The story of Oak Creek: From storage facility to top-notch greenhouse

Visitors to the Oak Creek Greenhouse on Western Boulevard in Corvallis enjoy world-class technology and a variety of seedling studies – plants growing in just about every place one can look. But it wasn’t always like that.

When Assistant Professor Carlos Gonzalez-Benecke arrived at Oregon State in 2015, he toured all of the facilities that were available to him for research projects. One was the Oak Creek Greenhouse, but unfortunately, at the time, it could only facilitate small seedling studies due to the large amounts of timber and nursery materials stored there.

“Once I became oriented with my work here, I made revitalizing the greenhouse a priority,” he says.

Interim Dean Anthony S. Davis and a team of graduate students (Carson Alberg, Matthew Davis, Kaitlin Gerber, Rebecca Sheridan and Christina St. John) shared the vision for a functioning greenhouse that took advantage of all the space and potential the Oak Creek location offered. So, everyone worked together to quickly clean out the space.

Once the space was clear, Gonzalez-Benecke considered what greenhouse characteristics plants like Douglas-fir seedlings need to have to thrive while making the space as flexible as possible for a variety of uses. “Plants need resources to grow: water, nutrients and radiation,” Gonzalez-Benecke says.

Nutrients are easily provided by fertilizers, but Gonzalez-Benecke gave more thought to water and radiation.

“We wanted to be able to manipulate those factors,” he explains. “This is why we installed an extensive irrigation system, as well as fixing the roof that allows us to better adjust environmental conditions inside the greenhouse. We can provide more light or provide a total black out in certain sections of the greenhouse.”

The heating system and fans also manipulate factors including temperature, relative humidity and air movement.

The greenhouse hosts several research projects for the College of Forestry and the College of Agricultural Sciences.

“For our purposes, the greenhouse is perfect,” Gonzalez-Benecke says. “We are proud of it, and we are happy to be a resource for the college and the broader campus community. We invite visitors and members of the industry to come tour it.”

One of Gonzalez-Benecke’s Ph.D. students, Patricio Alzugaray, has a long-term study of Douglas fir seedlings at the greenhouse.

Seedlings can be produced in a wide array of containers, and Alzugaray is testing the benefits and disadvantages of using biodegradable, paper containers. The first phase of the study involved growing the seedlings inside the greenhouse and taking root morphology and physiology measurements.

In October 2019, Alzugaray outplanted the seedlings on five sites across the region. He will continue to monitor their growth and performance.

“It is invigorating to see the quality of research coming out of the Oak Creek Greenhouse, especially considering Oregon State’s historic strength in advancing forest regeneration,” Davis says. “Access to world-class facilities like this help our students and our faculty make discoveries that will sustain healthy forest landscapes in Oregon and beyond.”

A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry. Learn more about College of Forestry research facilities and collaborations.

Five acres of Peavy Arboretum are filled with utility poles. But why?

“It’s our pole farm,” answers Senior Faculty Research Assistant Jed Cappellazzi. “We are growing them!”

He’s only joking, of course. Cappellazzi and fellow Senior Faculty Research Assistant Matthew Konkler co-facilitate the College of Forestry’s Utility Pole Research Cooperative, and the five acres of poles at Peavy Arboretum only make up a small piece of the cooperative’s unique, world-class research.

The co-op’s membership includes energy, chemical and timber companies from every region of the United States and some parts of Canada. Co-op members are happy to host researchers to study utility poles in use across the country, but there are many external factors affecting poles already in use.

“We don’t always know the history of these poles,” Cappellazzi says. “And they’re vulnerable to more external stimuli including things like car accidents. If something like that happened, we would lose all of our replication with the study we’re running.”

Konkler says that the five acres at Peavy Arboretum is different and well protected.

“That’s where we’re really free to experiment,” he says. “Our industry partners really appreciate the space because the weather at the Arboretum causes poles to deteriorate pretty quickly. So, even in the long-term studies we’re running, we’re able to get answers to their questions relatively quickly.”

