OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

environment and natural resources

Open house features renovated greenhouse at Oregon State University

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers using Oregon State University's west greenhouse no longer need to avoid dripping water or worry about slivers of glass falling from rotting wood casings over their heads.

New tempered glass and aluminum framing have replaced deteriorating wood, rust and whitewash buildup as part of a recently completed renovation. The public is invited to an open house on Tuesday, Oct. 20, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. at the facility, located at 3201 S.W. Campus Way. (Note: this is the west greenhouse, between 30th and 35th streets across from the OSU Motor Pool.)

Safety was the number one concern when a decision was made seven years ago to renovate the 70,000 square-foot west greenhouse, which is at least 50 years old. "The old facilities were decrepit and dangerous," said Patrick Hayes, an OSU professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Science. "The new facilities are a world-class place to do research.”

When discussions about renovation began, Jim Ervin, manager of greenhouse operations for the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and Agricultural Experiment Station, sent inquiries to greenhouse manufacturers but yielded only one interested in renovating an existing facility. "We placed an order and received a pile of aluminum in May 2002, and the project began," he said.

Ervin, colleague Courtney Russell and a crew of student workers did the entire project over seven summers, removing approximately 35,000 old pieces of glass and installing more than 19,000 pieces of tempered glass. The do-it-yourself project cost $15.61 per square foot, Ervin said, compared to an estimate of $125 per square foot to build a new research greenhouse.

OSU's greenhouses provide optimum growing space primarily for researchers in botany, horticulture and crop science. Projects include vegetable, wheat, barley and hazelnut breeding, as well as potatoes grown for seed certification tests.

Ervin also said that energy consumption has dropped from 10 million units of steam to heat and cool the greenhouses in 2001 to six million units in 2009.

Source: 

Jim Ervin, 541-737-2381

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Greenhouse operations supervisor Courtney Russell (left) and manager Jim Ervin walk through the bright, and safer, west greenhouse they renovated over seven summers.

OSU program teaches stream health

SALEM - When Jim Castle of west Salem bought his dream retirement home a few years ago, he acquired a nightmare in the back yard: a little stream that was fighting for its life amid a tangle of ivy and several year's worth of trash.

But thanks to Oregon State University Extension's Watershed Stewardship Educational Program (WSEP), everything is now flowing much more smoothly.

Essentially, WSEP is a series of workshops designed to help people like Castle manage Oregon's watersheds, no matter the size, and bring them back to optimum health where need be.

In many cases, WSEP students, who learn in the field as well as the classroom, know something about a particular facet of watershed ecology, but are seeking to learn more about all phases. Many of the students have also volunteered to be members of a local watershed council.

Watershed councils were enacted by the Legislature during the early 1990s as part of the state's watershed health program. The program is now a part of Gov. John Kitzhaber's Oregon Plan, which empowers local communities to take responsibility for watershed health in their areas.

OSU may be the first university in the country to offer a comprehensive educational watershed program and Master's recognition for the lay public, said Derek Godwin, one of three WSEP team leaders and one of the program developers.

Each workshop runs about six hours and is split between evening classes and practical instruction in the field. Individual workshops deal with different aspects of watershed management, such as erosion control and water temperature monitoring.

The first WSEP classes were offered on a pilot basis on the Oregon Coast in 1997 and 1998. Today, the program is operating throughout the state. "We've got classes running in Albany now for Linn and Benton counties and it's just packed," Godwin said.

This spring, five areas in the state will be offering classes: Linn-Benton counties, Coos County, Lane County, Clackamas County and Columbia County.

Those attending the instruction have two options, Godwin said. They can take any or all of the classes "just for the fun of it," or, they can complete all the classes and undertake an actual watershed improvement project. Those electing to go the latter route, as Castle did, are recognized as Master Watershed Stewards.

Projects take 30 to 40 hours, and may include work on a workshop participant's property or liaison with volunteer organizations like watershed councils.

"Like the OSU Master Gardner Program, watershed stewards are points of contact for the community to get help to work on stream enhancement," Godwin said.

There are about 60 major watersheds in Oregon, with most of those being fed by smaller tributaries that also must be managed. Godwin estimated the number of watershed councils at 85. "There's not much of Oregon not represented by a watershed council," Godwin said.

