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.

Christopher Still, a professor at the Oregon State University College of Forestry, studies forest ecology and the physiology of trees. His research spans from a singular leaf on a tree to entire ecosystems. He also studies carbon cycling and forest-climate interactions.

So, when the temperatures rose to unprecedented levels in the summer of 2021 and a heat dome descended upon Oregon, Still knew the scorching heat and intense energy from the sun would stress the trees, scorch the foliage and impact Oregon’s forests. Especially after two years of state-wide drought. But at what scale? And what would that mean for the long-term health of the trees?

“The ‘heat dome’ led to numerous reports of foliage scorch and leaf drop in westside forests of the Coast Range and Cascades,” Still said. “Western hemlock and western red cedar seemed to be impacted the most, but Douglas-fir and various alders and maples were affected, too. Notably, trees and saplings with direct solar exposure and on south-facing slopes seemed to suffer the worst foliage scorch.”

With help from citizen scientists, researchers like Still spent months documenting the heat dome’s effects on Oregon’s trees. Using a website created by the Oregon Department of Forestry, community members and researchers reported their observations to map and analyze the foliage scorch.

Still then organized a symposium to share information and begin piecing together what the heat dome event might mean for the long-term health of trees.

“Researchers do not know what the near- and long-term physiological causes and consequences of foliage scorch and heat stress will be, at either leaf or tree scales. The impacts could range from impaired metabolism on surviving leaves, to reduced stem diameter growth, to eventual tree mortality,” Still says.

The symposium served as a central place for tree experts like foresters, silviculturists and botanists to meet and discuss their findings and plan for the next steps to monitor the impacts of the heat dome.

“I think there are many challenges for forest management. The challenges range from trying to help forests become more resilient to climate change impacts, to working on assisted migration and planting of new genotypes and identifying species that can better handle a warmer and drier climate in the future,” Still says.

Still says we should expect more intense heatwaves in the future, and we should all work urgently to lower our carbon footprint to mitigate future climate change.

However, he said the data shows there is much to learn about heat stress physiology and how different genotypes, species and forest types will respond to future heat and drought extremes.

“I think the scale of the impacts – both the spatial scale and the range of species and forest types affected – was surprising. I think the resilience shown by some species and forests was also a pleasant surprise,” Still says.

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.

Swiss needle cast, a foliage disease specific to Douglas-fir resulting in needle loss and reduced growth, is perhaps the most well-studied foliage disease globally. Knowledge about this disease, caused by the native pathogenic fungus Nothophaeocryptopus gaeumannii, is used to study other foliage diseases worldwide.

This is due to the influence of the Swiss Needle Cast Cooperative at Oregon State University. “Since 1996, the cooperative has been focused on research and management of Douglas-fir in zones where Swiss needle cast occurs,” says professor and forest health specialist Dave Shaw, the current director of the cooperative.

Now, a quarter of a century later, the cooperative has published an article in the Journal of Forestry, summarizing their current understanding of Swiss needle cast based on twenty-five years of research.

Swiss needle cast, considered one of the top threats to Douglas-fir plantation health and productivity in western Oregon, Washington and SW British Columbia, was first identified on Douglas-fir growing in Switzerland in the early 20th century. Forest pathologists in North America found the fungus was common in native Douglas-fir stands but was not causing problems.

The disease emerged in Christmas tree plantations in Washington and Oregon in the 1970s, and by the 1990s, it had intensified in coastal Oregon and Washington Douglas-fir plantations. In January 1997, in response to the disease epidemic, the Swiss Needle Cast Cooperative was formed by private forest landowners, federal and state agencies, and the Oregon State University College of Forestry to conduct research and address management practices.

“The more we learn, the better we will be able to sustain the productivity of our forests,” Shaw says. “However, this is a native disease that has a role here in the PNW, and we have some ability to manage forests effectively in the presence of the disease.”

Swiss needle cast symptoms include chlorotic, yellowish foliage, low needle retention, thin crowns and reduced tree growth. The fungus occurs wherever its only host, Douglas-fir, is grown. Disease, however, is only expressed when the fungus causes significant defoliation of two and three-year-old needles.

This, says Shaw, is an essential point for managers. The fungus may be present and yet have no effect on Douglas-fir productivity.

