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

Blodgett Research Forest

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.

“This project is so valuable for answering post-timber wars questions about forest development and how we can use different kinds of silvicultural treatments for functions other than managing plantations of trees,” said John Bailey, professor in the departments of forest engineering, resources and management and forest ecosystems and society.

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.

To the more than six dozen youths who comprise the Corvallis Composite Mountain Bike Team, the McDonald and Dunn research forests aren’t just a convenience but rather a lynchpin to the team’s existence and excellence.

“The research forest is a fantastic resource,” said the team’s director, Matt MacClary. “We also practice on Starker forest land and have a great relationship with them, but the research forest is totally critical to what we do.”

Seventy-five riders from Corvallis-area middle schools and high schools participate on the five-year-old team under the guidance of 39 coaches. The team is growing “as fast as we can train coaches,” said MacClary, noting membership numbers are governed, for safety reasons, by coach-to-rider ratios set by the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.

“Some of our coaches are parent volunteers and others are just mountain biking enthusiasts who donate their time,” MacClary said.

The Corvallis team is a founding member of the Oregon Interscholastic Cycling League, a collection of 19 teams that compete in a series of four or five racing events each summer and fall.

The races are a cross country format involving laps of about 3 miles; younger riders’ races are two laps, older riders’ are four. All of the riders in each race start at the same time.

“It’s a rapidly growing sport,” MacClary said. “If someone is riding with us in the summer and fall, more likely than not they’ll bring a friend back with them the next year.”

Central to the Corvallis team’s efforts are twice-weekly practices on the research forest, spread over four days to keep the numbers smaller.

“We’ll meet at a trailhead, get in some stretching and education and then get out on the trails,” MacClary said. “The kids learn about trail stewardship, sharing the trail, how to dismount and listen to instructions from horseback riders. And we make sure kids get the chance to work on the trails, building and maintaining trails.

“We’re always moving around so kids get to see different parts of the forest,” he added. ”Having the good riding opportunities available has shown up with good results – Corvallis won the state championship this year and last year as far as the overall team result.”

by Steve Lundeberg

Among the recreationists who regularly enjoy McDonald and Dunn research forests are members of a nationwide, grassroots organization of women dedicated to the preservation of America’s wild places.

Great Old Broads and Bros enjoy McDonald Forest, rain or shine.

“We lead hikes here every month, sometimes more. We’re grateful to have the forest accessible,” said Peg Herring of the Willamette Valley Broadband, a local chapter of the national Great Old Broads for Wilderness. “We appreciate that the College of Forestry offers the research forest as a place for community members to hike and recreate and find solitude in the natural world. And we appreciate that the stewardship plans for the forest are being shared with those who use and love the forest. We are keen to protect its ecological values, which are irreplaceable.”

Headquartered in Durango, Colorado, Great Old Broads for Wilderness was founded in 1989 by “older women who love wilderness,” according to its website, for the purpose of bringing “knowledge, leadership and humor to the wilderness preservation movement.”

Since its inception, Great Old Broads has spread throughout the United States in the form of Broadbands, member-run local or regional chapters that support the group’s mission of education, advocacy, outreach and collaborative stewardship. Willamette Valley is one of four Broadbands in Oregon.

Among Great Old Broads is a strong representation of retired professionals, academics and scientists, said Herring, herself an OSU professor emerita of science communication. The Willamette Valley Broadband was established about 15 years ago by another OSU professor emerita, Carol Savonen, and now there are more than 300 people on its newsletter mailing list.

“It gives us opportunities to organize for the purpose of educating ourselves about forest issues and research, and it offers a beautiful place to recreate together,” Herring said. “The accessibility of McDonald and Dunn forests is a real gift to the community. Our desire is to see the forest sustained not just as a timber plantation but as a demonstration of research and ecological management as part of its mission of education.

“The Willamette Valley Broadband is focused on the legacy that’s left to future generations, and we’d like that to be an intact forest where students can learn and visitors can experience how forest ecosystems function,” she added. “We want to do all we can to ensure the forest is managed with that in mind.”

by Steve Lundeberg

Opportunities for the public to enjoy the McDonald and Dunn research forests continue to be enhanced by volunteers of all ages who are always eager to welcome new members to their ranks.

Multiple types of projects are available to volunteers including trail construction and maintenance, invasive vegetation removal and even landscape work at Peavy Arboretum.

Ken Imamura volunteers weekly

Ken Imamura, a retired Hewlett-Packard process engineer, is one of College of Forestry’s core volunteers, each of whom volunteers on a weekly basis and collectively are responsible for most of the trail work on the research forests.

