Claire Rogan is learning what sustainable harvesting means.

Claire Rogan
Claire Rogan

When Claire Rogan tells people she is a logger, she gets a range of reactions — anything from a sense of camaraderie from those who live the same lifestyle, to anger from people who think logging is utterly destructive. But for the Oregon State sophomore and University Honors College student, education has been the key to her understanding of the practice, its focus on sustainability, as well as the way to improvements.

“It’s like mountaintop coal removal in West Virginia,” she says. “People usually don’t say ’this is bad and we should do this instead.’ If you’re going to have a strong opinion about something, you need to go in scientifically and say ’this is why, and this is how.’”

Rogan is learning how to answer questions about logging and its impacts as a dual-degree major in forest and civil engineering. And as a member of the Student Logging Crew in the College of Forestry, Rogan gets hands-on experience working with a crew sustainably managing stands in the McDonald-Dunn Research Forest. “Pretty much any logging you see in Oregon is sustainably done. People are becoming more aware of working with, not just in, the environment,” says Rogan.

Working with the environment — for Rogan and others — means creating forest health, says Jeff Wimer, who heads the student crew. “We thin, taking out trees that are dead and dying and leaving a stand that will grow healthily,” he says. They also identify stands where growth has stalled and decide whether to harvest depending on the market and demand, the whole time keeping stream and water health in mind. “The majority of loggers love and enjoy the land where they work,” says Wimer. “They wouldn’t be there otherwise.”

The same is true of Rogan. Growing up in rural West Virginia, she always loved being in the woods. She learned the names of trees from her grandfather. She drove a tractor around her family’s small farm, and her parents instilled in her a deep regard for the natural world. She liked math, too, and science and engineering, which is why OSU was ideal. “The forest and civil engineering dual degree was perfect for me. It was exactly what I wanted to do,” she says.

As a member of the logging crew, Rogan learned to run all aspects of a logging operation, from planning to the actual harvest. She learned to set chokers (a chain or cable used to haul logs from the woods) and cut timber. She graduated from using what she calls “a teeny tiny saw” to a 32-inch bar. Rogan appreciated how she wasn’t treated differently on the crew because she is a woman — and still a minority in the field.

For Rogan, the College of Forestry became such a home away from home that she applied to become an ambassador for it. Rogan talks to alumni at events, and helps recruit prospective students. “It’s so much fun for me,” she says. “I love getting to tell students how awesome it is. It’s provided so many opportunities for me.”

Distinguished Professor Steven Strauss focuses on research and outreach.
Steven Strauss
Steven Strauss

When he encounters people who are against his type of research, forest science professor Steven Strauss sometimes shows a photo of himself as a young man. In the picture, taken when he was about 17, Strauss’ long hair is tied into a ponytail, and he looks, he says, “like a stereotypical young environmentalist.”

It’s the kind of image he breaks out when he wants to help establish a bond, to show young activists that he can relate to them and their concerns. The picture helps Strauss explain that his research has taken him down a long, still evolving path. After all, Strauss’ professional life is bound to be contentious. He uses the tools of biotechnology to, among other things, turn poplar trees into more efficient wood and energy sources.

But he wants to show people more than his picture. Strauss wants to show them evidence that he has collected for more than 20 years — that biotechnology can work for society, and that the acronym “GMO” (genetically modified organism) doesn’t mean “villain.”

“It makes my work exciting,” he says. “You run into ethical, ecological and business issues that impinge on whether people accept or reject biotech. But the science is fascinating, diverse, and it’s changing fast.”

The science is also complex, which, Strauss says, creates an equally important mission to translate it for the public. “It’s going to be used in the environment,” Strauss says, “It’s not surprising there are people who have a hard time accepting it.”

His accomplishments at the intersection between research, outreach and mentoring have earned Strauss the title of “distinguished professor,” the highest honor a faculty member can receive at OSU.

“His scholarship is broad, spanning the molecular to the ecological, and technical to policy levels,” wrote Tom Adams, department head of Forest Science, and Steven Hobbs, Executive Associate Dean of Forestry, in nominating Strauss. “Dr. Strauss’ laboratory has trained more than 150 high school and undergraduate students, 21 postdoctoral scientists, 39 technical/professional employees and 23 graduate students. Most of his graduate students have earned leading positions in academia or industry,” they added.

In some ways Strauss sees himself as another kind of plant breeder, albeit on a microscopic level.

“What I do is a gene-centric approach to breeding,” says Strauss. “People are constantly modifying the plants we depend on for food, fiber, and energy. Knowing something about the plants’ DNA helps us answer the questions, ‘Can we do things other breeders can’t do, or can we do some of what they already do better?’”

