A new focus on forest landscapes

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To solve a large problem you often have to come at it from a different angle. It is an approach Ian Munanura, assistant professor of nature-based tourism and human well-being at Oregon State, took after starting his research in human wellness and forest landscapes.

“In my research, I explore aspects of human well-being constraints and how they influence the health of forest landscapes” Munanura says.

“I also ask questions about how forest landscapes benefit humans. For example, how can tourism on forest landscapes improve human wellness, strengthen the resilience of forest communities and reduce negative human impact on forest landscapes?”

To answer this question, Munanura conducts a series of surveys and interviews of forest adjacent communities in Oregon, Rwanda, Uganda and Indonesia. He also hopes to expand his research program to Tanzania and Malaysia. To broaden the experiential learning opportunities for College of Forestry students, Munanura will use his international research network to deliver summer study abroad classes in countries where he has active research programs.

During his research interviews, Munanura asks questions such as: What is the nature of adversity stressing the livelihoods of families in forest communities?

How do families in forest communities function during adversity? What are the strengths (or vulnerabilities) of families in forest communities that could enable (or challenge) them to cope with adversity and maintain wellbeing?

How do the vulnerabilities of forest communities negatively affect forest landscapes?; and many others. Munanura thinks the answers to these questions will contribute to the understanding of important factors responsible for human-wildlife coexistence.

“Once we unpack the complexity of human health constraints and identify the aspects of those constraints that threaten our forest landscapes the most, we can adapt nature-based tourism programs to benefit communities, people and our forests,” Munanura says.

The inspiration for looking beyond the material aspects of human well-being came from Munanura’s own life experiences and growing up with limited access to material resources. Munanura says his family’s wellbeing recovered from destitution when his mother became spiritually active.

“Her mindset and emotions changed, and it enabled us to function better as a family despite limited access to material resources,” Munanura says. “In my work over the past 15 years, I have paid more attention to material wealth as a solution to improve the wellness of humans and forest landscapes. I strongly believed that degradation of forest landscapes was caused by lack of jobs and financial resources.”

However, Munanura says that attempts to address forest degradation by providing jobs and financial resources have shown little success. His research in Rwanda confirmed forest degradation is largely influenced by the most economically empowered residents in nearby communities.

“That challenged me to look at my own personal experiences. I realized there is more to improving human and forest wellbeing than money,” Munanura says. “Perhaps, there are non-fi nancial aspects of human well-being that have the potential to strengthen forest communities and forest landscapes.”

Munanura says his research is inspiring his students and helping them understand the limitations of the poverty driven narrative of forest landscape degradation.

“I encourage my students to think broadly and consider how human adversity, emotional, social and material resource constraints could impact the health of forest landscapes,” Munanura says. “Forest managers and other natural resources professionals are better served with a nuanced understanding of human constraints, how they impact the health of forest landscapes, and the potential solutions from nature-based tourism that can improve overall human and landscape well-being.”

Wildfire affects water

Kevin Bladon in the field

Large wildfi res can devastate the landscape, destroy structures and threaten communities. Once they’re extinguished and the direct threats are gone, the general public often moves on and breathes a little easier. However, Kevin Bladon, assistant professor of forest hydrology at Oregon State, says the effects of large wildfires on water quantity and quality can last for decades.

“Smaller, low severity fires can actually have positive outcomes for aquatic ecosystems,” Bladon says. “However, the larger fires, which we’ve seen more of in recent years, are the ones that cause us the most problems in terms of impacts on water,” Bladon says. “Fires used to be more frequent and less severe, but because of fire suppression and current forest management approaches, there are a lot more contiguous fuels in our forests. When combined with a warmer, drier climate this has increased the occurrence of large wildfires in many parts of the western U.S.”

Bladon says high-severity fire can increase annual streamflow, peak flows and shift the timing of snowmelt to streams to earlier in the year. Additionally, large fires can increase temperatures, sediment and nutrients in streams, which can negatively impact aquatic ecosystems and recreational value.

The sediment and nutrients in headwater streams can also travel downstream and into community drinking water sources.

“While our drinking water treatment plants can, and do, remove sediment, nutrients and other contaminants from our water after wildfires, the question is, ‘How much are we willing to pay for this?’ These are expensive costs that get passed to taxpayers for many years after a fire,” Bladon says.