“I retired in October 2008 and started volunteering in the forest in November,” said the 76-year-old Imamura, who lives near Peavy Arboretum. “The work is meaningful – users of the forest really appreciate what we do. I see people I know from work or from town, and two-thirds of the people who pass us and know we’re volunteers thank us for what we contribute. That means more to me than any wage.”

Fifty years Imamura’s junior is volunteer Andrew Miller, a Corvallis High School graduate with a nearly lifelong relationship with the research forests.

“I first started going to the forest close to 20 years ago; I’m 26 now,” he said. “I’ve had a connection with McDonald forest most of my life – it means a lot to me for sure.”

Miller, a mountain biker, trail runner and running coach, was inspired to forest volunteerism by the local trail running community.

“Everybody in the community was so good to me, and I wanted to be a part of that,” he said. “I feel like it’s the right thing to do. Others have done it before me, which is why Mac forest is so cool, and now it’s my time to get out there and give back and hopefully get others involved.”

Andrew Miller enjoys running and volunteering in the forest

Whether it’s blowing leaves off trails, cleaning out ditches or pulling down overhanging limbs, the work of volunteers like Miller and Imamura involves “whatever needs to be done to make it safer for users of the forest,” Imamura said.

“The only time we’re not out there is when it’s hazardous to us, like if there is heavy snow on limbs, or high winds,” he added.

Miller stresses that volunteer opportunities are open to anyone who completes the college’s application process.

“You don’t have to be in the know, it’s not a select group of people,” he said. “Everybody wants to see more people getting out and giving back to the community.”

“We all like to contribute,” Imamura said. “We like to give back, and people definitely appreciate what we do. It touches your heart – that’s payment in itself.” For more information about volunteering in the forest, contact volunteer coordinator Matt McPharlin at 541-737-6730 or

OSU College of Forestry researcher is investigating whether log jams create lasting salmon habitat in the coast range

Graduate student Madelyn Maffia collects data along a coast range stream

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?”

Madelyn Maffia

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 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.  

A record-breaking 196 students attended the November 9, 2022 College of Forestry Career Fair held for the first time in the Peavy Forest Science Center. 

The fair hosted 32 employers who generously provided students with four hours of networking and industry connections. Students were able to meet with employers representing all College of Forestry majors and academic programs and many students signed up for and attended interviews the following day. Among the employers, it was great to see so many College of Forestry alumni back on campus to share what they are doing post-graduation with current students. 

A big thank you to the variety of employers who attended and spent part of their day with us, including Boise Cascade, AKS Engineering & Forestry LLC, Hampton Lumber, Roseburg Forest Products, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Miller Timber Services, Bartlett Tree Experts, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon Parks & Recreation Department, Starker Forests, Lone Rock Resources, Cascade Timber Consulting, Sierra Pacific Industries, Rayonier, Pacific Forest Management, Weyerhaeuser, and Northwest Management, Inc.

Another big thank you to Roseburg Forest Products for hosting a pre-career fair speed resume review session for students who wanted feedback and suggestions for improvement from an industry lens.

Members of student clubs at the College of Forestry were also on hand to support the fair, including the Forest Stewards Guild, Society of American Foresters, and the Forestry Club.

Interested in learning more about the career fair or connecting with the employers listed here? Please contact Britt Hoskins or Brooke Harrington. Alumni are always welcome to come to the College of Forestry Career Fair – whether you are representing a registered employer or if you want to attend and network for your own career. 

Destiny Pauls is a natural resources student focusing on conservation law enforcement who will be graduating in Spring 2023. She spent her summer in central Oregon as a wilderness ranger for the Deschutes National Forest, in partnership with AmeriCorps and Heart of Oregon Corps.

What was the focus of your summer job?
My position focused on stewarding in our wilderness areas within the forest, educating recreationists about the new Central Cascades Wilderness Permit system, checking for those permits, and instilling a few essential Leave No Trace principles for their journey. I was able to work in the Three Sisters Wilderness, the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, Mt. Washington Wilderness, and the Diamond Peak Wilderness.

Describe the day-to-day of your job
I often spent my days geared up in uniform hiking our trails and interacting with the public. Early in the season with the late snow, our crew assisted the Trails crew with a bit of trail maintenance and helped crosscut and lop out a lot of downed trees and vegetation, then focused primarily on getting daily counts of permitted recreationists in the wilderness, counting cars at trailheads, hiking in the backcountry, cleaning up campsites of litter, and trying to disperse the impact from humans. It was such a dream to work for an agency I respect, admire, and aimed at working in an area that holds such a special place in my heart (and ankle – I have the Three Sisters tattooed there!). I am from southern Idaho and have lived in the Willamette Valley for the past 10 years and have driven that highway, recreated in that forest, and climbed those peaks during that time, so to see it come full circle- dream to reality was pretty amazing and couldn’t have asked for a better place and way to do what I love.