In his research, Strauss has looked at poplars from many sides. Sometimes he tries to create trees that are more resistant to drought, or more tolerant of shade or salty soils. Sometimes he looks for ways to make trees generate better feedstocks for ethanol production. But one of Strauss’ major research goals has been creating trees that don’t flower at all — to minimize ecological concerns of genetically modified trees. In short, he’s one of the world’s foremost genetic architects of the arboreal world.

According to Strauss, it is crucial to pay attention to biotech.

“When you look at the future and identify all the things that make you insecure, like climate change and sustaining energy sources for a growing population,” he says, “we’re on a creek, about to go over a waterfall without a paddle, and I see genetic engineering as a major tool that can help.”

Tree Biosafety and Genomics Research Cooperative

Outreach in Resource Biotechnology

Fred Kamke focuses on designing composite products that make more efficient use of timber resources.

Fred Kamke is designing effecient uses for timber
Fred Kamke is designing effecient uses for timber

Composite wood products have had a bad reputation over the years, being considered a low-cost means of using commercial waste or low-quality wood.

That image is changing, and Fred Kamke is helping make sure it continues to change.

“The old paradigm of growing trees for lumber or pulp is no longer the only option,” Kamke says. “Short-rotation woody crops, intensively grown on a relatively small land area, may be used to produce structural products with properties equal to or better than the highest-grade Douglas-fir lumber.”

Kamke, a leader in research on innovative new wood composite products and technology, is currently working on wood modifications that can be used in composites.

Oregon has about 20,000 acres of hybrid poplar that were planted for pulp uses. As a low-density wood the poplar isn’t useful for much else. “I want to be able to densify it to make useful products,” Kamke says. Using a home-made wood press, he is able to take a quarter-inch-thick piece of the poplar, apply steam, heat and pressure, and turn it into a hard wood about one-fourth as thick.

The process is called viscoelastic thermal compression (VTC) and the resulting wood has higher density, strength and stability than the original. Kamke believes it can be used as a composite with a piece of the original poplar sandwiched between two of the VTC pieces.

“I can see uses for it in building construction, and I think there could be applications for flooring materials because it has good hardness properties,” he says.

Hybrid poplar is a good choice because it grows fast, produces many trees in a small area, and is harvestable within five or 10 years.

Kamke has worked with composites his entire career, spending more than 20 years at Virginia Tech after receiving his doctorate from OSU in 1983.

He returned to OSU in 2005 to become the first holder of the JELD-WEN Chair in Wood-Based Science in OSU’s College of Forestry. Now he is in the process of helping make the university a world center in bio-based composite materials.

“I’ve always liked the idea of being able to get more out of the forest, of getting the products we need without relying on huge land masses for the resources,” he says.

Fred Kamke Web page

News release on Kamke’s OSU appointment

Oregon Wood Innovation Center

Description of VTC

Barbara Bond and other OSU researchers are taking a multidisciplinary approach to studying forest ecosystems.

Barbara Bond is looking at forest ecology in a new way
Barbara Bond is looking at forest ecology in a new way

Throughout her career, Barbara Bond has taken a multidisciplinary approach to studying forests. And her current research, which looks at forest ecology in a new way, is no different.

Participants include a forest scientist, oceanographer, atmospheric scientist, and soil scientist.

Using a sophisticated array of electronic sensors in the H.J. Andrews Forest near Eugene, the researchers are literally watching the forest breathe, the plants interact with and feed the soil microbes, and rivers of air pour up and down slopes-all in ways never before understood.

Doing this kind of research in a forest with mountainous terrain is unusual. Historically, says Bond, who is the first holder of the Ruth H. Spaniol Chair of Renewable Resources at OSU, flat terrain has been an easier, less costly environment in which to do experiments, and much of the science about forest processes is based on data from such areas. Most research also has been done by people from individual disciplines, looking at small pieces of the puzzle.

“What we need to do now is look at where we really grow most of our trees, which is in mountainous terrain,” Bond says. “And we need to bring together the ecosystem scientists, the atmospheric experts, the engineers and soil scientists, and try to put all the pieces back together to really understand how the whole system works.”

All of this will be made easier in coming years, thanks to a new $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation that will allow placement of a new generation of battery-free, interactive sensors over a much larger area to enhance the data stream coming from the forest into the OSU laboratories.

Barbara Bond web home page

OSU President’s Report feature (PDF format)

News release on Bond’s research project

News release on Bond’s appointment to Spaniol Chair

An OSU scientist’s trip to the coast inspired a new adhesive that may revolutionize the wood products industry.

