Marbled Murrelet on its nest. Photo: Brett Lovelace/OSU

It’s not easy to find a marbled murrelet’s nest in Oregon. It wasn’t until 1990 that researchers even located the first one in the state. The elusive breeding behavior of this threatened species has made it challenging to protect through conservation efforts and strategic management of coastal forests. It’s clear the population of this small seabird has declined from historic levels — but the reasons why are murky.

That’s why a team of College of Forestry researchers launched Oregon’s first large-scale, long-term study of murrelet breeding biology. This collaborative project, initiated in 2016, drew immediate support from a diverse group of stakeholders across the state.

“Murrelets are a listed species, so there’s a lot of interest in recovering this population,” said Jim Rivers, an assistant professor of wildlife ecology who’s leading the research effort. “But we haven’t had the information we need to understand what’s constraining reproductive output.”

For phase one of the project, the research team turned to existing data to better understand why the birds travel inland to nest some years, but not others. Murrelets rely on the sea for their food, including forage fish like anchovy, herring, and smelt, and commute as much as 50 miles inland to nest in old-growth and late-successional forests, where they lay a single egg. The researchers learned when it’s a bad sea year and ocean temperatures are too high, the birds forego breeding, unable to get food to feed their young.

A small radio tag is affixed to a marbled murrelet so it can be tracked to its nest site. Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch

For the next phase of research, the team studied the murrelet’s breeding behavior, tracking them from sea to nest. Venturing out on a research vessel, the team boarded inflatable boats to catch murrelets, install radio tags and release the birds back into the wild. When breeding season hit, the team patrolled the coast with airplanes, listening for beeps from radio tags to narrow down potential nesting sites for the
ground crew and tree climber to locate.

But because murrelets nest in older forests, just getting to the vicinity of a nesting tree usually involves scaling piles of blowdown and bushwhacking through thick growth for miles. And murrelets are sneaky nest-builders — and sitters. They don’t use twigs and branches to build their nests like other birds. Instead, they find a mossy branch where they lay a single egg and take turns incubating it. They trade spots once every 24 hours, sitting so still that their only movement may be just the blink of an eye.

And when they’re moving in and out of the nest, they’re really moving. Murrelets have been clocked at nearly 100 mph and their typical cruising speed is 60-70 mph. They usually fly at dawn and dusk, so it takes an eagle eye to spot these birds and find their nests, a large reason there were only 29 active nests recorded in Oregon before this project. The team of OSU researchers more than doubled that number, also installing cameras at each nest to monitor success.

“We’re learning a lot about where murrelets are nesting, how successful they are and what causes them to fail,” said Rivers. “This information has been a long time coming, and it ties back to how challenging it is to do this fieldwork.”

A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry.

Balancing timber production to maximize biodiversity

As the human population grows, the demand for resources is increasing. But at what cost to biodiversity? Just as the agricultural industry contends with how to sustainably feed eight billion humans, the challenge for forest managers is to find sustainable ways to meet human wood consumption needs, explains Matt Betts, Ruth H. Spaniol chair of renewable resources and professor in the department of forest ecosystems and society.

“What we consume has a huge impact on our planet’s biodiversity,” said Betts. “But very few researchers have tested approaches to minimize tradeoffs between timber production and biodiversity conservation.”
Betts explains that in agriculture, there are two main camps of thinking. The first, “land sparing” involves setting aside large portions of the landscape as unmanaged reserves, and growing crops intensively in others. The second, “land sharing” involves low-intensity “nature-friendly” agriculture. This results in lower yield, increased total area for food production and therefore few or no reserves.

In forestry, this “land sharing versus sparing” model has been expanded to a triad approach, where a given landscape may be divided into differing proportions of three distinct management groups — reserves, focused on biodiversity conservation; intensive management, focused on wood production; and ecological forestry, which is a mix of both.

To test this approach, he is collaborating with stakeholders inside and outside the College of Forestry to launch a 20-year study across 40 different sub-watersheds in the Elliott State Research Forest. The research is designed to test different proportions of all three management types across various forest landscapes (watersheds). By doing this, Betts and his team hope to learn how these management approaches affect biodiversity and wood production over time.