Castle, who is on the Glenn-Gibson Creek Watershed Council, is a vocal supporter of WSEP. "If anyone wants to understand all the factors that make up a watershed, it's by far one of the most challenging programs I've ever been in. It touches on just about everything."

Castle has spent countless hours cleaning up his little watershed and considers it an ongoing project. "I've cleaned it up, got a lot of debris out of it, cleared the ivy out of trees and off the ground. The two and a half acres is being transformed from an overgrowth, jungle type of environment to more of a natural one."

In addition to ridding the area of ivy and trash, Castle, a former school administrator, has planted several tree and grass species he learned about that grow well in wet areas.

He believes that if he hadn't taken action, the clogged-up stream would have turned the area into a soggy marsh and the trees would have been killed by the ivy.

According to OSU's Tara Nierenberg, who coordinates the WSEP workshops throughout the state, about 200 people have taken the courses to date.

"Our target audience is watershed council members, and also Soil & Water Conservation District employees and volunteers. Secondarily, our target audience is the community at large, anyone interested in watershed issues."

There is a fee for attending the watershed classes. "It varies from place to place," Derek said, "but generally runs around $60."

Those wanting more information on the WSEP classes can call Nierenberg at (541) 737-8715. There's also a website.

Source: 

Derek Godwin, 503-566-2909

OSU researcher predicts end to dry weather

CORVALLIS - Studying data in his Oregon State University lab, state climatologist George Taylor ventures to predict a wet spring for the Pacific Northwest.

That's good news for a region that has been woefully short on rainfall this winter.

Since November, successive high pressure ridges have stood guard over the region, sending wet Pacific storms northward into Alaska and Canada and leaving much of the Northwest dry.

"What seems to happen with these winters with a ridge of high pressure is that sooner or later the jet stream breaks through and opens the door to those Pacific storms. The chances are good that we will have a normal or wetter than normal spring," said Taylor, who is a faculty member with OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.

"Even getting a normal spring would help out quite a bit." The region normally gets about one-third of it's annual total of rain between February and the end of June, he said.

Taylor is making his prediction based on historical patterns and cautions that while history often repeats itself, there is a chance that spring rains could bypass the region, leaving the state in a moderate drought. "Right now, we're drier than normal or pre-drought," he said.

For example, from October through January, Klamath Falls has received only 31 percent of normal rainfall. The picture isn't much brighter in other regions: Medford has 46 percent of normal; Grants Pass 36 percent; the Portland Airport, 55 percent; Salem 48 percent and Roseburg 52 percent. But some regions in the eastern half of the state are actually at or above normal for the period. Pendleton's rate of precipitation is at 100 percent; Enterprise and Joseph are both at 109; and portions of Malheur County are touching 120 percent.

"So far, February looks promising," Taylor said, "with the snow pack in the Central Cascades jumping from 65 percent of normal to 69 percent, and indications that storms will continue to bring rain and snow to the area.

"If those conditions continue," he added, "our summer water situation will be much better."

The dry Pacific Northwest winter caught forecasters across the country by surprise, Taylor said. "No one predicted this dry winter. It was really wet in October." Rainfall dropped below normal in November, but "it really looked as if it would break in December."

The region's last sustained drought was 1985 to 1994 when nine out of 10 years were drier than normal. That period included severe statewide droughts in 1992 and 1994.

Source: 

George Taylor, 541-737-5705

Eastern Oregon's pea growers fighting for survival

MILTON-FREEWATER - These are tough times for Eastern Oregon's pea growers and processors. Low prices and over-supply continue to plague the industry as it struggles to remain economically viable.

"If you are involved in agriculture, it's hard to be upbeat. It's really tough out there," said Tom Darnell, Milton-Freewater, of the seemingly persistent, across-the-board low markets farmers are receiving for many of their crops.

Darnell, an Oregon State University Extension agent in Umatilla County, is one of several university and federal employees in the area working with pea growers in a search for farming practices that will help them weather the hard times.

Peas have been grown in rotation with winter wheat since the mid-1930s in the Blue Mountain region of northeast Oregon and southeast Washington, which centers around Milton-Freewater, according to Darnell.

"Year in and year out this region raises about 40,000 to 45,000 acres of green peas, primarily as freezer peas, with a portion going into canned peas," he explained. "Currently, however, the crop is marginally economical for both growers and processors."