How will this job help you in your future career?
My focus in the natural resources program is conservation law enforcement, with the goal of being what I like to call a “tree cop” or wildland law enforcement officer in a future career. This summer job provided many opportunities to shadow other forest service programs, in which I was fortunate to experience several ride alongs with our forest service law-enforcement officers. This gave me a real face to face glimpse of what that position entailed and that was one of the primarily goals of what I was looking to get out of this experience. Lastly I want to share how hard it was for me to leave this position as I wished it could have continued past a seasonal position (future permanent job here I come!) but I will fondly look back at the people I worked alongside, the places I explored, and the connections I made within the industry, my university, and in some of the most beautiful wild places Central Oregon has to offer.

OSU Research Forests student worker Devon Swank recently met with forest ecosystems and society Ph.D. student Rachel Zitomer to learn about some of her research on bumble bee nutritional ecology in the McDonald and Dunn Forests. Rachel is a Ph.D. student within Dr. Jim Rivers’ Forest Animal Ecology lab.

Rachel’s doctoral research examines native bee health in early successional conifer forests. Specifically, Rachel explores how characteristics of timber forest landscapes impact bumble bee health and reproduction across time. “Essentially, this research aims to provide forest managers with information about what flower species are most important for bees and what time of year the flowers are being used”, says Rachel. This information is beneficial when planning for vegetation control and restoration plantings, and can make forest management decisions more bumble bee friendly.

Why do we need pollinators?

Pollinators like bumble bees are responsible for fertilizing most of the world’s flowering plants and play a crucial role in our ecosystems. Pollinators influence our food and agricultural industry, too: wild insect pollinators are estimated to contribute about three billion dollars to the U.S. agriculture industry through pollination every year.

Unfortunately some species of bumble bee, such as the western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis), once a common species of bumble bee in Oregon, have experienced rapid population decline over the last few decades. These declines can be attributed to a variety of factors, including climate change, pathogens, and impacts from human uses. These varied factors may contribute to bumble bee nutritional stress and decline.

Bumble bee nutritional needs

When bumble bees forage, they collect pollen and nectar by traveling from flower to flower. Nectar provides carbohydrates which fuels movement in adults and provides essential energy. Pollen provides lipids and proteins which are vital to reproduction and the development of young bees.

Male Bombus flavifrons nectaring on bull thistle (photo by R. Zitomer)

Pollinators in conifer forests

Generally, bees prefer open habitats with warm ambient temperatures, nesting sites and flowering plants. Given these habitat requirements, research on bees in conifer forests is lacking. This gap in research may be attributed to the fact that conifer forests are typically assumed to be shaded environments with cooler temperatures and few flowering plants. This assumption is certainly accurate for closed-canopy forests. However, there is growing evidence suggesting that bees can be quite abundant in early seral conifer forests.

Early seral forests contain key characteristics that are beneficial for bees, including low canopy cover, warmer understory temperatures, and higher flower counts. Additionally, early seral forests may provide abundant nesting opportunities, but further research is needed in this area.

Ultimately, understanding seasonal changes in bee foraging preferences and nutritional intake in actively managed early seral settings will help land managers better identify what species are most beneficial to bumble bees after a harvest and across planting seasons.

Field sites and data collection

Rachel identified twenty early seral stands in the McDonald and Dunn Forests. These were sites that had been harvested within the last 10 years. At these locations, she measured three aspects of bumble bee foraging across the foraging season (May through August) in 2020 and 2021: 1) The floral preferences of foraging bumble bees; 2) The number of flower species visited by individual bumble bees and by all bumble bees collectively; and 3) The macronutrient ratios (e.g., protein to lipid concentration) of bumble bee-collected pollen.

“We are interested in examining bumble bee nutritional ecology across time because the diversity and density of floral resources changes substantially throughout the foraging season. These seasonal shifts could affect bumble bee foraging behavior and nutrient intake” says Rachel.

Map of pollinator research field sites in the McDonald and Dunn Forests. Map provided by R. Zitomer.

What’s next?

Rachel is now analyzing the results and we are eager to write a follow up article with some of the findings! This work is of high importance to the OSU Research Forests and to other forestland managers across the state hoping to conserve and promote habitat and resources for our native bees.

This article originally appeared in the OSU Research Forests newsletter. Thanks to the OSU Research Forests and Devon Swank, OSU Research Forest student communications and outreach assistant, for allowing us to reprint this article. Devon is a senior in the College of Forestry studying natural resource management. Get updates from the OSU Research Forests.