On April 27, 2022, Beavers everywhere came together for Dam Proud Day, a 24-hour online event dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of the Oregon State University community. As part of this event, we raised over $72,000 for College of Forestry scholarships, which help ensure all of our students can afford this world-renowned education.

The amount raised is equivalent to over 23 additional scholarships for College of Forestry students. For many students, scholarships are life-changing, and financial gifts of all sizes can help. For example, $120 in scholarship support is equal to more than 10 hours of work at $12/hour – that’s 10 more hours a student can use to study or to participate in professional organizations, leadership training or other opportunities, making the most of their time at Oregon State.

Thank you to the 81 generous donors who gave anywhere from $5 to $25,000!

No one loves mushrooms as much as Ray Van Court loves mushrooms.

Their favorite food? Matsutake mushrooms. Their favorite hobby? Mushroom hunting. Their favorite time of the year? Mushroom season.

In fact, Van Court loves mushrooms so much they quit their corporate job to pursue ways to make the world a better place through fungi.

As a PhD candidate in wood science and graduate research assistant, Van Court is working on a project with assistant professor of forest-based bio-products Gerald Presley. Together, they use ectomycorrhizal fungi to bioremediate heavy metal-treated wood waste.

“Preservatives are critical to retaining the structural integrity of wood, but disposal of treated wood is problematic,” Van Court says. “Wood treated with metals including arsenic and copper is disposed of in landfills, often unlined, where these toxic metals can move into the environment. Preventing the migration of these metals, and potentially recovering them, could reduce the ecological impact of these contaminants.”

Certain species of ectomycorrhizal fungi are known to tolerate high metal environments, and initial work has shown that they may reduce metal toxicity. These mechanisms include binding them, transporting them, and producing compounds that stabilize the metals. Introducing fungi particularly adept at immobilizing metals in contaminated sites could reduce the environmental impact of toxic metal migration. The resulting retention of bound metals may also allow for reclamation.

This, says Van Court, represents a long-term solution to the problem of treated wood waste with little required inputs – all ectomycorrhizal fungi need is trees to associate with.

To test this idea, Van Court and Presley are performing a multi-stage lab experiment, screening 20 different species of ectomycorrhizal fungi in plate culture against three toxic metals.

“This screening will identify which species best tolerate and uptake metals used in wood preservatives and is an enormous increase in species and metals compared to previous research,” says Van Court.

In the second stage of the research, trees will be inoculated with the best performing fungi and planted in heavy metal-treated mesocosms, controlled containers that replicate natural environments. Trees and fungi will grow together in the metal contaminated system for a few months, after which their effect on metal will be measured. This initial work will test the effectiveness of the fungal system and pave the way for future field research.

While doing the research, Van Court was surprised by the scarcity of technologies related to ectomycorrhizal fungi and the limited knowledge on fungi growth. The fungi are usually in symbiosis with trees and for many species very little is known regarding how to replicate what the tree or other organisms in the ecosystem typically provide to the fungus.

“Admittedly, they are much harder to grow and maintain than decay fungi, but they represent a lot of untapped potential,” Van Court says. “As all kinds of products – from medicines to packaging material – have come from decay fungi, what new sustainable products might come from ectomycorrhizal ones? With new analytical and genetic tools, I think we are poised to learn much more about these fungi, and I am excited to see where this research and other projects can go.”

A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry.

Nathan Vega, an undergraduate student double majoring in renewable materials and forestry, has always had an interest in the fields of renewable energy and forest-based bioenergy.

“I am especially interested in biochar for its potential to help with wildfire prevention, energy production and agricultural management,” Vega says.

Biochar is a carbon-rich, charcoal-like substance made by burning organic material, like agricultural or forestry waste, at low oxygen levels in a process called pyrolysis. Biochar can be used as a soil enhancer or as a way to sequester carbon. The energy or heat created during the conversion can also be captured and used as clean energy.

“Biochar is part of something called the circular economy,” Vega says. “And the foundation of this economy is a transition to renewable energy and materials.”