Before the project can begin, it must gain the approval of many stakeholder groups to be completed on the state-owned forest. In the meantime, Betts is working on a shorter-term version of this project funded by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture.

In collaboration with several CoF researchers, including Klaus Puettmann, Doug Mainwaring and John Sessions along with Taal Levi, a professor in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Sciences, and doctoral student Maggie Hallerud, Betts’ team is collecting data from forests that fall under the categories of reserve, intensive management and ecological forestry. They are performing preliminary modeling about how each approach affects biodiversity. Hallerud is leading the biodiversity data collection and analysis and Levi is leading the eDNA analysis in this work.

Before and after each experiment, the team counts various species, measures vegetation and incorporates cutting-edge research methods. Researchers are identifying recorded bird sounds through machine learning, tracking wildlife with game cameras powered by artificial intelligence and using DNA barcoding (eDNA) to monitor species diversity.

This study comes with limitations, however, and Betts thinks the most meaningful insights will come from a longer-term project with more controlled experiments at landscape scales.

“That’s the real gold standard for science,” he says. “What we find in short-term studies is often overturned by what we find in long-term studies. And with how long-lived trees are, there’s certain information we could never get during a single career.”

Betts believes a long-term research project in the Elliott State Research Forest could offer critical insights into how to conserve biodiversity and sequester carbon while sustainably keeping up with society’s increasing demand for wood products.

“We don’t have enough information about this mix of forestry practices in the Pacific Northwest,” he said. “A long-term project like the one proposed for the Elliott would enable us to try to reduce the potential trade-offs between timber production and conservation — and identify an ideal mix of forestry management practices that enable production of wood while still maintaining biodiversity. If successful, this could be a fantastic example of approaches to balance human needs with biodiversity conservation, and how people can collaborate to move beyond historical conflicts about forest values.”

A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry.

Food-grade vacuum tubing is linked to draw sap from multiple trees.

The sugar maple has a reputation as a powerhouse for maple syrup production — but it’s not the only maple game around. An interdisciplinary team of researchers led by the College of Forestry is at the forefront of a movement to tap into Oregon’s bigleaf maple. The goal? Put the Pacific Northwest on the maple syrup map.

“This is a great economic opportunity for Oregonians to build an industry centered around the bigleaf maple, particularly in western Oregon, where the tree is especially abundant,” says Eric Jones, the principal investigator for the project and assistant professor of practice at the College of Forestry.

So why hasn’t a bigleaf maple tapping industry taken off before in the Pacific Northwest? Economics. The bigleaf maple, acer macophyllum, has less sugar in its sap — usually about one-third to one-half — than the sugar maple. So instead of needing around 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, as is the case with sugar maple, you need 80-90 gallons of bigleaf maple sap. But technology advancements like food-grade vacuum tubing that extract higher volumes of sap from trees and commercial reverse osmosis machines which remove 75 percent of water from the sap, have resulted in a cost-effective way to turn less sugary sap into syrup.

“This technology is a gamechanger for the bigleaf maple,” says Jones. To help establish a sustainable bigleaf maple industry in Oregon, Jones assembled a diverse research team including scholars and students from anthropology, food science, extension, geography, environmental arts and humanities, economics, ethnobiology and engineering. The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded the team $1 million in funding through a pair of multi-year awards to promote the emerging industry, provide training and educate landowners interested in developing commercial enterprises.

“I think there’s a romance and infectious nature to tapping bigleaf maples and we’re trying to help landowners find the easiest and most economic and ecologically prudent path to get into ‘sugaring,’ as they refer to it in the maple industry,” says Jones.

Bigleaf maple syrup

Besides producing maple syrup with a complex flavor profile, the bigleaf maple is the source of other products like nutritional maple water, edible flowers, honey, lumber, figured wood and firewood.

The research team is working to mitigate the risks involved with managing and sugaring bigleaf maples, including incorporating food safety standards into commercial production and investigating how wildlife, diseases and different climatic conditions affect bigleaf maple stands.

With climate change ushering in greater uncertainty about the future of Pacific Northwest forests, the team is interested in how the trees will fare under changing conditions. While hotter and drier weather in some areas will negatively impact bigleaf maple populations, the trees may prove resilient in certain microclimates. Jones is currently an advisor on a pilot project in Washington, where the group is planting thousands of bigleaf maple trees on old dairy land as part of a carbon offset program.