Darnell, who has studied pea varieties for 20 years, said the crop is an ideal fit as a rotation crop for winter wheat growers in the region. "There are no other crops really to replace peas," he said, noting that the area's cool, moist spring weather favors an annual, spring crop of peas.

Growers generally plant peas in early spring, from early March until mid-May, depending on the weather. Using early, mid-, and late-maturing varieties to spread out harvest dates, pea harvest runs from early June into July.

From agronomic to economic, there are many benefits associated with a crop of peas.

"The region's pea crop employs a lot of people from farmers, to processors, and truckers," Darnell pointed out. "The crop brings growers some annual income and agronomically, peas help keep weeds in check between crops of winter wheat, they increase soil fertility, and help cut down soil erosion."

Darnell, and others, are working to find growers new and improved varieties. If a new pea variety is released, it's likely Darnell has grown it. "I test about 50 new varieties a year in variety trials," he said. "Peas are a significant area crop, so it's important that we, as researchers, continue to test new and improved varieties for our growers."

"Testing a variety takes about three to four years," explained Darnell. "After a new variety looks good in the variety trials, it is tested commercially on a limited acreage before it is widely planted in the region. We must be sure it's adapted to the region's growing conditions before it's released to growers. All varieties look good in wet, cool years. It's the dry and hot years that separate out the poor varieties.

"Today's new pea varieties can't only be sensational yielders, they need to taste good," said Darnell. Size and color are still important, but new, consumer-linked considerations are being given to the pea's internal qualities, like taste.

"We are trying to get some good early season varieties," Darnell added. "In order to successfully harvest the area's 40,000-plus acres of peas, growers need more early season varieties, along with the mid- and later maturing varieties, because they can't harvest every field at once.

"A fun thing we've got going this spring is looking at peas in reduced tillage farming systems in rotation with winter wheat," he said. "Reduced tillage is good for the environment, because it reduces soil erosion, and it's good for growers, because it lowers their production costs with fewer trips across a field."

Working closely with both the OSU and USDA-ARS branches of the Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center at Pendleton, Darnell and other scientists plan to look at stand establishment, uniformity of plant stands and weed control in plots to be set out this spring.

"When you start changing tillage systems, in our case by going from a conventional tillage system to a minimum tillage system, you change lots of things," Darnell explained, "like soil moisture conditions and soil temperatures. There is a big unknown over time for peas grown in minimum tillage conditions. There could be new soil diseases and we would need new disease-resistant varieties."

Source: 

Tom Darnell, 541-938-5597

OSU researcher prepares for journey to North Pole ice camp

CORVALLIS - An international research team is preparing for a return trip to a North Pole ice camp to study the Arctic Ocean's influence on, and response to, global climate.

A key focus will be the mixing of the currents from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which can affect preservation of the region's ice cover, said Kelly Falkner, an associate professor in Oregon State University's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. Falkner will be traveling to the ice camp on April 1.

Scientists are in agreement that the Arctic sea ice cover has diminished about 7 percent in area during the last few decades. At the same time there have been dramatic shifts in atmosphere and ocean circulation in the region. While some scientists speculate global warming is causing the changes, other researchers say the shift may be the result of a combination of factors.

"We know we are looking at a system in transition," Falkner said. "The Arctic Ocean is different today than in the late 1980's and early 1990's when large changes were first reported."

The changes could be cyclical or part of a long-term fundamental change in the environment, Falkner said.

The ice camp, which is run by the University of Washington for the National Science Foundation, is in its second year of a five-year program. The $3.9 million project includes scientists from the Japanese Marine Science and Technology Center in Yokosuka City, the University of Washington, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle and OSU.

Falkner, a chemical oceanographer, will focus on mapping where the various waters from the Atlantic and Pacific meet to form the Arctic Ocean. Her team plans to conduct a hydrographic survey to collect ocean data from five areas, starting at the pole and traveling for 300 miles toward Alaska. Traveling by small plane, the scientists will land on the ice, drill a hole and use instruments to measure temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen. Falkner will also take water samples to assess ocean chemistry.

The information will be used to plot a vertical slice of the ocean waters that compares measurements across a wide area. The data will help scientists evaluate broad changes in ocean circulation and determine where the currents in the area are originating.

