A College of Forestry team is on a mission to grow the maple industry in the PNW

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 – and put the Pacific Northwest on the maple syrup map.

One of the main differences between maple trees is the concentration of sugar in the sap. Sap is a key part of making maple syrup, as it’s harvested from maple trees and then boiled into syrup. Acer saccharum, commonly known as the sugar maple, is loaded with sugar, as its name suggests, which is why it’s become such a go-to tree for maple syrup production.

Acer macophyllum, aka the bigleaf maple, has less sugar in its sap – usually about one-third to one-half as much as the sugar maple. But, modern technology is helping to render this a nonissue as material like food-grade vacuum tubing and equipment like reverse osmosis machines can cost effectively turn less sugary sap into syrup. The vacuum tubing system is able to extract a high volume of sap to work with and reverse osmosis removes 75 percent of the water from the sap, leaving concentrated sucrose and healthy nutrients behind.

“This technology is a gamechanger for the bigleaf maple,” says Eric Jones, the lead principal investigator for the project, and instructor and assistant professor of practice in the department of forest ecosystems and society.

“This is a great economic opportunity for Oregonians to expand the industry and take advantage of the fact that bigleaf maples are really abundant in Oregon,” he says. “The Pacific Northwest bigleaf maple can produce a delicious, unique, and complex maple syrup, along with other products like nutritional maple water, wonderful edible flowers, and beautiful lumber and firewood.”

Jones assembled a research team that spans the university and includes scholars and students from anthropology, geography, environmental arts and humanities, economics, ethnobiology and engineering. The College of Forestry is represented by graduate students Melanie Douville and John Scheb, professor emeritus Barb Lachenbruch, Ron Reuter, associate professor and program director of natural resources, Badege Bishaw, an agroforester and College of Forestry courtesy faculty, and Tiffany Fegel, a coordinator with OSU’s forestry and natural resources extension.

The team was awarded a million dollars in funding through a pair of multiyear awards from the federal government to help build a sustainable maple industry in Oregon. The project is focused on promoting bigleaf maple tapping and providing training, tools and education to landowners interested in exploring commercial opportunities.

The team also works to mitigate the risks involved with managing and sugaring bigleaf maples. Examples of project work includes incorporating food safety standards into commercial production, investigating how wildlife, certain diseases, and different climatic conditions affect bigleaf maple stands, the relation between soil and flavor, and creating business case studies that landowners can learn from.

“I think there’s an infectious nature of tapping bigleaf maples and we’re trying to help landowners find the easiest and most economically and ecologically prudent path to get into tapping maple,” says Jones.

With climate change ushering in greater uncertainty about the future of Pacific Northwest forests, the bigleaf team is interested in how the trees will fare under changing conditions.

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

While hotter and drier weather in some areas will negatively impact bigleaf maple populations, the trees may prove particularly resilient in certain microclimates. Jones is currently serving as an advisor on a pilot project in Washington, where the group is planting bigleaf maple trees on old dairy land as part of a carbon offset pilot program.

Jones has always been interested in wild foods and plants in Oregon and sees them as an avenue to promote stewardship activity and grow recreational and economic opportunities across the region. He hopes that a growing maple industry will invite people to develop a deeper appreciation for the land and find new ways to engage with the environment through the bigleaf maple.

A major goal of the project is to grow a culture around maple in the Pacific Northwest, much like exists in the Northeast, where the sugar maple thrives. In the spring of 2023, the bigleaf team will hold the first Oregon bigleaf maple festival and conference. Email Jones at eric.t.jones@oregonstate.edu for more information and check out the project’s public website Oregon Tree Tappers for updates and additional information about tapping bigleaf maple.

The OSU College of Forestry Research Forests Offers Many Opportunities to the OSU and Corvallis Communities

With over 155,000 visits a year, the McDonald and Dunn Research Forests are well known for the many recreational opportunities in the forests – from dog walking to trail running to horseback riding, thousands of people frequent the McDonald and Dunn Forests to enjoy the outdoors.

But, the McDonald and Dunn Forests are much more than a network of popular trails and forest roads. They join eight other forests across Oregon that collectively make up OSU’s College of Forestry’s Research Forests – which are all utilized for many different functions in addition to recreation, including public outreach, education and research.

“The OSU Research Forests offer many valuable outdoor learning opportunities,” said Holly Ober, associate dean for science outreach and professor in the department of forest ecosystems and society.

