environment and natural resources

Oregon’s Reputation, Climate Change Drawing Students to New Master’s Program

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A growing number of students drawn by Oregon’s reputation as a trend-setter in policy decisions are enrolling in Oregon State University’s Master of Public Policy program – one of the few such programs in the West.

Student interest in climate change and other environmental issues have prompted the OSU program to add a special concentration in science policy, says Brent Steel, a professor of political science who directs the program.

“Oregon is where it’s at in terms of environmental policy,” Steel said, “and the state’s reputation is definitely drawing students – not only nationally, but internationally. Whether it’s owl wars, salmon wars, Measure 37, or some other conflict, there have been some compelling public policy issues in the state.”

This is the sixth year OSU has offered the Master of Public Policy program, which it modeled after a similar program at Harvard University. While many other universities offer a degree in public administration, the OSU program focuses specifically on policy design and the research that supports the design. It is the only program of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.

Because of interest in politics and the environment, however, public policy degrees are one of the fastest-growing areas of interest nationally among college students, Steel said.

“One of the goals of the program – and of students – is to learn how to inject science into the policy process,” he pointed out. “To effect change on the ground, you have to create ‘useable’ knowledge that can be utilized by the public, by resource managers and by other decision-makers. Typically our graduates become policy analysts or research analysts in the public or non-profit sectors.

“The potential for students to get involved in areas of personal interest, which have far-reaching policy implications, is unlimited,” Steel added. “OSU’s research enterprise, coupled with Oregon being on the cutting edge of environmental change, has spawned a lot of interest from students in everything from biofuels to wave energy.”

There are 34 master’s level students in OSU’s Master of Public Policy program and the quality and diversity of applicants improves every year, Steel said.

“We have five international students who were drawn to OSU because of the growing reputation of our program and because of the state of Oregon, including one student who turned down the number one program in the country to come here, and another who chose us over a top-five program,” Steel said. “If you look at the Graduate Record Exams and the grade point averages of entering students, we’re definitely in the top 10 percent nationally.”

Students in the Master of Public Policy program have the opportunity to work with faculty in a variety of related OSU units, including the Sustainable Rural Communities Initiative, the Institute for Water and Watersheds, the Marine Resource Management Program, the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, the Institute for Natural Resources, and OSU’s Land Grant, Sea Grant and Sun Grant programs.

The students are required to do an internship, Steel noted, and many are engaged in projects that are affecting real people in significant ways.

“Two of our students are working with (OSU sociologist) Mark Edwards on a project analyzing homeless youths in southern Oregon, two others are working on a Ford Family Foundation project with (OSU economist) Bruce Weber studying how to help struggling rural counties, and another is designing an outreach program with OSU Extension to encourage Latino students to pursue higher education,” Steel said.

“We also have several students involved with established agencies and organizations, including the United Nations, the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., and the Oregon Governor’s Office,” he added.

The new science policy concentration will allow students to design some of their own curriculum revolving around a core of issues including technology, ethics, history of science, philosophy of science, and scientific controversy.

“There’s no shortage of issues, especially in Oregon, that touch upon ethics, controversy and technology,” Steel said with a laugh.

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Brent Steel,

Search Begins for Director of New OUS Climate Research Institute

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A national search has begun for the first director of the new Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, established in 2007 by the Oregon Legislature to help the state better plan for and respond to issues relating to climate change.

The new entity, an Oregon University System institute, will be administered by Oregon State University – where it will be physically located – and its institutional partners within OUS.

Among the missions of the new Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, or OCCRI, are to:

    Facilitate research by Oregon University System faculty on climate change and its effects on natural and human systems in Oregon;
    Serve as a clearinghouse for Oregon decision-makers on climate change information;
    Provide climate change information to the public in integrated and accessible formats;
    Support the new Oregon Global Warming Commission in developing strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change;
    Provide technical assistance to local governments to assist them in developing climate change policies, practices and programs.

Mark Abbott, dean of the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU, said the new director will provide leadership for coordinating the vast faculty climate change expertise within the Oregon University System as well as identifying the state’s research and information needs.

“Climate change is much more than just a scientific challenge,” said Abbott, who co-chaired the Climate Change Integration Group for Gov. Ted Kulongoski and has been named vice-chair of the state’s new Oregon Global Warming Commission. “The issues associated with it have significant policy implications, as well as impacts on social well-being and economic development. The director of this new institute will play a key role in helping prepare Oregon for climate change as well as identifying economic opportunities.”

A search committee has begun the process of identifying candidates for the position, which it hopes to fill by early summer. Peter Clark, a professor of geosciences at OSU, is chairing the committee, which includes representatives from five different Oregon University System institutions and Oregon Health & Science University.

