When the State of Oregon needed to increase revenue for outdoor recreation facilities and maintenance, they turned to Oregon State University for answers to their questions and scientific data to help inform their decisions.

A study completed by Randy Rosenberger, professor and College of Forestry associate dean for student success, connected outdoor activities on trails to health savings by utilizing and recalibrating a tool called the Outdoor Recreation Health Impacts Estimator. The tool was initially developed to focus on transportation decisions (walking, cycling or using public transportation instead of driving) to estimate changes in life expectancy and quality of life.

The tool converts positive health effects into a monetary unit and even includes the cost of treating certain diseases and the loss of productivity illnesses cause.

The study became part of the 2019-2023 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP).

“In my research, I quantify things that aren’t normally quantified,” Rosenberger says. “Things like recreation aren’t traded in markets with prices. They don’t have voices. This study gives them a voice and people are starting to realize that recreation is at the nexus of everything. It’s not just something we like to do if we have the time. It’s creating healthier communities and saving those same communities money on health services.”

Rosenberger replicated the study for the McDonald and Dunn Forests, two of the College Research Forests. The college owns more than 15,000 acres of working forests around the state utilized for research, outreach and education, with some open to the public for recreation. He found that recreation on the Research Forests saved $754,395 in cost of illness savings in 2017 alone. Private and public agencies can now use this data for planning, budgeting, assessment and grant applications.

The OSU Research Forests also serve as living laboratories and outdoor classrooms for OSU students, researchers, and generations of Oregonians, reimagining how people learn and relate to their natural resources and forest ecosystems. Over 145,000 annual visitors hike, bike, run and explore the trails of these working forests. All operations on the forests – including recreation and trails – are self-funded through timber harvests.

For OSU students, the Research Forests are an invaluable opportunity to experience hands-on education, where they can put the research and techniques they’re reading about in their textbooks into action. Whether it’s measuring precipitation, stream flow, or practicing timber harvesting skills, OSU students can learn the work by doing.

“I think this is the best time to be studying within the College because we are at such a turning point when it comes to how we are going to work with our forests,” says Allison Starkenburg, a recent graduate of the college’s natural resources program. “There’s an intersection between recreation and the constant new opportunities to learn and conduct research.”

OSU offers tours and demonstrations within the Research Forests and, in 2020, also launched the Forest Discovery Trail. This trail is dedicated to the memory of Dr. William Ferrell, the OSU College of Forestry’s first forest ecologist hired in 1955 who went on to study forest carbon capture and storage. His groundbreaking research paved the way for forest management as a climate change mitigation tool and continues to impact old-growth conservation. Dr. Ferrell’s family and friend made contributions to the Forest Discovery Program fund to support The Forest Discovery Trail and encourage students in grades K-5 to explore a wide range of forest concepts, including ecology, wildlife and the Indigenous history of the land.

The popular research forests had to temporarily close in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, staff quickly adapted and reopened in May 2020 with precautions and guidelines in place.

Though Rosenberger was able to quantify the monetary value of outdoor recreation’s impact on health savings, the impact of having these forests accessible to local communities in 2020 during a global pandemic felt immeasurable. The OSU research forests proudly served as a refuge for the community to enjoy their favorite outdoor activities, connect with nature and connect with each other.

By the Numbers
Recreation Visits
In 2017, the McDonald-Dunn College Research Forests saw 17,271 individual recreation visitors who accounted for more than 155,000 total visits.

Recreation Activity
Walking/Hiking          51.5%
Dog Walking              19.0%
Running/Jogging      16.0%
Mountain Biking       12.0%
Horseback riding/misc   1.5%

Health Benefits
Recreation visits to the McDonald and Dunn Forests resulted in $754,395 in cost of illness savings, or health benefits, associated with eight chronic illnesses; and accounted for 14 percent of the total health benefits estimated for all of Benton County ($5.4 million).

This story was part of the College of Forestry’s 2019-2020 Biennial Report.

The OSU College of Forestry is leading an international effort to advance the technology needed to construct much taller, environmentally friendly buildings made primarily from wood. At the center of this effort is COF’s new state-of-the-art facility, the Oregon Forest Science Complex (OFSC).

Home to the College, the complex’s two newest buildings are primarily made and grown in Oregon. The new George W. Peavy Forest Science Center (PFSC) and the new A. A. “Red” Emmerson Advanced Wood Products Laboratory (AWP) highlight an entirely new way of thinking about building and design.

The buildings feature innovative materials and products throughout the 95,000-square feet of new space, from cross-laminated timber and mass plywood panels to Accoya wood cladding and View dynamic glass windows. The project highlights how mass timber and structural wood products building solutions can increase the value of Oregon’s natural resources and enhance our communities.