“Students can visit the woods on field trips to see and experience examples of topics covered in textbooks and lectures. Researchers can implement experiments that help increase understanding of issues of contemporary concern. Outreach specialists can host workshops that showcase demonstrations for woodland owners and professional forest managers. Visitors of all ages can take self-guided tours. And local community members benefit from opportunities to recreate and relax in nature.”

As their names suggest, one of the primary functions of the Research Forests is to serve as an outdoor laboratory for researchers. The forests have hosted projects that span many disciplines and much of the research considers how to actively and sustainably manage forests while addressing economic, social, and environmental factors. The hope is for the Research Forests to help advance the field of forestry through scientific inquiry.  

“We don’t want the forests to be focused on any single issue,” said Stephen Fitzgerald, director of College of Forestry research forests and professor of forest engineering and resources and management. “We want to explore the many different elements of sustainable forest management, including how managing forests affect carbon, wildlife, timber production, and water yield.”

Various research projects across the 15,000 acres of Research Forests have examined wildlife and wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, forest resiliency amidst climate change, invasive species, recreation, biodiversity conservation, timber production, economic prosperity, ecosystem processes, and forest sustainability. Researchers have utilized the forests for this work for nearly a century.

A current research project, led by Cat Carlisle who is pursuing a graduate degree in the department of forest, engineering and resource management, is looking at the potential for Oregon’s forests to contribute to carbon storage and sequestration. Carlisle is analyzing the inventory of carbon stock in the McDonald and Dunn Forests – and projecting how different forestry management strategies might shift carbon levels in the forests over the next 150 years. This project will provide decision-makers with valuable information about how to optimize forest management to help mitigate climate change. 

“A lot of the focus in forestry right now is on identifying which forest management strategies will enhance forest carbon,” Carlisle explained. “The hope is to find ways to use forest management to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and sequester it in biomass, to contribute to climate change mitigation. I hope this project sheds light on how to manage a sustainable working forest in a way that considers ecological factors like carbon stock, especially as the climate changes.”

Because Carlisle is conducting this work in the Research Forests, she was able to immediately jump in and access a wealth of data that’s been collected over the years.

The Research Forests also serve as an outdoor classroom for students at Oregon State University – for classes offered through the College of Forestry and through other departments across Oregon State. Students are able to get a hands-on education and develop skills in subjects like silviculture, soils, wildlife, recreation management, prescribed fire, and ecology through the forests.

“We are fortunate to have these Research Forests located right here in Corvallis,” said Ober. “The close proximity to campus makes it possible for students to take field trips to the woods during scheduled lab periods, and allows both students and faculty to conduct outdoor research without extensive travel expenses.”

The forests also host a robust public outreach program and recreational opportunities. The McDonald and Dunn Forests contain 30 miles of trails and 110 miles of roads that are open for non-motorized use and enjoyment so the local community can explore the outdoors and enjoy nature. The many activities available in the forests include hiking, dog walking, horseback riding, hunting (only allowed on Dunn Forest), trail running, picnicking, bird watching, and mountain biking.  This all happens alongside educational programs that allow people to learn more about the Research Forests through self-guided tours, the Forest Discovery Trail, interpretive signs, and community events like Get Outdoors Day and seasonal guided forest walks.  

It is with great pleasure that we share that Dr. Cristina Eisenberg will be joining the College as the Associate Dean for Inclusive Excellence and Director of Tribal Initiatives in the College of Forestry. After a nationwide competitive search process culminating in the interview of three outstanding candidates, we identified Dr. Eisenberg as an excellent match for our needs and hopes for this new position within the College. 

In this role, Dr. Eisenberg will direct a new Office for Tribal Initiatives in the College, serve as our primary liaison with the nine Tribes of Oregon and with Tribal Nations throughout the Northwest, oversee the execution of the College’s DEI strategic plan, and work closely with our new Director of Student Success to improve recruitment, retention and completion of under-served student populations and help advance the College as a program dedicated to diversity, equity, justice and inclusion. Dr. Eisenberg is a first-generation Latinix and Native American (Apache and Rarámuri) scholar who comes to us with years of experience in Traditional Ecological Knowledge, restoration ecology and wildlife biology. She has previously served as the Chief Scientist at Earthwatch Institute at Harvard University, as Director at Large on the Board of the Society for Ecological Restoration and Director of the Traditional Ecological Working Group, as a member of the Board of Trustees of Prescott College, and as a member of the Board of Directors of Sustainable Northwest. She has conducted extensive work as an independent scientist and researcher. Dr. Eisenberg holds a PhD from Oregon State University, a MA from Prescott College, and a BFA from the University of California-Long Beach and was previously courtesy faculty in the department of forest ecosystems and society. Dr. Eisenberg will start in early September.

