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.
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.
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.
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.”
THE RESEARCH TEAM 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
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.
COF professor is on a mission to build better for a more sustainable future.
The building sector is a major contributor to human environmental impacts on the planet – and the College of Forestry’s Mariapaola Riggio is researching ways to mitigate that impact through more sustainable building practices. She’s currently working on projects that take a more environmentally-friendly approach to building through the use of mass timber technologies and what’s known as a “circular economy” model.
Riggio, associate professor of wood design and architecture in the department of wood science and engineering, describes the concept of “circular economy” as a necessary shift in the construction industry, which will help extend the life of buildings and promote more sustainable building practices.
“The current linear consumption model of raw material extraction, production, use, and disposal, which dominates the global economy, is no longer sustainable,” she explains. “In contrast to this model, circular economy aims to slow the consumption loop by designing products that can last longer, be reused, remanufactured or recycled. It also looks at narrowing resource flows, using for instance waste or underutilized materials.”
She describes how these approaches are applied in some of her recent projects:
The first project focuses on how to use an underutilized forest resource to construct affordable, reusable shelters. The material that Riggio’s team worked with is ponderosa pine. Specifically, ponderosa pine taken from restoration programs that harvest trees in order to prevent or mitigate wildfires. These smaller ponderosa pines are removed from forests to preserve larger trees.
Ponderosa pines harvested from restoration programs are generally not considered very marketable for construction as they’re small, knotty, and the resulting boards are often warped or twisted. Riggio wanted to investigate whether they could actually be useful building material, if they were directed at the right type of structure.
She looked into building low-rise modular homes with cross-laminated timber panels made of ponderosa pine lumber. Through working on a prototype, she found that this could be an effective way to utilize this low-value lumber. The smaller dimensions of the structure are more suitable to ponderosa pine’s characteristics and the structure itself is sustainable, as it can be broken down and reconstructed as needed.
One potential use for such structures would be to house populations displaced by disasters or conflicts, as there’s often a need to provide quick and affordable shelter in the wake of disruptive and catastrophic events. Using ponderosa pine from restoration projects adds value to costly wildfire prevention and mitigation work.
“This is a promising way to use waste to engineer wood products – and build structures with a long service life,” she said. She explains that this project is an example of what is called a “narrow-close loop” in the building process, because it optimizes use of resources and reuses materials disrupting the need to demolish and dispose of buildings.
In another project, Riggio transformed the College of Forestry’s Peavy Forest Science Center (PFSC) into a living laboratory to examine the long-term performance of mass timber buildings. She installed structural health monitoring systems around the PFSC to track different factors that could affect the life of the building, like moisture levels that could lead to rot or decay.
“This project will help us understand how a building performs over time,” she said. “And, it will help us make informed decisions about how to extend the service life of the building, through preventative or remedial actions, thus “slowing the loop” of a building life”
The monitoring project proved its usefulness already during the building construction stage, and helped the building team to make informed decisions, such as ventilating roof panels to avoid mold growth and revising the installation procedure of the building shear walls to ensure proper behavior of the structure during an earthquake. Riggio plans to continue monitoring the PFSC for issues and she plans to publish takeaways from the project that can be applied to future mass timber building projects.
Riggio also teaches the concept of a circular economy and offers students hands-on experience in this model through a collaborative course with the University of Oregon’s department of architecture. This course challenges a multi-disciplinary group of students to design small-scale timber structures using materials like recycled mass timber panels. They work together to assume the roles of manufacturer, engineer, and architect to create buildings that maximize future re-use of materials. In one recent class, students designed a Nomadic Hospitality Suite, which is a portable space that can be easily disassembled and reused.
Riggio will continue to build upon her research and academic work focusing on the circular economy and how to manufacture smarter buildings. “We hope to keep learning more and contribute to the conversation about how to build better for a more sustainable future,” she said.
College of Forestry professor Gerald Presley is working to develop a new method to clean up agricultural plastic pollution
The use of a plastic film in agriculture is increasingly being considered as an option for water conservation. The use of plastic films comes with the risk of contamination of soil with non-biodegradable plastics and threatens the long-term fertility of farmlands. College of Forestry’s Gerald Presley is investigating whether fungi could help clean up this environmental issue.