Thanks to the vision, support and work of former dean Thomas Maness, the leadership of former interim dean Anthony S. Davis, the State of Oregon, OSU Foundation and numerous donors, faculty, students, staff, and alumni, the complex provides a learning environment that is one of a kind.

“This building showcases how renewable materials can be used to create beautiful, innovative buildings that positively impact our education, research, and outreach work, reduce our carbon footprint and support the sustainable management of Oregon’s natural resources,” says Tom DeLuca, the Cheryl Ramberg-Ford and Allyn C. Ford Dean of the College of Forestry.

The complex features 20 classrooms and several computer rooms and laboratories, including the FERN Student Center and the Peavy Arboretum. In these spaces, faculty, students and researchers can participate in active learning and discovery while utilizing cutting-edge technology.

“This building is a product of collaboration and the leadership at OSU and the college. Students, faculty, donors, and partners all came together to create this wonderful space. This is what collaboration and consensus look like and highlights what we can accomplish together in the future,” says Destiny Pauls, a Natural Resources major.

Designed by Michael Green, a leading innovator in high-rise wood construction, the OFSC is an excellent example of how sustainably managed forests can create beautiful buildings out of wood and reduce the carbon footprint of new building construction while establishing a connection with outdoor landscapes.

Built in partnership with others, the building also demonstrates the power and impact of a shared vision of sustainability.

“To the donors and the industries that all came together, I just want to say thank you,” Pauls says. “We are going to show you what we can do with all of this together.”

By the Numbers
Total Size: 95,000+ square feet

Project Funding: A public-private partnership that brought together four lead donors, gifts from more than 100 others and matching bonds from the State of Oregon

Incorporated Wood: Baltic birch, black walnut, Douglas-fir, juniper, maple, red alder, and white oak

PFSC Specifics
Opened: March 2020
Size: 80,000 square feet
Constructed with: Glulam, cross-laminated timber (CLT), mass plywood panels (MPP)
Features: Classrooms (7), meeting rooms (6), computer classrooms (2), offices, laboratories (5), outdoor arboretum, graduate student workspaces, numerous study areas, Harvest Simulation Laboratory

AWP Specifics
Opened: May 2019
Size: 15,000 square feet
Constructed with: MPP
Features: Structural testing bay, advanced wood products manufacturing bay, offices, meeting space

The cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels that make up the sheer walls and the floors are Oregon Douglas-fir processed by D.R. Johnson Wood Innovations, LLC in Riddle, Oregon. Mass plywood panels (MPP), created by Freres Lumber Company, Inc. in Lyons, Oregon, are heavily utilized throughout the AWP and are used as the roof for the PFSC.

381 sensors are installed throughout the PFSC and will monitor wood moisture content, indoor and outdoor weather conditions, heat transfer, long-term movement of walls and floors, tension in self-centering rods and building and floor vibrations.

Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, is located within the traditional homelands of the Mary’s River, or Ampinefu, Band of Kalapuya. Following the Willamette Valley Treaty of 1855, Kalapuya people were forcibly removed to reservations in Western Oregon. Today, living descendants of these people are part of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Community of Oregon and the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians.

Formal and informal classroom and lab spaces range from small capacity to large capacity, and will allow students to study all aspects of the forest landscape.

A 60’-x-80’ foot strong wall and reaction floor system within the AWP facilitates testing of up to three-story wood structures. Oregon State and TDI researchers use the facility to conduct seismic tests, connection tests, loading tests and more.

This story was part of the College of Forestry’s 2019-2020 Biennial Report.

$12K+ raised

During early September 2020, as fires erupted throughout Oregon, a powerful east wind drove a wildfire down the McKenzie River valley near Eugene. This fire, the Holiday Farm Fire, destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses and ultimately burned 173,000 acres of forest land, including approximately 400 acres of the lower part of the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest. The fire displaced HJ Andrews staff, burned in sites over 450 years old and destroyed some critical research infrastructure and instruments.

“Even though Andrews staff were grieving the loss of their community, and in some cases, their homes, they demonstrated resilience. They responded to get instruments running and collecting data through a critical post-fire period,” said Katy Kavanagh, associate dean for research for the College of Forestry.

As Andrews Forest scientists coordinated efforts to use long-term monitoring and new measurements to understand the effects of the fire and track post-fire recovery, the wider community initiated an outpouring of giving, raising over $12,000 in two days to help displaced staff.

“The generosity of the Andrews community moved me to tears,” said USFS Science Liaison Cheryl Friesen, who lost her home in the fire.

