Students in WSE 425/525, Timber Tectonics in the Digital Age, recently assembled their prototype for a covered park shelter in the Peavy Forest Science Center Atrium. The course is a collaboration between OSU’s Department of Wood Science and Engineering and U of O’s Department of Architecture.

Co-led by OSU’s Mariapaola Riggio and UO’s Nancy Cheng, the course explores timber structural systems and creates new technical and design possibilities using digital techniques, modeling and tools.

Prototype of the structure

This year, students partnered with the city of Salem to create a prototype for a covered structure or shelter for a park. Permanent shelters are expensive and a cheaper alternative that can be deployed quickly is in great demand. Inspired by the circular economy, students were charged with creating a design which minimizes waste, uses components cut from scraps and promotes reuse.

With the support of TallWood Design Institute and material donated from Roseburg Forest Products, the class first built a scale model and then a prototype at Oregon State’s A.A. “Red” Emmerson Advanced Wood Products Lab. The structure uses a bottom-up, kit-like approach and is designed for disassembly. The components are interconnected using wood-to-wood joints and include engineered wood panels.

The prototype is on display in the College of Forestry’s George W. Peavy Forest Science Center atrium through the month of March, watch a timelapse of the assembly.

The 2023 Dean’s Award recipients and retirees were recently honored with an awards ceremony and celebration. Since 1990, the Dean’s Awards for Outstanding Achievement have recognized outstanding contributions by our community members that significantly advanced the mission of the College.

The award for outstanding achievement in Graduate Student Leadership went to Nina Ferrari. Nina is an outstanding graduate student, as evidenced by recent awards received, her publications, and her straight-A average in grad courses at OSU. More importantly, Nina has gone far above and beyond the normal expectations of a grad student by: being a teaching assistant in several courses a year; serving on the COF and HJ Andrews DEI committees; leadership of graduate students in both the College of Forestry through her work on Graduate Student Council, and at the HJA via her work as our graduate student representative; and mentoring several undergrads during their time in the field with her.

Matt Powers and Greg Goralogia received the award for Fostering Undergraduate Student Success. Matt was nominated by eight separate undergraduate students who stated that Dr. Powers is an exceptional teacher, one who has consistently shown creativity, inclusivity, and passion in how he utilizes unique and engaging teaching techniques. A nominator noted, “Greg is a superb mentor, and as in most academic research laboratories, senior postdocs such as Greg mentor both undergrads and grads. Greg has been a postdoctoral scientist in the forest biotechnology laboratory for five years and has mentored 12 undergraduates and 11 graduate students. He has also mentored and collaborated with approximately a half-dozen technicians and about a dozen students carrying out work.”

Indy Gerhardt was recognized for outstanding achievement in Contributions as a Student Worker. Indy is a technician in the Forest Ecohydrology and Watershed Science (FEWS) lab in the FERM department and an undergraduate student in Biology. One of their nominators said, “Indy has contributed exceptional support to our research group, to help us accomplish intensive summer-long field campaigns and critical lab work during the school year. They have also pushed the lab group as a whole to be consciously inclusive of underrepresented minority groups by bringing thoughtful conversations and agenda suggestions to our lab group meetings.”

The award recognizing outstanding achievement in the Mentorship of Graduate Students went to Ben Leshchinsky, Elizabeth Swanson, and Loren Albert. About Ben, a nominator noted, “I became aware of Dr. Leshchinsky’s generosity and willingness to go above and beyond before I even became a graduate student at Oregon State. As I was applying for graduate school, Ben offered his time to meet with me to discuss a possible future at OSU. With no expectation that I would become a Beaver or a member of his research team, he offered his time and support without expecting anything in return. As a first-generation college student, the time he took to answer my questions in meetings and over email was invaluable”. A nominator of Eli noted, “I met Eli when I was an e-campus student struggling to attend school and work full-time during a global pandemic. Eli set an atmosphere of positive mentorship, Where I learned to be more comfortable with constructive critique and embrace continuous improvement, which has helped me embrace a learning and growth mindset. It is difficult and sometimes isolating to be an e-campus student when you have limited connections to your peers or campus. Eli spent one-on-one time with me, discussing my educational goals and career interests, and helped me identify classes and topics that would build my educational background and professional skills. Eli regularly checked my progress and feelings as a remote student and was always responsive and an advocate.” One of Loren’s nominators said, “Loren is an exemplary mentor. She advocates tirelessly for student success and happiness, she encourages academic growth through her diligence, time, and attention, and she works assiduously to enable strong networking and collaborative opportunities. It is precisely this kind of mentorship that leads to a thriving, productive graduate student body.”