An alternative to the traditional linear economy, the circular economy is restorative or regenerative by design. It seeks to reduce waste and material use, recover resources at the end of a product’s life, and channel them back into production, significantly reducing pressure on the environment.

Vega jumped at an opportunity to work within the circular economy, assisting Scott Leavengood, director of Oregon Wood Innovation Center, in testing Portland, Oregon, based Sankofa Lumber’s new line of panel products known as “SecondStory.”

“SecondStory” panels are unique in that they are composed of reclaimed structural building materials, including lumber, oriented strand board (OSB) and plywood. Sankofa refers to these panels as architectural surfaces and advises using them for purposes like flooring, casework and wall cladding. “SecondStory” panels are currently installed in the Oregon State women’s gymnastics facility locker room.

Leavengood and Vega tested the panels to determine qualities like hardness, bond and bending strength and moisture performance. They measured the panels’ performance based on comparable products like
particleboard, medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and hardwood plywood. The Cascadia CleanTech Accelerator, powered by VertueLab and CleanTech Alliance, funded the testing.

“For entrepreneurs working with any kind of new material or new product, the first question they always get from potential customers is ‘what’s it like?’ or in other words, how does the product compare to what’s on the market now?’ says Leavengood. “We were able to help Sankofa Lumber answer these questions since Nathan put the product through a workout.”

Bond strength is critical for composite products. Leavengood and Vega found the strength excellent even after products were exposed to high humidity and water submersion for several days.

Focusing on his classes and assisting Leavengood with his research projects provided Vega with support and something to focus on during the pandemic.

“Everyone at the College of Forestry was very welcoming and friendly,” Vega says, “Plus, this job was a great part of the last year-and-a-half as it let me get out of the house and listen to music while I did the experiments.”

Vega is a recipient of the Friends of Renewable Materials Seneca Scholarship, Powers Scholarship, and Presidential Scholarship from the College of Forestry. He said receiving the scholarships has been essential to ensuring his success at Oregon State.

“These scholarships have allowed me to pursue my education without distraction or worry,” Vega says. “It’s been such a relief to find that I am so supported.”

When Vega is not studying, he likes to spend his free time reading, gardening, cooking, listening to music, hiking and playing the drums. He also likes to spend his time with his friends and family and he recently joined the college’s logging sports team.

After graduation, Vega wants to work in bioenergy, specifically biochar production from forest biomass as a carbon-negative energy source.

A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry.

Caitlyn Reilley has worn many hats during her time at Oregon State University.

First, she was an undergraduate pursuing a career as a clinical dietician. Then, after realizing how heavily social, economic, and environmental factors influence individual health outcomes, she switched gears to focus on community-level health. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public health in 2016, securing a job as an outreach coordinator for the Linus Pauling Institute, a nutrition research institute at OSU.

While working as the outreach coordinator, Reilley began eyeing opportunities to return to school to study environmental policy. She learned about the opportunity to join the College of Forestry as the coordinator for the Elliott State Research Forest project.

“The Elliott project coordinator role was such a unique opportunity to bring my skillset to a project situated at the intersection of public lands policy, natural resource management, and rural community well-being,” Reilley says. “It was also fulfilling to help the College envision a path forward for the Elliott that benefits local communities while providing critical research into the best way to deliver the myriad of social, economic, and ecological values our forests provide.”

According to Reilley, developing a proposal for a research forest was often messy and included many difficult conversations. Overall, however, it was a joyful experience for her and gave her confidence in the ability of humans to work together to solve complex natural resource issues.

It also confirmed her desire to study natural resources management. As a current graduate student in sustainable forest management with a concentration in economics and policy, Reilley is working with Mindy Crandall, assistant professor of forest policy and economics. Crandall’s research focuses on the role that natural resources, especially forests, play in human well-being.

Together, she and Crandall are a part of a collaborative project studying the human dimensions of wildfire with researchers at the Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station. Her master’s research explores community vulnerability to wildfire and the social drivers of human-caused fire ignitions.

“The majority of fires in Oregon are started by people, and research into what drives these human-caused fires can help inform fire prevention strategies,” Reilley says.