So far, Bladon’s studies have been conducted in Oregon, California, Colorado, Tennessee and Canada. As large wildfires continue to occur in the West, he plans to keep his eyes and research on the west side of the Cascades.

“Historically, there haven’t been a lot of fires on the west side of the Cascades compared to east side forests,” he says. “But they are appearing more and more, and the potential impacts on our water supply is something researchers need to continue to investigate.”

Bladon says it’s an exciting time to be studying hydrology as it relates to wildfire because the scientific community and the public are striving to understand how large wildfires impact our water supplies.

“Oregonians tend to be very proud of our water, healthy rivers, recreational opportunities and our many breweries, to name a few things,” Bladon says. “Given that two-thirds of our water supply originates in forests, it’s critical to protect those things that make our state such a great place.”

Safety on the slopes

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Logging on steep slopes is the most hazardous environment for a forest worker according to John Sessions, University Distinguished Professor and Strachan Chair of Forest Operations Management at Oregon State.

Sessions is part of a team of investigators researching innovative technologies to improve logger safety on steep slopes. Other research team members include Woodam Chung, Ben Leshchinsky, Francisca Belart, Tamara Cushing, John Garland, Jeff Wimer and Brett Morrissette from the College of Forestry and Laurel Kincl from the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. The three-year project is funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

“Logging has consistently been one of the most hazardous industries in the U.S. It has a fatality rate 30 times higher than the national occupation average,” Sessions says. “Increasing mechanization of felling and skidding has removed workers from the forest floor in flat terrain, however, workers remain on the forest floor for felling and extraction in steeper terrain.”

The study examines strategies for replacing forest workers on forest slopes with tethered and non-tethered felling, forwarding equipment and combining mechanized felling with traditional cable yarding methods. The research would improve safety in the steep forest workplace.

Preston Green, a graduate research assistant on the project, focuses specifically on harvesting productivity, cost and environmental impacts of cable-assisted harvesting systems.

“I conduct detailed time studies of harvesting, forwarding and cable yarding equipment, with and without the use of cable-assistance, to quantify the differences in harvesting system productivity and environmental impacts,” Green says.

Green says he first became interested in cable-assisted harvesting as an undergraduate forest engineering student at Oregon State. Industry internships peaked his interest in the subject, and Green decided to attend graduate school to conduct additional research.

“My family has worked in the timber industry for four generations, and I’ve seen the long-term effects that logging injuries can have on families and communities,” Green says. “We’re striving to make improvements in the industry, not just improve statistics. We are dealing with real people that live and work in our communities.”

The project has 15 collaborating companies. The research team includes forest engineers, forest operations specialists, occupational health and safety specialists and a geotechnical engineer.

“Due to the steep slopes throughout Oregon’s forests, we believe the introduction of cable-assisted harvesting equipment can be a paradigm shift that will improve safety and economic competitiveness for the industry in Oregon and beyond. It will provide the ability to implement safe forest restoration practices across the difficult terrain in many public forests,” Sessions says. “Our research results and the widespread interest about the study from forest owners, logging contractors, equipment manufacturers, and state and federal agencies suggest we are on the right track. This technology and our research will likely save lives.”

Mass timber buildings come to life

OFSC construction

The new George W. Peavy Forest Science Center will be unique, not just because of the atmosphere, but because the building will also be a living laboratory.

This living laboratory is one aspect of the SMART-CLT project, led by Mariapaola Riggio, assistant professor of wood design and architecture at Oregon State. The goal of the SMART-CLT project, which stands for “Structural Health Monitoring and Post-Occupancy Performance of Mass Timber Buildings,” is to analyze critical factors impacting the performance of cross-laminated timber during its service life, and develop protocols to monitor these factors in buildings. The SMARTCLT project will study cross-laminated timber on a small and large scale, and will be applied inside the Peavy Forest Science Center, soon to be the new home of the College of Forestry.

“Our project is looking at what is sometimes deemed as ‘serviceability of a structure,’ which includes everything from how the material vibrates, which can be a limiting factor in terms of design for long spans; deflections of the material and acoustics. We’re looking at a variety of factors,” says Evan Schmidt, outreach coordinator at the TallWood Design Institute (TDI).

Riggio says the study is multidisciplinary. The research team involves architects, engineers and industry professionals who will analyze the project from a variety of perspectives. The project is funded by TDI, a collaboration between Oregon State and the University of Oregon and the nation’s leading research collaborative focused on advancing structural wood products.

