What are you studying?

I’m a Ph.D. student. I finished my coursework, and now I’m exclusively focused on my research. I’m studying how to improve root morphology and physiology of Douglas fir seedlings in order to improve reforestation success with Dr. Carlos Gonzalez-Benecke. 

What was your journey here to Oregon State?

I first came here as a master’s student in the former Forest Science Department in fall 1999 and graduated in spring 2002. Back then, Richardson Hall was a brand, new building. It still looks like that. After that, I returned to Chile, where I am originally from, and I worked as a researcher in a government agency for four years. After that, I was recruited by a private company and became the manager of the biggest nursery in Chile – and maybe in all of South America. One day, Dr. Carlos Gonzalez-Benecke came to visit with some people from an Oregonian forest company. I gave them a tour of the nursery I was working on, and later during that year, Carlos started asking me questions about some details in Eucalyptus seedling production and eventually encouraged me to come to work with him here at Oregon State.

This time, we decided to bring our whole family. When I got my master’s here, it was just my wife and me, and back in Chile, we had triplets. They are 16 now and attending Corvallis High School. We wanted to give them the wonderful experience of living here in Corvallis and getting to know a new culture.

What’s your favorite part of your work?

I like growing seedlings. It seems like I’m producing new life with benefits for the entire world. It doesn’t matter the purpose of the seedlings. They can be for restoration, conservation, timber production, wildlife habitat. I just like growing trees and creating life, living organisms.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I like watching sports. I like sports, but I really don’t spend much time practicing sports anymore, so I would rather watch them on TV. I like basketball; I like the NBA. I went to a couple basketball games during my Master’s program. I do like American football too. I also like riding my bike around campus, even if it’s cold. In Chile I didn’t have the opportunity to ride my bike regularly, and here, I ride my bike every day.

Are you a morning person or a night person?

Morning. I would rather wake up early. Sometimes I work late, and I don’t sleep much, but I always feel more productive in the mornings.

Is coffee part of your morning routine?

Yes, I like instant coffee. Instant coffee is very popular in Chile. Brewed coffee is getting more popular with the arrival of Starbucks and Gourmet coffee shops, but I prefer instant.

What’s your favorite food?

That is a difficult question, because I’m a food addictive, but I’ll say fried empanadas with a pisco sour. I like seafood empanadas with shrimp and melted cheese, but you can have them with only cheese, or with beef.

Is there anything you’re really terrible at?

Drawing. I’m not an artist. I have tried! I had to do it when I was at school, but I had the worst grade in drawing and art.

For her dissertation, Rebecca Sheridan, who recently received her Ph.D. in sustainable forest management, studied Douglas-fir seedlings. Her research on this famous tree is specific and based on the latest technology available in the Western world, but the Oregon native says one of the essential parts of her graduate school experience takes place 6,500 miles away in Armenia.

“When I started graduate school, I wanted to do research that could be applied and helpful in solving restoration and reforestation issues,” she says. “The work I’ve done in Armenia is a reminder of the tangible outcomes research can have. It helps me stay grounded.”

Sheridan’s major professor was Interim Dean Anthony S. Davis, who has collaborated with the International Programs office of the U.S. Forest Service and other organizations to complete seedling-related projects. In 2016, Sheridan joined him for the first time in Armenia.

During Sheridan’s first visit, the U.S. team worked with a nonprofit organization to build a greenhouse and start the first growing season for seedlings with the goal of restoring the depleted landscape.

Sheridan says understanding Armenian culture, the history of the country and the greater region is important when it comes to the forestry and natural resources industries. For example, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was an oil and gas blockade, so tree harvests increased to supply heat to homes.

“Deforestation rapidly increased during that time,” Sheridan explains. “I’m not sure what the landscape looked like before the blockade, but these days, it looks like Eastern Oregon with rolling hills and lots of juniper trees. It’s higher and dryer there, and the goal of this project is to reintroduce native species to the land.”

Sheridan says many of those species are wild versions of edible plants like pear, apple and almond.

“It’s cool to work with species that are familiar to us as food, but are native, wild plants in another region of the world,” she says.

Culturally, Sheridan says Armenia is an exciting fusion of West and East with diverse food and kind people.