The Arboretum has about 30 active studies. Studies began at that site when the first post installed on January 7, 1928. Some of the older poles still stand, although they are not being studied.

The utility pole co-op was founded in the 1980s and charged with developing fumigants to help preserve utility poles. Since then, its focus has changed and it now addresses a variety of wood related issues that improve the performance of wood, allowing poles to last longer and make utilities more competitive.

Assistant Professor Gerald Presley joined Oregon State in 2019 to oversee the co-op. He says its future is exciting.

“It’s great to be in a position to do applied research with wood-based products,” he says. “Wood utility poles are an essential part of our national infrastructure and have advantages over steel alternatives. Not least among these is that they are a renewable resource grown and manufactured right here in Oregon and throughout the Pacific Northwest.”

Chemical leaching and fire mitigation are a few of the next big issues in the industry that the co-op plans to tackle in Peavy Arboretum and beyond.

“When it comes down to it, we’re trying to protect the investment of wood poles,” Konkler says. “We do our best to look comprehensively at the forest and wood products industry to understand everything that goes into creating, establishing and maintaining these poles.” •

A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry. Learn more about College of Forestry research facilities and collaborations.

Michael Paul Nelson, Ruth H. Spaniol Chair of Renewable Resources in the College of Forestry, says many may not realize how much research is conducted on the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest.

Researchers throughout Oregon State University, across the state, and around the world conduct research at the forest. Long-Term Ecological Research Program Coordinator Lina DiGregorio explains the research conducted on the Andrews Forest is broad.

“We aren’t a specific lab that studies a single area of the forest,” she says. “Our program involves faculty from across the college, the university, the Forest Service and all over the country and world.”

First established in 1948 as a U.S. Forest Service Experimental Forest, the Andrews Forest is an approximately 16,000-acre ecological research site in Oregon’s western Cascades Mountains. Supported by Oregon State University and the U.S. Forest Service, the research program is part of the Long-Term Ecological Research network, funded by the National Science Foundation. Nelson says the work is important and, at times, surprising.

He nicknamed the interesting research done at the Andrews Forest, ‘the ecology of surprise.’

“There are surprises about how complex our system is, but also how theory or observations elsewhere suggest one thing, and over time, we find quite another.”

For example, Professor Emeritus Mark Harmon initiated a study at the forest related to log decomposition of large trees. The long-term study started about 35 years ago and found that some trees could take around 200, and even up to 800 years, to fully decompose.

“That’s surprising because fewer than two percent of all ecological studies last even five years,” Nelson says. “The idea of a group of scientists conducting a study for 200 years is audacious.”

Nelson says it’s similarly surprising that the number of living cells and types of living organisms is greater on dead trees than on living trees.

Another study that led to surprising results was one led by Assistant Professor Catalina Segura and Associate Professor Dana Warren. The two researchers work in different departments within the College of Forestry, and Warren is duel-appointed to the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in the College of Agricultural Sciences. Working at the Andrews Forest brought them together.

The pair discovered that a small creek known as Cold Creek produces over 15 times the amount of water equivalent to its topographic drainage area. It appears that this water is received at high elevation and “funneled” through porous lava flows.

“Before this study, we knew the water was cold, but we didn’t know why,” Nelson says. “The isotopic signature is unique from the other creeks and streams as well, and its flow is steady, even throughout the summer in dry conditions.”

Nelson’s hope is the research that surprises and delights scientists continues, and that the public understands what an important resource the Andrews Forest is to forests and communities.

“I want people to have a ‘wow response,’ when they think about the forest and our research,” Nelson says. “I want them to recognize how special and unique it is. I want people to know about and be proud of the work that’s happening in this place. The science that happens in the Andrews Forest will inform decisions for land managers world-wide.”

A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry. Learn more about College of Forestry research facilities and collaborations.

As hikers trek through Oak Creek, they might notice its beautiful, crystal clear water, or Douglas-firs that line the banks. But when Assistant Professor Catalina Segura looks at Oak Creek, she sees something iconic – something famous in her world of stream geomorphology.