“It’s not just how the system and the building performs in terms of standard and code requirements, it’s also how it is accepted or how it contributes to the well-being and the comfort of the occupants. That’s why it’s important the project involve a number of partners,” Riggio says.

The living laboratory will provide information for many generations to come.

“Usually research is just a limited amount of time, but this project will last as long as the life of the building,” says Riggio.

The sensors used to monitor the building are a unique aspect of the project, an original idea which will help researchers see what is happening inside the materials of the building.

“We want to understand which approach can be the most effective when analyzing the overall performance while delivering meaningful and valuable information,” says Riggio.

Schmidt says the sensors outfitting the building will monitor the indoor environment, temperature of the mass timber elements, moisture content inside of the wood at various depths and locations, vibration, post-tension loss in the wall systems and more. There will be about 176 different sensor locations.

“We’re measuring a bunch of performance parameters relative to the environment,” Schmidt says. “It’s important to capture because wood is not an inert material. The way it interacts with the environment will impact the way it performs, long-term and short-term.”

While the project will last the life of the building, researchers will also monitor short-term insights during construction to understand the immediate effects.

Researchers believe this project will provide a better understanding of how best to promote the use of mass timber in construction in the U.S.

“We need flagship structures,” Schmidt says. “We need to conduct research during and after construction. The combination of the two will make the public aware and excited about the benefits of mass timber buildings.”

FY 2018 research awards

The College of Forestry’s world-class students and faculty conduct ground-breaking research within the subjects of forestry, natural resources, tourism and wood science and engineering. Our research happens in labs and outdoors– on public and private lands across the state and in the College’s own 15,000 acres of College Research Forests as well as around the nation and the world.

Contributing to Oregon State University’s second-best year ever in competitive grants and contracts for research, the College of Forestry received $11.04 million in new grants and awards. As Oregon’s largest comprehensive public research university, OSU earned a total of $382 million in the fiscal year ending June 30.

Industry and agency partnerships thrived via the college’s 10 research cooperatives, with more than 100 private industry and government agency members providing an additional $2.18 million to support collaborative research.

Here are some examples of newly funded research out of a portfolio of 40 new projects.

The Role of Managed Forests in Promoting Pollinator Biodiversity, Health, and Pollination Services to Wild Plants and Agricultural Crops

Jim Rivers
Awarded by: USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Amount: $1,000,000

This project will provide new information on how managed forests support healthy pollinators including bees, flies, butterflies, beetles and hummingbirds. Other objectives of the project include determining how pollinator health is influenced by forest management intensity, evaluating whether management changes to pollinator communities alters pollination of wild plants and testing whether forests serve as source habitats for pollinator populations within agricultural landscapes.

CRISPR/Cas9 Mutagenesis for Genetic Containment of Forest Trees

Steve Strauss
Awarded by: USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Amount: $500,000

The goal of this project is to develop and test systems to edit floral genes of poplar and eucalyptus trees.  The edited, non-functional genes should prevent the release of pollen or seeds of these species because their genetically engineered forms are considered undesirable. These trees are often propagated from cuttings, making fertile flowers unnecessary for commercial use. These tools are expected to simplify regulatory decisions, promote public acceptance, and avoid unintended effects from exotic or genetically engineered trees in wild or feral environments.

Automated Landslide “Hot Spot” Identification Tool for Optimized Climate Change and Seismic Resiliency

Ben Leshchinsky
Awarded by: Oregon Dept of Transportation
Amount: $425,090

Landslides are increasingly frequent hazards that affect the operation, maintenance, and construction of Oregon highways, resulting in negative economic, environmental and social impacts for Oregon communities. This project will develop approaches towards creating enhanced means of assessing landslide risk considering topography, rainfall, and seismicity, primarily through the creation of mapping tools. Through these endeavors, planners will be able to maintain the safest and most efficient transportation system possible.

Inventoried landslides used for future projections of landslide hazard.

Monitoring Recreation Use in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Troy Hall
Awarded by: USDI National Park Service
Amount: $344,078

This project is developing protocols to monitor recreation use across 21 units of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the most heavily used National Park in the US.

Multiscale Investigation of Perennial Flow and Thermal Influence of Headwater Streams into Fish Bearing Systems

Catalina Segura
Awarded by: California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
Amount: $221,271

The impacts of timber harvesting and other land uses on water quality have been an environmental concern for many years. This project will assess the effectiveness of the rules currently applied in California. These rules are aimed at identifying headwater streams that require special protection given their likelihood to influence stream temperature in downstream watercourses.  This project will assess the vulnerability to temperature increases after timber harvesting of fish-bearing streams draining different geologic units.