Kaichang Li developed a wood glue based on mussels
Kaichang Li developed a wood glue based on mussels

One day a few years ago, Kaichang Li was at the Oregon Coast harvesting mussels. When the day was over, in addition to mussels, he returned to Corvallis with questions that led to development of an environmentally friendly wood glue.

Li, an associate professor in Wood Science and Engineering in the College of Forestry at OSU, noticed during his visit to the coast how mussels clung tenaciously to rocks despite being pounded almost continuously by ocean waves.

“I was amazed at the ability of these small mollusks to attach themselves so strongly to rocks,” Li says. “Thinking about it, I didn’t know of any other type of adhesive that could work this well in water and withstand so much force.”

The protein in the small threads the mussel uses to attach itself is an exceptional adhesive, but it’s not readily available. In trying to identify a protein that could be adapted for this purpose, Li had another inspiration–while eating tofu. Soy beans, from which tofu is made, “are a crop that’s abundantly produced in the U.S. and has a very high content of protein,” Li says.

But soy protein lacks the unique amino acid that provides adhesive properties. So his research group went to work and was able to add these amino acids to soy protein, making it work like a mussel-protein adhesive. They’ve also developed other strong and water-resistant adhesives from renewable natural materials using the mussel protein as a model.

Their discoveries have resulted in three pending patents and should lead to a wide range of new products. The research work also has resulted in 11 papers in journals such as Macromolecular Rapid Communications and Journal of Adhesion Science and Technology.

One of the new adhesives is cost-competitive with a commonly used urea-formaldehyde resin, researchers say, but it doesn’t use formaldehyde or other toxic chemicals. Formaldehyde, which has been used to make wood composites since the 1950s, has been shown to be a human carcinogen, and in some circumstances it may be a cause of “sick building syndrome” when used in building products.

In addition to the environmental advantage, the new adhesives have superior strength and water resistance. “The plywood we make with this adhesive can be boiled for several hours and the adhesive holds as strong as ever,” Li said. “Regular plywood bonded with urea-formaldehyde resins could never do that.”

Kaichang Li home page

OSU news release on development of new adhesive

Columbia Forest Products announces use of new adhesive in its products

OSU Department of Wood Science and Engineering

OSU College of Forestry website

David Rosowsky destroys buildings in order to make them better.

Rosowsky destroys building for research
Rosowsky destroys building for research

OSU professor David Rosowsky would like homes to be built so they not only protect lives during a hurricane or an earthquake but also avoid massive repair and reconstruction costs.

In order to accomplish that, he has used huge vacuums to suck the sheathing off roofs and fired 2x4s through walls with an air cannon made out of a beer keg. To see whether a structure could resist the impact of a tree falling on it, he and colleagues created an experiment smashing a massive steel pipe into a house.

Rosowsky, holder of the endowed Richardson Chair in Wood Engineering, and other structural engineers at Oregon State are bringing hurricane force winds and violent earthquakes right into the laboratory to help re-evaluate construction concepts that have been accepted for decades.

“Current U.S. building codes are minimum standards designed to protect life and safety,” Rosowsky says. But in a world full of expensive houses that lie in the path of hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes those minimal standards are inadequate to contain the enormous costs associated with structural damage, even if they may be effective at reducing loss of life.

Rosowsky’s goal is to make the Department of Wood Science and Engineering at Oregon State into the nation’s leading research program in structural reliability and performance-based design of wood structures. Along the way, he may have to smash and destroy a few more buildings. But he seems up to the task.

Research article

Large trees are a valuable habitat component for a variety of forest wildlife.

Wildlife ecologist Chris Maguire
Wildlife ecologist Chris Maguire

The Ecological Society of America recently determined that Oregon State University is the best in the nation in the field of forest ecology.

When it looked at faculty producing published new research on critical environmental issues, the society found that OSU is No. 1 in forest ecology and 11th in the broad fields of ecology, evolution, and behavior. That puts OSU on a par with Stanford and the University of Washington, and well ahead of most Ivy League schools.

The College of Forestry has world-class facilities and forest properties that enable OSU to deliver a first-rate educational experience, while conducting innovative basic and applied research. It helps, of course, that OSU is located near a wide array of forest ecosystems, from the coast to the mountains to the high desert.

In one aspect of research, Oregon State ecologists are investigating effects of managed forests on wildlife populations Wildlife ecologist Chris Maguire, an assistant professor in OSU’s Department of Forest Science, focuses her research on wildlife habitat relationships in forest environments, animal responses to environmental change, and the comparative importance of dead wood to terrestrial vertebrates across a variety of forest types.

“Oregon State is an incredible place to be for leading-edge environmental research,” Maguire says. “I consider myself fortunate to be involved in projects that have such immediate relevancy to how we manage forests in the Pacific Northwest.”