The fungus lives inside the needles of Douglas-fir. It only impacts needle function when fungal fruiting bodies called pseudothecia emerge into and plug the stomates, or air pores, on the underside of the needle, blocking gas exchange. When too many stomates on a needle get plugged, the needle dies and is cast, or dropped, from the branchlet.

Pseudothecia on two year foliage.

Even after twenty-five years of research, Shaw says the science can still be surprising.

“We recently found that Swiss needle cast is distinctly a young tree disease, and older stands, except in extreme examples, are not as affected. There is something unique about young stands that makes the disease more prevalent,” Shaw says. This work was based on collaborations between graduate student Sky Lan, Shaw, and scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency who climbed mature and old-growth trees over two hundred feet tall to get samples and measure microclimate.

While Shaw and others do not yet know why this disease affects younger trees more often, they hypothesize the difference may be due to temperature dynamics within the canopy.

According to Shaw and Gabriela Ritokova, the associate director of the cooperative and a forest pathologist with the Oregon Department of Forestry, the management of Swiss needle cast is nuanced and site-specific. A “Guide to the Silviculture of Swiss Needle” is available on the Swiss Needle Cast Cooperative website.

Shaw explains that future challenges include understanding how climate change will influence the disease.

“Epidemiology-wise, winter temperature, and late spring-summer leaf wetness control disease,” Shaw says. “As we continue to increase winter warming, we may see the disease spread from the core areas now impacted to higher elevations and the western Cascades.“

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.

The amount of carbon stored in soils is about three times that in living plants and double that in the atmosphere.

But, we often overlook soils’ powerful ability to store carbon.

“Concern about rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations has heightened interest in the role that forests play in carbon sequestration, storage and cycling,” says Jeff Hatten, associate professor of soil science and head of the forest engineering, resources and management department at the Oregon State University College of Forestry. “Living trees sequester and store carbon, but we give less recognition to soils’ role.”

But what happens to the soil’s carbon levels after forest harvests?

According to published research by OSU and Weyerhaeuser Company, conventional timber harvesting has no effect on carbon levels in the mineral soils of the western Pacific Northwest for at least three-and-a-half years after harvest.

Historic in its scope, a collaborative and long-term effort between Hatten and Scott Holub of Weyerhaeuser monitored nine managed Douglas-fir forest stands in Oregon and Washington before and after traditional timber harvest and replanting, analyzing more than 50,000 soil samples from 2700 sample points.

“Our original hypothesis that timber harvesting would decrease soil carbon in the short term was disproven,” Hatten says. “Even where you have the highest soil temperatures and the highest soil moistures – the strongest environment for decomposition that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – harvesting doesn’t seem to have an impact in the areas we studied.”

Across all the sites combined, after harvest, the scientists found little change (+2%) in mineral soil carbon content and a 184% hike in forest floor carbon, the result of harvest residue.

“We should not overlook the importance of the 184% increase in forest floor carbon,” says Katherine McCool, a master’s student in Hatten’s lab who is researching forest soil and watershed processes. “We can expect this increase because the branches, needles and bark that fall to the ground as harvest residue, in addition to the dead roots and stumps from harvested trees, will provide much of the future carbon that will infiltrate into the soil.”

The study, the most extensive sampling ever conducted to determine if harvesting has an impact on soil carbon, is essential because of soil’s ability to store carbon to mitigate and prevent increased greenhouse
gases and maintain a stable carbon balance in the soil for sustainable forest management.

“Soil carbon also is useful in establishing a suitable microbiome for plant and fungal growth,” says McCool. “Without ample soil carbon, new seedlings in post-disturbance areas will not be able to grow.”

Hatten had plans to resample these research sites in coming years and decades to look at the longer-term impacts. Then the 2020 Holiday Farm fire occurred, tearing through some of the research sites near Eugene, Oregon, and dramatically altering the forest landscape. The research continues, but now Hatten and McCool are also studying the role and effect of fire on soil carbon dynamics, examining one of the nine research sites which burned and assessing how soil changes after a severe wildfire in a harvested stand.

“The existence of this preestablished soil carbon site provides an excellent opportunity to study the difference between pre- and post-fire soil carbon, which is often hard to come by due to the spontaneity of wildfire,” says McCool.