Last year, researchers surveyed a 350-mile area from the North Pole toward Ellesmere Island, Canada - the first ever conducted in that area of the Arctic. Preliminary data indicates the mixing zones where the Atlantic and Pacific meet, which shifted significantly in the past 10 to 15 years, are on the move again.

One key factor in the success of the field program will be the weather, Falkner said. The researchers only have a small window of time to conduct their studies and travel by small plane throughout the region can be treacherous, she said. She expects to depart the ice for her return to OSU by April 14.

Source: 

Kelly Falkner, 541-737-3625

OSU joins earthquake research consortium

CORVALLIS - Oregon State University has become a member institution in the Consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering, or CUREE, a position that recognizes the university's growing research programs on earthquake hazards, effects and management.

This consortium was formed in 1988 by a number of California universities doing studies in this area, including UC-Berkeley, Stanford University and the California Institute of Technology. It was recently expanded to include other major research universities active in earthquake research.

Other members outside California, besides OSU, are the Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Colorado, University of Buffalo, University of Texas and Washington State University.

"This is an important recognition of OSU's engineering programs and efforts to become a top tier engineering college," said Solomon Yim, a professor of civil engineering. "This will help us work more closely with our colleagues in earthquake research at some of the leading institutions in the world."

Yim is the principal investigator on a major new grant from the National Science Foundation to create a tsunami research center at OSU under that agency's Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation. He also will serve as a board member of CUREE during the next year.

According to David Rosowsky, a professor of wood products and the first OSU faculty member to conduct research for the consortium, CUREE is designed to obtain major funding from governmental and industrial agencies for long-term research.

"Being a member of CUREE will allow us to have direct access to some earthquake funding not otherwise available to an individual institution," Rosowsky said. "It will significantly enlarge our earthquake research program funding sources."

Nine other OSU faculty members from the OSU College of Engineering and College of Forestry also were approved by the new consortium for individual membership. The areas of professional expertise at OSU relating to earthquakes includes earthquake causes, risks, effects, soil liquefaction, construction engineering techniques to mitigate earthquake damage, and many other topics.

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Solomon Yim, 541-737-6894

Amphibian mortality linked to climate change

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Toad embryos in the Cascade Range of Oregon appear to be dying due to a chain of events that's ultimately linked to climate change, a new study suggests, demonstrating both the importance of large-scale global trends and the complexity of their impact on individual species.

The report by scientists from Oregon State University and Pennsylvania State University will be published Thursday in the journal Nature.

It traces one link to another in a pattern that begins in the southern Pacific Ocean and ultimately results in masses of dead, rotting toad eggs in a small alpine lake many thousands of miles away, which are those of an amphibian species in decline.

"This study suggests a causal explanation for problems with one amphibian species in the mountains of Oregon," said Andrew Blaustein, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University. "But in a larger sense it shows that if we want to understand the complex ecology of the world around us, we must start looking at the big picture. There will not be simple or easy answers for all of our problems."

Blaustein co-authored this study with Lisa Belden of OSU and Joe Kiesecker, a professor of biology at Penn State and leader of the research team. For years these scientists have studied the level of amphibian declines around the world and those of the Pacific Northwest in particular. Among other findings, they have linked amphibian declines in Oregon to elevated level of exposure to UV-B radiation in sunlight, and also to infection of embryos by a fungus, Saprolegnia ferax.

In this study, they were able to identify connections in the struggle of this individual toad species to survive that took them all the way to global warming and the greenhouse effect.

"Although the results reveal the amazing complexity associated with understanding biological systems, they also demonstrate that there may be simple rules that we can follow to help us understand this complexity," Kiesecker said. That could include the use of simple indicators of global climatic fluctuations to make predictions about ecological interactions on local scales, he said.

In this study, the research cited evidence that greenhouse warming and other climate changes may be increasing the frequency and intensity of El Nino events, which are an unusual warming and ocean circulation pattern of the southern and equatorial Pacific Ocean.

In turn, other studies have shown clear connections between El Nino events and reduced precipitation in the Pacific Northwest during the winter, when that region gets most of its rain or snow.

"At this point, we looked at the effect of low precipitation on water depth in the Cascade lakes and the amphibians that live in them," Blaustein said.

"We've known for some time that elevated levels of UV-B radiation can cause stress and higher levels of mortality to embryos of the western toad and some other species. Egg mortality has approached 100 percent in some recent years."