The award for Outstanding Achievement in Distinction to the College went to the Elliott State Research Forest Team: Shannon Murray, Jenn Bailey Guerrero, Deanne Carlson, Jeff Behan and Katy Kavanagh. These five outstanding professionals have not only maintained but significantly elevated our college’s standards and reputation through their exceptional work on the Elliott State Research Forest’s Forest Management Plan (FMP).

2023 retirees that were honored were Dave Shaw, John Sessions, Carol Carlson, and Steve Fitzgerald. Dr. David Shaw has been a professor at Oregon State University since 2005, and a renowned authority in forest health. He was pivotal in developing and delivering the Extension curriculum for the Master Woodland Manager program, the Oregon Forest Pest Detector program, and the Pest Scene Investigators program. Dr. John Sessions is an alumnus of OSU. He earned his Ph.D. in Forest Management with the late Darius Adams in 1979 and has been a College of Forestry Professor or Emeritus since 1983. John’s accomplishments are numerous. First, John is an OSU Distinguished Professor and an SAF Fellow. He has twice been the recipient of a COF Dean’s Award and has received the Aufderheide Teaching Award 5 times (that’s 12.5% of the time he’s been at OSU). Carol Carlson started working on the Research Forests on April 1, 1997, as an accountant. In 2004 she was promoted to professional faculty and became the Business Manager for the Research Forest. Everyone who has worked with with Carol can attest to her prowess with numbers and appreciate all the things she does to keep the numbers balanced! Stephen Fitzgerald, Extension Specialist and Professor, has served the State of Oregon, Oregon State University, and the College of Forestry for more than 30 years. He is recognized by colleagues and Oregonians as an authority on complex silvicultural prescriptions. His career at OSU has included numerous positions, including Extension Forester on the Southern Oregon Coast and in Central Oregon, Statewide Extension Silviculture Specialist, and Director of the College of Forestry’s Research Forests.

Congratulations to associate professor Mariapaola Riggio, who was recently named the Richardson Chair in Wood Sciences and Forest Products. The Ward K. Richardson Family endowed chairs are directed toward a theme of understanding and explaining the implications of changes in the use and management of forest resources on society. The Chair in Wood Science and Forest Products focuses on the efficient use of forest resources to meet the growing needs of society for wood products. Get to know Mariapaola:

Tell us about your background – what drew you to your specialty area?
My fascination and deep interest in wood as a building material originated during my time as an architecture student in Florence. One of my deepest passions lays in cultural heritage preservation. Most of the projects we were exposed to at school were predominantly centered around masonry buildings. So, the prevailing perception was that our cultural heritage predominantly consisted of stone and bricks. In 1997, a powerful earthquake struck Umbria, a central region in Italy, resulting in the loss of invaluable monuments. During site inspections, a clear observation emerged: many damages to masonry buildings and vaulted structures resulted from interventions carried out in the previous decades. These interventions involved the replacement or supposed reinforcement of original timber roofs with reinforced concrete. The underlying cause of these misguided practices and the prevalent mistrust in wood as a building material became evident – a long-standing educational system that disregarded the importance of traditional materials and exclusively trained designers in the use of modern materials. For my master’s thesis, I began examining a specific traditional timber system: timber vaults. The ingenuity of this technique lies in its light weight and flexibility, that reduces the risk of damage to masonry walls in the event of an earthquake. After graduation, I engaged in the restoration of some of these structures. My interest in pursuing a PhD in the Timber Engineering Group at the University of Trento stemmed from this experience and my objective to enhance diagnostic procedures to avoid invasive interventions on timber cultural heritage.

