Thinking about planning on the landscape level can be overwhelming for forest managers. To help understand the complexities of land management and decision making, a collaborative team of Oregon State University researchers, the United States Forest Service, state agencies and private land owners worked together to help tailor a simulation modeling program called Envision.

The software was developed by a team led by John Bolte, professor and department head of Biological and Ecological Engineering in the College of Agricultural Sciences. It is an integrated modeling platform for coupled human and natural systems analyses.

The open source, GIS-based tool is helpful for planning and environmental assessments. It uses graphs, maps and data to demonstrate how landscape processes interact and how vegetation may change over time. For example, data can spatially depict where wildfire, prescribed fire, thinning and succession may occur over time under different land  management scenarios. If land managers are interested in a specific model output, such as dense forest habitat, timber volume or homes affected by wildfire, this can be summarized graphically.

Restoration fire in the Deschutes National Forest

OSU Research Associate Ana Barros, Senior Faculty Research Assistant Michelle Day, Assistant Professor Meg Krawchuk, and Forest Service partners collaborated and utilized the software to model wildfire and forest management scenarios on the Deschutes National Forest. The work included taking a look at the impact of restoration wildfire. These are wildfires caused by lightning that ignite in low risk areas when the weather conditions are mild. They are managed to help achieve forest restoration goals such as reducing understory fuels or thinning dense forests.

“What happens if we have more restoration fire?” asks Barros. “We want to explore this idea of letting wildland fire do some of the work we need to do in terms of restoration.”

The group modeled fires in the Deschutes National Forest and looked at factors like smoke, habitat for species like the northern spotted owl, and how much restoration can accomplish in terms of preventing devastating and out-of-control wildfire.

Modeling like this allowed the team to identify tradeoffs including cost, smoke and safety to help make science-based recommendations to land managers. Results suggested that, although there are trade-offs, restoration wildfire can improve forest resilience and contribute to restoration efforts in fire-adapted forests.

“Restoration fire is not a magic solution,” Barros says. “But it does improve resilience in forests.”

Collaborative forest management in Eastern Oregon

Oregon State, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station (PNW), took Envision to land managers and communities in Eastern Oregon.

In a project funded by the college’s Institute for Working Forest Landscapes and the PNW, a research team worked with managers and forest collaborative stakeholders to test how different management strategies might yield different future landscape outcomes for wildfire, fish and wildlife, timber production and other important values.

The collaborative groups the team worked with, including the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project and the Lakeview Stewardship Group, were able to apply the results of the modeling to their dialogue and decision-making processes.

“The model provided a good conversation starter when looking at a specific area and how it fits into the larger landscape,” says Emily Jane Davis, assistant professor and extension specialist. “This type of data can help make forest management decisions more effective by aiding discussions about current conditions, future choices and outcomes.”

 

A version of this story appeared in the spring 2019 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry. Learn more about college research here

TallWood Design Institute reaches out

Based at the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, the TallWood Design Institute (TDI) is the nation’s leading research collaborative focused on the advancement of structural wood products and mass timber design.

The institute represents a unique interdisciplinary partnership between OSU’s Colleges of Forestry and Engineering and the University of Oregon’s College of Design. The institute is at the forefront of mass timber research and real-world relevance. Its core tenets are the importance of industry collaboration, through outreach, education and feedback from professionals.

“Our goal is to conduct meaningful research and engage with the building community to help validate and highlight how these products and building systems work,” says Outreach Coordinator Evan Schmidt.

During FY 2017 and 2018, TDI focused on outreach by developing avenues of collaboration with community partners including product development, testing with manufacturers, educational seminars for students and designers and applied research projects with engineering firms.

Connecting with industry

TDI worked with the Freres Lumber Company in Lyons to test and develop an entirely new engineered wood product, mass plywood panels (MPP), in 2017 and 2018. TDI funded the second-phase of Freres’s testing, and continuing work with Freres includes optimizing MPP’s layup through modeling, structural testing, life cycle analysis, acoustics and architectural design applications.

MPP, like CLT, can be used as a substitute for conventional building materials. Now certified by the APA for structural use, MPP was installed for the first time in the U.S. as sheathing on Oregon State’s new A.A. “Red” Emmerson Advanced Wood Products Laboratory in Corvallis.

“We are a good example of a family business working within our rural community to come up with something new and innovative,” Tyler Freres says. “It’s also been great to have the experts and the researchers at OSU and the TallWood Design Institute working with us on this project. We have a very close relationship, and appreciate all the extra hands involved in producing MPP.”