“Remediation methods must be developed to efficiently remove these materials from land and we believe fungi can help,” he said.
Presley, assistant professor in the department of wood science and engineering, just launched a new four-year project to explore the possibility of using fungi to help decompose agricultural plastics pollution. The project is a joint venture with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which supports the development of new work that can contribute to natural resource conservation.
Presley’s lab specializes in wood durability and applied mycology and he saw this as opportunity to build on that work and explore a new use of fungi. Fungi are known for being biodegrading powerhouses. There are many different species of fungi with really diverse metabolic capabilities, so there’s a fungi available to break down most any natural, organic material, he explains.
“It’s their job in the global ecosystem to degrade stuff,” he said. “We’re always interested in looking more deeply into the capabilities of fungal metabolism and finding fungal processes that can be advantageous for human use.”
Presley has worked with fungi to break down other challenging material and he saw potential for it to be helpful with polyethylene mulch. The plastic pollution he’s working with comes from polyethylene film residue, which is getting used more and more for water conservation on agricultural lands around the globe.
Plastic is notoriously difficult to turn into biodegradable material, so cleaning it up won’t be as easy as planting some extra fungi on the land, he explains. The key will be pre-treating the plastic material with another process to help break it down into something the fungi can handle.
“We’re working to develop a one-two punch to knock out agricultural plastics pollution using ultrasonic chemistry and fungi,” he said. “The plan is to develop pre-treatments for plastics that will cook up a readily digestible snack for decay fungi, who will then turn the treated plastic into innocuous and biodegradable material.”
Presley is working with Ph.D. student Leon Rogers to experiment with different combinations of ultrasonic chemistry and fungi processes in the lab to see what works best – before testing them in the field. The researchers have partnered with landowners that have a ranch outside of Stayton, Oregon for the field work side of the project. The ranch was rented out for hemp farming a few years ago, and returned to the landowners with heavy plastic pollution that must be cleaned up if the land is going to be restored to its original productive capacity. Presley and Rogers will work with the landowners to develop tools and processes to tackle the pollution on the ranch – with the hope of being able to translate their findings into a broader application for agricultural pollution and environmental cleanup.
“Our long-term goal is to develop technology that can enable farmers to pull polyethylene contaminants out of their soil and dispose of it on-site in an environmentally friendly manner,” said Presley.
The Oregon State University Research Forests are a valuable asset for long-term research projects
Sometimes, the best strategy for scientific work is to play the long game – because a short-term study can’t always offer the same insights as a multi-year endeavor.
That’s one of the many reasons that the OSU Research Forests are such an asset. They provide a venue for researchers to run long-term studies that can offer meaningful insights into an array of research questions that examine forestry practices, forests, and ecosystems.
Here are a few examples of the long-term research projects that started years ago in the Research Forests – and are still happening today – but couldn’t have happened at all, without a place to watch science unfold over decades.
Purple Martin Habitat Patrol
The purple martin is picky about where it lives. It likes to nest in a good hole – like a dead tree cavity. And, it also needs an open canopy for foraging insects.
While this large swallow maintains a healthy population on the East Coast, it’s a “critical” sensitive species in Oregon – and could be listed as an endangered or threatened species if its population declines more. It would’ve been difficult – if not impossible – to find a purple martin in the Willamette Valley a decade and a half ago.
But, in the late 2000s, Joan Hagar, research wildlife biologist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and affiliate faculty in the department of forest ecosystems and society, turned to the Research Forests to encourage purple martin habitat in the Willamette Valley. And, she set up a study to monitor how the bird’s population changed over time.
She set up artificial nests in regenerative harvest sites in the McDonald and Dunn research forests to coax purple martins into the forest. Nearby snags would eventually create lasting habitat for the birds, but they needed a few years to decompose into an ideal purple martin home. OSU initially created these snags after tree harvests, in order to provide dead wood for woodpeckers to turn into cavities, which would become homes for purple martins. The recently harvested area provided a prime habitat for insects, which the purple martins feed on.
Since setting up the nests, Hagar has been monitoring the state of the purple martin population and its use of managed forests for habitat. To do this, her team bands birds every year and monitors their nesting habits when they return from their winter migration. She says the Research Forests – and plenty of time – are vital components for this study.