What courses do you teach / labs do you lead?
WSE 225 “Building design innovation with wood” introduces students to the fundamentals of building design and the relevant technical requirements, the solutions available and the specific applications, with a focus on wood-based products and other ligno-cellulosic materials. The main goal of this course is to help students develop a multi-disciplinary understanding of design and construction principles that facilitate communication between manufacturers, architects, engineers, and clients.

WSE 425/525 “Timber tectonics in the digital age” is an interdisciplinary, inter-institutional effort in collaboration with University of Oregon Architecture enrolls Architecture, Engineering and Wood Science students. The course is designed to prepare future professionals for integrated design practices in modern wood construction, emphasizing experiential learning and soft skill development. In this course, students engage in hands-on project, engaging with real clients and industry partners throughout the learning process.

The faculty-led study abroad program that I lead, Tradition and Innovation in the Wood Construction Industry: A Journey in the Italian Alps, provides an international perspective on tradition and innovation of forest products application and sustainable practices in the built environment. I’ve designed this program to offer students firsthand experience in the working environments and practices of the host country through job-shadowing opportunities with local companies, encouraging them to reflect on practices in their home countries. In the next iteration of the course, I plan to collaborate with local stakeholders in the US to connect students’ international experiences with tasks related to a real project back home.

Another chance to immerse students in both tradition and innovation within the sector, involving them in a tangible project and providing them opportunities for community engagement, is the course on “Structural Health Assessment and Monitoring of Timber Structures“ that I offer to graduate students. During the class offered last spring, for instance, students actively participated in assessing timber trusses at the Arauco facility in Albany. They offered valuable feedback to the client regarding the structure’s conditions and they identified causes of damage. Additionally, the students had a chance to talk about their project during the historical preservation month.

I teach and co-developed WSE 540 Introduction to Wood Science and Engineering. This is the first hybrid introductory course of the new WSE Graduate Core.

Tell us about a recent/current research project you are working on
With the two wood innovation grants received with my colleague Lech Muszynski, our objective was to leverage underutilized wood species to create CLT panels for an untapped market segment: modular deployable units. These units can serve as temporary and transitional solutions, such as post-disaster scenarios, and are designed to be disassembled and reused in other contexts. This exploration aims to optimize resources during the production stage, extend the service life of applications that are typically short-lived, and reintegrate resources into the loop. It aims to support the resilience of the natural and built environments, promote sustainability in forest management, and foster economic development within communities. Since its initiation in 2017, this research stream has garnered significant attention from both academia and industry. As mass timber products represent just one facet of an integrated approach to create a more resilient and sustainable ecosystem, I am currently working on expanding and enhancing our portfolio of alternative wood-based products and construction systems. This involves exploring alternative ligno-cellulosic sources and a dedicated focus on context-sensitive approaches for material and construction method selection. For example, when addressing shelter and housing needs, I am working on developing partnerships with affected communities to develop culturally appropriate solutions that make the most of locally available resources.

What are today’s students most eager to learn?
Students are passionate about learning how to contribute to solutions for a more sustainable future. They thrive on engaging in projects that offer tangible results and address real-world issues.

What’s the one thing you wish people knew about the Wood Science degree program?
One aspect I’d like people to know about the Wood Science degree program is that it’s a rewarding environment for individuals passionate about sustainability, innovation, and global impact.

Learn more about the Wood Innovation for Sustainability Degree and the Wood Science graduate programs!