Reilley’s research into socially vulnerable populations allowed her to support the implementation of Senate Bill 762 (SB 762), Oregon’s omnibus wildfire bill allocating millions for landscape scale forest restoration and community wildfire preparedness projects.

“As a part of this project, we are identifying and mapping socially vulnerable communities to help allocate resources provided by SB 762,” says Reilley. “Not all communities are equally equipped to prevent or respond to wildfire and it has been really encouraging to see how much interest there is in using this type of data to prioritize funding and support for communities that need it most.”

When Reilley is not in front of her computer analyzing data, she is in the forest and enjoys long-distance running and mountain biking with her Australian shepherd pup Ginger.

“Thanks to a rigorous Ginger-driven training plan, I was able to complete my first Ironman triathlon last summer in Coeur D’ Alene, Idaho,” Reilley says. “I also recently started building live edge furniture. I love to hunt for unique slabs of wood and am slowly building my arsenal of power tools.”

“I’ve learned so much from working with College of Forestry faculty these past three years. The Elliott project and implementation of SB 762 have provided incredible opportunities to see first-hand how the research informs real world management and policy decisions that promote healthy ecosystems and communities. Oregon communities are really at the heart of the work I’ve been able to be a part of here in the College, and I feel so fortunate for that.”

As the recipient of two scholarships from the College of Forestry: the Hal Salwasser Fellowship and the Lu Alexander Graduate Fellowship, Reilley is looking forward to using her scholarships to present her research at conferences this spring. After graduating this summer, she plans to continue working in the wildfire policy realm and hopes that her future career path never takes her too far from her home here in Oregon.

A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry.

Rootstock, a new resource for students, faculty and staff of the College of Forestry, opened on January 11, 2022. Located on the first floor of the Peavy Forest Science Center on the campus of Oregon State University, Rootstock is a community space providing food and resources to those in need.

“OSU is already doing a wonderful job of addressing issues of food insecurity and the OSU Human Services Resource Center provides great resources and programs for students in need,” said Jessica Fitzmorris, outreach and event manager at the College of Forestry. “We are not trying to duplicate their efforts, but rather work with them to provide additional resources, education, and experiences for College of Forestry students to meet immediate needs.”

Food insecurity remains a significant problem in Oregon and among OSU students. According to research by Mark Edwards, professor of Sociology and Director of OPAL (OSU Policy Analysis Laboratory) at the School of Public Policy, 24% of OSU students on the Corvallis campus are estimated to be food insecure. Though there is not specific food insecurity data related to College of Forestry students, 34% of College of Forestry students have high financial need compared to 28% of OSU’s population. College of Forestry students also have the 4th highest financial need of OSU Colleges.

After former College of Forestry dean Anthony Davis’ staff attended an event highlighting food insecurity faced by Forestry students, a seed was planted for the idea of Rootstock. With the opening of the new Peavy Forest Science Center building, Fitzmorris saw the opportunity to house a food pantry in the event kitchen. Rootstock also includes a drop off space on the 2nd floor of Peavy where people can donate fresh food from their gardens. College of Forestry event organizers are also encouraged to use to-go containers to save leftover food to be distributed later to students.

Other College of Forestry staff, including Madison Dudley, the curriculum and accreditation coordinator for the department of forestry engineering and resources management and Terralyn Vandetta, director of computing forestry resources, joined Fitzmorris to brainstorm what kind of products could be stocked in the pantry. Students will find food for meals, snacks, condiments, as well as menstrual products, and cleaning supplies. They will also receive information about programs available to them through the OSU Human Services Resource Center, including SNAP benefits and textbook loaning programs.

Rootstock food pantry

The food pantry will be open on Tuesdays from 1:00-3:30, with other times available by appointment. To donate non-perishable food items (not expired), garden produce, eggs from your chickens, toiletry items, household cleaning supplies, or cash, contact Jessica Fitzmorris (jessica.fitzmorris@oregonstate.edu). Volunteers are also needed during pantry hours.

