Monthly Archives: November 2019

Cultures of collaboration in forest management

Meredith Jacobson is a Master’s student in the Forest, Ecosystems and Society Department of OSU’s College of Forestry who studies collaborative partnerships in forest management. She describes her thesis work here at Oregon State as a qualitative case study on the concept of “Anchor Forests”, an idea developed by the Intertribal Timber Council that would involve creating large regions of forest management and stewardship, collaborating across ownership boundaries. Within this brief statement, there’s a lot to unpack.

Early in her undergraduate experience in forestry at UC Berkeley, Meredith became interested in how to engage communities in managing their natural resources. After working a few seasons in the field, she wanted to find a way to combine her interest in social justice with her love of forests. So she came to OSU to study collaborative forest governance. As she gained exposure to this field under the guidance of her advisors Dr. Reem Hajjar and Dr. Emily Jane Davis, she soon learned that a lot of work needs to be done to make collaboration more effective, equitable, and just. She also found that most models of forest collaboration are not doing a good job engaging with Native communities, the original stewards of the land. 

Backpacking through the Plumas National Forest, one of the first places where Meredith first learned about wildfire-adapted landscapes.

Meredith then learned about the Intertribal Timber Council’s vision for Anchor Forests, which proposes that Tribes are uniquely positioned to be leaders and conveners of cross-boundary forest management. Core to the Anchor Forest concept is a need to generate long-term commitments on the part of many landowners to actively manage land, in order to sustain investments for infrastructure like sawmills while creating healthy and wildfire-resilient landscapes. Early in her time at OSU, Meredith had the opportunity to speak with leaders involved in developing the Anchor Forest concept, who expressed to her that while Anchor Forests have not been fully implemented on the ground, the vision holds a lot of potential. From these conversations, she developed a project intended to document why this idea emerged, what it could be used for in the future, and how we might learn from it.

The Intertribal Timber Council released an Executive Summary of the Anchor Forest Pilot Project in 2016, which studied a group of pilot communities in central and eastern Washington. Around this time, a couple journal articles were published and Evergreen Magazine released a video series about Anchor Forests. Meredith hopes that her work can generate more conversation at OSU and in the field of collaborative forest governance about the potential of this concept and vision.

Diving into this topic, Meredith has found it to be more complicated than meets the eye. There are logistical, institutional, and social barriers to making an idea like this work. Her data collection has included interviewing those involved in developing the Anchor Forest concept, analyzing published documents and reports, and looking at online media coverage of Tribal forest policies and laws that could enable the cross-boundary work needed to make Anchor Forests happen. Through her analysis, she wants to understand what is unique about this concept and what barriers need to be overcome to realize its potential. She’s also looking at what types of narratives or stories are used to portray Tribes as effective leaders and land stewards.

Meredith says that one of the most interesting things she’s learned so far is that among the ten people she’s talked to, there has not been one unified perspective on what makes the Anchor Forest idea unique and what hope it holds for the future. 

“I think that this reflects how this idea takes different shapes and meanings depending on the local context where it would be implemented. With a concept as broad as this, it’s important to remember that every community has its own distinct history, ecology, and economy. And every Tribe is unique in their culture, values, needs, and interests, but non-Native folks tend to overlook that. ”

The property line between federal and private forests in the northern Sierra Nevada highlights differences in post-fire management approaches, and the challenges of working across ownership boundaries.

Perhaps this is why the concept itself is so difficult to define. However, one common theme emerging from land managers across the West: that shifting leadership and power to Tribes could be a critical part of the solution to increasingly urgent challenges like wildfire affecting forests on a landscape scale.

Meredith presents her findings to the Intertribal Timber Council on Tuesday. To hear more about her journey to grad school and how she is navigating her own identity as a non-native person engaging in indigenous partner research, tune in on Sunday, December 1st at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live

Putting years and years of established theory to the test

A lot of the concepts that scientists use to justify why things are the way they are, are devised solely based on theory. Some theoretical concepts have been established for so long that they are simply accepted without being scrutinized very often. The umbrella species concept is one such example as it is a theoretical approach to doing conservation and although in theory it is thought to be an effective strategy for conserving ecosystems, it is actually very rarely empirically tested. Enter Alan Harrington, who is going to test its validity empirically.