“The bigleaf maple is a tenacious tree, as any forester will attest to, and perhaps it has a role in helping mitigate climate change,” says Jones.

Jones hopes that a growing maple industry will invite people to develop a deeper appreciation for the land and find new ways to engage with each other and with Oregon’s biodiverse and ecologically complex environment.

“Our team of researchers is working hard to make the emerging bigleaf maple industry an inclusive and equitable economic opportunity,” Jones says. “We hope to ignite a bigleaf maple culture in the Pacific Northwest like the sugar maple culture in the Northeast.”

In May 2023, the team will hold the first bigleaf maple festival in Salem, Oregon. Learn more at

Eric Jones – CoF principal investigator
Melanie Douville + John Scheb – CoF graduate students
Barb Lachenbruch – CoF professor emeritus (tree physiology)
Ron Reuter – CoF associate professor (soil science)
Badege Bishaw – CoF courtesy faculty (agroforestry)
Tiffany Fegel – Forestry and Natural Resources, Extension coordinator
Lisa Price – OSU professor (ethnobiology)
Joy Waite-Cusic – OSU associate professor (food safety)
Ann Colonna – OSU senior faculty research assistant, (sensory testing)
Rebecca McLain – Portland State University (ethnography)

A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of

The College of Forestry is committed to integrating art and science to create and inspire sustainable solutions to climate change.

“As a mostly STEM college, it is all too easy to focus just on science, and yet, the arts help us be better scientists and citizens,” said Tom DeLuca, dean of the College of Forestry.

John Grade’s sculpture, “Emeritus”

Unveiled in October 2022, and co-presented by the College of Forestry and College of Liberal Arts, John
Grade’s sculpture, “Emeritus,” is inspired by the form of an absent tree. Suspended in the middle of OSU’s giant sequoias in the MU Quad, the 80-foot-tall sculpture invites viewers to peer vertically into the hollow, ghostly space of an imagined fourth trunk, formed of tens of thousands of cast and carved pieces that reference the species’ cones, needles and branches. The sculpture was commissioned to celebrate the opening of the Patricia Valian Reser Center for the Creative Arts.

During its 14-month stay in the sequoia grove, College of Forestry researchers will collect data about the ecological conditions of “Emeritus” using automated dendrometer readings, bio-acoustic monitoring and
rainwater DNA sequencing. College of Forestry researchers also helped install the sculpture.

“Emeritus” is open to visitors 24 hours a day and softly illuminated at night.

“The Perseverance of Decay,” by Robert Horner

Peavy Forest Science Center isn’t just a living laboratory gathering data from two hundred sensors to contribute to mass timber research. It’s also a showcase for public art, courtesy of Oregon’s “Percent for Art” legislation.

Dedicated to providing Oregonians with high-quality, accessible art in public places, the Percent for Art legislation sets aside no less than one percent of funds for the acquisition of public-facing artwork in all state building construction projects. The program has placed nearly 2,400 works of art around Oregon for the public to visit.

“The College is fortunate to host three extraordinary Percent for Art installations,” said Tom DeLuca. “These pieces of art bring life and reflection to our community and help us understand the past as we look forward.”

Reaching 22 feet in height, Robert Horner’s “The Perseverance of Decay” resides in the arboretum outside the building. This tree-like structure is built from torched ribs of wood, evoking the feeling of a burnt-out tree from a forest fire. The charred wood makes a direct connection to the fragility and impermanence of life. The inner core of the space, made of boulders and a basalt column that collects rainwater, prompts
contemplation on how humans manage the environment.

Wood figure from “Things Remembered in the Flood” by The Wakanim Collaborative

“Things Remembered in the Flood” is an interior/exterior installation by The Wakanim Collaborative: Earl Davis, Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe; Tony “Naschio” Johnson, Chinook Indian Nation; Travis Stewart, Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde; and Shirod Younker, Coquille Indian Tribe. It tells the first dated story of the Mary’s River Kalapuya, whose ancestral lands are what Oregon State University now occupies. Five exterior aluminum pieces illustrate lines of the Kalapuyan story, along with design elements of traditional Southern Oregon baskets. The exterior forms emerge as if from the drainage of flood waters, referencing the “Missoula Floods” (10,000–13,000 years ago). The interior figures, carved from diverse woods, represent Oregon’s nine federally recognized Tribes. The tenth figure is for the Indigenous peoples still fighting for federal recognition, as well as acknowledging unknown Tribes lost to cataclysmic events. The artists intend the work to be a visual reminder of the responsibility to cultivate friendship and collaboration between OSU and the nine federally recognized tribes of Oregon.