“I knew about Oak Creek before I knew about Oregon State University or Corvallis,” she says. “It’s famous because of the work done there. A very impressive data set was collected there in the late 60s and early 70s. There’s not much else like it in the world.”

Segura now feels privileged to conduct her own research, related to primary production in streams, at this site.

Segura says primary production provides the fundamental source of energy for life on earth, and therefore understanding what controls primary production is key to understanding ecosystems. Most of the primary production in streams like Oak Creek come from algae that lives on rocks. That’s why it’s crucial to understand how the movement of rocks in the stream bottom interacts with algae locally and throughout the stream’s reach.

Segura works with Associate Professor Dana Warren on a project funded by the National Science Foundation. Two sites are being compared: Oak Creek and Mill Creek, a tributary of the Siletz River in the Coastal Range.

Segura says the rocks in each of these streams are very different. The rocks in Oak Creek are basalt and coarser, while the rocks in Mill Creek are sandstone and finer.

The researchers, together with graduate student Samantha Cargill, collected data on oxygen and used that to model the amount of primary production by algae on rocks.

“Now that we understand what happens during storm events in the winter when the water runs quickly and the rocks in the bottom move frequently, we can think about seasonal variability. We have a new post-doctoral fellow, Sandra Villamizar, who will take the project in this new direction.” In the meantime, several sensors for this project remain in Oak Creek. They are monitored intermittently. Segura also takes her classes to Oak Creek so undergraduate and graduate students can observe the research happening there.

“I tell my students about how we collect data and take them to those locations. We look at flow measurements and do a few different labs in the forest,” she says. “Logistically, I appreciate how convenient it is. You can visit Oak Creek as frequently as you want, and it makes it easy to integrate teaching and research.”

Segura says there are also benefits to Oak Creek being inside a managed forest, managed by the College of Forestry.

“The forest director, Professor Stephen Fitzgerald, has helped facilitate our research by doing things like restricting access to the stream at sensitive times,” she says.

The other study area near the Siletz was also convenient. It is located partially on tribal land, and partially on Weyerhaeuser property.

“Last year we were able to host high school students and teachers through the SMILE: Science Math Investigative Learning Experience program,” Segura says. “We trained the teachers in different modules to take back to their classes, and that was very gratifying. It’s amazing that so many people can benefit from the interesting work we’re doing thanks to our location.”

A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry. Learn more about College of Forestry research facilities and collaborations.

The Stay at Home lecture series started with Dr. Ashley D’Antonio’s lecture on “Recreation Science in our National Parks.” Over half of the United States population participates in outdoor recreation activities like mountain biking, snowshoeing and hiking!  In 2014, the National Park Service hosted 294 million visitors, and visitations continue to increase. As she mentions in her talk, balancing recreation and ecosystem protection is becoming critically important.

Watch the video of Ashley D' Antonio's presentation.

Listen to Ashley’s lecture to learn how she has helped inform management of our national parks and other protected areas! If you are interested in working in critical fields that balance the needs of ecosystems and society, Oregon State University offers undergraduate degrees in tourism, recreation, and adventure leadership and natural resources, and provides a broad range of graduate opportunities.

—————– Dr. Ashley D’Antonio is the Gene D. Knudson Forestry Chair and an assistant professor of nature-based recreation.  She studies outdoor recreation science and how recreation science can be used to help inform management of our National Parks and other protected areas.

Oregon State University and the College of Forestry has created a new endowment based on a major donation from the Institute of Forest Biosciences, formerly the Institute of Forest Biotechnology.  

To honor the Institute’s long legacy of identifying ecologically and socially responsible paths for the use of biotechnologies in forestry, the donation will be used to create the Institute of Forest Biosciences Endowment for Forest Biotechnology and related Biosciences. 

Based on the wishes of the donors, the earnings from the endowment will be used to fund travel by students and early career scientists to present their work at national and international conferences.

After recently ceasing operation, the Institute donated its remaining funds to OSU in recognition of the work of the college and the career of Distinguished Professor Steve Strauss, who has had a long association with the Institute. 