Students can follow the Twitter accounts @eatfreeosu and @cof_rootstock for announcements about event leftovers. More information can be found within the Rootstock website, including educational events and community resources.

Position at Oregon State University: PhD Candidate, Graduate Research Assistant

Tell us a little bit about where you are from…
I’m originally from the foothills of Colorado. I went to Grinnell College in Iowa for my BA in anthropology and biological chemistry, then moved to Portland to get back to mountains and forests.

What brought you to OSU? What is your role in the College of Forestry?
When I lived in Portland I was part of the Oregon Mycological Society, which hosts monthly talks. In one of these I heard about research going on in the college making sustainable products using fungal pigments, and was particularly interested in the use of one of them as a semiconductor. I quit my corporate job and came to OSU to get involved finding new ways to make a better world with fungi.

What’s your favorite part about working for the College of Forestry?
The diverse resources that we have for projects and the excellent people that I work with.

What’s a cool work-related project you are working on right now?
I’m working on a project using ectomycorrhizal fungi for bioremediation of heavy metal treated wood waste. At the moment, wood treated with metals like arsenic and copper is disposed of in landfills where these metals can move into the environment. Fungi are known to sequester metals or produce compounds that will react with them, reducing their toxicity and potential environmental issues. Some species of ectomycorrhizal fungi in particular are known to tolerate heavy metal environments, and initial work has shown they may be able to reduce metal toxicity. Use of ectomycorrhizal fungi may be a sustainable way to reduce the environmental impact of these metals and potentially allow for reclamation.

What do you like to do outside of work?
My primary hobby is mushroom hunting. I’m in the forest looking for fungi most weekends. I am also into plants, both growing them and admiring them in the wild. I have a large collection of tropical orchids in a vivarium and a bog of carnivorous plants, plus more orchids in my yard. I’m particularly enthusiastic about parasitic plants and others that are dependent on fungi. I also am a woodworker, mostly woodturning, and like to cook.

What’s your favorite food?
Matsutake mushrooms.

What’s your favorite time of the year? Why?
I love late summer/early fall. The mushroom season has started on the coast by then and my favorite species of chanterelle is out, plus there are still huckleberries to snack on. Also it is still warm and sunny outside, and gardens are going crazy. Definitely the best time of year.

Do you have any children or pets?
Just plants and fungi.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Why?
This is incredibly specific, but I would love to be able to look at a plant/fungus and know exactly what it needs to be happy. I work with high maintenance ectomycorrhizal fungi which are normally in symbiosis with trees, and we really do not know how to replicate what the tree (or other organisms in the ecosystem) normally provide to the fungus. There are many genera that no one has figured out how to culture. I’ve been playing around in the lab working on medias, but it would be so nice to just be able to know so we can do research on them more effectively. Knowing what plants need would also be nice for my orchid habit. An alternative superpower would be to instantly make things sterile and/or being able to select what grows in culture – that would be wonderful.

Lara Jacobs is bringing into focus the ecological and pathogenic impacts of outdoor recreation using a cultural impact lens.

Jacobs, who is pursuing her PhD in forest ecosystems and society, works collaboratively with a Tribe in Washington to examine how fecal matter from outdoor recreationists may create issues to the Tribe’s food supply.

Jacobs says that most people do not understand that when they deposit fecal matter in parks and protected areas, it may pose issues to watersheds, soils, and animals, including humans.

“We’ve been taught for years just to dig a hole and bury fecal matter,” says Jacobs. “However, this contrasts with the scientific literature that shows how bacteria survive in great abundance across seasons, and depth of burial doesn’t seem to matter. The best practice isn’t to bury your fecal matter unless you plan to put in a lot of work to completely compost it with soil. Outdoor recreationists should be packing out their fecal waste whenever possible.”

This research is vital for multiple reasons, including the Treaty obligations that the U.S. government holds to manage the Tribe’s non-reservation lands in manners that maintain their natural resources, including subsistence foods.

“This research is also critical because the field of recreation ecology has yet to bring in a cultural impact lens,” says Jacobs.