“The kind words and generous donations mean so much to every employee impacted by this fire, thank you,” said Brenda Hamlow, the Andrews Forest site manager.

The efforts to protect Andrews forest and support the displaced and affected staff was a community effort. Over the years, the work to strengthen relationships between the Andrews Forest, the Pacific Northwest Research Station of the US Forest Service and the Willamette National Forest facilitated a rapid response and an understanding of the resources at risk.

Coordination between Willamette National Forest firefighters and Andrews Forest staff concerning fire suppression and containment activities was essential in protecting research installations and managing safety issues for fire crews. As efforts begin to repair the effects of the fire and fire suppression activities, Willamette National Forest personnel, some of whom were either evacuated from their homes or lost them entirely to the fire, are partnering with Andrews staff to perform this work.

“This is a deep and long-standing partnership; we are colleagues, friends, co-workers, the response was much like you would see from a family helping one another out in a time of tragedy,” said Michael Paul Nelson, the Ruth H. Spaniol Chair of Renewable Resources and Lead Principal Investigator for the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest.

The College of Forestry also stepped in to help people affected by the Oregon wildfires. The college quickly organized a donation drive for displaced families and emergency responders, filling four large vehicles with food and shelter items. The donations were distributed to Linn and Benton county evacuation shelters, and firefighter items were taken to the Oregon Department of Forestry in Sweet Home.

This story was part of the College of Forestry’s 2019-2020 Biennial Report.

Whether you grow tomatoes or trees, the biological principles and techniques are similar. The only difference, according to Carlos Gonzalez-Benecke, an assistant professor of silviculture and director of the Vegetation Management Research Cooperative (VMRC) at Oregon State University, is the scope of the work.

Working together with associate director Maxwell Wightman, Gonzalez-Benecke manages a VMRC research program that focuses on forest regeneration, including seedling success, plant competition, vegetation control and early growth of forest stands. The goal of the VRMC is to design management systems that integrate the best available science with the practical needs of cooperative members to successfully establish Pacific Northwest forests.

Gonzalez-Benecke carries out much of his work in his greenhouse on campus. With the help of former interim dean Anthony S. Davis, Gonzalez-Benecke transformed the space when he arrived as director of the VRMC in 2015. The greenhouse is designed to ensure seedlings receive what they need to thrive, like water, nutrients and radiation, but is flexible enough to create different growth scenarios for seedlings.

“We wanted to be able to manipulate factors like water, nutrients and radiation in the greenhouse to see how they affected the seedlings,” he explains. “This is why we installed an extensive irrigation system, as well as fixed the roof which allows us to better adjust environmental conditions inside the greenhouse. We can provide more light, or provide a total blackout in certain sections of the greenhouse.”

Gonzalez-Benecke and his team nurture seedlings under various conditions to measure growth, resilience and the effects of different environmental scenarios. Then they turn their focus to tracking performance in the field, studying early seedling establishment and tracking the variables involved in each seedling’s growth pattern. Some of the seedlings Gonzalez-Benecke tracks are ones he has grown himself. Others, he receives from nurseries. The data is used to inform future forest regeneration research.

Another part of his work is in the lab, characterizing genotypes and examining characteristics like their resistance to cold and drought, which, according to Gonzalez-Benecke, is critical information to inform our present and future.

Gonzalez-Benecke also studies how to optimize herbicides for vegetation control, applying mathematical models and algorithms to understand treatment effects. Using a wide range of soil and climatic conditions, he studies how vegetation management treatments impact several aspects of forestry in the Pacific Northwest.

“Vegetation control is very site-specific, and each site has a specific climate, type of soil and varying amount and composition of competing vegetation. The question you ask yourself is: ‘how can I generalize and extrapolate data from each of these sites to inform results and understanding of other sites?’” Gonzalez-Benecke asks.

Studying the specific variables present at each vegetation site produces site-specific results and guidance. Then from those particular results, Gonzalez-Benecke creates a general model.

“It’s almost like a formula or template is produced so that, in the future, for each site, you can answer the specific question: What should I do and what will be the response?” Gonzalez-Benecke explains.

At times, Gonzalez-Benecke feels like a symphony conductor or a musician in the studio because by changing site quality, he can change the “tune” or “song” of the site.

“I can adjust the levers like playing a game or modulating a tune of music,” Gonzalez-Benecke explains. “I can ask how would doing one thing affect the song that’s played or the music that’s heard? What if, for example, we do nothing and just plant? What if we add water? What if we add fertilizer? And what does this all mean in a changing climate?”