Alan is a 2nd year Master’s student in the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences working with Dr. Jonathan Dinkins. Alan’s research and fieldwork focuses on three species of sagebrush- steppe habitat (SBSH) obligate songbirds: the Brewer’s sparrow, sagebrush sparrow, and sage thrasher. Being a SBSH obligate means that these three birds require sagebrush to fulfill a stage of their life-history needs, namely during their breeding season. However, by studying these three species, Alan is aiming to tackle a broad conservation shortcut as he is trying to figure out whether the umbrella species conservation approach has worked in the SBSH where conservation is guided by the biology of the greater sage-grouse (GSG), which has been termed an umbrella species for sagebrush habitat for many years.

An umbrella species, a close cousin to keystone or an indicator species, is a plant or animal used to represent other species or aspects of the environment to achieve conservation objectives. The GSG is such a species for the SBSH. However, the SBSH is an expansive habitat found across 11 western US states and two Canadian province that covers several millions acres of land. Hence, the question of whether one species alone can be used to manage this large habitat is a valid one. Furthermore, SBSH has been declining dramatically over the last decades. In fact, it is one of the fastest declining habitats in North America. This decrease in available sagebrush habitat has led to the decline in GSG populations since European settlement and the GSG requires SBSH to fulfill its life-history needs. Thus, populations of other birds that require the SBSH have been declining too, like sagebrush-obligate songbirds.

Alan using binoculars to survey for songbirds to determine their abundances.

The state of Oregon, like many other western US states, are concerned about protecting SBSH and GSG because they are both quickly declining and songbirds are extremely sensitive to changes in the environment responding quickly to them. Within the last 10 years, the GSG was petitioned to be listed under the Endangered Species Act by several expert groups due to the severity of the decline. Both times, the petitions were designated warranted however were precluded from listing. This issue of declining SBSH and declining GSG populations is made more complicated by the fact that most SBSH also doubles as rangeland for grazing cattle or SBSH is often used for agriculture. Thus, the petitioning for trying to get the GSG listed as endangered caused stakeholders in Oregon to get involved in this situation since the listing of the GSG as endangered could result in very radical management changes for the SBSH, limiting agricultural and land use of this habitat.

Map of Alan’s study area.

As you can see, the topic is not a simple, straightforward one, however Alan is already two years into getting the data to answer some of his questions. Alan’s fieldwork takes place in eastern Oregon in a study area that is 1.4 million acres big. Naturally, he doesn’t survey every single foot of that massive area. Instead he and his lab mates (three of them work together during the field season to collect data for all of their projects) have 147 random point locations, which are located within five Priority Areas of Conservation (PAC), designated by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife as core conservation areas based on high densities of breeding GSG. The field season is from May to July and Alan often puts in 80-hour work weeks to get the job done. For his data collection, Alan does random nest transect surveys at each of the 147 locations for the three sagebrush obligate songbird species, as well as collecting abundance data on any songbird he sees at each random point location. These two methods are also done for GSG UTM locations so that Alan can compare data between them and the songbirds. On top of this, Alan received a grant from the Oregon Wildlife Foundation to purchase iButton temperature loggers to deploy into songbird nests. Along with trail cameras, these will help Alan identify events indicative of nest success or nest failure.

Alan will start his first round of analyses this winter and he’s looking forward to digging into the data that he and his lab mates have worked hard to collect. Ultimately, Alan hopes that his research will make a difference, not just for the sagebrush steppe habitat, his three songbird species, or the greater sage-grouse, but also within other ecosystems. The umbrella species concept is used in all aspects of ecology and so hopefully his findings will be applicable beyond his field of study. 

To hear more about Alan’s research and also about his journey to OSU and more on his personal background, tune in on Sunday, November 24 at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live

If you can’t wait until then, follow Alan’s lab on Twitter!

Also, check out this recent publication that Alan played a big role in devising and writing while he was at the University of Montana in the Avian Science Center. The project tested auditory survey methodologies and how methodology can help reduce survey issues like misidentification and double counting of bird calls/signals. 

Finding the Tipping Point

Sustainable Fishing – A Case Study of Cooperation

We are really good at catching fishing. While the number of fish being commercially caught is ranges from 4-55%, the fact-of-the-matter is that overfishing is an issue in need of attention. The answer isn’t simply that less fishing needs to occur, it is much more nuanced than that – Is there a way to have more fish and seafood, provide jobs for those in the fishing industry, and make the oceans healthier? Sustainable fishing practices seek to manage this issue, but how are those practices informed? Responsible resource management is just one example of how not cooperating (overfishing) will deplete our resources. What do we know about cooperation? Can we quantify the tipping point?

Cheaters Never Prosper, Or Do They?