“Birds can see a lot of annual variation, especially migratory birds, so you can’t always see patterns until you collect a lot of data,” she said. “By observing them for multiple years, you can see trends more clearly.”
The purple martins have thrived in the Research Forests, where they can access the maintained snags for habitat – and beyond that, they’ve helped provide insights into how other species fare when dead and decomposing trees are purposely left for habitat and biodiversity. There’s a large collection of species in the Pacific Northwest that relies on cavities in dead trees for habitat.
“Purple martins are a great indicator species for how a whole suite of species is faring in this habitat,” Hagar explained.
COF Integrated Research Project
Back in 1989, a team of COF researchers and resource managers decided to launch a long-term study to investigate alternatives to clearcutting. They wanted to learn whether they could retain features of mature and old-growth Douglas-fir forests through a variety of types of timber harvests.
To initiate the study, they applied four different silviculture treatments across 33 different stands in the Research Forests and monitored how these treatments affected economic, social, and ecological factors over time. They published a summary of their initial findings in 2005.
Klaus Puettmann, professor in the department of forest ecosystems and society, assumed responsibility for the study a little over a decade ago, mainly to continue to facilitate teaching and research opportunities on this land – and advocated for its value as a long-term resource.
He explains that while active research has slowed in these stands over time, they provide a huge opportunity for education and research as the installations contain forest structures that are unique in the region. He personally brings a number of his classes to these stands on the Research Forests because they’re such a great resource for teaching.
“They offer examples of a wide range of forest conditions and hold great value for researchers and teachers who want to consider a multitude of forestry approaches,” Puettmann says. “We just don’t have many examples of these treatments in the region, especially so close by and accessible for our students.”
One of the greatest benefits of this project is for researchers and educators who want to investigate how certain treatments affect a forest over longer time periods. This could be especially helpful for questions related to how factors like climate change have affected forests, Puettmann explains.
“They can consult the database to see if the inventory matches their research needs – and potentially launch their project with the help of decades of data,” he said.
Mature Forest Management
For the last 25 years, OSU researchers have examined how mature forests change through different levels of thinning and understory treatment. Mature forests are stands of older and larger trees, often Douglas-fir, that resemble old growth. It’s a project that was inspired by the timber wars of the 1990s, the struggles over logging and old-growth protection, to help researchers understand how mature forests and certain tree species develop through different approaches to forest management.
The project has let researchers explore questions about the best conditions for Douglas-fir growth, how thinning in different intensities and ways affects understory vegetation, and how the use of herbicides affects the growth of saplings. They’ve utilized both the McDonald and Dunn and the Blodgett Research Forests for this work.
The researchers have published a number of findings over the course of the project, and the treatments continue to be beneficial for researchers looking to explore new issues, Bailey says. Researchers can draw from 25 years of data to consider issues like carbon storage in a forest or how plant biodiversity in the understory is impacted by herbicides.
“As new questions come up, we can keep looking at this data through different lenses,” he said.
One of Bailey’s personal research interests is how thinning and understory treatment affect wildfire spread. He can consult the decades of data to investigate how different types of thinning and understory treatment affects fuel hazards for wildfires.
“Long-term studies are great for providing a time arc of data to look at as new issues and new angles emerge,” he said.
OSU College of Forestry researcher is investigating whether log jams create lasting salmon habitat in the coast range
When winter and the rainier months hit Oregon, the rivers and streams around the state can really start flowing – and waterways can turn into a tough environment for small fish like juvenile coho salmon.
These fish need a safe place to live for the winter months, where they won’t get swept away by rapid flows – and Catalina Segura, an associate professor in forest engineering, resources, and management and the Fisher Family Faculty Fellow, is investigating the effectiveness of large wood restoration projects to create good habitat for these fish – and if they can offer a lasting solution for coho salmon.
Segura started this project back in 2014, just few weeks after she joined the College of Forestry. At the time, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) was working to restore salmon habitat in the Oregon coast range. To do this, they installed approximately 35 large log jams on tributaries of the Siletz River to create winter habitat for coho salmon. The log jams help slow down the flow and create calmer pools of water for the salmon to live in during the wetter months.