Hatten and McCool found a 97% decrease in forest floor carbon within the research site, which equates to 14-times less forest floor carbon than in the pre-harvest stand. The fire’s impact on the mineral soil carbon is still undetermined, but given that 90% of the soil’s carbon lies below the forest floor, the results will have big ramifications for the total carbon budget of the site.

“These initial results show that disturbances like fire can reduce carbon sequestration progress,” says McCool. “Therefore, management activities need to include a focus on fire-safe landscapes if we want to prioritize carbon containment.”

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.

Alumna Balkis Bakar, an Oregon State University graduate who received her PhD in wood science in 2019, is adapting wood-based composite manufacturing technology to create a new kind of composite material made from grape cane fibers.

Bakar came to OSU as a sponsored student from the Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia and Universiti Putra Malaysia. She had a general idea of what she wanted to research, but it wasn’t until a service project with a local Oregon vineyard that she found a suitable material to work with. The company wanted to do something with their agricultural waste, which triggered an interest for Bakar.

“We often see the commercial product produced from the crop or plantation such as wine or cotton fibers. But what happens to the necessary byproduct produced from activities like pruning or harvesting?” asks Bakar.

Bakar says some byproduct is used for fuel, as mulch, left in the field or burned. But there is a growing interest and effort in many countries to use underutilized fibers or non-wood fibers.

“Balkis saw an opportunity to study the resource and then create a product,” says Professor Fred Kamke, the JELD-WEN Chair of Wood-based Composites Science and leader of the wood-based composites center at OSU. “Her greatest contribution is a thorough analysis of the raw material, including anatomical characteristics, cell wall structure, and chemistry.”

Based on her analysis, Bakar devised a process to extract the usable fibers and manufacture a composite using 40% grape cane fiber and 60% polyester.

“No one had done that with grape cane before,” says Kamke. “Grape cane is typically burned as waste.”

“Adapting underutilized fibers like agricultural waste as an alternative material for wood in certain applications can have many benefits,” says Bakar. “It can reduce the demand burden for wood, and growers can benefit if the plantation byproduct has some economic value.”

Bakar, who obtained her bachelor’s degree in bio-composite technology at Universiti Teknologi Mara Shah Alam and master’s degree in the same field at Universiti Putra Malaysia, explains that bio-based composites are not limited to wood fiber and include all plant materials. Previously she studied agricultural waste and byproducts from palm oil plantations.

Bakar sees potential for future grape fiber research, saying that some vineyard owners are already trying to utilize this material. Examples include weaving the cane into containers, creating decorations or converting the fiber into boards.

The Wood and Fiber Science Journal published Bakar’s research in 2020 and the International Society of Wood Science and Technology (SWST) awarded Bakar and Kamke the 2021 George Marra first place award for excellence in writing.

Bakar currently works at Universiti Putra Malaysia as a lecturer in the Department of Natural Resource Industry at Faculty of Forestry and Environment.

Bakar chose OSU because of its reputation in the forestry field and the reputation of Dr. Kamke.

Dr. Kamke has led the Wood-Based Composites Center (WBC) for over 17 years. The WBC is an NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center with two main university sites, Oregon State University and Virginia Tech. Partner institutions North Carolina State University, Michigan State University, Auburn University and the University of Nevada Reno also conduct WBC research.

As head of the center, Kamke leads research involving the design, manufacture and performance of wood-based composites. His research group also explores the interaction of adhesives with wood and modified wood in composite applications.

Kamke says many people think of particle board when they hear the phrase wood-based composite, but it is so much more than that. Wood-based composites can be manufactured in various shapes and sizes and include composite lumber, structural panels, and 3D molded parts.

“Even cross laminated timber (CLT) is considered a composite and architects are now designing skyscrapers using CLT,” says Kamke. “CLT is made from lumber, but a companion product called mass plywood panels (MPP) is made from veneer by the Freres Lumber Company. I predict that we will see other types of wood composites used in the mass timber products market.”

There are many advantages to wood-based composites. They are highly uniform in their properties, whereas solid wood varies from piece to piece. Pound for pound, a structural wood composite will have greater strength and stiffness than a solid-sawn beam or column. Perhaps the best advantage of composites is the ability to use nearly 100% of the log (excluding bark) while solid-sawn lumber has a yield of about 50%. In addition, producers cannot create another solid piece of lumber with recycled wood and sawmill residues, but producers can utilize the materials to create a composite.

