The Forest Research Laboratory conducts research on innovative approaches for managing forest resources to enhance lives and improve the health of Oregon’s lands, businesses, and vital ecosystems.
Federal agencies, state government, collaborative groups and businesses have been attempting to increase the pace and scale of restoration in fire-adapted forests east of the Cascades in Oregon. But achieving landscape-scale outcomes has been challenging. Forest collaboratives have typically focused on identifying agreement at smaller scales, and agency planning and management across ownerships is growing but limited. Go Big or Go Home?, a project of the Institute for Working Landscapes in the Oregon Forest Research Laboratory and the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, explored the effects of different restoration strategies on forest conditions and fire behavior, with a focus on the forested landscape of central Oregon. The interdisciplinary research team modeled several landscape scenarios that used different restoration strategies. Scenarios were developed by members of the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Restoration Project and reflect the interests and values of a diverse group of stakeholders. Each strategy employed restoration treatments – including tree harvesting and thinning, prescribed fire and managed natural fire – at different magnitudes and in different places on the landscape. Strategies were distinct in how they prioritized wildfire protection, wildlife habitat, forest products, and restoring historical forest conditions. Simulating those different scenarios using a computer model of forest growth, forest management, and wildfire built for the central Oregon region, the researchers found that doubling or tripling the current rate of restoration and fuel treatments on U.S. Forest Service land would have a small effect on the amount of high-severity fire at the landscape level over a 50-year period. This is because the probability of a wildfire and a fuel treatment being in the same place on a landscape is low, a relatively small part of the landscape has effective fuel treatments at any point in time, and expansive areas of the landscape are not available for restoration treatment because of physical, ecological, or administrative reasons. Among the project’s other findings: By prioritizing treatment along roads instead of increasing treatment, fire size and severity would be reduced. The modeling showed that if all restoration treatments are stopped, the area burned and severity of fire across the landscape increase significantly. Restoration strategies that include fire – prescribed fire and/or managed natural ignitions – are more effective at reducing wildfire severity at stand and landscape levels than those that use mechanical means alone, such as forest thinning. There isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” solution. The effectiveness and need for restoration treatments varies with forest environment, topography, vegetation type, and spatial location. Ultimately, in fire-prone landscapes, many of the values we hold for our forest landscapes are adapted to – or are dependent – on fire. All management actions, including no action, result in tradeoffs between values that we have for forests. These tradeoffs may not only be between commodity values and ecological values but also between different ecological values. For example, dense versus open forests. Restoration has other benefits other than improving resilience to forest fire, including promoting resilience to drought, creating habitats for wildlife species, potentially enhancing recreational opportunities, and/or promoting increased water yield and quality.
Biochar, the charcoal-like material created by burning woody debris at high-temperatures in a low-oxygen environment, is recognized as offering a number of benefits for soil health, and is being proposed as a carbon-negative technology that has some promise in combating climate change. Biochar can be applied to the agricultural field several ways, including spreading and tilling, drilling, or mixing with other field inputs. In the dry forests of the southern Oregon, the production of biochar from forest treatments can convert low-value forest biomass to a product that has the potential to increase water holding capacity and crop yield in dryland agricultural soils. The production of forest-origin biochar also promotes forest restoration, fosters forest-related employment, increases agricultural competitiveness, and sequesters carbon. Current biochar production has drawbacks, however. Because of high production costs, the price is steep, but higher yields and economics of scale could eventually offset expenses. In a project funded by the Institute for Working Landscapes in the Oregon Forest Research Laboratory, an interdisciplinary research team that included Oregon State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and USDA Forest Service studied whether large-scale biochar production for agricultural use is feasible, scalable, economically viable, and environmentally beneficial. The team included faculty in all three departments in OSU’s College of Forestry. Using the Upper Klamath Basin in southern Oregon and northern California as the model, the researchers considered the total costs of producing biochar, including transportation and the hypothetical construction, capitalization and operation costs of biochar-producing facilities near the Oregon-California border. They also evaluated agricultural sector markets for biochar in the study region. The biomass assessment suggested more than 5 million tons of biochar feedstock could be generated via forest restoration treatments on federal lands in the study area over a 20-year period. Their analysis showed that high value crops, like potato and alfalfa, are the primary markets for biochar application in the study region, with organic potato production having the strongest potential for biochar. The research team concluded that biochar production can create an effective link between forest restoration operations and commercial agriculture in the Upper Klamath Basin. The ability of the commercial agriculture market in the region to absorb the plant's output, at a price that would be attractive to investors, is still under study.