Segura launched a research project to investigate how this effort was changing the conditions of the streams – and whether it was actually helping create good habitat for coho salmon. Along with graduate student Russell Bair, she analyzed the conditions of the streams before and after the log jams were installed and quantified the created of new habitat for small salmon during high winter flows.
To conduct this kind of field work involves collecting a lot of data, she says. Segura’s team has collected thousands of survey points about the topography of the streambeds, the size and placement of large wood, the velocity of the water, and the existence of salmon habitat. The various iterations of this project have been a great training ground for students, she says, as she’s been able to involve and mentor many graduate and undergraduate students in this field work over the years.
Through the first round of field work and data analysis, Segura discovered that the restoration work had, in fact, increased salmon habitat – by about 30 percent.
“This finding was important and offers applicable takeaways to stream restoration efforts throughout the Pacific Northwest,” she said.
But, her work was not done. After reaching that finding, she started to ask a new set of research questions about the sustainability of the restoration efforts – and how lasting the habitats might be.
“I wanted to know what would happen to this effort over time,” she said. “How sustainable would this change be? How long would this change last?”
Her current iteration of the project is probing that line of questions. Along with graduate student Madelyn Maffia, she’s measuring the current state of the streams for salmon habitat. She wants to find out if that 30 percent number has gone up or down over the last few years – which could hold important implications for future restoration efforts.
“It’s important to know this information when thinking about how to restore rivers because ultimately there aren’t enough resources to restore every mile of river,” she explained. “This will help decision-makers understand the most effective places to invest resources to restore waterways and create salmon habitat.”
Creating safe habitat for the coho salmon is important because coho salmon have been on and off of the endangered species list for years – and coho salmon hold great economic, cultural, and environmental significance. Salmon has been a vital food for Tribes in Oregon for thousands of years and is still a meaningful cultural symbol for tribes, including the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, whose Tribal land overlaps with part of Segura’s research site. Some of Segura’s work was supported by the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, which is organized by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.
The project is ongoing and keeps growing. She’s currently partnering with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to assess how her findings about the restoration projects and hydraulic changes line-up with ODFW’s research into the health of coho salmon. “We want to see how our assessment of geomorphic changes compares to their biological metrics for salmon,” she said. “Collaborating on this assessment will allow us to uncover a richer story about how successful this kind of restoration efforts are.”
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. A vacuum tubing system is able to extract a high volume of sap to work with and a commercial grade 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 build an industry and take advantage of the fact that bigleaf maples are especially abundant in western 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, delicious edible flowers, honey, beautiful lumber, figured wood, and firewood.”
Jones assembled a research team that spans the university and includes scholars and students from anthropology, food science, extension, 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 who brings tree physiology expertise, associate professor Ron Reuter, who contributes his soil science expertise and, Badege Bishaw, retired College of Forestry courtesy faculty who specializes in agroforestry. Tiffany Fegel, a coordinator with OSU’s forestry and natural resources extension is also part of the team. Many other Oregon State University and off-campus experts contribute their knowledge and expertise including College of Liberal Arts professor Lisa Price (ethnobiology), College of Agricultural Sciences associate professor Joy Waite-Cusic (food safety) and senior faculty research assistant Ann Colonna (sensory testing) and Portland State University’s Rebecca McLain (ethnography).
The team was awarded a million dollars in funding through a pair of multiyear awards from the federal government to help establish a sustainable maple industry in Oregon. The project is focused on promoting bigleaf maple sap procurement and processing and providing training, tools and education to landowners interested in developing commercial enterprises. Additionally, the team is building a database system to map quantitative and qualitative data associated with the project.
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 a romance and 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 “sugaring”, as they refer to it in maple industry,” 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 thousands of bigleaf maple trees on old dairy land as part of a carbon offset pilot program.
Jones has a long-time interest 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 led two national assessments on nontimber forest products for the U.S. Forest Service and was co-editor of the foundational text, “Nontimber Forest Products in the United States.” 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 a biodiverse, socially and ecologically complex environment using the bigleaf maple as a catalyst.
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. “Our team is diverse and inclusive and we are working hard to make bigleaf an inclusive, equitable economic opportunity for the state”, Jones says. In the spring of 2023, the bigleaf team will hold the first Oregon bigleaf maple festival and conference. Email Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.