Weyerhaeuser and John Deere are partnering to supply the College of Forestry’s Mechanized Harvesting Laboratory with four new harvesting simulators that will engage students, teach machine operation skills, and provide experiential learning activities in forestry. The laboratory is directed by Kevin Lyons, the Wes Lematta Professor in Forest Engineering, and now has 22 harvesting machine simulators with nine available for our high school loan program. The new John Deere forest harvesting simulator systems will permit OSU to expand the high school loan program, which provides career and technology education in high schools.

The mission of the Mechanized Harvesting Laboratory is to increase the knowledge of modern mechanized harvesting systems. Students in forest engineering labs run simulations and explore how to reduce environmental impacts due to harvesting forest products. By bringing these simulators into high school classrooms, high school students can get a taste for how advanced forestry tools allow for efficient timber harvesting and support environmental stewardship.

The state-of-the-art John Deere forest harvesting simulator system includes a terrain editor where users can easily build terrains based on map data or their own imagination. The harvesting machine simulator is designed for training operators, and provides experiential learning opportunities for machine operation and management. Students are able to compare potential forest treatment options gaining a deeper understanding of the links between the environment, machine and treatment prescriptions.

Participating high schools are provided with a forest harvesting machine simulator to use in their classroom. Currently the Mechanized Harvesting Lab is partnering with Yoncola, Oak Ridge, Sweet Home, Tillamook, and Nia-Kah-Nie high schools. Schools value having the OSU College of Forestry provide simulator equipment, workshops at their schools run by OSU faculty and students, and access to the Peavy Forest Science Center and the Mechanized Harvesting Lab for class field trips. This gift from the Weyerhaeuser Giving Fund and John Deere will help expand the number of schools the lab is able to partner with.

Learn more about our forest engineering program.

Micah Schmidt recently got hired as a Regional Fire Specialist, based in the Union county Extension office. Micah graduated from the College of Forestry in March 2023 with a Master of Science in Sustainable Forest Management with a focus in Fire, Silviculture, and Forest Health.

Does one class, teacher or experience really stand out?
One class that really stands out for me was the Prescribed Fire Practicum taught by John Punches, Daniel Leavell, John Rizza, and Jacob Putney. The course had a two-week field session in La Grande and is one of the reasons that I moved here after I graduated. All of those professors were great to learn from, but I will single out John Punches as particularly important in my education. I now work in the same office as him. He is really a stand-out guy that I know will be an excellent resource during my career with Extension. I would also mention Dave Shaw, James Johnston, Andrew Merschel, Eric Forsman, and Jimmy Swingle as people who I learned a ton from during my time at OSU.

How did COF prepare you for your career?
COF definitely helped me build skills to be successful in my career, but I feel like my time working with Marty Main at his consulting forestry company Small Woodland Services, Inc. in southwest Oregon really prepared me the most. Marty was a great mentor to me and gave me an excellent education in forestry for several years before I went on to get my Master’s degree. That experience showed me how beneficial having an experienced mentor to work with day in and day out is for someone trying to break into a natural resources field. I’m hoping I can engage with young people hoping to get into this line of work so that I can potentially have that impact on others.

What are your main duties as a Regional Fire Specialist?
I’m still getting settled into my position and figuring that out myself. I think the most important part of my job is assessing the fire-related needs of the communities in the region I work in and figuring out how to best respond in an effective manner. I’m hoping to utilize my technical skills to assist local partners and stakeholders with their projects, communicate fire science to communities in my region in an accessible way, and help to build and maintain cross-boundary land management partnerships since we all can acknowledge that wildfire does not recognize property boundaries. I’m particularly looking forward to returning good fire on the land through prescribed burning. There’s a ton of interest in that in northeast Oregon, and I hope to help promote it as much as possible. But depending on the needs of the region, my job could look very different year-to-year.

What is your favorite tree?
Until I moved to northeast Oregon, my favorite tree was sugar pine. I still have a great admiration for that tree, but western larch is quickly looking to unseat it as my favorite since sugar pine doesn’t occur in my region. Honorable mentions would include Pacific yew and California black oak.