As a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma who also has Choctaw heritage, Jacobs graduated magna cum laude from Oregon State University with a bachelor of science degree in women studies. The degree combined her interests in environmental issues with topics about systems of oppression and privilege. She also holds a master’s degree in environmental studies from Prescott College, focusing on environmental education, conservation science, and sustainability.

After completing her master’s degree, Jacobs wanted to continue researching outdoor recreation science but was more interested in the ecological impacts of outdoor recreation.

“There are five recreation ecology lab groups at universities worldwide, four of which are in the U.S., and one at OSU,” says Jacobs. “Dr. Ashley D’Antonio’s recreation ecology lab group is where the best GIS work is coming from in this field. So, it was a natural choice for me to apply to be in her lab group.”

Her doctoral research centers on the spatial mapping of outdoor recreationists’ behaviors and their associated environmental ecological and pathogenic impacts on Native lands managed by the National Park Service. Jacob’s main objective is to bring an inclusive lens to academia and help transform the academic landscape into a better and brighter place for everyone. While at OSU, she’s worked to build bridges across the college to create spaces for Indigenous students to connect on various topics.

She co-founded the Traditional Ecological Knowledge club and is the current chair and graduate student representative. Jacobs reestablished an OSU chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and currently serves as president. She is secretary of the Indigenous Grad Student Alliance, and for the past year, she served as a member of the Indigenous Involvement Work Group for the George Wright Society. Jacobs is also a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellow, ARCS Scholar, Cobell Scholar, Native Nations Institute Awardee, Helen J. Harold Gilman Smith Scholar and Thurgood Marshall Scholar.

Jacobs says one of the best things about her graduate program has been working with her advisor, Dr. D’Antonio.

“She provides an excellent example for how mentorship of graduate students can occur through positive and supportive interactions,” says Jacobs. “I model my mentoring of students based on her actions.”

During her spare time, Jacobs loves to hike, backpack, kayak, and explore different ecosystems. She also enjoys time with family.

“Family means so much to me, and so does my culture,” says Jacobs. “I work with a cultural guide to connect with my Tribe and spend time learning our Mvskoke language and histories. I also love to create beadwork that is inspired by my people and our connections with the land. In the summer, I spend my time gardening and harvesting foods and medicines. In fall, I spend countless hours canning, drying, and preparing food for my family and Tribal Elders.”

The College of Forestry has supported Jacobs’ education through multiple scholarships, including covering equipment costs for her research.

After finishing her degree, Jacobs aspires to continue working in academia as a professor.

“My dream is to continue building knowledge about how outdoor recreation impacts Tribal Communities and generate more information about recreation impacts in marine systems,” says Jacobs. “I plan to establish a lab group where I can dedicate space and time to mentoring Indigenous students and others from marginalized communities, including allies.”

Indigenous women make up the smallest percentage of assistant, associate, and full professors nationwide (less than one-half of one percent). Jacobs hopes to use her position to show other Indigenous and marginalized people that they, too, belong in the academy and help them realize their potential and achieve their dreams.

A version of this story appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry.

For Skye Greenler, a fire ecologist and PhD candidate, fire management has been part of her life from a very young age.

“I grew up on a family farm in Wisconsin that was half organic cropland and half restored tall-grass prairie,” says Greenler. “Conducting prescribed prairie burns was a celebration of the changing seasons, and balancing production with sustainability and conservation was an integral part of working on the land.”

Her family’s prairie management emulated that of upper Midwest and great plains tribes, which instilled a deep interest in the practices of Indigenous fire managers. The farm also taught Greenler to think critically about sustainably using the land, building healthy ecosystems to buffer resources through bad years, and balancing a range of seemingly contradictory objectives— the questions she’s still thinking about today.

Greenler is at the forefront of a more holistic perspective in scientific inquiry. She is working to understand how systemically entrenched bureaucracy, patriarchal mindsets of command and control and injustices to underrepresented communities inhibit adaptation to our current fire challenge.

