landfills, brown fields, chemical spills, contaminated soil and groundwater sites, and municipal and industrial wastewater treatment sites.

Bolte sees other opportunities for ecological engineers, including the burgeoning field of biofuels, which requires an understanding of processing engineering, agricultural production and ecological systems impact. He sees innovative industries emerging that will use new technologies, such as high-speed fiber optics, to probe the natural systems that humans depend on.

"Society has been very good at breaking down the individual parts of a system to understand how each part works," said Thayne Dutson, dean of OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences. "But, as Albert Einstein said, we can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. We have seen the unintended consequences of looking at the parts without considering the larger whole. Global warming, endangered species, contaminated water supply are a few of the hard problems of society that will require new, integrated thinking to solve."

"This new degree sets Oregon State apart from other schools in the country," said Ron Adams, dean of the College of Engineering at OSU. "Many students study engineering because they want to solve complex problems that move the world toward a healthier, more sustainable place. This new degree is a major step in offering our engineering students another option that will impact the future in a positive way."

For more information on the OSU undergraduate program of ecological engineering, see http://bee.oregonstate.edu/undergrad/undergrad.htm.


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John Bolte,

A Spiritual Approach to Conflict Resolution

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A method of conflict resolution that taps into human spirituality, as opposed to the rational tools of legal, economic or territorial give-and-take negotiation, may help address some of the world’s most persistent and seemingly hopeless conflicts, a new study suggests.

In a simplistic sense, the idea is to see spirituality, universal human themes, religion and God as part of the solution to conflicts, as opposed to part of the problem. The tools and mechanisms that emerge from centuries of spiritual quests may provide a basis for communication, understanding and ultimate agreement where legal haggles, arguments over “rights” and purely rational debates are clearly failing, experts say.

“A marriage of traditional conflict resolution approaches, along with the tools of our spiritual and religious heritage, could offer a whole new avenue to address very serious disputes,” said Aaron Wolf, (http://www.geo.oregonstate.edu/people/faculty/wolfa.htm) a professor of geosciences at Oregon State University, and expert in both water resource issues and conflict resolution.

“This approach would be quite different than what we usually try now, and it may not always work,” Wolf said. “But given the severity of some of the conflicts and cultural clashes facing the world, if this approach does not work, I’m not sure what, if anything, will.”

Wolf outlines these concepts in an upcoming publication in the Journal of International Affairs, based on a study of conflicts all over the world and through thousands of years of history.

Wolf specializes in the study of water conflicts, but new approaches to conflict resolution could just as readily be applied to multiple other types of disputes, he said. The question is not so much what the dispute is about, as to how you can effectively get the opposing sides discussing it in terms of fairness, shared values, genuine needs and social equity – instead of historical rights, conflicting world views, legal positions, political demands or religious alienation.

That’s not easy to do.

“You look at some of the world’s most significant conflicts today, and what you really see are different worlds and cultures colliding,” Wolf said. “If we approach this with the attitude that we will show people where they are wrong and why they should adapt our world view, we’re going to fail. That’s what we too often have tried to do, and most of the traditional tools of negotiation don’t provide us with much help.”

Alternatively, Wolf said, answers might be found in the positive nature of human spirituality and the best parts of many world religions – what Abraham Lincoln once appealed to as common “bonds of affection” and “the better angels of our nature.”

Having conceded the difficulty of the task, Wolf outlines a number of approaches in his new study that provide usable tools, and most of them are based in the spiritual or religious teachings of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, Native American lore and others.

“Every spiritual tradition in the world is devoted to a very similar process, that is to guide individuals to move from thinking about their needs as individuals to addressing more of their obligations to society, humanity and other issues larger than themselves,” Wolf said in his journal article. “In this setting, conflict can be seen less as a displacement between rational sets of interests, and more as a rift in the fabric of community, with the attendant obligation for healing.”

There are references in many spiritual systems to “Four Worlds,” or planes of existence that view the way humans look at things – physical, emotional, knowing, and spiritual. Traditional conflict resolution approaches emphasize the physical and intellectual realities, while largely ignoring the emotional and spiritual realms, as if they are part of the problem.