The new director will have an academic appointment within the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU, and bring to the job a track record of professional achievement in a climate-related field, and demonstrated leadership and success in working with a variety of state and federal agencies, industry and others. A Ph.D. in a climate-related field is required.

Faculty in a variety of fields from throughout the Oregon University System will collaborate with the new institute and develop new research partnerships to help the state and the private sector meet the challenges and opportunities of climate change. The Oregon Climate Service, which is based at OSU, will provide the data collection and distribution services of the new institute. The manager of the OCS, George Taylor, will report to the director of the institute.

“George Taylor’s work in collecting and distributing weather data that helps Oregon farmers, ranchers, fishermen and others is absolutely first-rate and will continue,” Abbott said.

The new institute director and Taylor will share the duties usually assumed by a state climatologist, Abbott said, although neither will formally hold that title. The institute director will lead the research function of a state climatologist and represent Oregon at relevant conferences; Taylor will provide the supporting mapping and data services.

Abbott said the new director will join the institute in the summer of 2008.


Mark Abbott,

When it Comes to Baseball, It’s All About the Weather

CORVALLIS, Ore. – When the defending national champion Oregon State University baseball team takes to the field on April 5 against the USC Trojans in Goss Stadium, there’s about a 50-50 chance that it won’t rain that day.

And, with a great deal of luck, it might even be shorts and T-shirt weather.

The Oregon Climate Service at OSU is helping Beaver baseball fans plan for the season by maintaining a calendar complete with weather data and even a forecast that will be printed 4-5 days before each game. It was created by Cadee Hale, an associate at the OCS.

“The interest in baseball at OSU has really grown during the past couple of years and it went through the roof last season with the national championship,” said George Taylor, who manages the Oregon Climate Service. “Unfortunately, spring weather in Oregon isn’t always classic baseball weather, so this is a kind of fun, and hopefully helpful, way to share some of our data with fans.”

Taylor has been sharing weather forecasts with OSU baseball coach Pat Casey and his staff for the last few years. He’ll give them warning when storm fronts and opening pitches are on a collision course, or when spring squalls look like they’ll bypass Goss Stadium. Taylor will even sit in the press box and watch the Doppler radar to see if it is about to start or stop raining.

For the record, April 5 in Corvallis boasts an average temperature of 59.4 degrees, with a record high of 82 and a 51 percent probability of precipitation some time during that 24 hours. The probability of rain falling during the game is lower. The Oregon Climate Service will post the actual forecast by Monday of that week.

To see the calendar, visit the Oregon Climate Service at: http://www.ocs.oregonstate.edu/index.html and click on “OSU Baseball Weather.”

For more on OSU baseball, visit http://oregonstate.edu/athletics/ and click on “baseball.”

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George Taylor,

Students in Free Enterprise develop reusable water bottles for competition

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon State University chapter of Students in Free Enterprise took third place in a new competition for waste management and was recognized at the 2009 SIFE National Exposition held recently in Philadelphia.

The contest, sponsored by Waste Management, was in the Environmental Sustainability Competition, part of the Topic and Special Competitions, a new award category introduced in the 2008-09 academic year.

A total of 107 teams from colleges and universities around the nation competed in the waste management topic competition where the OSU team presented a sustainability project called Think!BLUE, a student-run business that sells reusable water bottles to raise awareness about water-related issues and discourages the use of disposable water bottles.

The teams were judged on how effectively each measured and demonstrated that it helped others to make environmentally sustainable personal and business decisions. Judging criteria included market economics, success kills, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, environment sustainability and business ethics. The final criterion was program sustainability, which encompasses a team’s entire program.

Heading the OSU student project were Kelly Fitzpatrick, a sophomore in accounting and finance, and Kim Pendergrass, a sophomore in marketing and art history. “We are very proud and excited of the progress that we have made in just a short amount of time,” said Fitzpatrick.

Pendergrass said Think!BLUE is planning to expand its product line and establish an online presence soon. She added the OSU team plans to return to the competition next year with more projects to help build national recognition.

Profits from the bottle project go toward teaching sustainability and carbon footprint reduction to middle school students in the Science & Math Investigative Learning Experiences (SMILE) program. Sandy Neubaum, associate director of the Austin Entrepreneurship Program at OSU and the club faculty adviser, said her students aren’t just looking to make money, “but give back as much as they make.”

Students in Free Enterprise is a non-profit social entrepreneurship club devoted to making a positive, sustainable difference in the global community.