Advanced wood products for the next generation

Judith Sheine, TDI’s director of design and professor of architecture at the University of Oregon, focuses on another application for MPP. MPP-based modular construction was the focus of her most recent undergraduate architecture and engineering design studio. Focusing on mass timber applications allowed Sheine to partner with Modular Building Systems and Clackamas County to discuss a partnership project using MPP for Oregon highway rest stops.

The modular MPP project isn’t the first time Sheine’s mass timber design studio has resulted in a public-private partnership. SRG Architecture and KPFF Engineering worked intimately with TDI and the City of Springfield on a CLT parking garage after it was the focus on of Sheine’s studio classes in 2016.

Architects and engineers across the United States have expressed interest in creating similar structures. Lane County has also participated in the design studio process, and hopes to build its new court house from mass timber based on one of the award-winning designs that came out of the classroom.

Schmidt says he’s excited about continuing to engage with TDI’s industry partners.

“Research advancing mass timber is a time sensitive effort,” he says. “The private sector moves at a different pace and under different logistics than academia, so it’s essential that we continue to engage the design community. That’s what keeps us relevant, while our research is what lends credence to mass timber as a solution.”

New facilities will aid industry tests

TDI’s access to state-of-the-art testing facilities helps it accomplish its innovative research. The new A.A. “Red” Emmerson Advanced Wood Products Laboratory builds on the strengths of existing facilities. The lab is scheduled for completion in summer 2019, and will have both a three-story structural testing bay, as well as an advanced manufacturing lab. In addition to research applications, the manufacturing lab will contain a hands-on educational space for students, skilled workers and design professionals looking to learn more about mass timber applications.

Another research space in the design and development phase is a full-scale acoustic-testing facility that will be built in the Willamette Valley. The lab will be one of only a few certified acoustics testing facilities along the West Coast, and will offer TDI’s industry partners the opportunity to rapidly test and prototype mass timber assemblies based on their acoustic properties. The lack of a facility like this is often a limiting factor when it comes to utilizing mass timber, and TDI is excited to fill that gap for its industry partners.

Portland meetups a success

Part of TDI’s outreach approach includes holding educational and networking events geared toward bringing various stakeholders together to learn, collaborate and problem solve all things mass timber. To accomplish this, TDI hosts a monthly event in Portland called ‘Mass Timber Meetups.’ These are casual, network-focused events that are designed to stimulate discussion on a specific subject within the world of mass timber.

“We discuss topics like acoustics, fire, building information modeling (BIM) and more,” Schmidt says. “It’s a place where people who have worked with mass timber, or are just curious, can discuss their experience or ask questions.”

These conversations help to build a community around mass timber construction and educate construction professionals from a variety of areas. About 15-30 people from various backgrounds typically attend. These events are free and open to the public and will continue in 2019.

In March 2018, Oregon State hosted the inaugural Fire Summit in Portland. This event aimed to identify viable forest management practices that could help mitigate the risks and impacts of high-severity fire events in the West.

About 30 scientists, land managers and forest policy experts were in attendance. They came from five states and British Columbia, and represented six universities, seven federal land management agency offices, departments or research units, four private forestland management entities, and two cities.

The summit closed with a call to action from Oregon Governor Kate Brown.

“It has been a great opportunity for us to reflect on the challenges our region has faced and the challenges to come, to share best practices, exchange data and research and discuss insights we learn from fighting wildfires,”

Brown said. She went on to discuss the prevalence of wildfire in the West and the risk to communities, economies and livelihoods. Brown said that collaborations – like the Fire Summit – will be key in preventing devastating wildfires.

“By taking an ‘all-lands, all-hands’ approach and committing to work together across jurisdictional boundaries, we can sustain robust rural economies and preserve our natural resources for future generations,” Brown said.

Anthony S. Davis, interim dean of the College of Forestry agrees, “The Western USA is home to the world’s leading scientists who focus on fire on our landscapes. The Fire Summit was a unique opportunity for those scientists to interact with the policymakers who are asking for guidance in addressing this phenomenal challenge.”

The collective remarks of the panelists and speakers offered a big-picture perspective of the intertwined views of fire in the West, from the variety of jurisdictions, landscapes and vegetation types, and cultural experiences and expectations.

The experts compiled their feedback and made specific recommendations:

• Expand strategic use of commercial thinning, prescribed fires, and managed wildfire as forest management tools.

• Improve coordination across jurisdictions and ownership boundaries.