The application of techniques and technology that VRMC employs is valuable for growing trees and managing vegetation. It is also vital for other ecological implications, like assisted migration – plants moving geographic location as the climate shifts – as it is deeply centered around the vulnerabilities and probabilities of risk and the biological reaction of responses.

When Gonzalez-Benecke arrived at OSU in 2015, there were twelve members in the cooperative. The VRMC now has seventeen members with additional companies, both large and small, expressing interest in joining.

“The growth in membership over the last few years expanded the area of influence of our research to more than 10 million acres of forests in the western United States,” Gonzalez-Benecke says.

This story was part of the College of Forestry’s 2019-2020 Biennial Report.

As fast-moving fires tore through Oregon’s forests and communities, causing widespread and destructive impacts, Oregon State University College of Forestry researchers quickly organized to support the state’s response. Faculty and staff worked with partners to produce proposals and share research to help inform future policy decisions and support a systems-based, collaborative approach to recovery.

“The impact to human lives and livelihoods has been tragic,” says Tom DeLuca, Oregon State University’s Cheryl Ramberg-Ford and Allyn C. Ford Dean of the College of Forestry. “As we plan recovery, it is clear that it is inadequate just to say ‘we will rebuild.’”

Instead, DeLuca continues, the post-fire recovery will best be met by a systems-based approach that integrates water resources, fire-adapted infrastructure, communities and landscapes, and education and adaptation all within the context of a changing climate.

“This approach,” DeLuca explains, “aims to improve the resilience of forests and communities well into the future.”

Though fire has always been a part of our western landscapes, more than a century of widespread fire suppression and land use changes in Oregon have altered fuels, vegetation, and historical fire regimes. The intersection of climate change, drought, extreme weather, natural fire regimes and the ever-expanding human footprint has created a complicated fire equation. Fire seasons are longer, drier and hotter due to climate impacts and increase our risk of destructive wildfire while disproportionately increasing the burden on vulnerable populations. While it’s understandable to want a simple solution to fire concerns, the fire equation is too complicated for one-size-fits-all answers. From ignition to suppression to geography, the variables are constantly shifting.

“Fire is truly a global change issue and there is no single fix that we can invest in for success,” says Meg Krawchuk, associate professor of fire and landscape ecology. “These solution portfolios need to be tailored to particular landscapes and geographies and include the important social and ecosystem dimensions relevant to each place.”

The College of Forestry is world-renowned for its fire-related research, including fire history and ecology, fuels treatment (thinning and prescribed fire), risk analyses, and social dimensions, like work in governance, social justice and equity, and public health. OSU’s world-class Forestry and Natural Resources Extension Fire Program is the critical link that distributes information beyond campus, helping communities become more fire-adapted.

Some of the ways the College of Forestry’s fire research work aides Oregonians includes:

• Advising state and federal leaders on appropriate fire policy, including expanding strategic use of commercial thinning, prescribed fires, and managed wildfire as forest management tools.

• Researching impacts on soil and water quality.

• Assisting in post-fire planting and planning, including addressing and discussing questions around seed availability and appropriate seed zones, assisted migration and climate mitigation and availability of seedlings.

• Working collaboratively with agencies and partners to conduct research on prescribed burning versus suppression approaches and initiate activities to improve forest health and keep communities safe.

• Integrating Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Indigenous burning practices with emerging research and fire science.

• Launching the Forestry and Natural Resources Extension Fire Program in early 2020. The program assists in identifying Oregon landscapes in the highest need of a strategic focus of resources to reduce wildfire and landscape health risks at a statewide scale. It also assists with implementing projects on the ground in priority landscapes and provides education and outreach.

• Assuming a leadership role while working across disciplines with other OSU colleges, including the College of Agricultural Sciences and College of Engineering to support wildfire response and recovery.

The research and expertise within the College of Forestry can contribute to recovery and adaptation, but will not be sufficient on its own. The effort requires integrating emerging research with contributions from the impacted communities who have on-the-ground, experience-based knowledge, professional skills, and insights to apply to the task.

“The forest, the interface and your house are all connected fuel. The future work will include all landowners: homeowners, neighborhood associations, communities, small woodland owners or families, forest industry, Tribes, states and federal partners – all doing their part within their mission to sustain their land,” says John Bailey, professor of silviculture, forest and fire health.

The college is committed to producing science and research that helps guide the way towards a more fire-adapted future.

“Beyond integrating the strategic use of fire and fuels management into a vision for a sustainable future informed by Traditional Ecological Knowledge, we must focus attention and investment on human development patterns and fire adapted housing and communities,” DeLuca says. “We must also pay special attention to issues of social justice, equity and public health. Working together to address these issues will not be easy, but the costs of inaction are too high.”