During her three trips to the country, Sheridan relied heavily on local knowledge while gathering materials and planning her workshops. The first growing season in 2016 yielded about 200 plants, while during the
2018 season, production increased to about 5,000 seedlings. Now, Sheridan says, the greenhouse is at capacity.

“The biggest challenge is working in such a rural, agricultural community,” she says. “People there have experience with food crops and orchards. We do our best to be respectful of the knowledge of our in-country partners while also highlighting how and why we’re training them to grow container seedlings for restoration in a different way than they might be used to.”

Sheridan says they will plant the seedlings in challenging environmental conditions, without irrigation or long-term maintenance of competing vegetation, so they need to be ready for the conditions they will face. Wildfire is also becoming prevalent in the area, adding a new twist to the project, as Sheridan and her in-country partners consider whether the landscape is fire adaptive.

Sheridan says the international work experience inspired her, and even though she’s not sure what her future holds, she hopes to continue visiting Armenia.

“It doesn’t matter if I understand every detail about how plants grow,” she says. “But, if I don’t understand how fertilizer gets shipped into different parts of the world or the cultural norms that influence what time of day you
can get people to water at our greenhouse, I’ll be less effective in helping solve these problems.”

A version of this story appeared in the fall 2019 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry. Learn more about international programs within the College of Forestry here.

What is your job?

I’m an assistant professor here in the Wood Science + Engineering Department. I’ll also be taking over the Utility Pole Research Cooperative and the Environmental Performance of Treated Wood Research Cooperative. I’ve just been here for about two months so far.

How did you end up here at Oregon State?

I got my Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota, and my advisor actually did a job really similar to this one. I studied biofules and fungal biology. After that, I did a postdoc at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is a Department of Energy Laboratory that mostly focuses on nuclear energy, but there were a few biofules people like me there.

Are you a morning person or night person?

Morning. I’m also horribly addicted to coffee. In my office, I have an espresso maker, French press and drip brew to help keep me awake.

What does life look like outside work?

I have my wife and my 11-month-old daughter at home. We haven’t done too much yet other than explore the area since we’re still new around here.

Have you watched anything good on Netflix lately?

Every Friday night we’re watching the new episode of the Great British Baking Show. We really enjoy that. My wife is from Ireland, and we enjoy British humor.

Do you like to bake?

I do bake bread sometimes, but you really have to be sure you eat it before it goes bad, so I go in and out of those phases. I’m not baking right now because I felt like I was throwing away too much bread. I also enjoy cooking.

What is your job?

I manage the recruitment efforts for the undergraduate programs in the College of Forestry. Much of the time I’m on the road talking to high school and community college classes. The rest of the time, I’m here meeting one-on-one with students and families, hosting group visits, leading tours, and answering questions about CoF and OSU.

Do you have any crazy stories from the road?

One time I was heading down I-5 and a golf ball came out of nowhere and hit the windshield of the car I was driving. Another time I found myself in Fresno with a few hours before my flight, and a colleague from the College of Agricultural Sciences suggested we go to the zoo, so we went in our business casual clothes.

What was your path to this position?

A meandering one! In what seems like a past life, I was a drug & alcohol rehabilitation counselor and taught life skills to folks in an in-patient rehab. When I moved to Oregon, I started working in central enrollment management at OSU, and really wanted to get into a college environment and start doing something more creative.  I knew CoF was one of the coolest colleges to work for, and I’m pretty outdoorsy, so it matched my interests.

What do you do when you’re not working?

Outside of work, I do a lot of outdoor adventuring, and I’m really getting into gardening. My husband is a professional brewer, so we like to go to different breweries and sample beers. We have a dog who keeps us active and entertained. I also play music, and I love to learn new instruments.

What instruments do you play?

Guitar, piano, violin and a little banjo. I’m slowly learning to play the mandolin.

What’s your favorite podcast?

I really love the Ologies podcast by Alie Ward. Each episode focuses on a different -ologie – a scientific study of something. Some of my favorite episodes are on myrmecology (ants), etymology (word origins), and somnology (sleep). 

You work with groups of students. What’s your favorite icebreaker question to ask?

It’s a weird one… If one of your hands had be a never-ending sandwich, what kind of sandwich would it be? My answer is a caprese sandwich.

