Safety on the slopes

trees

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.”

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.

Gene editing could be the future of forestry

Distinguished professor Steven Strauss focuses his attention on genetic engineering and gene editing in poplar and eucalypt trees. He’s using genetic technology to make state-of-the-art modifications to a variety of traits, including flowering and productivity.

“We’re working at the DNA level directly,” Strauss says. “In typical breeding you cross and select families of plants to make seeds that are going to be more productive or superior in other ways. By intensive selection and crossing you can change a tree’s DNA considerably, but it’s an indirect effect. In contrast, in genetic engineering we must know the science surrounding the target traits first, not just which plants grow better. This knowledge allows us to modify them at the DNA level.”

Strauss is working with students, faculty and researchers on a new type of genetic technology known as gene editing, or CRISPR. It gives researchers the ability to specify precisely where a genetic change will be made—something that was essentially impossible before. Strauss says the technology is only a few years old and is an exciting step for biotechnology.

By using CRISPR and directing it at different kinds of genes, plants may become disease resistant, pest resistant and more productive.

One genetic change Strauss focuses on is the prevention of pollen and/or seed production.

“It can provide a level of containment, and confidence in containment, that is unprecedented. This should help with public acceptance and regulatory approval, and may improve tree productivity,” Strauss says.

Genetic engineering is used widely in the agriculture. Gene editing will likely be coming to agriculture and medicine in the near future. Strauss says that gene editing could be an important tool for forest tree breeding too, and plans to continue working in this area and exposing his students to the rapidly growing technology.

“It’s mind-blowing in its power,” Strauss says, “and the training students get using it in the lab will help them whether they plan to work in forestry, agriculture, medicine, conservation, or many other biological fields.”

Drones aid forestry research

Bogdan Strimbu heads the Management, Algorithms and Remote Sensing Lab (MARS) at Oregon State. Most of his research involves sitting at a computer and pouring over data, but recently, he’s been able to fill a niche in his field with his beloved ‘birds,’ a nickname for his collection of drones.

“People love drones because they are fascinated by flying,” Strimbu says. “God didn’t make us with wings, but now we can fly as we want with a first-person view. We can see what the cameras see right away, like a bird. It’s a miracle.”

Right now, Strimbu has a few drone-based projects, but word about the ‘birds’ has leaked around campus, and now his lab is assisting other researchers who need to see things from another perspective. They’ve worked with the Department of Ecosystems and Society, the College of Engineering, and the University Research Forests.

“It’s refreshing when we have a drone flight,” says masters student Scott Heffernan. “I mostly work in front of my computers, so it’s nice to get outside.”

Heffernan’s own project uses radar data from the Sentinel-1 mission in Europe to model ambient canopy moisture on a stand level. The projects will eventually help managers make better decisions about how to manage for fire threats.

Ph.D. student Chu Qi’s thesis is extremely theoretical, as it is focused on applying computer vision and deep learning techniques in forest inventory and operations. Qi holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Oregon State University, but was lured to the College of Forestry by Strimbu and the promise of working with drones. He uses his mechanical experience to repair the flying machines after their inevitable accidents.

Using his skills in forestry appealed to him because of the pollution problem his home city in China faces. He believes he can reduce the cost of labor when it comes to measuring ‘difficult’ forest attributes, such as taper.

“If I’m successful at developing my algorithm, you will be able to fly a drone over a stand, and the computation of stem volume and diameter will only take a few minutes,” Qi says. “It will be much faster than LiDAR.”

Qi says the accessibility of drones is what appeals to him.

“A few years ago, this wasn’t popular,” he says. “Air companies could see things from the sky, but now, as a normal person, I can gather information from the sky easily and cheaply.”

Strimbu agrees.

“It’s a very good time to fly for research,” he says. “It’s also very easy because of new, relaxed regulations in 2016. The biggest challenge our lab faces is lack of resources. I don’t even tell my students how many requests I get to do other work for faculty because it’s too overwhelming.”

Strimbu’s lab will continue to do their best to keep up with demand and to feed the passion they have for flight.

“We want to help give everyone a different perspective,” Strimbu says. “Getting higher helps you look at things in a new way.”