• Develop and implement cross-boundary ‘pre-fire response’ plans and strategies.

• Address inequities associated with liability for cross-boundary fires.

• Invest in data mapping, risk assessment, and applied research that directly supports cross-boundary management and suppression.

Oregon State officials recognize discussions like this are critical for encouraging stakeholder engagement when it comes to wildfire issues.

Work is also underway to identify opportunities to directly and regularly inform federal elected officials and staff in Washington, D.C., about summit outcomes and subsequent efforts. Direct dialogue and discussion of the opportunities for real progress is an important goal of Summit participants seeking to inform policies designed to help mitigate the risks and impacts of high-severity fire events in the West.

“The scale of our fire problem is likely measured in decades and centuries, not a handful of years, and across millions of acres, not localized forests and landscapes,” says Davis. “To address this serious challenge, we have to step out of our own way and not go back to the false promise of landscape stability maintained through unsustainable practices. The Fire Summit served to bring the widest range of partners to the table for a first conversation in this direction.”

The use of herbicides in forests is a controversial topic in Oregon, throughout the country and the world. For the past eight years, Oregon State professor of landscape and wildlife ecology Matthew Betts and his research team have studied them closely, in a study partially funded by the college’s Institute for Working Forest Landscapes. The research team paid close attention to the effects on wildlife and timber production.

“This study is relevant locally because herbicide use is commonly-used on Oregon Department of Forestry and industrial lands,” Betts says. “In the Pacific Northwest, it’s the primary silvicultural method that follows clearcutting.”

Betts says the topic is becoming relevant globally as herbicides become more popular in plantation forests worldwide. Currently, about 35 percent of timber comes from plantations, and in the next 50 years, experts project that most timber will come from this source. Betts believes now is the time for forest managers to have adequate scientific information to inform decisions about whether or not to use herbicides.

His study on intensive forest management is the largest of its kind in the world. The research team worked together with industry and the State of Oregon to study 32 stands of 15 acres or more with four different levels of herbicide treatments ranging from no treatment at all in the control group through more heavily treated stands similar to those in a commercial setting, and an extreme treatment that exceeds current spray practices.

Stands that have or haven’t been treated with herbicides can usually be recognized based on the amount of vegetation growing at the foot of young forests whose canopies haven’t yet closed. Untreated forests tend to have green floors, whereas heavily treated forest floors are initially quite bare.

Eight years into the experiment, Betts says the saplings they started with are huge in relative terms. The research team has also learned how herbicides affect various species of plants and animals within the forest.

“There’s little doubt that on the timber side, trees grow faster when herbicides are sprayed,” Betts says. “Our study shows that the most heavily sprayed stands produce up to 30 percent more volume, but there is an effect on biodiversity.”

The study measured herbaceous plants, birds, pollinators such as bees, deer, elk, moths and other insects.

“There were more bird species in areas where we didn’t spray herbicides,” Betts says. “Wilson’s Warbler was one of the most affected species. We also saw depressed numbers of pollinators. Surprisingly, we did not detect much of a change in populations of deer, elk and moths.”

Betts says that around year five of the study, for the most part, the number of species began to equalize and recover.

“Even the heavily-sprayed stands began to turn green,” he says. “In the end, some species responded negatively, some species have been resilient and some responded negatively and then recovered.”

Land managers pay up to $200- 250 per acre for herbicide spray. Money is spent up front and not returned until stands are harvested at age 40-50.

On the economic side of the study, the research team concluded that herbicide isn’t cheap, and that spraying does not always generate additional financial value.

“You could spend $250 per acre now, or invest that money in a bank somewhere. If your expectation is a financial yield of seven percent or greater, we’ve found that it doesn’t make economic sense to spray, all other things being equal,” says Betts.

He emphasizes the study saw no failed stands or plantations, and valuable biodiversity tended to increase without herbicide use. The research team will continue to monitor the stands up to the 15-year mark when the canopy will start to close, limiting sunlight to shrub species. They also plan to survey the general public about aspects of the study and perceptions about herbicide use.

That’s where Mark Needham, Oregon State professor of social science, policy and natural resources, comes in.

“We began surveying in early 2019,” Needham says. “We’re focusing on a number of small, rural communities in the coast range near the stands in the study. We plan to ask residents about their knowledge, attitudes and perceptions associated with the herbicide issue. We hope to survey at least 400 people.”

Instead of asking one-off questions, Needham says that in this context, it’s important for survey respondents to make tradeoffs and prioritize their interests.