In reality, Wolf said, tapping into the totality of human understanding can often form the basis for improved communication, a sense of shared life experiences, and an understanding of other values that ultimately can move opposing sides towards compassion, compromise, and a desire for equity, not victory. And this is more than just embracing philosophy, he says – there’s something about the spiritual nature of human consciousness that is more profound than mere morality or ethics.

If this all sounds a little mystical for the real world, Wolf points to a thick text on his desk – the “U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Western Water Institutional Solutions Project.” It’s a water management and conflict resolution manual that is being adapted for use across the West, co-authored by Wolf, and it’s based on tools and principles largely borrowed from Jewish, Christian, Islamic or Asian spiritual traditions. Similar concepts also form most of the basis for a new “World Bank International Water Course,” published jointly by the World Bank and UNESCO.

“Truth be told, people don’t even have to know that the conflict resolution techniques they are using are based in our spiritual or religious heritage,” Wolf said. “All they care about is that it works.”

Wolf recently spent a sabbatical year learning more about the various spiritual tools available – the Jewish Kabbalah balance between justice and mercy, the Buddhist understanding of self and other, the Islamic processes for institutionalizing mercy and compassion in social interaction, and tools such as “transformative listening.”

“I think part of the global concern here is a divide between West and North, versus South and East,” Wolf said. “That may be a reflection of the choice the West and North made towards separation of church and state in the Enlightenment of the 1700s. A focus on rationality clearly was felt needed at the time in order to achieve religious tolerance. But in the process we may have lost touch with the mechanisms that spirituality offers us to understand others, to bridge social divides and see beyond our own needs.”

Part of the problem is also economic, Wolf said. So long as every issue is broken down as a dollars-and-cents equation, it will be more difficult to achieve working solutions that both sides can live with.

“I really think there are some huge steps forward we can make with dispute resolution,” Wolf said. “But we need a new and more holistic tool kit to work with, and we may have to learn ways of talking to people that we’re unfamiliar with.”

The Hindus have a rich tradition of narrative, Wolf said, that’s an example of what can be tapped in formal negotiation settings. By having everyone introduce themselves by telling a story about their personal background, perhaps including a personal story about their relationship to a river, they set aside for the moment their titles, educational degrees and non-negotiable demands, and talk to each other in a context of shared human experience.

Only then does the dialogue begin.


Story By: 

Aaron Wolf,

Study Finds Healthy River Ecosystems Vital to Removing Excess Nitrogen

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Healthy streams with vibrant ecosystems play a critical role in removing excess nitrogen caused by human activities, according to a major new national study published this week in Nature.

The research, by a team of 31 aquatic scientists across the United States, was the first to document just how much nitrogen that rivers and streams can filter through tiny organisms or release into the atmosphere through a process called denitrification. It was funded by the National Science Foundation.

“The study clearly points out the importance of maintaining healthy river systems and native riparian areas,” said Stan Gregory, a stream ecologist in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University, and a co-author of the study. “It also demonstrates the importance of retaining complex stream channels that give organisms the time to filter out nitrogen instead of releasing it downstream.”

The scientists conducted experiments in 72 streams across the United States and Puerto Rico that spanned a diversity of land uses, including urban, agricultural and forested areas. They discovered that roughly 40 to 60 percent of nitrogen was taken up by the river system within 500 meters of the source where it entered the river – if that ecosystem was healthy.

Tiny organisms such as algae, fungi and bacteria that may live on rocks, pieces of wood, leaves or streambeds can “take up,” or absorb about half of the nitrogen – on average – that humans currently put into the sampled river sites, according to Sherri Johnson, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service, and a courtesy professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU.

“Streams are amazingly active places, though we don’t always see the activity,” Johnson said. “When you have a healthy riparian zone, with lots of native plants and a natural channel, the stream has more of an opportunity to absorb the nitrogen we put into the system instead of sending it downriver.”

The study is important, scientists say, because it provides some of the best evidence of the extent to which healthy rivers and streams can help prevent “eutrophication” – the excessive growth of algae and aquatic plants fueled by too much nitrogen. Eutrophication has been linked to harmful algal blooms and oxygen depletion in such places as the Gulf of Mexico, where the Mississippi River empties its nitrogen-rich waters, adversely affecting fishing and shrimp industries.