The inspiration for Leah Wilson’s “Listening to the Forest” came from the changing light quality and color
she noticed while climbing the Discovery Tree in the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest. The texture and color of the panels are based on the cellular structure of woods — specifically red alder, western hemlock, pacific yew and Douglas-fir trees — and the variances of light quality from forest floor to forest canopy. Each outward-facing surface is white, but the back layer of each panel is painted, creating a reflection of color and light.

Detail from “Listening to the Forest” by Leah Wilson

Special thanks to Percent for Art committee members Seri Robinson, Mariapaola Riggio, Anthony Davis, Adrienne Wonhof, Thomas and Nicole Maness, Gail Woodside, Libby Ramirez, Bill Coslow, and Kate Ali.

A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry.

Cristina Eisenberg

Cristina Eisenberg, Maybelle Clark Macdonald director of Tribal initiatives in natural resources and associate dean of inclusive excellence at the College of Forestry, is committed to creating a safe space for learning where everyone thrives.

“Inclusive excellence means regardless of barriers like socioeconomic status, gender identity or if you are a first-generation student or a person of color, you will thrive because we are actively working to dismantle and remove barriers to success,” said Eisenberg. “This work is a process and involves the whole community, working together, with cultural humility.”

In her role as director of Tribal initiatives, she leads the newly formed Indigenous Natural Resource Office and within it, the Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) Lab.

“Tribal initiatives have everything to do with inclusive excellence,” said Eisenberg. “My job was created to take the College of Forestry beyond the land acknowledgment, which is not just about Indigenous peoples — it’s about everybody.”

The Indigenous Natural Resource Office guides people and the institutions with whom they work to find ways to support and empower Indigenous peoples and their communities while advancing social justice. Their work braids together TEK and western science and research to find solutions to humanity’s most pressing natural resource conservation problems.

“Indigenous peoples have stewarded natural resources for millennia through their knowledge and traditional practices, and we want to decolonize and re-Indigenize the practice of science and advance holistic, systems-based thinking,” said Eisenberg.

A priority for Eisenberg is to create, facilitate and support intercultural collaborative partnerships between Indigenous peoples, OSU, Federal agencies and conservation non-profits that identify mutual research interests, determine the tools needed and then co-create solutions that honor Tribal sovereignty.

Gail Woodside, Tribal liaison for the Indigenous Natural Resource Office and TEK Lab, says it’s important that work with sovereign Tribal Nations be centered around not only decolonizing and partnering, but also following best practices and protocols.

“One way to do this, is to create a Memorandum of Understanding to lead and inform action,” said Woodside. “As binding, enforceable contracts, these MOU’s assist in protecting local knowledge, Elder interaction, and research processes in ceded lands, territories and fisheries in usual and accustomed locations.”

End of field season closing ceremony, Fort Belknap Indian Reservation; Photo by Erin LaMer.

Honoring Tribal sovereignty also means confronting the reality of what it means to be a land grant institution within an academic system founded on principles of settler colonialism.

“It means going beyond acknowledging to accepting responsibility for what was done to Indigenous communities — like forcible removal, displacement and trauma — and finding a solution,” said Eisenberg.

Eisenberg believes education can be a powerful way to heal the damage. She is working to create opportunities and pathways for Tribal youth in higher education, using her lived experience as inspiration.

“I was a first-generation college student and am Latinx and Native American, of mixed Raramuri and Western Apache heritage,” said Eisenberg. “I experienced homelessness, the farthest my parents made it was middle school, but I had a network of mentors that encouraged me to keep going. Everything I do is about paying that back.”

While the TEK Lab’s work takes place in the Western U.S., with a focus on the Pacific Northwest, the lab aspires to build allyships across cultures worldwide. Co-Principal Investigators like Tom DeLuca, dean of the College of Forestry, Tom Kaye of the Institute of Applied Ecology, and Luhui Whitebear of the Kaku-Ixt
Mana Ina-Haws, embody this type of allyship.