“This study spans so many different areas including wildlife, soil, water, pollinators and economic impacts, so it’s important to make sure we look at the tradeoffs people are willing to make within the context of herbicide use,” Needham says.

Betts agrees land managers and the general public need to decide if they want forests with more biodiversity but less timber growth per acre, or less biodiversity and high rates of timber production.

“Without spray,” he offers, “you need to spread out forestry operations to get the same amount of lumber. With spray, you have more tightly-packed and intensely managed stands, which can potentially free up land for conservation.”

Betts realizes these are hard decisions. “The results of this study are just not as straightforward as we expected them to be,” Betts says. “We hope this science will help managers and the public make educated decisions about herbicide use amid the controversy.”

Cable-assisted harvesting systems are gaining popularity in the Pacific Northwest. Stewart Professor of Forest Operations Woodam Chung says there are about 20 systems in use in the Pacific Northwest already, and that number is growing.

The systems are undeniably safer than traditional cable yarding systems and manual cutting, because, thanks to mechanized harvesting, cameras and other technology, no one has to be on the forest floor near falling trees.

“One worker sits at the top of a hill with a camera,” explains Graduate Student Preston Green. “He can see where his grapples are and grab the logs at a safe distance.”

Chung says this process eliminates the need for choker setters and fellers – some of the most dangerous jobs in the forest industry.

The technology for cable-assisted harvesting was developed in Europe about 20 years ago, and recently adapted by Oregon State for use on steep slopes in the Pacific Northwest.

Once the tree is cut by a cable-assisted cutting machine, the machine swings and piles the tree along the skyline corridor, where it will be picked up and transported to a mill for processing.

In addition to the safety of the system, Chung is looking at other aspects including soil impact. His research team has already completed two studies on soil impact. He says industry professionals and members of the public perceive large equipment causes soil compaction, but two initial studies, one in the McDonald-Dunn Forest and one on Lone Rock Timber’s land, concluded that, depending on soil types and moisture content, loosening may occur after machine traffic.

“Now the question is, what does this mean in terms of erosion or soil moisture content?” asks Chung. “That’s what we’re looking at now.”

Chung and his team will continue to study interactions between soil, machine and water.

“We will use silt fences to look at erosion and measure the amount of erosion we collect,” Chung says.

Researchers want to learn what kind of impact this erosion might cause on water quality in streams and rivers at the base of logging operations.

Another aspect of the study is the economic impact.

“Cable-assisted mechanized harvesting is more productive than manual cutting, especially on steep slopes,” Chung says, “But the machine is expensive. Timber companies will have to weigh the costs and benefits for themselves and decide how to harvest.”

Green agrees, “If these systems can produce more timber at a reduced cost, then it’s a win-win for everyone involved.”

Construction of the A.A. “Red” Emmerson Advanced Wood Products Lab is underway on the Oregon State University campus. The new lab will add 15,000 square-feet of structural testing space to the Oregon State College of Forestry, which already boasts some of the best technical research facilities in the nation.

A new state-of-the-art space

The laboratory will also be home to a 2,500 square-foot advanced wood products manufacturing area, a flexible demonstration and classroom area and the TallWood Design Institute offices.

“There are a variety of ways research and teaching can intersect in this new space,” says Arijit Sinha, associate professor of renewable materials at Oregon State. “When we complete large-scale tests, we will need an army of undergraduate helpers. It will be a great experiential learning opportunity for students, while at the same time offering us new, world-class capabilities to test buildings at full scale.”

Juliana Ruble, former advanced wood products lab manager and project engineer for Andersen Construction, agrees.

“The new lab will provide space for architects, engineers, wood products manufacturers and researchers to come together and develop new products and new building systems designs,” she says.

A CNC panel processing center will be capable of creating large panels and straight beams as well as curved beams and other, smaller wood products. Another robotic machine will expand architectural fabrication opportunities.

A strong floor for large tests

A 60-by-80-foot strong wall and reaction floor system will facilitate testing of up to three-story wood structures.

The strong floor and accompanying reaction wall are composed of  four-foot thick concrete. Anchors are attached to the floor and wall on a four-by-four-foot grid. Each anchor has a 60-kip capacity for a total of 240 kips for each cluster of four anchor points. The reaction wall is capable of withstanding a 150-kip reaction while the floor can withstand 500-kip compression across a twelve-inch diameter area.

“Our strong floor will be one of the largest related to wood and timber research in the U.S.,” Sinha says. “We will use the floor and reaction wall to test materials and structures. The strong base of the floor mimics a rigid surface during tests.”