She arrived at OSU excited about the opportunity to study wildfires in one of the most fire-prone landscapes in the nation, where science, management and policy decisions often drive changes in the region and across the country.

Her dissertation focuses on identifying when wildfires can help restore historical and healthy forest conditions in eastern Oregon and northern California. A major part of her dissertation focuses on developing landscape-scale fire models for northern California that incorporate Indigenous fire management practices into cutting-edge fire modeling and management tools.

“This work is a collaboration with Karuk tribal experts, resource managers and scientists. Working together, we will better understand historical forest conditions, implications of different management decisions, and the changes necessary to build future climate and wildfire resilient ecosystems and communities,” says Greenler.

Greenler says there is an urgent need to reassess how we manage and live with fire in Oregon and many places across the globe.

“Understanding when, where, and how fire is beneficial on landscapes is critical for us to work towards promoting good fire and coexisting with fire rather than needing to fight and fear all fire,” says Greenler.

There is also increasing recognition of the importance of Indigenous fire management in restoring landscape resilience, reducing risk to communities and promoting critical first foods and medicines.

“This work is very place-based and needs to be led by local tribes, not Western scientists, but I see a lot of hope in collaborative work that centers Indigenous fire stewardship and land management,” says Greenler.

Greenler hopes that fire scientists can transition to uplifting Indigenous fire management in the following decade and collaboratively create a tangible and substantial space for cultural burning within fire management and landscape restoration.

“In the western United States, wildfire is a natural process that is foundational to maintaining ecosystem health but is increasingly a destructive event that can result in loss of life, property, and valued natural resources,” says Greenler. “Science, management, and policy that together can reduce the risk of uncharacteristic, destructive fires, while promoting natural fire and forest processes is critical to restore forest resilience and reduce risk.”

Greenler’s major professor John Bailey, professor of silviculture and fire management, says she exemplifies the combination of intellectual ability, talent, drive and heart to advance the College of Forestry’s mission for research, teaching and outreach.

After receiving a Provost Fellowship, Greenler helped found the Traditional Ecological Knowledge Club, which supports Tribal rights and inclusion in natural resource stewardship, including hosting a recurring conference on Traditional Ecological Knowledge in ecosystem sustainability. She served as the President of the Student Association for Fire Ecology and is one of 100 doctoral students in the U.S. and Canada selected to receive the Scholar Award from the P.E.O. Sisterhood.

Greenler received a master of science degree from Purdue University in 2018 and a bachelor of arts degree in ecology from Colorado College in 2014.

A version of this story appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry.

Trevor Denning, class of 2022, uses a wheelchair and loves the outdoors. But sometimes, those two worlds aren’t compatible. He wants to change that.

Denning is on a mission to make the outdoors more accessible to those with physical disabilities. He was inspired to pursue this goal after visiting Grand Teton National Park and realizing he wasn’t able to do as much as non-disabled people.

“The greatest barrier or obstacle to accessibility is the lack of knowledge about the vast amounts of disabilities that exist,” says Denning. “It is not a one shoe fits all type of problem to address.”

Most of the time, he says, the people making decisions about accessibility issues are not disabled and have no firsthand knowledge on how to make a state, local or national park accessible.

“I believe that there need to be more people that are disabled in these positions because they are the ones with the real-world experience and know what needs to change,” says Denning. “On many occasions, I have visited an area that is deemed ‘accessible,’ and in fact, it is not.”

Originally from Florence, Oregon, Denning is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in tourism, recreation and adventure leadership with a double minor in natural resources and leadership. Denning chose OSU because of the TRAL major, and also because of the welcoming community and college town feel of Corvallis.

“One of the best things about OSU is meeting so many students on campus that come from diverse backgrounds such as international students, military and veteran personnel, folks with the same passion I have for the outdoors and plenty of students with disabilities,” says Denning. “OSU is very welcoming to all students.”

When not in class, Denning likes to explore the outdoors with his partner, something he’s able to do on his ReActive Adaptations custom off-road handcycle.

The handcycle was custom-built for Denning and funded by a local community fundraising effort, including donations and grants. The handcycle includes an electric assist that can support Denning as he explores areas previously inaccessible.