This story was part of the College of Forestry’s 2019-2020 Biennial Report.

In a world infatuated with constant change, soundbites and breaking news every few minutes, a commitment to the long term can feel almost out of place.

But real change doesn’t happen overnight – it needs time, commitment and reflection. All of which exists at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program, managed by Oregon State University in partnership with the US Forest Service. First established in 1948 as a US Forest Service Experimental Forest, the Andrews, as it’s affectionately known, is a 16,000-acre ecological research site east of Eugene in Oregon’s western Cascades Mountains. The research program is part of the LTER network and one of 28 sites funded by the National Science Foundation.

This kind of commitment to long-term research produces transformative, influential science that has global impacts. The forest and its research have impacted policy and science, yet it’s relatively unknown to the general public.

“Most people in Oregon have never heard of the Andrews Forest and related research. Yet, we can trace many of our current ideas about forestry – the role of dead wood in a system, important work on carbon sequestration, important work on hydrology – directly back to Andrews Forest research,” says Michael Paul Nelson, Ruth H. Spaniol Endowed Chair of Renewable Resources and Lead-Principal Investigator for the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest LTER program.

The work is critical, and at times, surprising. Nelson has nicknamed the exciting research done at the Andrews Forest ‘the ecology of surprise.’

“There are surprises about how complex our system is, but also how theory or observations elsewhere suggest one thing, and over time, we find quite another,” he says.

The breadth and depth of the research that’s present at the H.J. Andrews is impressive. Researchers throughout Oregon State University, across the state and worldwide conduct innovative, collaborative, multi-disciplinary research at the forest. It’s also a place where writers, artists and thought-leaders gather to reflect on the meaning and significance of the ancient forest ecosystem and its ever-evolving relationship to humans by studying ethics, arts, and humanities.

Even the leadership of the Andrews is unique. Instead of a biologist or an ecologist leading the work at Andrews, a philosopher is in charge. Nelson, professor of philosophy and environmental ethics in the College of Forestry, is one of only two non-biophysical scientists ever appointed to this leadership position in the history of the 28 long-term ecological research sites.

Reimagining forest research
In 1980, the HJ Andrews Forest was designated a LTER site by the NSF. Since its inception, it has received continuous NSF funding and in 2020, it received renewed NSF funding another six years.

“This is an amazing accomplishment as renewal is not guaranteed and several sites have been put on probation or lost funding,” says Katy Kavanagh, associate dean for research at the College of Forestry. “It’s indicative of the transformative science that can come from long-term research.”

Long-term research can give us insight into the future. However, as Nelson notes, nothing can predict the future. The Andrews Forest community was painfully reminded of this in September 2020 when fires erupted west of the Cascades burning over 400 acres of the lower part of the forest.

“The fire displaced our staff, burned a portion of the Andrews Forest, and is prompting our research imaginations in new ways,” Nelson says.

As a result, H.J. Andrews scientists are coordinating efforts to use long-term monitoring and new measurements to understand the effects of the fire and forest recovery. The fire is also encouraging scientists to ask more profound questions that are difficult to quantify. This study of fire, says Nelson, is a perfect example of the necessity of interdisciplinary research extending far beyond the sciences.

“Dramatic events like the fire provide us with an opportunity to exercise humility and use our imaginations to ask new questions, ultimately forging a new relationship with the world,” Nelson explains.

This story was part of the College of Forestry’s 2019-2020 Biennial Report.

Oregon State University’s College of Forestry is the new home of a forensics lab that fights timber crime, a $1 billion annual problem for the United States’ forest products industry.

The Wood Identification and Screening Center was previously headquartered in Ashland as a partnership between the Forest Service International Programs office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory. Its move to Corvallis is the result of a $4 million, five-year grant from the United States Forest Service International Programs Office.

Scientists at the center use a specialized type of mass spectrometry for wood species identification to determine if a truckload of logs, a guitar, a dining room table or other wood products are what they are purported to be.

“We are thrilled WISC is here and eager to support their work to fight timber crime and identify illegal timber harvest and trade,” said Tom DeLuca, Cheryl Ramberg-Ford and Allyn C. Ford Dean of the College of Forestry. “The illegal timber trade devastates livelihoods and ecosystems in Oregon and other parts of the country and world.”

WISC’s relocation to Oregon State allows the center to expand its work through collaboration with the College of Forestry while maintaining the partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The new partnership with Oregon State will allow the center to expand its reference databases to help law enforcement confirm the species and origin of wood products.

As part of the center’s relocation to the college’s Richardson Hall, Beth Lebow, director of WISC for USFS International Programs, has moved to Corvallis. Two WISC scientists, Cady Lancaster and Kristen Finch, have also joined the College of Forestry faculty as assistant professors.