As a collaborator and advisor, Strauss’ association with the Institute included hosting conferences, writing publications, and serving as Chair of the Science Committee for the Forest Health Initiative. The initiative focused on restoration of the American Chestnut and was organized in close association with the Institute. 

Strauss was also the first scientist to be recognized by the Institute as “Forest Biotechnologist of the Year,” which over time recognized several of the leading forest biotechnology scientists from around the globe. He received the honor for his work for that combines outstanding science with work to advance application and engagement with society around forest biotechnologies. 

On Thursday, February 6, we recognized our 2019 Dean’s Award recipients and retirees with an awards ceremony and celebration. Since 1990, the Dean’s Awards for Outstanding Achievement have recognized outstanding contributions by our community members that significantly advanced the mission of the College. 

McKenzie Huber was recognized for outstanding achievement in Fostering Undergraduate Student Success. Students noted that McKenzie “has been a huge part of my continued success at OSU,” and “McKenzie has helped tailor a plan that fits my needs as a non-traditional eCampus student serving on active duty.”

Interim Dean Anthony Davis with McKenzie Huber

Kellie Cleaver from FERM was awarded for outstanding achievement in Contributions as a Student Worker.  Nominators noted “Kellie is the first to volunteer to help in any way she can, even if it is outside her position,” and “She always has a smile on her face and is a shining light on the dim days.”

Interim Dean Anthony Davis with Kellie Cleaver

Ray Van Court was recognized for outstanding achievement in Graduate Student Leadership. Ray is a first year PhD student with five published peer-reviewed papers and one book chapter. They have three papers currently in review. Nominators noted “Ray is chair of the graduate student council, a member of the Forestry Executive Committee, treasurer for Xi Sigma Pi (the forestry honor society), member of leadership committee for IFSA (international forestry society), and they are also part of the graduate student advisory committee,” and “Ray’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is exceptional and their work on awareness and support makes the community much more inclusive for other graduate students.”

Interim Dean Anthony Davis with Ray Van Court

The Pauline Barto Award for Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion went to Shannon Harwood. Nominators said, “As she visits high schools, she delivers a message of empowerment to students from all backgrounds while informing them of the opportunities available to them at OSU and the College of Forestry. These visits occur all over the west coast, in rural and urban settings, and I’ve been surprised by the number of teachers who have reached out to me personally about what a great representative Shannon is for our programs.”

Interim Dean Anthony Davis with Shannon Harwood

Jed Cappellazzi and Reem Hajjar were recognized for outstanding achievement in the Mentorship of Graduate Students.  Students who nominated Jed noted, “Jed is an excellent resource to consult for in-depth, intellectual, and educational discussions on a variety of topics,” and “his guidance is always relevant, his expectations clear, and he always encourages progressive thinking.” One of the many students who nominated Reem noted “I entered Reem’s class feeling an incredible amount of anxiety about whether I was going to be able to do anything meaningful with my thesis, and left it feeling confident that I could pose and investigate questions that are relevant to me AND the broader scientific community.”

Interim Dean Anthony Davis with Jed Cappellazzi

There were four very deserving recipients of this year’s Outstanding Achievement in Distinction to the College. Ari Sinha has been spearheading ground-breaking research on new and existing mass timber products, and translating it into the public domain by providing guidance and data for engineers and architects to use it confidently. Chris Dunn participated on Forest Service Committees and the Governor’s Wildfire Council in 2019.  Members of that Council wrote personally to note that “Chris’s work on helping the committee with data gathering, assessment, and mapping products related to evaluating and responding to wildfire risk in Oregon has been invaluable. His hours of hard work in producing quality products and ability to ensure they are understandable to committee members have been remarkable.” Michael Nagle’s nominator said, “He is the most brilliant graduate student I have had in my 33 years at OSU, and he is keystone to our 4 million dollar project on gene mapping from the National Science Foundation that simply could not succeed without him.” Michael Collins nominators noted, “Michael has assembled and leads a team that has taken college communications to an entirely different level,” and “Michael is unflappable, maintains a sense of humor and perspective, and is a strong leader.”