At first, the scientists thought the explanation was the documented depletion of the Earth's ozone layer and the higher, damaging levels of UV-B associated with that.

That still is a factor, the researchers say, but it also appears to involve a synergistic effect with the actual depth of the water. Quite simply, deeper water shields the toad eggs from some of the damaging effects of UV-B radiation. The toads have evolved to always lay their eggs in the same location with relatively shallow water that, in the past, apparently provided the optimal combination of warmth for quick hatching and adequate protection from UV-B radiation. But when the water levels dropped too low at that location due to lower winter precipitation, the eggs were exposed to much higher levels of UV-B radiation, the scientists found. They then weakened and became vulnerable to the opportunistic fungus that ultimately killed them by the thousands.

The study showed that more than 50 percent of the western toad embryos that developed in very shallow water less than eight inches deep developed fungal infections. Those which developed in water which was even a few inches deeper were exposed to about half the level of UV-B radiation and never experienced mortality higher than 19 percent.

In other words, the climate-induced fluctuations in water depth directly caused high mortality of embryos by increasing the level of UV-B radiation and their vulnerability to infection. And those climate-induced fluctuations in turn are linked to global processes that are affecting the entire Earth and, almost certainly, many more species than just this one frog in the Cascade Range lakes of Oregon.

"The climate change-induced increase in various lethal diseases affecting a wide range of organisms may explain the recurring theme of epidemic disease associated with many amphibian declines," the researchers said in their report. "It has become increasingly clear that if we are to predict how climate change may translate into species losses we must link global and local interactions."

Amphibian declines around the world have alarmed ecologists in recent years. More than a dozen species have disappeared from Australia and declines have been documented in Europe, South America, Asia, Africa and North America. Several species in the Pacific Northwest are listed as candidates for the endangered species list.

In various studies researchers have linked the declines and deformities to habitat destruction, invading species, elevated UV-B radiation, pathogens, and even crop fertilizers.

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Andrew Blaustein, 541-737-5356

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Biology colloquium to address river restoration

CORVALLIS - One of the oldest and most prominent forums at Oregon State University, the 62nd annual Biology Colloquium, will be held Thursday, April 19, with the topic of river restoration.

The event is titled "Willamette Reflections: Conservation and Restoration of Large Rivers." It will begin at 9 a.m. at the LaSells Stewart Center on the OSU campus, and is free and open to the public.

This year, speakers from across the nation will di scuss major conservation or restoration programs in large rivers of the United States, including the Potomac, Kissimmee, the lower Mississippi, Colorado, Sacramento-San Joaquin and the rivers flowing into Puget Sound.

They will outline the history and current status of the rivers, challenges faced during the planning and implementation of conservation actions, successful approaches, and how management of these rivers compare to strategies being considered for the Will amette River in Oregon. One featured speaker is Kathleen Dean Moore, a professor of philosophy at OSU and author of two award-winning books, "Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World," and "Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water." Her Biology Colloquium presentation will be at 9 a.m., titled "All One River." Other speakers at the Biology Colloquium will represent the EPA, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Utah State University, University of Washington and other organizations.

OSU began hosting this annual colloquium in 1940 as a forum for public discussion of research topics relevant to the academic mission of the university and the lives of students and citizens.

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Kelly Wildman, 541-737-1091

OSU plans Earth Week celebration April 16-20

CORVALLIS - Jane Lubchenco, a world-renowned environmental scientist and the Wayne & Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology at Oregon State University, will be the keynote speaker at a forum on sustainability that will highlight the university's celebration of Earth Week.

Lubchenco will speak on biodiversity and bioresource management at the OSU Earth Week Sustainability Forum, which will begin at 7 p.m., Thursday, April 19, in the CH2M-HILL Alumni Center ballroom. A panel of presenters will discuss Oregon's goals for sustainability and answer questions from the audience. The forum is free and open to the public.

The sustainability forum is just one of several events that will highlight Earth Week at OSU, April 16-20. Most of the events will be held in the Memorial Union quad from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They include a tree giveaway, alternative transportation display, the university's annual trash audit, and a three-ring binder giveaway.

"Earth Week is a notable opportunity for groups to collaborate and support a coordinated approach to making change," said Justin Fleming, the student recycling coordinator at OSU. "When campus groups unite a sustainable OSU will be built."