Welcome to the College of Forestry! What do you do around here?

I’m an instructor in the Wood Science + Engineering Department. I’m teaching some of the art and design classes.

What was your journey to this position like?

I lived and worked in Denver for the past 25 years. I designed and made custom furniture there and also taught art and design classes. I landed in that career after earning a history degree and working in construction. After that, I gravitated toward fine woodworking and furniture making. Years later I went back to school to get my master’s degree in furniture design, and that’s when I shifted to academia.

What’s your favorite part of your work?

My favorite part of teaching art and design is helping students solve problems- giving them a space where they can find solutions to their design problems. I especially like when I can facilitate an “ ah-ha” moment.

What do you do outside work?

I don’t know yet! It was a challenge to get caught up and start classes so soon after moving to a new place, but I’m looking forward to learning about the rivers in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. Back in Denver, I also trained in traditional Japanese martial arts. I also like to play soccer and make things when I can.

Are you a cat person or a dog person?

We have a cat and a dog. I’m an animal person! I also really love horses. My wife grew up on a cattle ranch in Utah, so we both love to ride when we can.

Conventional timber harvesting has no effect on carbon levels in the mineral soils of the western Pacific Northwest for at least 3 1/2 years after harvest, according to recently-published research by Oregon State University and Weyerhaeuser Company.

The study is important because soils contain a large percentage of the total carbon in forests – generally about half of it – and understanding soil carbon response to clear-cuts and other forest management practices is vital in determining carbon balance in any given stand as well as the overall landscape.

Stable carbon levels in the ground means less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. An important greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide’s concentration in the atmosphere has risen 30 percent since the start of the Industrial Age.

Historic in its scope, this collaborative and long-term effort between Jeff Hatten of the OSU College of Forestry and Scott Holub of Weyerhaeuser monitored nine managed Douglas-fir forest stands in Oregon and Washington, before and after conventional timber harvest and replanting, and involved more than 50,000 soil samples from 2700 sample points, thus far.  Continued monitoring of soil carbon with additional rounds of sampling is planned at these sites for decades to come.

“Our original hypothesis that timber harvesting would decrease soil carbon in the short term was disproven,” said Hatten, a soils researcher in the college’s Department of Forest Engineering, Resources and Management. “And I think it’s fair to say this has been the most extensive sampling ever conducted to determine if harvesting has an impact on soil carbon.”

“The no-result was remarkable,” he said. “Even where you have the highest soil temperatures and the highest soil moistures – the strongest environment for decomposition that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – harvesting doesn’t seem to have an impact in the areas we studied. And the results likely extend to similar areas, probably totaling many millions of hectares in the Northwest.”

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

Modern harvest methods are designed to cause minimal soil disturbance, and the stable soil carbon would seem to reflect that, the researchers said.

“Concern about rising atmospheric carbon dioxideconcentrations 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.”

Citation:

Holub, S.M. and Hatten, J.A. 2019. Soil Carbon Storage in Douglas-Fir Forests of Western Oregon and Washington Before and After Modern Timber Harvesting Practices. Soil Science Society of America Journal 83(1):S175-S186.

Abstract available here: https://dl.sciencesocieties.org/publications/sssaj/abstracts/83/s1/S175

What is your job?

There are a few different pieces. I oversee the help desk with Paul and provide back-up support there. I also purchase all the electronics for the college and manage the computer labs.

How did you end up here in this position?
I’m from Corvallis, and I used to work for a biotech company, but I was interested in getting out of that industry and ended up here.

What’s your favorite part of your work?

The variety. There’s something different going on every day.

Tell us about your family.

I’m married, and I have three children who are seven, five and one.

What do you do when you have time to yourself?
When I get my own free time, I like to play softball and hunt and fish. I’m taking my oldest son along with me, and that’s really fun.

What do you hunt?

Elk, deer, turkey, duck and geese. I fish for steelhead and salmon. I enjoy it because it’s a challenge. I also really like to be outside and teach my son about ethical hunting and gun safety along with a lot of life lessons. Mostly he just plays, makes a lot of noise and scares the fish away.

Watching anything interesting lately?
The new season of American Horror Story.

If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would be?
Steak and potatoes. I’m the main cook in our house, and I could probably live off of that.