Due to changes in land management practices, wildfire suppression in particular, western juniper acreage in the western United States has increased dramatically in the past 100 years. Thinning juniper stands helps restore rangelands and habitats for animals like the sage grouse, but until recently, there’s been limited practical application beyond fence posts and firewood for the use of this resilient and durable wood species that is common in eastern Oregon. Throughout the years, inquiries about western juniper continued, but there were no funds to establish the design values for juniper used by engineers until 2015, said Scott Leavengood, director of the Oregon Wood Innovation Center, a partnership of OSU’s College of Forestry and Extension Service. USDA Rural Development, the Oregon Department of Transportation and Business Oregon provided funding for juniper testing. Sustainable Northwest managed the project and graduate student Byrne Miyamoto stepped in to do the legwork for the project including small-scale bending, compression and shear tests. In 2018, Miyamoto concluded an exhaustive series of tests on western juniper lumber and opened the door to commercial wood markets. Wood for the tests came from three Oregon counties (Lake, Crook and Harney) as well as Modoc County in California and Owyhee County in southwest Idaho. The test results were accepted by the American Lumber Standards Committee, a nonprofit organization whose accreditation program forms the basis for the sale of most softwood lumber sold in North America. Acceptance means that, for the first time, western juniper will be listed in the National Design Specification for Wood Construction, the handbook used by engineers and buyers to select wood for applications from sign posts to houses. Increased use of western juniper could lead to new markets for the trees that are being cut to restore sagebrush and rangelands in the West.
Over the past century, forests of the Pacific Northwest have been dramatically altered by human activities, including logging, grazing, and fire suppression. Many of today’s forest stands, such as those in dry southern Oregon, are much denser than they were in historical times, with fewer old, fire-resistant trees. Consequently, they have built up fuel loads that can significantly contribute to the intensity and severity of wildfires. Land managers use various strategies to lower the risk of severe wildfire in these forests and restore them to conditions closer to those that existed in the past. Daniel Leavell, forestry and natural resources Extension for the OSU Extension Service, spearheaded a partnership between Extension and the Klamath Lake Forest Health Partnership (KLFHP), a network of local and regional partners that have joined together to restore and sustainably manage southern Oregon’s privately-owned forests. Leavell guided the KLFHP partners in forging agreements among 30 landowners, helping them obtain grant funding to begin restoration of 40,000 acres of forestland bordering on the Fremont-Winema National Forest, just north of Lakeview in Lake County. More than 4,000 acres have since been treated with various methods, including timber harvest, disposal of slash, pre-commercial thinning, aspen restoration, weed control, stream rehabilitation, and control of invasive juniper. Treatment activities are in progress on thousands of additional acres. The Fremont-Winema treated 20,000 acres across the boundary on public land in 2017. The project has led directly to the development of a prescribed burn program for south-central Oregon. The Chiloquin Community Forest and Fire Response Project was initiated in 2017 for another 90,000 acres (60,000 Fremont-Winema and 30,000 private land ownership) to the east and west of Chiloquin, just north of Klamath Falls in Klamath County. Mapping and inventory is almost complete and grant funding is being sought to replicate the success of the North Warners project. A map and inventory have been added and recommended prescriptions made for pre-hazard mitigation that will improve firefighter safety and make fire and emergency response much more efficient and effective.
