Horse Farms to Tree Farms: Studying the Relationship Between Land Management and Biodiversity

If you wander forests of the Oregon Coast Range you might encounter a strange sight: exclosures made of timber and steel-braided wire, standing in a clear-cut forest. These exclosures, which stand 100-feet long, 50-feet wide and 8-feet high, are the research and work of Thomas Stokely, a PhD candidate in the department of Forest Ecosystems & Society in the College of Forestry. The exclosures were constructed to study the impact of deer and elk grazing on tree growth, and to address a larger research question in forestry management: What does intensive forest management mean for biodiversity?

Completion of exclosure construction in the Oregon Coast Range

Completion of exclosure construction in Oregon Coast Range

To study the impact of deer and elk on commercial tree growth, Thomas constructed constructed 28 stands in which a team of researchers manipulated the intensity of herbicide spray treatments in each area (non-sprayed, light, moderate and intensive herbicide treatments). For six years, under the direction of his adviser Matthew Betts, Thomas and has measured plant communities, arthropods, herbivory and plantation development inside these exclosures and in open plots where wildlife is allowed free access.

Thomas Stokely cutting fence rows through logging slash and large stumps to construct wildlife exclosures

PhD student, Thomas Stokely cutting fence rows through logging slash and large stumps to construct wildlife exclosures

The exclosure research in the Oregon Coast Range relates to Thomas’s goals as a scientist who’s invested in understanding how industry impacts biodiversity. “As the world population grows, we need more resources,” he said. “We want to value the product, but we also value biodiversity and wildlife habitat. Is there a way we can manage for both timber production and wildlife habitat? If so, what role do biodiversity and wildlife play in the management of natural resources? If management alters biodiversity or excludes wildlife, what are the implications for ecosystem functioning?” These are questions that continue to drive his research and his career path.

Mature Roosevelt elk bulls browsing through a plantation with exclosure in the background

Mature Roosevelt elk bulls browsing through a plantation with exclosure in the background

Thomas has been interested in plant-animal interactions and the environment since he was a child. Growing up on a horse farm in southwest Missouri, he watched horses grazing and wondered about their relationship with the habitat in and around the farm. He first considered studying the policy side of humanity’s relationship with the natural world, but political science wasn’t a good fit—he wanted to pursue a more hands-on approach to studying biodiversity. After reading about the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone, he knew he wanted to work directly with land and habitat management. He earned a BS in environmental science at University of Missouri before coming to Oregon State. Upon completing his PhD, Thomas plans to work in applied ecology where he hopes to use science to guide land management and conservancy practices.

Tune in to hear our conversation with Thomas Stokely on Sunday, November 13th at 7:00 pm on 88.7 FM KBVR Corvallis or listen live online

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