Anything else you would like to share?
I just feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to fill this position. I interacted with my predecessor, John Rizza, and admired the way he went about things in this role. I’m also lucky to work in the Union County Extension office which is full of great people. I have a lot of support from the northeast Oregon extension foresters and an awesome fire team to work with and learn from. I’ll also give a shout-out to my supervisor EJ Davis, who has been nothing short of fantastic in how she has welcomed me into this position.

Despite being one of the first landscape level conservation practices in the U.S., forestry is often unfairly characterized as an extractive, land degrading practice by some modern conservation special interest groups. However, forestry is a renewable industry and well managed forest lands have broad conservation value, argue Tom DeLuca and Jeff Hatten of the College of Forestry in a recent article published in the journal Anthropocene. The authors use forestry, which is conducted on regenerated forests and involves timber harvest, tree planting, and forest stand maintenance, as a case study for conservation.

Using a soils-based assessment of different land-use practices, they show that forestry incentivizing land management practices that cause minimal soil disturbance could help advance our nation’s ability to achieve large scale conservation objectives such as 30% of land area conservation by 2030.

Soil, not above-ground vegetation, represents the largest terrestrial body of stored carbon on Earth and a wellspring of biodiversity, and should be at the center of conservation efforts. Land use practices that maximize continual live vegetative cover, minimize bare soil, and maximize native species composition are more likely to protect soil and store a greater amount of carbon.

Adopting or incentivizing land use practices geared toward conservation will allow the United States to meet its goals, while simultaneously providing the population with wood and other forest products necessary for providing climate smart, affordable housing or shelter, and supporting critical ecosystem services including recreation and access to nature. Sustainably using managed forests in the U.S. for our resource needs, rather than relying on countries with lax environmental standards, can help with global conservation goals.

Read the full paper and learn more.

by Crystal Kelso, Education Program Assistant in Forestry and Natural Resources Extension

Did your woodlands sustain storm damage from this weeks ice storm? Wondering what to do next? This will depend on the conditions of your site (like wind exposure) as well as your management plan. Each stand is unique and each landowner has their own goals and objectives for their woodland property.

Your first actionable steps may look like the following:

Safety First! Wear proper PPE, and unless you are experienced with chainsaws, do not attempt to fell storm damaged trees yourself.

Assessment – Map the damaged area. Walk your property and note the extent of the damage on your maps or photos. Draw boundaries to help determine the size of the area impacted. Note species, size, type of damage, quality of trees, etc.

Trees with breakage:

  • Trees with less than 50% crown (branches and leaves) loss will most lively recover.
  • Trees with more than 75% crown top loss are likely to die and be a greater risk for both insects and diseases.
  • Trees with 50% to 75% crown loss should be maintained but may develop stain and decay loss to the wood and should be reevaluated every 4 to 6 years.
  • Trees with structural damage to the main trunk, including splits and fractures, should be removed.

Trees that are uprooted:

  • If uprooted completely they will be degraded quickly by insects, stain, and fungi.
  • Trees which are partially uprooted and their crowns are still green with leaves will last longer.

Tree with major wounding:

  • If these wounds are more than two inches deep and affect more than 25% of the circumference of the tree’s trunk, they are major sites for stain and decay and should be salvaged.
  • Smaller wounds do not represent major damage to trees.

Trees that are bent over:

  • These trees often have cracks or fractures in the trunk and major limbs.
  • If the cracks or fractures extend down more than 25% of the tree’s trunk, harvesting is recommended.
  • Trees less than 15 feet tall with small cracks will usually straighten and recover.

Salvage Potential – Tree value is determined by species, size, and quality.

  • If salvageable trees are still standing and have branches with green leaves, they will not degrade significantly in the next 6 to 12 months.
  • Trees which have blown over or are not standing should be salvaged before next spring.
  • Wood on the ground begins to degrade immediately; there are some differences in species as to how fast stain and decay enter the wood.

Woodland Management Plan – Revisit this, adjust and adapt as needed.