This week’s guest, Bryan Lynn, a second-year PhD student co-advised by Dr. Patrick De Leenheer in the Department of Integrative Biology and Martin Schuster in Microbiology studies the evolution of cooperation. To do this, Bryan scales his work way down to microorganism level. Evolutionary theory has been largely based on the Darwinian premise of the survival of the fittest, but Bryan’s research is challenging this – not cooperating makes you more fit as an individual, but is that best for the group as a whole? 

Bryan’s queer and trans identities inspires him to engage in both LGBT+ outreach and taking selfies with signs that have the word “gay” in them.

Using the bacteria Psuedomonas aeruginosa as a model organism, Bryan is able to manipulate the behavior of the bacteria and study what happens in a chemostat system – a device which allows the bacteria to grow continuously with a constant input of a food source and output of the mixed solution – making it an excellent metaphor for life.  When there are finite resources available, questions can be asked about how the bacteria cooperate with each other in different scenarios. For example, Bryan mutates some of the bacteria to be so-called “cheaters,” as they do not make an enzyme and thus do not expend energy but reap all the benefits as the non-cheater bacteria. Using mathematical models, Bryan is able to simulate different conditions and put a number to the tipping point where the community is no longer able to persist in a steady state. 

The Path to Math

Bryan spent many years as a Le Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef before deciding he wanted to change careers and find something with better pay and benefits. Bryan returned to community college in Minnesota and started taking math courses, as they were a relevant start to any STEM field should he decide to switch majors, but he never did. Bryan eventually transitioned to the University of Massachusetts in Boston where he earned his bachelor’s degree in math.

As an undergraduate Bryan took courses in evolutionary game theory, which allowed him to find a way to bridge math theory to a real-world application. During his time in Boston, Bryan also had the opportunity to intern at the MIT Bates Radiation Facility to study proton lasers used for cancer treatments, as well as complete an Oracle Fellowship where he began a research project investigating the evolution of cooperation through ostracism. This research opened up Bryan to world of math biology, which ultimately led him to pursue a PhD at Oregon State. After graduate school Bryan hopes to continue research in academia and provide representation for the LGBT+ in STEM fields. 

Join us on Sunday, November 17 at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live to learn more about Bryan’s math biology research, non-traditional journey to graduate school, and LGBT+ activism. 

To learn more about Bryan’s research, check out his publication:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0025556419303785?

You don’t look your age: pruning young forests to mimic old-growth forest

“I’m always looking at the age of the forest, looking for fish, assessing the light levels. Once you’ve studied it, you can’t ignore it.” Allison Swartz, a PhD student in the Forest Ecosystems and Society program in the College of Forestry at Oregon State, is in the midst of a multi-year study on forest stream ecosystems. “My work focuses on canopy structure—how the forest age and structure influences life in streams,” says Allison. “People are always shocked at how many organisms live in such a small section of stream. So much life in there, but you don’t realize it when you’re walking nearby on the trail.”

Three scientists holding large nets stand in a rocky forest stream. One wears a backpack with cable coming out of it.
No, that’s not a Ghostbuster backpack! Here, Allison is using an electrofishing device that stuns fish just long enough for them to be scooped up, measured, and released. From left to right: Allison Swartz, Cedar Mackaness, Alvaro Cortes. Photo credit: Dana Warren

Following a timber harvest, there is a big increase in the amount of light reaching the forest floor. The increase in light also results in an increase in stream temperatures. Fish such as salmon and trout, which prefer cold water, are very sensitive to temperature changes. Since these fish are commercially and recreationally important, Oregon’s water quality regulations include strict requirements for maintaining stream temperatures. As a result, buffer areas of uncut forest are left around streams during timber harvests. These buffer areas, like much of the forests in the Pacific Northwest, and in the United States in general, can be characterized as being in a state of regeneration. Dense, regenerating stands of trees from 20-90 years old, are sometimes called second-growth forest. These forests tend to let less light through than an old growth forest does. Allison’s work focuses on how life in streams responds to differences in forest growth stage.

A Pacific giant salamander – a top-level stream predator and common resident of Oregon’s forest streams. Photo credit Allison Swartz.

The definition of the term old-growth forest depends on which expert you ask, and there is even less agreement on the concept of second-growth forest. Nevertheless, broadly speaking an old-growth forest has a wide range of tree species, ages, and sizes, including both living and dead trees, and a complex canopy structure. Openings in the canopy from fallen trees allow a greater variety of plant species to be established, some of which can only take root under gaps in the canopy but which can persist after the gap in the canopy is filled with new trees. The tightly-packed canopy limits the amount of light that can reach the forest floor, including the surface of the streams that Allison studies.