Fleming said he hopes the events of Earth Week will raise awareness for sustainability.

This year's events include:

  • Monday, April 16 - Alternative transportation display featuring hybrid vehicles and information on public transportation. Tree giveaway. 
  • Tuesday, April 17 - A collection display illustrating wood waste reclamation. A brown bag presentation on voluntary simplicity. Various educational booths.
  • Wednesday, April 18 - University trash audit. Volunteers from OSU's Army ROTC program will help to sort through trash to determine the university's recycling rate. 
  • Thursday, April 19 - OSU Earth Week Sustainability Forum featuring Lubchenco and a panel of presenters discussing Oregon's goals for sustainability.
  • Friday, April 20 -Field trip to Coffin Butte Landfill and electricity generation site.

For more information about Earth Week events, contact Fleming at (541) 737-7349 or justin.fleming@orst.edu.

Source: 

Justin Fleming, 541-737-7349

OSU EXTENSION PREPARES FOR POSSIBILITY OF SEVERE DROUGHT

CORVALLIS - Oregon State University Extension Service specialists and Experiment Station researchers are assembling a deluge of information for the public on how to save water, energy and money in case of a severe drought this summer.

OSU Extension leaders are preparing for questions about water shortages, crop failures, power outages and other possible drought consequences by updating water conservation information on web sites, posting relevant publications on-line and forming a drought task force.

Although a wet April this year has increased mountain snow packs from a March 31 level that was 40 percent of normal to about 70 percent of normal in some places, Oregon remains on track for the worst summer drought since 1977, when annual rainfall totals were less than half of normal.

The National Weather Service measures annual rainfall from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.

As of Thursday, April 26, Portland was 11.75 inches below its seasonal normal of 28.87 inches. The 1.68 inches of rain recorded in Eugene during the same time has brought the seasonal total there to 16 inches - 26 inches below normal.

In Burns, the rainfall total was 4.82 inches as of April 26 - 1.63 inches below the normal of 6.45 inches. While two inches of rain one way or another has little impact in western Oregon, in Burns it means the region will have to survive without a quarter of its scarce annual rainfall.

Rain showers that have lingered on and off since April 1 have raised hopes that the drought threat has eased. But it would take soaking, record-setting rain between now and July to avert water shortages this summer, said state climatologist George Taylor of OSU's Oregon Climate Service. Time and history are stacked against the possibility that summer rains are coming to the rescue, he said.

"We get about 75 percent of our precipitation between October and March," Taylor said. "Even if we were to record the wettest April, May and June ever, we're still way, way behind."

Has a wet spring ever saved Oregon from a late-summer drought?

"The closest we came was in 1993," Taylor said. "It was the wettest spring we've ever had." The spring followed a dry winter after a dry summer and fall in 1992. By March, predictions were flying of a severe drought. Instead, the skies opened, and the rain fell steadily through July. Portland's rain gauge recorded 14 inches between March and July 1993 - roughly double the usual rainfall for those months.

Eugene's rainfall amounted to almost 20 inches during that time - almost triple the usual seven inches.

At OSU's rain-freshened, blossoming campus, Bill Braunworth, the assistant Agriculture Extension program leader, has organized a drought task force. So far, it includes 11 OSU Extension program leaders and Experiment Station researchers with expertise in master gardening, forestry, range management, nutrition and communications, bioresource engineering and crop and soil science.

The task force is developing a plan to deliver the latest water and energy conservation techniques via the Web and publications to homes, farms, businesses and educators. The drought information includes:

  • How to lessen the chance of wildfire damage;
  • How a drought might affect feed supply and range conditions;
  • What drought conditions might mean to fishermen;
  • How to manage a household, lawn and garden during a drought.

The sooner people receive the needed drought information, the sooner they can begin planning, Braunworth said.

"It is important that we get people connected to our local Extension offices for site-specific information," Braunworth said. "For example, we recently had an inch of rain in Pendleton, but much less in Moro. So we have to think 'What kind of tillage and weed control practices do we need to be looking at in response to the moisture we got - or didn't get?'

"What we need on a statewide level is to be thinking about what are the probabilities for future droughts, and how do we respond to those future scenarios," Braunworth said. "We need some trend information to start setting up for the most likely scenario."