  • Don’t abandon good forestry practices when working with damaged woodlands.
  • Don’t remove too many trees.
  • Look for opportunities to improve wildlife habitat in woodlands.
  • Work with your forester to evaluate reproduction needs before harvesting.


Managing Storm Damaged Woodlands by Iowa State University Extension:

Treatment options for young forest stands damaged by fire or ice by OSU Extension:

As always, stay warm and safe!
Your OSU Extension Forestry & Natural Resources Team

Georgia Seyfried recently joined the College of Forestry as an Assistant Professor of Belowground Forest Ecology in the Department of Forest Engineering, Resources and Management.

She grew up with two super soil nerds so her path to soil biogeochemistry was not necessarily intentional (what could be more boring than DIRT, she jokes!). However, she always loved getting her hands dirty – with actual dirt and with arts and crafts. Naturally, this led Georgia to a crossroads in college – artist or scientist?? She says, “It’s funny how these decisions get made – I took a horrible ancient art history class and a slightly less horrible chemistry class my freshman year and turned towards science. I never really looked back and have since realized that art and science worlds are not so far apart!”

She did a general biology degree in college and gained a few cool experiences in research, but wasn’t necessarily sure she could see myself in that position – she was ready for adventure! Her mom’s family is scattered all over Australia, allowing her to bump around the country and find friendly faces (and free housing) along the way. She did all kinds of things: WOOF’ed, backpacked, worked as a secretary for an optometrist, found breathtaking beauty and genuinely hoped to encounter that ‘moment of clarity’ you see in the movies (oops, it never happened!). Eventually, she made her way back home to Idaho, found a job as a waitress and was suddenly very motivated to head back to school!

“I wanted to study somewhere ‘cool’ and I was halfway successful – I found myself at a university in central Illinois (very uncool), but had the wonderful opportunity to conduct my fieldwork in the mountains of Western Panama (very cool),” she says. During her time in graduate school, she studied the effects of mycorrhizal fungi on soil biogeochemical processes, beginning a fascination with “zooming in” to the micro scale. Eager to continue learning about soil chemical and biological processes in a different context, she headed to coastal South Carolina for a postdoc working with a landscape scale thinker. This was sweaty and buggy, but ultimately, she learned a lot about gas fluxes and significantly improved her beach volleyball game!

Georgia says she feels absolutely honored to be here at Oregon State University and is excited to continue her wandering scientific journey amongst so many amazing people! She is thrilled to live somewhere with hills again. In her spare time, she loves to rock climb, ski, wander around in the woods, and paint or craft. She is shamefully entertained by almost any reality TV show but will only admit to watching Survivor and the Great British Baking Show. She’s addicted to bubbly water and chocolate chips. Fun facts: her middle name is Storm (she says she is still trying to live up to it!) and she ties her shoelaces in a really cool way!

Mark Swanson has been hired as an Associate Professor of Family Forestry and Starker Chair in the Forest Engineering, Resources and Management department (FERM).

Tell us about your background – what drew you to your specialty area?
During my undergraduate years at the University of Washington (1995-1999), and in graduate school at the same institution (2000-2007), I got to meet and study with some amazing forest scientists, including Jerry Franklin. Jerry and a number of his colleagues gave me opportunities to work on long-term forest research with permanent sample plots, and that interest has stayed with me. In addition, I got to meet and learn from people in the private forestry world, with Steve Stinson and the rest of the Stinson family (of Toledo, Washington) being real mentors, particularly with respect to family landowner needs and approaches. Later, after I had moved to the Palouse to work as a professor of silviculture and ecology at Washington State University, I was mentored by Harold Osborne (professor emeritus, University of Idaho) on a range of topics, including small-scale logging and prescribed fire. I like to think I am part of the legacy of people like Jerry, Steve, and Harold in promoting multiple-value forestry on a range of ownerships.

Where did you grow up/go to school?
My parents both served in the U.S. Air Force, and until I was ten years old, we moved around to follow my father’s military postings. From age ten until I graduated from high school, we were in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I headed to the Santa Cruz Mountains at every opportunity to run around in the chaparral, oak woodlands, and forests. I then left as a college freshman for Seattle, where I studied at the College of Forest Resources (now the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences).