“Many people don’t realize the scale of global illegal logging and its massive economic and environmental impacts,” Lebow explained. “It deprives governments and the legitimate forestry sector of revenue, funds global criminal networks involved in horrible acts and human rights abuses, contributes to climate change and biodiversity loss, and deprives the world’s one billion forest dependent people of their resources and livelihoods. As wood forensic technologies and databases continue to improve, they can play an increasingly important role in identifying illegal wood in trade.”

Since the 2008 amendments to the Lacey Act, it’s been against federal law to import illegally obtained wood into the United States. Importers are required to declare the species and country of origin of the timber they bring into the country.

Wood identification technologies are needed to thwart importers who try to skirt the law by intentionally declaring the wrong species or the wrong place where the timber came from.

WISC uses a method known as direct analysis in real-time of flight mass spectrometry, abbreviated to DART TOFMS. Using just a sliver of wood, scientists can identify the genus and species in minutes.

Oregon companies will benefit from the expertise WISC offers as an added component to their Lacey Act due-diligence systems. WISC expertise will also support Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security and the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection System.

The center expects to become a training ground for scientists from universities, governments and other domestic and international partners.

“By being a service provider, trainer, and developer of wood ID methods that better meet law enforcement needs, WISC is helping the US and other countries use wood identification to verify the legality of wood products in trade,” Lebow said. “This ultimately helps combat global illegal logging and supports the viability and competitiveness of legitimate forest products.”

“WISC adds a critical new tool that we can employ to help Oregon’s forest products industry maintain global competitiveness,” said Eric Hansen, professor of forest products marketing and head of the College of Forestry’s Wood Science & Engineering Department. “The center also adds an exciting new element to our renewable materials bachelor’s degree program as students will have the opportunity to gain valuable work and research experience applicable to their future careers.”

This story was part of the College of Forestry’s 2019-2020 Biennial Report.

Steve Strauss, Oregon State University distinguished professor of forest biotechnology, focuses his attention on genetic engineering and the modification of genes in trees used in plantation forestry and horticulture. He’s also Director of the GREAT TREES research cooperative, which researches genetic technology to make state-of-the-art advancements in basic methods for genetic modification of forest trees.

“GREAT stands for Genetic Research on Engineering and Advanced Transform­ation of Trees,” Strauss says. “Meaning how we can learn to efficiently modify or insert genes in the important, but often very biologically difficult, trees critical to the global forest industry.”

Most of the GREAT TREES members are major forestry companies worldwide that grow trees like eucalypts as significant pulp and energy sources.

Strauss’ goal is to create major advances in how genes are put into tree cells to modify or insert new functions, and then regenerate those cells into healthy trees with desired properties like pest resistance, better wood for specific purposes, or improved social acceptability. For example, trees that are improved for industrial uses but will not spread into wild populations should find wider acceptance.

“This work,” Strauss says, “requires a basic understanding of how plants naturally develop their embryos and shoots, and using that knowledge to help prod the cells to do what you want them to.”

Recently, Strauss’ published research from field trials at OSU that showed that poplar could be genetically modified to reduce negative impacts on air quality while leaving their growth virtually unchanged.

Poplars are fast-growing trees that are a source of biofuel and other products, including paper, pallets, plywood and furniture frames. These trees are also a significant isoprene producer, the critical component of natural rubber, and a pre-pollutant. Poplar and other trees, including oak, eucalyptus and conifers, produce isoprene in their leaves in response to climate stress, such as high temperatures. Increases in isoprene negatively affect regional air quality and lead to higher atmospheric aerosol production levels, more ozone in the air, and longer methane life. Ozone and methane are greenhouse gases, and ozone is a respiratory irritant.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are important because poplar plantations cover 9.4 million hectares globally – more than double the land used 15 years ago. A research collaboration led by scientists at the University of Arizona, the Institute of Biochemical Plant Pathology in Germany, Portland State University and OSU participated in this work.

“As the world faces increasing challenges to keep forests productive and healthy given new pests and rapid climate change, companies are looking to all the technologies for help, and genetic modification is a big option,” Strauss says.

There are barriers to pursuing gene modification work, however. First, says Strauss, it is complicated and expensive work, which is where GREAT TREES research cooperative comes in. The second barrier is fear and distrust.

“The public has been educated to fear modern genetic modification across the board, so regulations and market restrictions are very stringent,” Strauss says. “In many cases, the restrictions are impossible obstacles for even the largest companies to deal with as common market restrictions exclude any possibility for research with genetically modified trees in their forests or products.”