“My favorite part about having my ReActive Adaptations off-road handcycle is the fact that I can do so much more by myself now,” says Denning. “When I want to explore a new area, I do not need someone there to push me in my daily wheelchair because I can now transfer into my handcycle and ride until I want to stop and go over, down and around terrain that I am not able to with my wheelchair.”

Denning still gets emotional when he rides his handcycle, which he received in 2019. He’s been in a wheelchair since he suffered a spinal injury in 2011 when he was just 15 years old. For nearly ten years, he could not do the things he loved, like being outdoors and accessing the backcountry.

“Now I can, and that is such a freeing experience,” says Denning. “It’s one thing not to get outside and explore. It’s a whole other thing when it is taken away from you, and you cannot do those simple activities that a lot of people take for granted.”

In addition to loving the land, Denning also loves the skies. He’s a licensed pilot and tries to fly planes as often as possible.

He grew up flying on the weekends with his pilot grandfather. They would fly to small airports around Eastern Washington, eating breakfast at the diners located across the street. After Denning’s accident, his grandfather showed Denning an article from his Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) magazine about the Able Flight program. Able Flight’s mission is to offer people with disabilities a unique way to challenge themselves through flight and aviation career training, and by doing so, to gain greater self-confidence and self-reliance.

“Seeing pictures of students learning to fly that looked like me and using a wheelchair was very inspiring, so I applied,” says Denning. “On Christmas day in 2015, I was contacted by the program director to inform me that I was accepted to the class of 2016 Able Flight students at Purdue University.”

Denning says he is proud having the title of “pilot” and it is one of his greatest achievements.

After graduation, Denning hopes to work for a federal agency such as the United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service or the Army Corps of Engineers to help make outdoor areas more accessible to people with physical disabilities.

“Navigating a non-disabled world is tough,” says Denning. “Restaurants, grocery stores, bookstores, classrooms, and housing are some of the many things that need to be fixed and made more accessible. The first step is having people that are disabled in a position to make these changes. I want to be one of those people.”

A version of this story appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry.

Bingo VRRH harvest post-operation. Photo shows clumps of trees that are retained throughout the unit.

The OSU Research Forests recently performed two variable retention regeneration harvests (VRRH). Yes, it is a mouthful! Can you say it five times fast?

A VRRH is a harvesting technique that seeks to retain varying densities of trees throughout the harvest unit. Foresters implement VRRH for a variety of reasons including providing more wildlife habitat, enhancing visual aesthetics, and retaining forest structural elements that are associated with structurally complex stands.

We completed a VRRH harvest in 2020, and ‘Bingo’ VRRH was its name-o. We chose the 68-year-old mature stand as part of an experiment because VRRH’s had not been widely performed in the Research Forests in the past. The Bingo unit contained predominately even-aged Douglas-fir with a small component of grand fir and hardwoods (e.g., bigleaf maple and Oregon white oak). The pre-existing trees in the unit showed signs of significant mortality that were the result of two previous weather events in 2015: the hot drought and damaging ice storm. Many of the Douglas-firs that succumbed to mortality also showed signs of sap rot (decay) on the boles (i.e. trunks) of the trees. These factors played into our decision to use a VRRH management approach because the trees had to be salvaged, and the storm and insect damage had created many snags ideal for wildlife use. This stand also stood adjacent to a road heavily for recreation, thus safety and aesthetics were additional factors. Additionally, the harvest would be highly visible from Highland Avenue near Crescent Valley High School.

The second VRRH unit was Davie Crockett 2, which we wrapped up in June 2021. This unit was 12.5 acres and 74 years old. Davie Crockett 2 primarily contained even-aged Douglas-firs with a smaller component of bigleaf maple and grand fir. We chose this unit for a VRRH demonstration because it also was in a highly used recreation area and the retention of trees could help reduce the view of exposed tree boles or bare ground.