“There is a hunger for Tribal inclusion, Tribal sovereignty, and honoring and respecting TEK,” said Eisenberg. “And the College of Forestry is filled with changemakers, embodying inclusive excellence and allyship. From those who work within the Indigenous Natural Resource Office and participate in the
College’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion workgroup, to those who work across the University, I have so much hope and feel so supported.”

Housed within the Indigenous Natural Resource Office, the TEK Lab includes Program Manager Holly Needham and project staff Savannah Buckman Spottedbird. Co-PI’s include Tom DeLuca, Tom Kaye, Luhui
Whitebear and Si Gao. Gail Woodside is the Tribal liaison and a postdoctoral scholar. The current graduate students are included below.

Tessa Chesonis

“My research honors multiple ways of knowing and explores the benefits of moving away from a westernized approach to ecosystem management.”





Allison Monroe

“Our research is based in reciprocity. In an increasingly challenging field, it is an honor to conduct research driven by both curiosity and care.”





Brooklyn Richards

“I am interested in working within the nexus of TEK and western science to study the relationships between pollinators and plants in forest ecosystems.”





Ashley Russell

“I am researching various vegetation treatments and reforestation methods, including my Tribe’s traditional methods, and how they affect the regeneration of culturally significant species.”





A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry.

Creative solutions target the housing and climate crises

What if we could accelerate the use of mass timber, restore forests, create jobs and address the housing crisis in Oregon?

The Oregon Mass Timber Coalition thinks it’s possible. In September 2022, the OMTC was awarded over $41 million by the U.S. Economic Development Build Back Better Regional Challenge, to strengthen Oregon’s national leadership in mass timber, adding new capacity to produce mass timber modular housing.

“The housing crisis in Oregon is severe, with our state ranking 49 out of 50 for housing supply relative to its population,” says Iain Macdonald, director of the TallWood Design Institute at the College of Forestry. “A thriving mass timber industry could help provide affordable housing, while also decreasing the carbon footprint of built environments, improving the resilience of forests and creating living-wage jobs.”

Oregon State University is a key leader in the OMTC, which includes Business Oregon, the Oregon Department of Forestry, and the University of Oregon.

The two universities are spearheading the research for the coalition, including the development of two new facilities: the Oregon Acoustic Research Lab at the University of Oregon, and the Oregon Fire Testing Facility at OSU.

Stewart Professor of Forest Operations Woodam Chung is leading an important pillar of the project. He aims to leverage “smart technology” to modernize the field of forestry.

Chung explains that forestry in the region — and its workforce — has suffered from a lack of innovation, jeopardizing the sector’s sustainability and global competitiveness.

Forestry is also one of the most dangerous job sectors in the country — and has a diminishing and aging workforce.

But, Chung says, “smart forestry” can help shift these trends by modernizing forest practices through innovative technologies that make forestry more efficient and safer — from harvest to mill.

One pilot project Chung will pursue through the grant is the use of smart cameras on harvesting machines. The cameras use data-driven algorithms to detect which trees to harvest in real-time, based on their species, size, straightness and knot sizes. This kind of technology will enable foresters to utilize small-diameter trees for mass timber and maximize the value recovery of forest resources.

“We can apply this system to forest restoration practices, so we can efficiently separate trees that could be utilized for mass timber at harvest. This can improve the efficiency of wood handling and supply,” he says.

He explains that this will also increase fire resilience, as it will help thin dense forests so there is less wildfire fuel left behind. This is important economically, too. Forest restoration is costly, and if the removed fiber can be gainfully used in a commercial mass timber product, the U.S. Forest Service will be able to treat more acres each year.

Chung is also working on landscape mapping, wearable devices to improve health
and safety for workers, and smart sensors.

“This kind of technology is a win for forest health, fire resilience, economic development and the environment,” says Chung.

“We’re looking at all of these interconnected issues holistically and weaving together research projects that can enhance and expand the mass timber industry,” says Macdonald. “It’s an incredible opportunity to drive real change that will result in meaningful improvements to livelihoods and our environment.”

A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry.

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.