Both Bakar and Kamke see massive opportunities in the broader field of bio-based composites, adhesives and modified wood composites.

“Wood-based composites and modified wood products can compete against synthetic composites like glass fiber composites, and also with streel and concrete,” says Kamke.

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.

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.

Research indicates that nature-based experiences are crucial for our health and well-being – especially for children.

The national ‘Get Outdoors Day’ program creates opportunities that encourage healthy and active outdoor fun for families and children – particularly on public lands and natural areas. The event emphasizes engaging underserved communities while providing a welcoming environment for first-time visitors.

For the past eight years, the OSU College of Forestry, OSU Research Forests, OSU Extension Service, and Community Health Centers of Linn and Benton County have partnered to host Get Outdoors Day at Peavy Arboretum.

“We focus on hosting a bilingual (Spanish and English) event and conducting outreach to Title 1 schools while providing free transportation and bussing to the forest. We also coordinate with dozens of local agencies and organizations to provide opportunities to learn about natural resources, forestry, cultural history, and healthy lifestyles,” says Jenna Baker, recreation and engagement program manager at the OSU Research Forests.

But, how do you hold a Get Outdoors Day during a global pandemic?

“It was tough to think of creative alternatives that encouraged outdoor exploration and remained inclusive and accessible,” says Baker. “For example, we couldn’t assume every child had access to a backyard, outdoor equipment, or vehicle. Plus – it is a bit of an oxymoron to say it’s a ‘virtual’ Get Outdoors Day.”

The planning team for Get Outdoors Day included a diverse group of outreach faculty, foresters, educators, bilingual school health navigators, extension specialists, and parents, which allowed the team to examine the virtual format from different perspectives.

For example, initial plans involved online activities that kids could complete throughout the summer. One parent noted the extreme screen-fatigue that kids and parents were feeling from the pandemic. Another educator highlighted that many families might not have consistent access to a computer or internet. The team provided a free bilingual printed Get Outdoors Day magazine as an additional option to address these constraints.

Throughout the entire process the planning team constantly addressed core questions: Will this be equitable? Would this approach exclude anyone?

These are complex and salient questions that outdoor professionals must think critically about to address barriers that prevent people from participating in outdoor recreation.

Baker says we need to broaden the narrative about what it means to connect with and enjoy the outdoors – and who is enjoying it.

“If we frame outdoor recreation as a primarily white endeavor, or if the focus is on activities that require lots of expensive gear, hard-to-access areas, or specific knowledge sets, then we continue to reinforce these patterns and exclude others,” says Baker.

Time, money and access are three barriers that can prevent people from accessing outdoor areas.

“The reality is, it takes time to go on a long hike. You need money to purchase or rent a kayak, life jacket and paddles. You often need a vehicle to access your nearest national park or forest. Unfortunately, many people work on weekends, have little to no time off, or don’t have reliable access to a vehicle. We can’t expect to make our outdoor areas and national parks more inclusive, for instance, without thinking critically about what it takes to get there,” says Baker.

Parks and outdoor areas also need to adapt their messaging by thinking critically about how information is shared, and the assumptions held about a person’s outdoor interests, comfort levels, and feelings of safety.

“We can’t assume that people want to experience solitude while visiting the outdoors,” says Baker. “For some, this experience may trigger real fears about encountering violence and prejudice.”

At the crux of addressing this shift in narrative is having more diverse and representative leadership at all levels of decision making, marketing, and outreach to better represent the demographics of our nation for Get Outdoors Day and outdoor recreation as a whole. Leadership must balance diverse perspectives, identities, and values, including Indigenous communities and other groups historically underrepresented in the outdoors.

Over the years, Get Outdoors Day has made an impact; most kids and families that attend the event are visiting the Research Forests for the first time.

“We hope that this event can motivate outdoor engagement and plant initial seeds of inspiration for future forest stewards, scientists, and professionals,” says Baker. “I also hope that people join us for Get Outdoors Day next year – or let us know how we can continue to work towards our goal of creating a more inclusive and welcoming outdoor experience for all.”

For additional information visit cf.forestry.oregonstate.edu/go-day. 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.