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Sandy Neubaum, 541-713-8042

'Ten Commandments' Could Improve Fisheries Management

SAN FRANCISCO – Poorly managed marine fisheries are in trouble around the world, researchers say, while ecosystem-based management is a powerful idea that in theory could help ensure sustainable catches - but too often there’s a gap in translating broad concepts into specific action in the oceans that successfully meets these larger goals.

To address that, Mark Hixon, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University, today modified a very old set of rules and issued “Ten Commandments” for ecosystem-based fisheries science, in a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Co-authors on the report include Robert Francis, a professor of fisheries at the University of Washington, and three biologists in the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The first commandment – what they call the basis for all the others – is to keep a perspective that is holistic, precautionary and adaptive, Hixon said.

“We must consider whole systems, we must fish with more caution, and we must learn by testing new approaches,” Hixon said. “Instead of talking about ecosystem management, we refer to ‘ecosystem-based’ management, because it’s misguided to think that we can totally understand or completely control entire marine ecosystems.”

However, a great deal is already known that could form the basis for broad actions that would greatly improve the effectiveness and efficiency of marine management, Hixon said, and it’s not really even a question of funding – many of the necessary steps could be done within the context of existing knowledge, approaches, and regulatory mechanisms.

“As much as anything, the real challenge here is changing our world view,” Hixon said. “We must accept the need for change in how we approach fishery science and management. There are still many people who think we can accomplish our goals in the oceans by managing one species at a time, if we just do it right. But the weight of the evidence is now showing that only consideration of entire ecosystems will succeed in the long run.”

Even on a single Pacific Northwest topic such as salmon management, Hixon said, the reality is that a successful approach must consider dams, terrestrial water quality, forest management, spawning habitat, marine food sources and predators, changing ocean conditions and global climate change.

“This may sound overwhelming, but given the right mindset, many ecosystem-based tools are ready to go,” Hixon said. “That’s why my colleagues and I developed these action items to help get things moving in the right direction.”

Their “second commandment” is to question every assumption, no matter how basic it is or what the conventional wisdom suggests. For instance, Hixon considers the traditional fishery goal of “maximum sustainable yield,” which has been in place for decades, to be a flawed concept. A better approach is careful monitoring of catch characteristics to assess whether fish stocks are being sustained.

Among the other commandments:

  • Maintain an “old growth” structure in fish populations, since big, old and fat female fish have been shown to be the best spawners, but are also susceptible to overfishing.
  • Characterize and maintain the natural spatial structure of fish stocks, so that management boundaries match natural boundaries in the sea.
  • Monitor and maintain seafloor habitats to make sure fish have food and shelter.
  • Maintain resilient ecosystems that are able to withstand occasional shocks.
  • Identify and maintain critical food-web connections, including predators and forage species.
  • Adapt to ecosystem changes through time, both short-term and on longer cycles of decades or centuries, including global climate change.
  • Account for evolutionary changes caused by fishing, which tends to remove large, older fish.
  • Include the actions of humans and their social and economic systems in all ecological equations.

Nowhere in the world are all of these “commandments” being followed perfectly, Hixon said, although more progress has been made in the North Pacific Fishery Management Council – the Alaska fisheries – than in many other places. Not coincidentally, those fisheries are comparatively very healthy and hugely productive.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages Washington, Oregon and California marine fisheries, is about at the same place as the rest of the U.S. on these topics, Hixon said – just getting started.

“It would be nice to say that we’re a lot further along, but it was just recently that the council even adopted a definition of ecosystem-based management,” Hixon said. “But I’m seeing a lot of positive attitudes and approaches by many people that give cause for optimism. This approach can work, and we just have to get moving with it.”

Story By: 

Mark Hixon,

Scientists Say U.S. Needs to Plan for Climate Change-Induced Summer Droughts

SAN FRANCISCO – The western United States has experienced increasing drought conditions in recent years – and conditions may worsen if global climate change models are accurate – yet the country is doing little to prepare for potential catastrophe, a group of scientists said today.

The U.S. should consider a national drought policy to help achieve sustainable water for drinking, agriculture and fisheries, said the scientists at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. They also pointed out the need to manage water supplies to protect environmental values and to protect urban property from sea level rise and extreme weather events.

Though many climate change models predict warmer and wetter weather for parts of the Earth, the potential for drought in regions like the southwestern U.S. is actually greater, said Jim Coakley, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Oregon State University and a co-organizer of the AAAS symposium.

Most western rivers and streams are more dependent on snowmelt for sustained flows than regular rainfall – and declining snow packs have already become an issue throughout much of the West, Coakley pointed out.