Ann Marie VanDerZanden, the director of the OSU Extension Service Master Gardener program, also serves on the task force. She already is working with gardeners who want to know how to plan, plant and maintain their lawns and gardens during a drought.

"One basic thing I'm telling people is that if you don't need to plant something this year, wait until the fall rather than trying to establish it this (summer)," she said.

Bruce Nisley, an Extension livestock specialist in Sherman County, said wheat growers and cattle ranchers are hoping for rain but planning for drought.

For example, Sherman County's 270 wheat growers and 70 cattle producers can qualify for U.S. Department of Agriculture low-interest loans under the Conservation Reserve Program. Such loans could become available to farmers if their crops fail or if ranchers are forced to buy feed for their livestock in case range vegetation dries up.

Gov. John Kitzhaber already has declared Klamath County a disaster area, setting in motion the events that will free up low-interest federal loans there.

For ranchers, talk of a drought could mean an end to a three-year spell of increasingly favorable cattle prices --- the highest prices in 30 years. The market price for feeder-weight beef is up to 95 cents a pound, compared to 75 cents a pound in 1998, Nisley said.

However, if drenching rains don't fall in Oregon's cattle country to keep range forage fresh, ranchers soon may be competing to buy hay at $120 a ton or more.

"A cow will eat 30 pounds of hay or more a day," Nisley said. "That's about $1.80 a day per head for feed costs. That is a cost you normally wouldn't assume because you've already paid $9- to- $15- a head per month in grazing fees."

Ranchers are likely to avoid the additional expense by sending their cattle to market early, thereby increasing supply and possibly driving down prices.

Brian Tuck, a Wasco County-based Extension agent specializing in dryland and irrigated field crops, said the April rains in other parts of Oregon did not materialize in the Mid-Columbia area, where the drought is already here.

"You don't want to cry the sky is falling, but we are going to face a challenge this year," Tuck said. "We are 50 percent of normal. The sad part about all this is that other areas have been getting some relief these last two weeks with the storms that have come through, but it has not amounted to anything where we are in the Mid-Columbia. There is a lot of concern by growers about how this crop will turn out."

Wasco County wheat farmer John McElheran has stopped hoping that late-season rain will save his crop.

"It's already as bad as it's going to be," McElheran said.

The McElherans have raised wheat on their 1,000-acre farm near Maupin in Wasco County for five generations with only 8.5 inches of annual rainfall. They grow mostly winter wheat, with a small crop of spring wheat and some irrigated grass seed and fine fescue.

"This year, there isn't enough water for either the dry-land wheat farming or the irrigated fields," McElheran said. "Our irrigation water comes from reservoirs in The Cascades. Normally we get three or more irrigations. This year, the local water district is telling us we're going to get one irrigation. Part of the reason is that here we're already in the third year of a severe drought.

"In 1999, the last rain I got was at the end of March. Last growing season, the last rain was April 10. There's no telling what's going to happen this year. Now we're just hoping for an early drenching of fall rains (for next year)."

Clint Shock, an agricultural scientist at OSU's Malheur Experiment Station, said farmers who are hoping for rain are also looking for more tangible answers. More have been trying out a new drip irrigation system developed at the Malheur Experiment Station in Ontario on Oregon's eastern border with Idaho.

Farmers in the normally-arid Malheur County have successfully grown about 1,000 acres of onions using the new drip irrigation technique, which provides deep watering to plant roots with less water-and less loss to evaporation-than traditional furrow irrigation or sprinklers.

Publications about effective irrigation systems are among the two dozen information publications already available on a fast-evolving drought information link available through the Extension and Experiment Station Communications web site. More than 22 publications offer information on water conservation, energy savings and gardening strategies at http://eesc.orst.edu. Under "Featured Topics," click on the "Water Conservation Publications" square, which shows a rushing stream. In addition to publications, the site has links to national and regional drought information sites.

A link to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization offers information on drought monitoring, current maps of drought conditions and forecasts and sources of assistance for those who already have suffered drought-related losses.

To monitor weather conditions, read about latest drought updates and track daily rainfall totals, log onto the Oregon Climate Service. Click on "Observations." You will find rainfall totals for selected Oregon cities under "Daily weather observations."

Source: 

George Taylor, 541-737-5705