One part of GREAT TREES’ work, albeit a small part, says Strauss, is to try and influence policy and regulations about genetic modification of trees and crops to make them much more science-based and research-friendly.

“If something is GMO, it’s guilty until proven safe in the minds of many and in our regulations today,” he says. “These technologies are new tools that require scientific research to evaluate and refine them on a case-by-case basis. Blanket exclusions go against international scientific consensus. We have a huge need for expanded production of sustainable and renewable forest products and ecological services, and biotechnologies can help meet that need.”

Over the past few years, Strauss has received around $4 million in funding from the National Science Foundation to develop new phenomic and genomic insights into genetic diversity in the capacity for regeneration of new shoots and roots in poplar. In short, phenomics means to take data on plant growth in a precise, rapid, and computer-assisted manner. Genomics is the same idea, but applied to large-scale determination of DNA sequences.

Working with professor Fuxin Li in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at OSU, Strauss and his team have created and submitted for publication a new annotation tool, using machine learning, to enable researchers to rapidly and precisely code images of plant material. These data are then used in machine vision models to estimate regeneration rates in thousands of samples used in genetic analysis. Work at this scale was previously not possible using existing techniques. So far, they have completed and edited machine vision-derived data for two regeneration experiments involving about 1,300 replicated genotypes each, and a third experiment is nearly complete and another one starting up.

“After years of work to develop and test our phenomic systems, then apply them to quantify regeneration rates in literally tens of thousands of stems and Petri dishes containing wild black cottonwood plants whose genomes were previously sequenced, we are poised to identify some of the major genes that affect the capacity for regeneration of shoots, roots and modified tissues from single cells,” Strauss says. “It will be an exciting next couple of years for our laboratory.”

This story was part of the College of Forestry’s 2019-2020 Biennial Report.

As Oregonians grow increasingly interested in learning about the source of their drinking water, they turn to the college’s forest soils and watershed hydrology research group to understand more about watershed processes and disturbances in our forested ecosystems and the effects forest management has on soils, and water quantity and quality.

The research group addresses essential questions like: What effects does forest harvesting have on stream flow or the soil’s ability to capture carbon? How do large wildfires affect water quantity, quality and aquatic ecosystem health? And how do forest management activities affect our drinking water?

Led by associate professor Catalina Segura, associate professor Kevin Bladon, assistant professor and extension specialist Jon Souder, and forest engineering, resources and management department head and associate professor Jeff Hatten, the research group provides knowledge that contributes to sustainable soil and water resources and supports informed forest management and policy decisions related to wildfire, salvage harvesting, and forest harvesting. It also helps support healthy, resilient forests and soils and helps ensure the communities that rely on them have access to clean drinking water.

Segura, who studies forest hydrology and fluvial geomorphology and received the prestigious National Science Foundation Career Award for her work, utilized data from the long-term Alsea Watershed Study in the Oregon Coast range to show summer streamflow in industrial tree plantations harvested on 40- to 50-year rotations was 50% lower than in century-old forests.

The research is an essential step toward understanding how intensively managed plantations might influence water supplies originating in forests and downstream aquatic ecosystems, especially as the planet becomes warmer and drier.

“Industrial plantation forestry is expanding around the globe, and that’s raising concerns about the long-term effects the plantations might be having on water, especially in dry years,” Segura said.

Together with other regional studies, the findings indicate that the magnitude of summer streamflow deficits is related to the proportion of watershed area in young (30- to 50-year-old) plantations. The findings also highlight the need for additional research and the value of long-term data.

Hatten, a soil scientist, conducted research in partnership with Weyerhaeuser Company that found conventional timber harvesting has no effect on carbon levels in the western Pacific Northwest’s mineral soils for at least 3 1/2 years after harvest.

The study is important because soils contain a large percentage of the total carbon in forests. Understanding soil carbon response to clear-cuts and other forest management practices is vital in determining carbon balance in any given stand and the overall landscape. Stable carbon levels in the ground mean less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“Concern about rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations has heightened interest in the role that forests play in carbon sequestration, storage and cycling,” Hatten said. “Living trees sequester and store carbon, but less recognition has been given to soils’ role. We have plans to resample these sites in coming years and decades to look at the longer-term impacts.”

Bladon’s research focuses on the effects of wildfire and various post-fire forest management strategies on our water supply and aquatic ecosystem health. He explained that the effects of large, high severity wildfires on water quantity and quality could last for decades.

“Smaller, low severity fires can have positive outcomes for aquatic ecosystems,” Bladon said. “However, the larger fires, which we’ve seen more of in recent years, are the ones that cause us the most problems in terms of impacts on water.”