What courses do you teach / labs do you lead?
At Washington State University, I taught a range of courses at different times, including silviculture, forest plants and ecosystems, arid lands and ecosystems, landscape ecology, disturbance ecology, wildland fire ecology and management, practice in forestry consulting and stewardship, and more. This really helped me grow as a professional. I will have a much smaller teaching load at Oregon State, where I will teach a course in forest measurements during fall semester, and possibly the occasional seminar course. My extension appointment, I think, will ensure that my teaching on a range of topics remains current and (hopefully) engaging!

What brought you to the College of Forestry?
The offer to take up a well-respected position like the Starker Chair alone is a powerful motivation (and a great responsibility)! I appreciate families like the Starkers supporting the mission here. And there is a lot more that made the CoF attractive to me, like being closer to long-time colleagues (Meg Krawchuk, Jim Rivers, Matt Betts, to name a few). FERM, with Jeff Hatten at the helm, is a great unit. The leadership of people like Tom DeLuca, Cristina Eisenberg, Holly Ober, Katy Kavanagh, and the rest of the Dean’s Office also gives me great confidence in the course of the College. And just belonging to a world-renowned forestry institution, a real flagship for teaching and research, is a tremendous attraction.

What are your favorite hobbies?
I love rock climbing, trail running, chasing deer and elk around (they usually win), birding, reading (military history, nature writing, and much more), travel with my wife, and enjoying the diversity of beer, wine, and food from the Pacific Northwest. With some of my work involving botany, I also am a true “plant nerd”, and I really enjoy learning new plant taxa.

What are you reading or watching right now?
I am re-reading some of Aldo Leopold’s essays in a compendium called “The River of the Mother of God”, which I highly recommend to people in the natural resources. Also, I am reading Admiral Dan Barbey’s memoirs on the Seventh Amphibious Force in the Pacific “island-hopping” campaign of WW2. My great-uncle Allen Gibbs fought with the US Army in New Guinea during that war, and reading books like that bring me a little closer to his life. And finally, because I can never just focus on a few books, I’m working through Kirkman and Jack (2021), “Ecological Restoration and Management of Longleaf Pine Forests”, an excellent edited book with a lot of lessons for those of us out west who work in ponderosa pine.

Anything else you’d like to share?
I am really excited to serve Oregon State University, and the people of Oregon and the broader Northwest, as a teacher, researcher, extension professional, and member of the faculty here. I want to thank everyone for the warm welcome.

By Jeff Hatten, Department Head Forest Engineering, Resources, and Management

Soils support life by providing diverse ecosystem services, including water supply and quality, biodiversity and habitat for plants and animals, recreation opportunities, carbon sequestration, and the delivery of timber and non- timber products. However, disturbances (both direct and indirect) can lead to a degradation of soils that can persist for long periods of time. Soil health is a useful way of conceptualizing the state of soils. Forest soil health can be defined as a soil’s capacity to function within ecosystem and land-use boundaries to sustain plant and animal fitness, ecological biodiversity, primary productivity, and environmental quality. A precise definition of soil health is challenging because it depends on specific site conditions and the human values in that place and time.

Impacts to forest soil health can include actions such as alteration of soil physical properties (e.g., compaction and erosion) or chemical conditions (e.g., organic matter loss, acidification, nutrient loss). Additionally, we need to consider more diffuse impacts generated by human actions (e.g., changes to fire regimes, climate change, pollution, invasive species) that can stress forest soils in ways that alter or impair their ability to function.