Oregon State and TDI researchers anticipate using the facility to conduct seismic tests, connection tests, wall connection tests, loading tests and more.

“We do these tests now on a smaller scale,” Ruble says. “This new facility will more than double our research capacity while increasing our manufacturing research capabilities and our ability to bring in industry, students and stakeholders to learn in an applied research environment.”

Making connections, continuing research

Sinha researches connections within mass-timber buildings, and will continue this work inside the new lab. His current project focuses on nondestructive evaluation of mass-timber by exposing connection materials to extremes of modular and biological exposure on two different species of CLT.

Sinha will also assess how wood buildings react to biological attack including fungi. The research project is funded by the USDA, and the team includes collaborators from Portland State University.

“The results will be incorporated into building codes,” Sinha says. “This project is important because it will tell us how things play out overtime in wood buildings with intrusion of moisture.”

Oregon State University is one of two sites for the Wood-Based Composites Center (WBC), an industry and university cooperative research center funded by the National Science Foundation. The other is Virginia Tech University. The two institutions work with academic and industry partners to advance the science and technology of wood-based composite materials. The center completed a number of research projects in FY 2017 and FY 2018 that will lead to wood product innovations and improved performance.

Micron level 3D visualization of adhesive bonds in wood products

For the first time, researchers achieved a true characterization of the micro-structure of adhesive bonds in wood.

Laminated wood products, like glulam beams and plywood, rely on the integrity of adhesive bonds that are only a few microns thick. Adhesives penetrate the porous structure of wood. This project asked the question, ‘does the extent of penetration affect mechanical performance of the final product?’

Fred Kamke, director of WBC and JELD-WEN Chair of Wood-Based Composites Science, says the goal of the project was to observe how adhesive bonds perform when subjected to mechanical loads and moisture, focusing on the analysis on the adhesive bond.

Richardson Chair in Wood Science and Forest Products, John Nairn, created a mathematical model to predict mechanical performance of an adhesive bond based on its microstructure. Kamke and his graduate students collected the 3D microstructure data and used micro and nano x-ray-computed tomography to create 3D digital models of adhesive bonds. While wood is an extremely porous structure that readily absorbs adhesives, the researchers found that as much as 50 percent of the adhesive that penetrates the cell lumens may not contribute to bond strength. However, penetration of adhesive into the cell wall helps to stabilize the bond against the effects of moisture.

“Cell wall penetration improves the moisture durability,” Kamke says. “With this information, adhesive companies can improve their formulations and create adhesives to be engineered for a particular application, saving money for the manufacturers and improving performance of the products.”

Natural formaldehyde emissions from wood

Some adhesives, such as ureaformaldehyde, emit low levels of formaldehyde over their lifetime as they slowly decompose. Modern adhesive formulations and test protocols ensure these levels fall within the acceptable federal guidelines. However, as formaldehyde detection technology improves, the adhesive industry faces pressure to reduce formaldehyde emission levels.

Kamke says there are still many unanswered questions about formaldehyde.

“People wonder if formaldehyde is in their house,” he says. “Can it cause us harm? How much formaldehyde is OK? How low should emissions be? Although we don’t know have all of the answers to these questions, government regulations still need to be met.”

What researchers do know is that many substances, including human bodies, other animals and natural materials like wood, emit low levels of formaldehyde naturally.

Chip Frazier, Virginia Tech professor of sustainable biomaterials, wanted to learn exactly how much formaldehyde pure, natural, virgin wood does emit. The tests showed how formaldehyde levels in different wood species are affected by temperature change, and what formaldehyde levels are derived from wood itself.

“This data establishes a baseline level of source formaldehyde from wood, and will likely have a significant impact on future federal indoor air quality policy and the future of wood-based composite products, because just particleboard and fiberboard production alone is a $1.6 billion industry in the United States,” Kamke says. “This study and the resulting policy changes will have impacts on everyone involved in bonding wood with adhesives, and will have a positive impact on future indoor air quality across America.”

Outreach work continues

The WBC continues to educate the public through traditional classroom and online short courses. Seven online courses were added in 2016.

Kamke says the most popular is a basic course on wood adhesives that’s been running for 15 years.

“Our plan is to add more online courses,” Kamke says. “Enrollment is growing, and we are proud to continue to educate the producers and the public about the wonderful world of wood-based composites.”

leaves

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.”

Kevin Bladon in the field

Large wildfires 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.”

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.”