“We’re already seeing snow packs dwindle and spring runoffs coming earlier and earlier,” Coakley said. “The dry summers that we’ve experienced recently may pale in comparison to what could happen in the near future. There is a kind of domino effect as temperatures warm. Precipitation that would have fallen as snow will come as rain and run off more quickly. Spring runoffs begin earlier. Summers lengthen and evaporation increases.”

During the last three decades, temperatures have risen 1-2 degrees (Fahrenheit) and many scientists believe the pace of that warming is accelerating. Drought is a reality facing many western states, yet the governmental and societal response is through ad hoc crisis management, pointed out Shaun McGrath, of the Western Governors’ Association.

“Providing adequate supplies of clean water is a challenge when there is normal precipitation,” McGrath said, “and extended times of drought and water shortages create further stresses for our water systems.

“Yet in marked contrast to the myriad federal programs that report, prevent and mitigate the damage of other extreme events – like floods, hurricanes and tornadoes – we accept drought’s effects as an unavoidable natural hardship.”

Science has the ability to help inform potential policy, yet there is reluctance by many water managers to integrate new climate information into decision processes, said Katharine L. Jacobs, executive director of the Arizona Water Institute.

Barriers to using new scientific information may come form a combination of technical, cognitive, financial, institutional and cultural factors, she said.

“Many water managers have a fixed view of the environmental record,” Jacobs said. “They use historic data for managing surface water reservoirs, designing infrastructure and assessing groundwater availability, instead of incorporating new data on climate change, probabilistic climate forecasts and ensemble stream flow predictions.

“New forms of scientific and interdisciplinary training can improve the opportunities for managers to use these new tools,” she added.

Science can help, agreed Dennis Lettenmaier of the University of Washington. Improved hydrologic forecasting, new climate observation and data collection technologies, better models for predicting the impact of climate change on water supplies, and advances in water use technologies all offer valuable tools for management.

“Many of the issues posed by water scarcity and water demand are not scientific in nature and have roots in water law, economics and marketability,” Lettenmaier said, “but science can play a more central role in western water management.”

It is “long past time” to integrate climate change into water planning and management, said Peter Gleick, a MacArthur Fellow and president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security.

“Climate change is a reality,” Gleick said, “and we must begin planning for those impacts that will be unavoidable. We must do a better job of evaluating the potential for water efficiency and conservation in planning for future needs. And new ways of thinking about supply are needed, including water reuse, conjunctive groundwater and surface water management, and smart desalination.”

One purpose of the AAAS symposium was to draw attention to the increases in water stress associated with climate change in the western U.S. – and what needs to be done about it, said Oregon State University’s Coakley.

“To achieve sustainable water supplies, we’ll need a combination of sound science, new technologies, creative management and a coherent policy that weaves all the elements together,” Coakley said. “And it won’t come without a price – both economic and social. But given our future, it is a must.”

Story By: 

Jim Coakley,

OSU Extension Service hosts insights into gardening

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Benton County’s Master Gardener Association and the Benton County office of the Oregon State University Extension Service will host a seminar on Feb. 24 offering hands-on classes for novice and experienced home gardeners.

“Insights Into Gardening” will run from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at LaSells Stewart Center on the OSU campus. Registration is $15, with an optional box lunch for an additional $6.95. The seminar fills quickly and early registration is encouraged.

In addition to classes, the seminar will include numerous informative displays, the opportunity to meet and talk with Benton County Master Gardeners, a prize drawing and an on-site mini OSU bookstore.

Gardening Classes include:

  • "Heirloom Seeds: Our Shared Gardening Heritage," presented by Rose Marie Nichols McGee;
  • "Photography in Your Garden," by David P. Bayles and Tammy Skubinna;
  • "Growing Quality Grapes in Oregon," by Jessica Sandrock;
  • "Weather and Climate in the Willamette Valley," by George H. Taylor;
  • "Choosing Trees and Shrubs for Your Landscape," by Gail Gredler;
  • "Preserving Your Garden's Bounty," by Janice Gregg;
  • "Practical Lawn Care for the Willamette Valley," by Tom Cook;
  • "Design and Create Eye Catching Containers," by Russell Davis;
  • "Yes, You Can Grow Orchids!" by Dottie Ferral.

For more information, or to register, call the Benton County OSU Extension office, 541-766-6750, or visit the Benton County Master Gardener website at: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/benton/horticulture/mg_events.htm


Barb Fick,

OSU study examines uneven approaches to evaluating Measure 37 claims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


William Jaeger,


Conference to analyze impact of climate change on forests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story By: 

Hal Salwasser,

Study finds net energy of biofuels comes at a high cost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


William Jaeger,