Shifts in a forest’s fire regime can have major implications for the soils that support it. The term ‘fire regime’ refers to the typical frequency, intensity, duration, aerial extent, and seasonality of wildfire disturbance in a particular ecosystem. Fire regimes are changing with our climate across many parts of the globe, including Oregon. Some changes, so far, are subtle, while others have resulted in an increased occurrence of high severity “megafires”, with these fires more intensely impacting larger areas. Contributing factors include increased fuel loads due to long-term fire suppression, extended periods of drought, and global warming related increases in fire season. A shifting fire regime is probably the single greatest threat to our dry Oregon forests and soils.

Fire effects on soils depend on burn intensity, heat duration, and O horizon consumption. Noted fire effects include increased erosion potential, changes in post-fire soil temperature and water holding capacity following O horizon consumption, reduced soil carbon and nutrient pools, and increased soil pH. With time, available nitrogen can increase but be leached or immobilized by microbes, effectively reducing post-fire plant N supply.

Consumption of the above ground vegetation and O horizon by high severity fire exposes surface soils to rainfall impact, promoting runoff, surface erosion, and the potential for mass wasting. Furthermore, high severity fires can lead to lower infiltration rates due to the creation of hydrophobic, water-repellent, soil layers with surface sealing that can enhance surface runoff. On the other end of the spectrum are low severity fires which leave much of the soil cover intact.

Erosion and nutrient losses are negligible after low to moderate severity fires. Many of central and eastern Oregon’s forest ecosystems are adapted to frequent, low to moderate severity fire. Concurrently, the soils of these ecosystems have formed and are also adapted to these levels of disturbance. Changes to the fire regime because of fire suppression and human caused climate change means that we need to consider management treatments that increase the resilience of the forest to these perturbations and preserve soil health. Forest management activities (e.g., fuel and vegetation management, return of low intensity fire, and selective harvest) that reduce high-severity fire risk can maintain and enhance forest soil health. Without such fuel reduction activities forest soil health will be at risk to the effects of high severity wildfire, particularly in fire-prone regions around the world.


Mechanical techniques that reduce fuels can include harvesting, thinning, and mastication. Forest harvest activities create disturbances, but with different impacts on soil that depend on harvest frequency (e.g., rotation length) and the magnitude of the biomass removal. The impact to soil health depends to a large degree on the silvicultural system utilized, which can range from gentle, single-tree selection to intensive, clear-cut harvesting – the latter potentially causing considerable disturbance to surface soils (e.g., compaction, organic matter removal) and their associated functions (e.g., water infiltration rate, nutrient supply).

On the other hand, thinning and lower intensity harvesting techniques tend to have minimal impacts to forest soils, especially when soils are protected with slash mats. While leaving slash and an intact forest floor (O horizon) can protect the forest soils from compaction and carbon and nutrient loss – it can leave the site vulnerable to fire. Subsequently these materials can be masticated, piled and burned, or sometimes left and broadcast burned.

Prescribed burning is the process of intentionally setting fire to the forest to reduce fuels or otherwise elicit some desired response from the ecosystem.

These fires are typically set in the spring or fall when fuel moistures are high and burning conditions allow for management of the fire. These fires typically burn at low to moderate severity, with fall burns typically resulting in moderate severity fire due to low fuel moisture and spring burns typically resulting in low severity fire because of higher fuel moistures. Fall burns are more effective at reducing fuel loads than spring burns. Low severity prescribed fire typically has no detectable effect on soils (aside from consumption of the O-horizon), while moderate severity fires can result in higher soil pH and available nutrients but a slightly higher risk for erosion and leaching of nutrients.


Harvesting and site restoration efforts should focus on keeping soil in place with ground cover composed of recent harvest residues or a developed forest floor for stand renewal, development, and stability. Care should be taken to reduce compaction, maintain soil organic matter, nutrient capital, and soil moisture holding capacity to help prevent erosion losses of forest soils. Reintroducing fire into a fire suppressed landscape may result in fire severity that is too high to maintain soil health. However, a combination of thinning, pile burning, spring burns, and fall burns can be used to lower fuel accumulations and maintain soil health and increase the resilience of the forest to future disturbances.

This article was originally printed in the Oregon State University Extension Service newsletter, Life on the Dry Side.