SusChEM: Naturally Produced Fungal Compounds for Sustainable (Opto)Electronics

Seri Robinson – Co-Principal Investigator
Awarded by: National Science Foundation
Amount: $190,580

The project will explore fungi-derived pigments as a sustainable optoelectronic material for organic photovoltaics.  Wood stained fungi native to the Pacific Northwest will be explored for potential incorporation into solar cells.  Fungi-derived pigments are abundant and represent a largely unexplored resource for organic electronics and renewable electricity generation.  The project is in conjunction with principal investigator Oksana Ostroverkhova in the College of Science.

Lidar- and Phodar- based modeling of stand structure attributes, biomass, and fuels

Temesgen Hailemariam
Awarded by: USDA Forest Service
Amount: $ 164,000

This project will support the growing need for land managers to fully utilize Lidar products to obtain timely and accurate information. The project integrates traditional measures of fuels with remotely-sensed point cloud data to provide estimates of pre- and post-fire fuel mass, volume, or density in physical measurement units and in 3D within the same domain as physics-based fire models, and to scale up observations from fine-scale inputs to physics-based models to coarse scale fuels characterization required by smoke models. Hierarchical sampling across a range of spatial scales will also provide an important sensitivity analysis at varying scales.

Multi-scale analysis and planning to support Forest Service fire management policy

Meg Krawchuk
Awarded by: USDA Forest Service
Amount: $146,511

The purpose of this research is to investigate management policies to address wildfire impacts to human and ecological values. Current suppression policies are not financially sustainable and not desirable from an ecological standpoint.

Towards Resilient Mass Timber Systems: Understanding Durability of Cross-Laminated Timber Connections

Arijit Sinha
Awarded by: USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Amount: $489,793.00

This project will test moisture intrusion and biological decay in cross-laminated timber connection systems to help architects, contractors and product supplies understand how connections in wood buildings will fair over time.

Practical applications discovered for Western Juniper

Scott Leavengood, director of the Oregon Wood Innovation Center, began his career at Oregon State twenty three years ago as a Klamath County extension agent. Back then, he answered many phone calls from county residents asking what they could do with their western juniper trees.

The wood is strong and durable, and extremely common in Eastern Oregon.

Due to changes in land management practices, wildfire suppression in particular, western juniper acreage in the western United States has increased dramatically in the past 100 years. Thinning juniper stands helps restore rangelands and habitats for animals like the sage grouse, but until recently, there’s been no practical application for the use of this resilient and durable wood species.

“A lot of people were interested in using western juniper in building projects, but for use in structural applications, engineering design values have to be published,” Leavengood says.

Throughout the years, inquiries about western juniper continued, but there were no funds to study juniper-based materials and their market potential until 2015.

USDA Rural Development, the Oregon Department of Transportation and Business Oregon provided funding for juniper testing. Sustainable Northwest managed the project and graduate student Byrne Miyamoto stepped in to do the legwork for the project including small-scale bending, compression and shear tests.

“I spent the entire first summer of the project in the wood shop just cutting samples and making sure there were no defects,” Miyamoto says.

Juniper is a species often riddled with knots and imperfections, making the work difficult, but Miyamoto and Leavengood prevailed and testing was conducted in the summer of 2016. A few durability tests will continue in years to come.

“I have some posts set up in Yaquina Bay in Newport, so we’ll see how well it holds up there and if shipworms attack it,” Miyamoto says. “We examine the samples one a year, and so far we have not seen any attack.”

The results of the western juniper certification project will be published in the National Design Specification in 2018.

“Many key market opportunities couldn’t exist for juniper without published values,” Leavengood explains. “We think that the ability for engineers to use juniper for things like sign posts and guardrail posts will have implications for everything from land management to job creation.”

Miyamoto is focusing on finalizing the focus for his Ph.D. research at Oregon State this fall, and he looks forward to seeing western juniper in use someday soon.

“I’ve spent two years of my life coming up with five values that engineers will be able to use to decide if juniper can be helpful in their projects,” he says. “I’ve spent a lot of time with my juniper samples in the lab, but soon I hope I’ll be able to see the values we produced  in use and say, ‘that was me.’”