Interim Dean Anthony Davis with Ari Sinha
Interim Dean Anthony Davis with Chris Dunn
Interim Dean Anthony Davis with Michael Nagle

Retirees Will Roger Admiral, Rob Pabst, Bev Law, and Glenn Folkert were recognized for their service to the college. Glenn joined the College in 1990 as a scientific buyer. If a product existed, he could find it, buy it and get it delivered in or out of the U.S. for the lowest price and fastest delivery.  In Rogers 23+ years with the college, he was on the project team for the construction of Richardson Hall, has centralized and/or supervised Communications and Marketing, Forestry Computing, the Media Center and the Student Learning Center, and has provided financial and administrative consultation to five deans and interim deans. Rob has spent the past 34 years with the college working first on ecology of woody plants, then riparian forest ecology, and then forest modeling with the Coastal Landscape Analysis and Modeling Study and the Forests-People-Fire Project.  Bev has served the State of Oregon and Oregon State University for 23 years in Biogeosciences, specializing in forest ecosystem response to climate and disturbance. Thank you for your service and contributions and all the best in retirement!

Interim Dean Anthony Davis with retirees Roger Admiral, Rob Pabst, and Bev Law

What are you studying?

I’m in the sustainable forest management program on the forest biometrics track. I’m researching Douglas fir growth in New Zealand and comparing it to Oregon. I’m trying to determine why it grows differently in New Zealand.

When I applied to Oregon State, Doug McGuire gave me a call to let me know about this project, and it had a lot of the things I was hoping to work on in grad school. I wanted to do something multifaceted that looked at environmental conditions and how they affect tree growth. I was also excited about traveling to New Zealand.

Have you traveled there already?

I did. I went over the summer. It was their winter, which was nice because there were fewer tourists. It’s a beautiful country.

What was your journey to Oregon State Like?

I’m from St. Paul, Minnesota. I did my undergrad at the University of Minnesota in music. I went back and got a second bachelor’s degree in forestry so I could do something more fulfilling. I love the outdoors and was really interested in managing natural resources, but now I think I’ll end up doing something more technical, maybe a research position with the Forest Service working with growth modeling or something like that.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I spend a lot of time hiking. I do photography as a hobby, and I’m really into road biking. I used to mountain bike more, but as I’ve gotten older, I’m less and less willing.

Do you still play music?

No. I played the bassoon. I started playing it in seventh grade, and I thought I would play professionally, but it’s very competitive. There’s not a lot of solo music for bassoon. You either need to play duets with another bassoonist or with a full orchestra.

What kind of music do you like?

There’s a great band in Eugene I like to hear play called Yob. Radio France also has an amazing streaming station called FIP that plays all genre of music including a lot of jazz. I listen to that all day.

What’s the most interesting fact you can tell us right now?

I know a lot of facts about strange musical instruments. For example, in the 19th century, people were disappointed with the volume and range of the double bass, so they built a two-story bass. One person was unable to bow the instrument and reach the fingerboard. They never caught on because they were so impractical.

What is your favorite breakfast?

Pancakes. Specifically blueberry pancakes. I like pancakes because they’re so versatile. You can add all kinds of interesting toppings to the simple batter. I also really like lemon ricotta and pumpkin pancakes.

What is your job?

It’s an eclectic mix of things.

I am the administrative director for the Northwest Fire Science Consortium, which is a regional outreach program funded by the Joint Fire Science Program. The consortium is responsible for the dissemination of recent and relevant fire science to federal and state agencies in Washington and Oregon.

I’m also the director of the Master of Natural Resources program, our online master’s program within FES.

I also teach a senior capstone course for natural resources majors and advise graduate students.

What is your favorite part of your job(s)?

I love the variety, even though there’s a lot of moving parts, and a lot of trying to keep up and make sure that I’m up to date and meeting expectations. It certainly isn’t boring. It is a lot of variety. I really like interacting with students, that’s one of my favorite parts. They are so bright and interesting and different than I was as an undergraduate. They have a lot of passion.

