Oregon State University College of Forestry PhD candidate Patricio Alzugaray Oswald’s favorite aspect of forestry is growing new life.
“I love being outdoors growing seedlings and planting trees regardless of the objective,” he said. “They can be for restoration, conservation, timber production or wildlife habitat. I just like growing trees and creating a new stand and new life after a disturbance.”
As a PhD candidate majoring in sustainable forest management, Alzugaray has been working with his major advisor, assistant professor Carlos Gonzalez-Benecke, to study how to improve Douglas-fir seedlings’ root morphology and physiology to improve reforestation success.
His current research studies initial root development and physiology of Douglas-fir and western hemlock seedlings grown in two different container types: a standard styroblock versus a new biodegradable, plantable container called Ellepot. The new container is more environmentally friendly than a styroblock because container residues during the nursery production process are minimized.
“Usually, at containerized nurseries, broken styroblocks are a huge pile of debris,” Alzugaray explained. “By using a biodegradable container, you don’t have much residue. Also, you don’t have to sanitize them every season so you save energy.”
Alzugaray’s entire career, including two stints at OSU, has been linked to growing and planting seedlings.
Alzugaray first arrived at OSU in 1999 as a master’s student and graduated in 2002 with his MS in Forest Science. Following graduation, he returned to Chile, where he’s originally from, working initially as a researcher in a government agency and then for a private company, becoming the operations manager of the largest nursery in Chile. His relationship with Gonzalez-Benecke began in Chile when Gonzalez-Benecke and an Oregon based forest company visited Alzugaray at his job and Alzugaray gave them a tour of the nursery. Later that year, Gonzalez-Benecke reached out with questions about Eucalyptus seedling production, resulting in Patricio returning to school to get his PhD with Gonzalez-Benecke at Oregon State.
“I met Patricio back in 2017 when we visited the nursery he was working at in Chile,” said Gonzalez-Benecke. “Nine months later, he moved to Corvallis with his family and started his PhD with us. He is an example of professionalism, perseverance and passion for his career.”
When Alzugaray returned to Corvallis for the second time in 2018 to pursue his PhD, he came with his family, including his wife Claudia and high school-aged triplets Maria Jesus, Benjamin and Sofia. He said it’s been a great experience to be here with his family and have his children get to know a new culture. During 2020, his children had a first-hand view as they watched their father pursue his education goals.
“With the pandemic, my children have witnessed the effort that dad has put into getting his degree,” Alzugaray said. “The entire family has made sacrifices to get on this journey, and every day we are getting closer to a happy ending.”
Alzugaray was recently hired by Weyerhaeuser as the Aurora Nursery Leader. While maintaining a full-time job, he continues as a graduate student working after hours on his PhD project.
Alzugaray plans to graduate from OSU in 2021 and hopes to continue doing what he loves most about forestry, growing seedlings and creating new life, either in research, teaching, conservation or industry.
This story was part of the College of Forestry’s 2019-2020 Biennial Report.