What’s a household chore you don’t enjoy?

Washing silverware. We do have a dishwasher, but with two little boys eating so much food, it’s usually faster to hand wash it because we go through so much.

What’s new?

This fall I’m starting a new position in FERM as an assistant professor of wildlife ecology. I will teach courses related to forest ecology and wildlife, but my research program will still be focused on understanding wildlife that inhabits forests – mostly managed forests. This is a new chapter for me, and I’m really excited about it.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I get to pursue knowledge in areas that are of interest to me, but that are also relevant to how we manage our forests.

What do you do when you’re not working

I spend time with my family. We have two young kids, our son is four and a half and our daughter is almost two. My son is interested in tractors and machinery, so this summer we went to the Oregon Steam Up, which is a gathering of people with old style tractors back to the steam era. That’s something we never would have done otherwise. We also like to hike and explore the outdoors, and go to the Corvallis Knights baseball games.

Are you reading anything interesting lately?

I’m reading a book about the rise and the fall of the Comanche called Empire of the Summer Moon. Since I spent time in Kansas, I like things about Western exploration, native tribes and mountain men. I love Edward Abbey’s work as well, and would highly recommend it (especially Desert Solitaire. I try to read something non-work related before I go to bed every night.

You study birds. Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Despite studying birds for 20 years, I’m still not a morning person. Some people bounce out of bed, but when I get up, I think, ‘Oh no, what have I done?!?’ If I don’t have to get out of bed in the morning for work or kids, I’ll sleep in as long as I can.

How do you like to stay active?

When I can, I like to play basketball at Dixon. My Labrador has a lot of energy, so sometimes I take her hiking or trail running.

If you were going to sing a song at karaoke, what would it be?

“Two of a Kind Working on a Full House” by Garth Brooks.

Do you like country music?

Not as a general rule, but for some reason, I got one of his albums years ago, and I really liked it.

Carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels is causing the Earth to warm, oceans to acidify and climates to change. Because tree growth captures atmospheric carbon, some scientists and environmental advocacy groups promote massive tree planting as a solution to climate change.

A group of 46 scientists from around the world, led by Joseph Veldman of Texas A&M University, are urging caution regarding plans to address climate change through massive tree planting.

These scientists teamed up with Veldman, whose research focuses on the fire ecology of savannas and forests of Texas and Tropical America, to publish a message of concern in the journal Science.

 “While tree planting can be good in some deforested areas, tree planting in Earth’s natural grasslands destroys plant and animal habitat and will not sequester enough carbon to compensate for fossil fuel emissions,” Veldman says. “Few people realize that planting trees in the wrong places can actually damage ecosystems, increase wildfire intensity and exacerbate global warming.”

The new publication is a critique of another recent paper in Science, which claimed global, large-scale tree planting could capture 205 gigatons of carbon, or one-third of the carbon dioxide emitted since the industrial revolution.

 “Because the estimate of 205 gigatons of carbon was so large, in July 2019, headlines around the world declared tree planting to be the best solution to climate change,” Veldman said. We now know those headlines were wrong.”

In their critique, Veldman and his collaborators write that serious methodological flaws led to a five-fold overestimate of the potential for new trees to mitigate climate change. Among the problems, they point out that the original study assumed that soils in ecosystems without trees contain no carbon, when in fact many ecosystems such as savannas and peatlands, contain more carbon in soils than in the above-ground vegetation.

The study also neglected the fact that coniferous forests in boreal and high mountain regions absorb more sunlight and emit more heat than treeless areas, and actually exacerbate rather than mitigate global warming.

Finally, Veldman and his collaborators argue tree planting in grasslands and savannas, as proposed by the original article’s research team, is damaging to the environment.

“Ancient grasslands and savannas contain immense biodiversity and provide services to humanity, such as livestock forage and groundwater recharge,” Veldman says. “We worry that a myopic focus on tree planting will reduce the capacity of people to adapt to climate change while distracting from efforts to conserve intact ecosystems and reduce fossil fuel consumption.”

Co-author Christopher Still of the Oregon State University College of Forestry, adds,  “Careful and targeted afforestation and reforestation can help with the climate crisis, but only if done in certain regions and with appropriate safeguards for biodiversity, water availability, and in concert with local communities. ”