Figure 1. LiDAR vicinity map of Bingo VRRH unit and viewpoint from Nazarene Church on Highway 99.
Figure 2. Simulated image from LiDAR drone data depicting what Bingo VRRH would look like from Nazarene Church if it had been clear cut.

A major goal for the Bingo and Davie Crockett 2 harvests was to minimize the post-harvest appearance of upslope tree boles and bare ground from the surrounding valley. If you were to use binoculars to view the Bingo harvest unit from Crescent Valley High School or from the Nazarene Church on Highway 99, our hope was that you would not be able to see much bare ground or tree boles (Figure 1 and 2). We tried to achieve this by including enough retention trees in the units so that their crowns would block the view of these post-harvest features. In forestry, we call the area that a harvest unit can be viewed from the “viewshed”. We used LiDAR technology (Light Detection And Ranging), a remote sensing technique, to simulate images of what each unit would look like under different tree retention scenarios. LiDAR works by emitting pulses of light waves which bounce back to the device; in this case we used a drone. The time needed for the wavelengths to bounce back are used to calculate the distance an object (tree, road, or ground surface) is from the sensor, which can then be used to generate an image of the landscape. Graduate student Bryan Begay and OSU College of Forestry professor Bogdan Strimbu helped gather the data necessary to create the simulated images. Forest director Stephen Fitzgerald brought them into the field to help identify retention patches that would best meet our visual objectives.

We consider the visual aesthetics of harvest operations from multiple scales. For example, the Bingo unit is located on the 600 road, which is a highly-trafficked recreation area with the Bombs Away trail traversing through the unit. Davie Crockett is similarly traversed by the Vineyard Mountain trail and many users hike or bike by the unit’s edge on the 500 road every day. We wanted to make sure the final product was visually appealing from miles away as well as from the adjacent roads and trails. Often our recreation department will visit a harvest site during the planning phase to visualize and anticipate how the post-harvest area will be experienced as a runner, walker, equestrian, or biker. These experiential and aesthetic factors also play into our decision making for selecting retention trees and clumps of trees.

The process for selecting retention trees, especially for a VRRH approach, is very methodical and specific. Trees left behind often include a mixture of live hardwoods, healthy conifers, as well as standing dead conifers (snags) that are important for wildlife habitat. Many of the trees that we retain, especially when thinking about aesthetics, have large crowns (i.e. over half of the tree has a full living canopy), and consist of Douglas-firs and bigleaf maples. We retained over 100 trees for both units. For recreationists, we sought to retain trees that anchored the trail and/or provided shade for visitors.

To visualize and anticipate the spatial arrangement of the retained trees (sometimes called leave trees or wildlife trees), we use GIS technology. We take detailed maps out to the field on a tablet that contains a georeferenced mapping application (e.g., Avenza). This application allows us to drop “pins” that mark the location of the chosen retention trees. We also physically mark all retained trees with a pink painted “W” or with a permanent blue “wildlife tree” tag. This process is iterative; it is important to continually visualize and anticipate what the stand will look like after the harvest is completed. When I’m in the field doing tree marking, I am constantly keeping this in mind.

Figure 3. (A) Simulated image from LiDAR drone data depicting what Davie Crockett 2 would look like if patches from Fig. 4 were retained. Unit boundary is approximately within the white oval. (B) Picture from highway 99 depicting what Davie Crockett 2 looks like post-harvest. Unit boundary is approximately within the white oval

My own role in creating the design and layout for these harvests was composed of fieldwork, assisting with retention tree identification, and helping with contract administration post-operation. Working on these units was an incredible learning experience for my future career. Every time I am exposed to a different management technique or harvesting styles, I am able to think more critically and holistically about forest management approaches.

Hannah Proffitt is working on her Bachelors of Science in Forest Management and Fire Protection and Reforestation with the College of Forestry. She is a student employee in Forest Management with the Research Forests. She plans to graduate Spring 2022. The OSU College of Forestry’s Research Forests include network of ten forest tracts spread throughout Oregon, totaling 15,000 acres. Subscribe to their newsletter to receive monthly newsletters as well as trail updates. This article originally appeared in the July issue of their newsletter.