At the virtual 2022 Oregon Society of American Foresters (OSAF) Annual Meeting on April 28, 2022, Jacob Putney received the Forester of the Year Award. This award is given annually to the OSAF member who has been recognized by his or her peers for contributing to both the profession and the public through application of his or her professional skills to the advancement of forestry in Oregon and through public service that benefits his community or some larger segment of society. 

“Although Jacob is new to his position in the OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension program, he clearly has already stepped up as a leader and collaborator, helping coordinate programs to best meet the needs of the community,” says Lauren Grand, the forestry and natural resources extension agent for Lane County. “He is the team leader for a carbon publication, has hosted numerous podcasts on forest management, and is one of the lead organizers of Tree School Eastern Oregon and Life on the Dry Side.”

A graduate of Oregon State University, Putney is an active OSAF member, serving as secretary and chapter chair for the Blue Mountain Chapter, delegate-at-large for OSAF in 2021, general chair for the 2021 OSAF Annual Meeting, program chair for the OSAF 2022 meeting and is OSAF chair-elect for 2023. He is also on the SAF National Quiz Bowl Committee member.

Additionally, Putney is an associate member of Oregon Small Woodlands Association, secretary for the Northeast Oregon OSWA Chapter, and has been instrumental in reviving, restructuring, and revitalizing the Baker OSWA Chapter. He is an inspector for the American Tree Farm System and co-chair for the Baker Resources Coalition. He participates in several collaboratives including the Blue Mountain Forest Partners, Northern Blues Forest Collaborative and ‘My Blue Mountains Woodland’ partnership. Not to waste a spare moment, Putney is also a volunteer firefighter for the Baker Rural Fire Protection District.

OSAF and its 15 local chapters represent all segments the forestry profession within the state. The society includes public and private practitioners, researchers, administrators, educators, and forestry students. Its mission is to advance the science, education, technology, and practice of forestry; to enhance the competency of its members; to establish professional excellence; and to use the knowledge, skills, and conservation ethics of the profession to ensure the continued health and use of forest ecosystems and the present and future availability of forest resources to benefit society.

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.

Have you ever hiked in the McDonald Forest and found a perfectly placed bench, appearing just as you need a moment to rest and enjoy the forest? You have just come across a commemorative bench! These benches commemorate an individual, a group, or an event and support the OSU Research Forests Recreation and Engagement Program, which creates and maintains the trails in the OSU Research Forests.

The most recent bench addition can be found on the Beautiful Trail. Long-time friends and avid trail runners Steve Strauss and Gary Barnes generously donated the bench “to honor all who run and appreciate the beauty of the forest and the joy of connection”. Strauss is a Distinguished Professor of Forest Biotechnology in the College of Forestry.

Gary Barnes and Steve Strauss enjoy testing out the newest commemorative bench.

There are currently 14 benches installed throughout the McDonald Forest. OSU Research Forest Recreation Field Coordinator Matt McPharlin and College of Forestry students construct the benches, using wood sourced from trees in the forest. In addition to the benches, the Research Forest honors people with memorial rocks and other installations.

“We’ve seen a notable increase in interest for our commemorative bench program,” says Jenna Baker, the Research Forests Recreation and Engagement program manager. “As a result, we’re in the process of thinking up some other creative and meaningful ways for people to commemorate and donate to our Recreation and Engagement program.”

The McDonald Research Forest, a short 15-minute drive from the Oregon State University campus, is part of the OSU Research Forests. These forests serve as a living laboratory and outdoor classroom for students, researchers and managers to learn about forest ecosystems and management. OSU utilizes the Research Forests to find new ways to sustainably manage forests for conservation, education, business, and recreation. If you are interested in learning more about how you can contribute and get involved with the Research Forest Recreation and Engagement program, contact Jenna Baker at jenna.baker@oregonstate.edu!

During the summer of 2021, the OSU Mechanized Harvesting Laboratory hosted a Career and Technology Education (CTE) workshop to explore opportunities for experiential learning in forestry using the harvesting simulator system. The laboratory is directed by Kevin Lyons, the Wes Lematta Professor in Forest Engineering.

Lyons and his team introduced participants to the John Deere forest harvesting simulator system. This system, which includes a terrain editor and a forest harvesting simulator, allows for virtual and experiential learning. It empowers users to begin learning about machine operation, silviculture and harvesting system planning, and mapping topography and forest cover.  It also explores ecology and non-timber values using gaming techniques.