In their study, the scientists added small amounts of an uncommon, non-radioactive isotope of nitrogen – N-15 – to streams as a nitrate, which is the most prevalent form of nitrogen pollution, Gregory said. By adding the isotope, they were able to measure how far downstream the nitrate traveled, and analyze what processes removed it from the water.

In addition to the 40 to 60 percent taken up by tiny organisms, the researchers found denitrification accounted for about 19 percent of the nitrogen uptake across all the sites. Denitrification takes place through an anaerobic metabolic process that converts the nitrogen to a harmless gas and releases it into the atmosphere.

Slower moving streams with little oxygen have higher rates of denitrification, though they have other pitfalls, including increased risk to fish and humans because of the “microbial stew” they foster, Gregory pointed out.

“The overall amount of denitrification by streams and rivers was lower than what many scientists had anticipated,” he said. “We had hoped it would be higher. That makes it even more essential to maintain healthy riparian zones so the organisms have the opportunity to process the nitrogen.”

Oregon had even lower levels of denitrification than the national average. Johnson said the combination of high-gradient streams, oxygenated water and porous stream beds is not conducive to the denitrification process.

“A lot of streams in Oregon have subsurface water flowing beneath the streambed through the gravel,” she pointed out. “This ‘hyporheic’ flow intermixes with the river water and limits the anaerobic processes. It also underscores the importance of maintaining healthy in-stream communities so the nitrogen is taken up by the ecosystem in other ways.”

Gregory says too many river systems have lost their natural channels to human activities and have essentially become “pipelines” for drainage. The original, braided channels many rivers had were complex, played a major role in slowing and filtering the river water, and provided natural habitat for native and migrating fish.

Past studies by Gregory and others have pointed out how these pipeline river channels harm fish and their eggs during floods. The new study suggests that these pipelines also limit the potential of the river to absorb nitrogen that humans add to the system through a variety of activities.

The Oregon studies focused on Oak Creek basin in Corvallis, the Calapooia River near Albany, and the McKenzie River near Eugene. Each study basin looked at the streams in forested, agricultural and urban areas.

Among the other authors were Linda Ashkenas, a senior research assistant at OSU, and Dan Sobota, who did his doctoral work at Oregon State.

Story By: 

Stan Gregory,

OSU Extension 4-H Wildlife Stewards Program Receives National Award

CORVALLIS, Ore. — The 4-H Wildlife Stewards Program of the Oregon State University Extension Service has been selected to receive the inaugural 2008 Fish and Wildlife Service—4H Natural Resources Conservation Award from the national 4-H organization.

The OSU Extension Service 4-H Wildlife Stewards program is the first to be recognized with this award. "The 4-H Wildlife Stewards program exemplifies the objectives of this award, which recognizes outstanding 4-H programming in wildlife conservation and environmental education areas," said Cathann Kress, director of National 4-H headquarters.

"We are pleased that a program of this caliber will receive this award," Kress said. "The development, implementation and evaluation of this outstanding education program demonstrate sound stewardship of fish and wildlife resources."

The 4-H Wildlife Stewards Program has helped establish and maintain habitat education sites on the grounds of 54 schools in 19 Oregon counties over the last 10 years, according to coordinator Maureen Hosty. "Our volunteers are trained to use these outdoor laboratories to enhance learning and give students actual experiences in science, wildlife and natural resource conservation," she said.

These natural areas, which grace once-stark school grounds, are home to native plants and woodlands, flowers, garden ponds, butterfly gardens, nesting boxes, nurseries and other habitat amenities.

The 4-H Wildlife Stewards program engages students in grades kindergarten through high school. Adult stewards volunteer for a minimum of 50 hours of service and receive 25–30 hours of training. "The volunteers, and the students and teachers they work with, do a wonderful job of improving our environment and helping young people become good stewards of our natural heritage," Hosty said.

The recognition consists of a $5,000 cash award and travel for five representatives of 4-H Wildlife Stewards to attend an awards reception March 26 at the 73rd North American Wildlife and Natural Resource Conference, sponsored by the Wildlife Management Institute, in Phoenix, Ariz.

The award represents a partnership between National 4-H Headquarters, Cooperative Research, Education and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Fish and Wildlife Services, U.S. Department of the Interior.

For more information about the 4-H Wildlife Stewards program, visit the Web site.