High severity fire can lead to increased annual streamflow, peak flows, and shifts in the timing of snowmelt to streams to earlier in the year. Additionally, large fires can raise stream temperatures, sediment, nutrients, and heavy metals in streams, negatively impacting aquatic ecosystems, recreational values, and drinking water sources.

Bladon and collaborators are currently developing a model of the Pacific Northwest to identify resilient or resistant streams to wildfire effects, which will enable informed prioritization of lands for active forest management.

Souder led the Trees to Tap project, a science-based summary of forest management’s impacts on community drinking water supplies, commissioned by The Oregon Forest Resource Institute (OFRI). Bladon, assistant professor Emily Jane Davis, assistant professor Bogdan Strimbu and Jeff Behan of the Institute of Natural Resources collaborated on this report.

Three hundred thirty-seven public water providers service almost 3.5 million Oregonians and rely on surface waters for some or all of their water supply. These providers may own their source water watersheds, but many do not. As a result, they have little control on activities occurring in their source watersheds, many of which are forested and managed by a diversity of owners. This report details the effects forest management has on these source watersheds and the future of Oregon’s drinking water.

“Oregonians value water produced from forests and rank water quality and quantity as primary concerns with forest management. Oregon’s extensive and diverse forests generally produce high-quality water and supply the majority of the state’s community water systems,” Souder said.

This story was part of the College of Forestry’s 2019-2020 Biennial Report.

As society continues to face growing climate and sustainability crises, the Oregon State University College of Forestry aims to create a better future through education, research and outreach programs that address the most pressing issues related to forest conservation and management. To advance that mission, Oregon State University and the Oregon Department of State Lands are working collaboratively to develop a vision for transforming Oregon’s famous Elliott State Forest into a publicly owned world-class research forest.

The Elliott is a critical oasis for several imperiled species such as the marbled murrelet, northern spotted owl, elk and coho salmon. Twenty-two percent of Oregon wild salmon come from its streams and coastal old growth in the Elliott is prime nesting habitat for the threatened marbled murrelet.

“We look forward to furthering our work with the State Land Board, the Department of State Lands, Oregonians and stakeholders on the next steps to create a research forest plan that will provide benefits to all Oregonians,” said Tom DeLuca, the Cheryl Ramberg-Ford and Allyn C. Ford Dean of the College of Forestry. “From a scientific standpoint, the Elliott would provide OSU the ability to conduct large, landscape-level experiments that can endure time and be practical, relevant and collaborative.”

As an 80,000+ acre living laboratory, the Elliott will help the College of Forestry answer the fundamental question: What is the best landscape-scale approach to providing society with sustainable wood resources without compromising biodiversity, ecosystem functions, climate resilience and social benefits?

Located in Oregon’s coastal range near Reedsport, the Elliott is currently managed to benefit the Oregon Common School Fund.

In December 2018, the State Land Board requested that OSU, in partnership with the Oregon Department of State Lands, explore the Elliott’s potential transformation into a state research forest managed by OSU and the College of Forestry.

Since then, OSU has worked with Department of State Lands and a range of stakeholder groups and community members to develop a vision for turning the forest into a world-class research location while also benefitting important public values such as recreation, conservation and local economies.

The proposal, consistent with the Land Board vision for the forest, includes:
• Keeping the forest publicly owned with public access.
• Decoupling the forest from the Common School Fund, compensating the school fund for the forest and releasing the forest from its obligation to generate revenue for schools.
• Continuing habitat conservation planning to protect species and allow for harvest.
• Providing for multiple forest benefits, including recreation, education, and working forest research.

In December 2020, after receiving an update from OSU on the research forest plans and process, the Oregon State Land Board voted to continue evaluating how to transform the Elliott into a research forest.

“We are appreciative of the support Governor Kate Brown and the rest of the State Land Board have expressed for the College of Forestry’s research vision for the Elliott State Forest,” DeLuca said. “The Elliott provides a unique opportunity to conduct needed research that can address challenges and inform decisions that will help us sustain ecosystems and economies.”

Over the past two years, efforts have included the work of an OSU-led exploratory committee; extensive input from an advisory committee of stakeholders convened by the Department of State Lands; multiple public forums; and conversations with tribal governments, local governments, stakeholder groups and other interested Oregonians.

The university and the state will continue to engage with constituents to refine and develop details of the research forest concept. The planning will consider governance and financial issues that must be resolved before OSU would approve assuming management of the Elliott.

To learn more about the Elliott State Forest and the research forest exploratory process, visit the Department of State Lands and OSU websites.

This story was part of the College of Forestry’s 2019-2020 Biennial Report.