Forest stream near Yellowbottom Recreation Area, Oregon. Credit: Daniel Watkins

Allison’s research project is focused on six streams in the MacKenzie river basin, which includes private land owned by the Weyerhaeuser company, parts of the Willamette National Forest, and federal land. At some of these sites, after an initial survey, gaps were cut into the forest canopy to mimic light availability in an old growth forest. Sites with cut canopies were paired with uncut areas along the same stream. The daily ebb-and-flow of aquatic species is monitored by measuring the oxygen content of the water. The aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems have mainly been studied separately, she explained, but the linkages between these systems are complex. Measurements of vertebrate species are carried out using electrofishing techniques. “We do vertebrate surveys which infludes a few species of fish and Pacific giant salamanders. We measure and weight them and then return them to the stream,” Allison explained.

Measuring cutthroat trout. Photo credit Allison Swartz.

Over the last few years, Allison has spent three months of the summer living and working at one of her research sites, the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest. “We didn’t have much in terms of internet the first few years, so you connect with people and with the environment more,” Allison said. 

Allison never expected to be in a college of forestry. Her background is in hydrology, and she spent some time working for the United States Geological Survey before beginning graduate work. She has enjoyed being part of a research area with such direct policy and management impacts. “We all use wood, all the time, for everything. So we can’t deny that we need this as a resource,” says Allison. “It’s great that we’re looking at ways to manage this the best we can—to make a balance for everybody.”

Tsunami Surfing and the Giant Snot

Sam Harry’s research is filled with bizarre scientific instruments and massive contraptions in an effort to bring large natural events into the laboratory setting. 

Sam Harry, second year PhD candidate in Civil Engineering

“There’s only a couple like it in the world, so it’s pretty unique”. Unique may be an understatement when describing what may be the largest centrifuge in North America. A centrifuge is a machine with a rapidly rotating container that can spin at unfathomable speeds and in doing so applies centrifugal force (sort of like gravitational force) to whatever is inside. This massive scientific instrument– with a diameter of roughly 18 feet– was centerpiece to Sam’s Master’s work studying how tsunamis affect boulder transport, and the project drew him in to continue studying the impact of tsunamis on rivers for his PhD. 

But before we jump ahead, let’s talk about what a giant centrifuge has to do with tsunamis. Scientists studying tsunamis are faced with the challenge of scale; laboratory simulations of tsunamis in traditional water-wave-tank facilities are often difficult and inaccurate because of the sheer size and power of real tsunamis. By conducting experiments within the centrifuge, Sam and his research group were able to control body force within the centrifuge environment and thus reduce the mismatch in fluid flow conditions between the simulated experiment and real-life tsunamis. 

When tsunamis occur they cause significant damage to coastal infrastructure and the surrounding natural environment. Tsunamis hit the coast with a force that can move large boulders– so large, in fact, that they aren’t moved any other way. Researchers can actually date back to when a boulder moved by analysing the surrounding sediments, and thus, can back calculate how long ago that particular tsunami hit. However, studying the movement of massive boulders, like tsunamis, is not easily carried out in the lab. So, Sam used a wave maker within, of course, the massive centrifuge to study the movement of boulders when they are hit with some big waves. 

Sam’s work space. The Green dye added to the water within the glass tank is what gives this tank it’s name: The Giant Snot

As Sam was completing his Master’s an opportunity opened up for him to continue the work that he loves through a PhD program in civil engineering with OSU’s wave lab. Now Sam conducts his research using the “glass tank”, which, as the name alludes to, is a glass tank roughly the size of a commercial kitty pool that is used to contain the water and artificial waves the lab generates for their research. There are actually three glass tanks of varying sizes. The largest tank, which is larger than a football field, is used for more “practical applications”. Sam gives us the example of a recent study in which researchers built artificial sand dunes inside of the tank, let vegetation establish, and then hit the dunes with waves to study how tsunamis impact that environment. (Legend has it that the largest tank was actually surfed in by one of the researchers!)

Sam’s smaller glass tank, though, is really meant for making precision measurements to better study waves. He uses lasers to measure flow velocity and depth of water to build mathematically difficult, complex models. Essentially, his models are intended to be the benchmarks for numerical simulations. Sam, now into his second year of his PhD, will be using these models in his research to study the interaction between tsunamis and rivers, with the goal of understanding the movement and impact of tsunamis as they propagate upstream.

To learn more about tsunamis, boulders, rivers, and all of the interesting methods Sam’s lab uses to study waves, tune into KBVR 88.7 FM on Sunday, November 3rd at 7pm or live stream the show at http://www.orangemedianetwork.com/kbvr_fm/. If you can’t join us live, download the episode from the “Inspiration Dissemination” podcast on iTunes!