Maureen Hosty,

OSU Extension-trained Composters Perk up Ground with Coffee Grounds

EUGENE, Ore. – Every day thousands of yawning commuters, sleep-deprived college students and caffeine-addicted office workers in Lane County fuel up at coffee shops. But what happens to the dark, steaming, gritty coffee grounds that are left over from each latte, espresso and mocha?

The majority have been trucked to the Short Mountain Landfill, Lane County's only municipal solid waste disposal site. But now some of the county's aromatic grounds are ending up in area gardens, thanks to a composting program launched by the Oregon State University Extension Service in Lane County.

Since 2004, Extension-trained composters have collected almost 200 tons of grounds from 13 coffee shops and kiosks in Eugene, Springfield, Florence, Cottage Grove and Veneta, said Cindy Wise, the coordinator for Extension's Compost Specialist program in Lane County.

That's the equivalent of about 25 large dump trucks, said Dan Hurley, the landfill's waste management engineer.

Last year, the volunteer composters – known as Compost Specialists – collected 53 tons of coffee grounds, Wise said, estimating that coffee shops in Lane County produce a combined 500 tons of grounds each year.

In recognition of their work, Lane County commissioners gave Wise and the Compost Specialist program their Trashbuster Award in 2005.

The coffee ground composting program started when Compost Specialists placed 32-gallon containers at various coffee shops to collect the grounds, which they and other members of the public then used in their gardens.

The system, however, is evolving. In lieu of using 32-gallon containers, Compost Specialists are now hoping to implement a system that uses 5-gallon buckets. They're surveying more than 80 coffee shops in Eugene and Springfield to see which ones would be willing to let the public bring buckets to the shops to retrieve grounds.

"This is something anyone would be able to do at participating coffee shops. Just take a clean five-gallon bucket with a lid, leave it at the shop, and then pick it up at the shop's convenience," Wise said.

Compost Specialists will compile a list of participating shops that will include their addresses and their conditions regarding when and how frequently people must pick up the buckets. Extension in Lane County will publish the list on its Web site and in a brochure, probably in May or June, Wise said. She added that a pilot program is under way at the Starbucks at 801 E. 13th Ave. in Eugene.

Wise said coffee grounds are an excellent addition to compost piles because they add nitrogen, which bacteria need to turn organic matter into compost. She also said earth worms are attracted to the grounds and that the grounds are a safe substitute for nitrogen-rich manure.

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

Wise said that informal trials by Compost Specialists in Lane County found that coffee grounds helped sustain high temperatures in compost piles, thus reducing potentially dangerous pathogens as well as seeds from weeds and vegetables that were added to the piles. In the trials, when coffee grounds made up 25 percent of the volume of the compost pile, temperatures were sustained between 135 degrees and 155 degrees for at least two weeks, enough time to have killed a "significant portion" of the pathogens and seeds, she said. In contrast, the manure in the trials didn't sustain the heat as long, she said.

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

Jack Hannigan, a 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.

To gather more data about this, in a couple of weeks Compost Specialists in Lane County will start studying the effect that coffee grounds have on soil at test plots in and near Eugene. In each location, one part of the plot won't have coffee grounds mixed into the soil; another will, and a third will have even more.

"We'll let them sit in the soil and come back in six to eight weeks and take a soil sample and analyze for nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and how it affects the pH of soil," she said. "We need to find out how long it takes to break down and how it will affect the nutrients in the soil. Then we'll plant bush beans and see how they look."

Extension in Lane County will share the results with the public on its Web site in the fall, Wise said.

Gardening aside, one benefit of diverting coffee grounds from the landfill is that it helps cut greenhouse gas emissions, Hurley said.

"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," he said.

Sarah Grimm, the waste reduction specialist for Lane County Public Works, said she applauds the program for encouraging interactions between community residents and local businesses. She also likes that the coffee grounds are staying in their communities, meaning that fuel isn't being used to truck them from far-flung areas of the county to the landfill near Eugene.

"It's a wonderful program," she said. "As a waste reduction specialist, I can get behind something like that. Sending it to a compost pile is better than trucking it from there to here."

For information about Extension in Lane County, go to http://extension.oregonstate.edu/lane/.

To learn about the Compost Specialist Program, go to http://extension.oregonstate.edu/lane/gardens/compost.



Cindy Wise,