You came to Oregon State in 2010. What was that journey like?

In my first life I was an actor, but I went back to school in my 30s and got my master’s in wildlife biology. After that I worked for the Washington State University Cooperative Extension, the University of Arkansas, then back to WSU as a regional extension specialist in Spokane. From there, a position opened up here. Originally, it was a collaboration between the PNW Research Station and College of Forestry Extension, and the development of the Consortium started from there. 

What was it like making such a big change from acting to wildlife biology?

Well, I started acting when I was 12 in community theater, but it’s a very difficult career, and I had a lot of other interests. When I reached a certain point, I knew that if I didn’t explore them, then I never would, and that’s when I went back to school.

Do you miss acting?

Sometimes, but I don’t have any time to do it right now. I appreciate all that it taught me. For example, since acting isn’t stable and you’re never sure what your next job will be, I became very comfortable with that lack of stability, which helps me now in my position, which is funded mostly by soft money.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I like to ski, hike, kayak, cook. I’m also a Jazzercise instructor. Some people are surprised to hear that Jazzercise is still around, but it is, and it has been for 50 years!

What’s our favorite kind of food to cook or eat?

I love Italian food.

What have you been reading lately?

Right now I’m into everything and anything by neurologist Oliver Sacks. He writes about the neurological challenges people deal with in their lives. His work is an exploration of the human condition and who we are as people. He was a wonderful and sympathetic writer, and a true humanitarian.

Is there a skill or talent you’ve always wanted to learn?

I always thought it would be fun to play the cello. I took guitar lessons when I was a kind, but I don’t play any instruments now.

Are you a sports fan?

I love to watch women’s soccer and football. I follow the Beavers, but if the Beavers are playing Washington State, my alma mater, I try to remain neutral. I also follow the Patriots and the Packers.

What are you studying?

My project is on dwarf mistletoe in western hemlock. Dwarf mistletoe is an aerial parasite of trees. I’m working to quantify how it changes the structure of hemlock crowns and sapwood area.

How did you end up studying tree diseases at Oregon State?

I learned to climb trees as an undergraduate at the University of Washington. After that, I worked as a forester and arborist. I wanted to keep climbing trees. I found Dave Shaw online and told him that I knew how to climb trees and do canopy research, so we came up with this project because he wanted to do more with dwarf mistletoe and western hemlock. Part of the project is canopy mapping, and I’d done that before as well. We thought we could incorporate forest pathology into this canopy study, which isn’t done very often in big trees.

You’ll finish up in June. What’s next?

I’m not totally sure, but something to do with forest health. I’ll probably do public work. I’m on the search right now.

What do you do now when you’re not studying or working on your thesis?

I like to hike and go out and climb trees for fun. My goal is to get out at least once a week. I started drawing recently, which has been kind of cool. I want to get to a point where I could put a drawing in a paper I publish. I mostly draw trees and mushrooms.

What’s the biggest tree you’ve climbed?

I’m not sure. I have climbed a giant sequoia that was over 300 feet tall, but I’m not exactly sure how high up I got. The hemlocks I study are about 50 meters tall.

What’s the scariest part of tree climbing?

You shoot the anchor into the tree with a crossbow, and the first few times you do it, you’re never sure if you’ve done it right, but you just have to do it. When you get up there, you might realize that a tiny branch or a dead branch was holding all of your weight.

Have you traveled much?

When I graduated from undergrad, I did a tour of almost all of the national parks in the west. I lived out of my car for three months until I ran out of money and hiked and climbed trees.

What trees will you climb next?

I want to climb a redwood and a really tall species of Eucalyptus tree in Australia.

What’s your favorite national park?

Grand Tetons. It’s so beautiful. When I was there, I saw bears, moose and a few different types of deer. Being in the mountains is crazy. It’s very rugged, but there are also a lot of flowers. The flowers might be my favorite part of national parks.