Figure 1. Areas where harvesting simulators can contribute to CTE programs in high schools

Workshop participants included instructors from Oregon high school CTE programs and the executive director and a student officer of the Future Natural Resource Leaders. 

John Deere forest harvesting simulator

“There was unanimous agreement from the instructors that the simulator system provides unique opportunities for a range of natural resource management topics in addition to machine operator training, “ Lyons said. “The Mechanized Harvesting Laboratory is currently collaborating with the Future Natural Resources Leaders and CTE instructors on a program to bring the simulator systems to participating high schools.”

For more information, please contact Kevin Lyons, Wes Lematta Professor in Forest Engineering and director of the OSU Mechanized Harvesting Laboratory.

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.

The Oregon State University College of Forestry welcomes Professor Holly Ober as the Associate Dean for Science Outreach and Program Leader for Forestry and Natural Resources Extension

“I am thrilled to join the OSU College of Forestry,” says Dr. Ober. “The breadth and depth of the expertise of individuals involved in Extension and Outreach within the college are impressive. The Forestry and Natural Resources Extension program at OSU is one of the largest and most comprehensive natural resource Extension programs in the country, and widely recognized as one of the best.”

Previously Dr. Holly Ober served as Associate Program Leader for Natural Resources for the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service. In the role, she provided leadership for approximately 150 county and state faculty. Dr. Ober was also a Professor and Extension Specialist, conducting applied, interdisciplinary research to increase understanding of the mechanisms that influence wildlife habitat selection and productivity in forests to inform conservation and management strategies. She raised over $2.2 million in external funding and nearly $300,000 in internal funding, advised 11 graduate students, three undergraduate interns, and two post-doctoral researchers during her career. She has authored 42 peer-reviewed articles in wildlife, forestry, and inter-disciplinary journals.

As an Extension Specialist, she taught agency employees and private landowners to sustainably manage natural areas and improve stewardship of forests to provide habitat for wildlife. She led multi-day Extension workshops for natural resource managers, gave presentations to Extension audiences, produced peer-reviewed Extension documents to serve as a resource, and wrote several journal articles on the scholarship and importance of Extension.

Dr. Ober received her PhD from Oregon State University in Forest Science and Wildlife Biology in 2008. 

“Dr. Ober brings a great deal of experience, knowledge, and energy to this position,” says Tom DeLuca, Cheryl Ramberg-Ford and Allyn C. Ford Dean of the College of Forestry. “We were fortunate to attract her back to OSU from her position at Florida.”

Ober believes the need to convey information about the management of Oregon’s forests and the production of forest products has never been greater as we collectively grapple with complex issues.

“Just as teaching is essential to training the next generation of scientists, and research is essential to generating better understanding, Extension and outreach are essential to ensuring that scientific knowledge gets into the hands of people who need it to make sound decisions outside the formal university setting,” Ober says.

Back in late April, OSU Research Forests had the exciting opportunity to plant native pacific aspens along the 600 road in the Oak Creek area of the McDonald Forest, as well as at the Marchel Tract near the Willamette River. Several were also planted near the new Peavy building on campus at OSU. College of Forestry Professor Steve Strauss and others used DNA sequencing to show that the aspens in the Willamette Valley, and nearby Washington and British Columbia, belong to a distinctive variety that grows in wet areas in the lowland Pacific. These types of areas were likely to be more abundant prior to the draining and leveling of the Willamette Valley for agriculture.

The DNA studies showed that these trees are clearly distinct from aspen in the Cascades, the Rocky Mountains, and the eastern USA and Canada. Strauss and others published these findings last year in the journal Ecology and Evolution. The authors inferred that the likely origin of this aspen was in an ice-free Pacific refugium during the last ice age.

Through a collaboration with the wholesale tree nursery, J Frank Schmidt & Son, the Strauss team’s aspen collections are currently being tested for release as a native variety. The trees planted on campus and on the Research Forests were mostly the result of samples taken by CoF staff member Anna Magnuson (supported by grant funds from Schmidt). The plantings include native trees from as close by as Peoria and the Calapooia River near Corvallis, Killen Marsh near Banks, and the Nature Conservancy’s Camassia Natural Area close to East Linn. Several other Willamette Valley origins are also represented in the plantings.

These aspens will be studied as they grow to see if they are better adapted to local conditions than the mountain aspens that are now commonly planted. J Frank Schmidt & Son plans to have them ready for distribution in a few years. Hopefully this beautiful looking, beautiful sounding, and formerly common tree in the Valley becomes more widely enjoyed by everyone. Educational materials will be installed near some of the trees once they become established.

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.