About 62,000 small woodland owners hold title to more than 4 million acres, or 42 percent, of the state’s private forestland. But most family forestland owners are not professional foresters, and many need help if they are to reach their goals of timber production, recreation, habitat and aesthetics. To address those needs, the OSU Extension Service created the Master Woodland Manager program, which educates these owners on topics such as management planning, ecology and forest inventory methods. In return for instruction from professional foresters and topic experts, the trainees agree to volunteer the equivalent number of hours to share the knowledge they have gained with other small woodland owners. Since its inception in 1983, more than 500 volunteers have completed the program. Trained Master Woodland Managers act as arms of their local extension agents. “They are able to go out and make first contact with small woodland owners who have reached out to the Extension office looking for help,” said Tiffany Hopkins, a coordinator in the Forestry and Natural Resources Extension Program at Oregon State University. The MWM meets the landowner on their property with resources, insight, and as a peer who understands the issues this person is facing. They also help with local tours, trainings, educational booths, citizen science and more. “Oftentimes they become lifelong volunteers for OSU because they find the work they are doing so valuable,” Hopkins said.
From the end of World War II until 1989, timber harvests in Oregon generally ranged from 7 billion to 9 billion board feet annually. Since 1989, timber harvests on federal lands have dropped about 90 percent because of environmental litigation and a change in management emphasis. That reduction in supply combined with increased global competition has forced Oregon's forest products industry to rethink how it does business. To help, the OSU Extension Service and OSU's College of Forestry created the Oregon Wood Innovation Center (OWIC). Its mission is to connect manufacturers with researchers, provide technical support and facilitate networking within the industry. Its faculty include experts with Extension and OSU's Forest Research Laboratory. "Any time I have needed wood products-based information, testing or assistance, I always have called upon OWIC," said Scott Meyers, founder of Westcoast Hardwoods. "[OWIC staff] helped my company with a worksheet to convert nominal softwood sizes and costing to net sizes and costs, then converting all that data to the metric system so we can trade internationally. This will be, and is, one of the most valuable tools we have ever had next to the computer." The center also helped a southern Oregon firm that was having problems with the strength of the adhesives used in its laminated pine products. OWIC tested five adhesives and recommended the best one to the company. The company said the new adhesive has outperformed the prior one it was using and that it reduced its adhesive costs by 15 percent to 20 percent over the course of a year. It's work like this that helps keep Oregon's forest sector on the forefront in creating engineered wood products. That's important given that the sector directly employed more than 61,000 Oregonians in 2016, generated $12.7 billion in total income and contributed millions in tourism dollars. Oregon’s lumber output accounted for nearly 18 percent of total U.S. production, making the state the No. 1 producer of plywood and softwood lumber in the nation.
A serious epidemic of Swiss needle cast has hit the west slope of the Oregon Coast Range. This native fungal foliage disease can significantly reduce growth rates and the competitiveness of Douglas-fir, the most important timber species in the Pacific Northwest. In response, OSU created the Swiss Needle Cast Cooperative to research and manage this disease. Through traditional breeding, the cooperative is working to find Douglas-fir families that are tolerant to the disease. Additionally, the Forest Research Laboratory developed an integrated pest management strategy that is being implemented by landowners, businesses and forest managers to enhance timber productivity and forest health. Also, OSU Extension published a guide for forest managers explaining what Swiss needle cast is and how to identify it. Meanwhile, on the eastern slope of the Cascades, mountain pine beetle activity has dramatically increased over the past five years, affecting fire behavior across more than 500,000 acres of lodgepole pine stands. In the wake of this, OSU's Forest Research Laboratory is working on fire behavior modeling and fuels organization in the Deschutes and Fremont-Winema National Forests. In the past four years, OSU researchers have shared their findings with more than 3,100 foresters, forest managers, environmentalists, resource professionals and woodland owners through innovative field workshops, county extension programs and presentations.
The marbled murrelet — a small seabird native to the North Pacific — is considered a flagship species for healthy ecosystems because it is one of the only birds in the world that gets all of its food from the marine environment but nests well inland in forested areas, sometimes as far as 50 miles from the nearest ocean. Murrelets are listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in Oregon, Washington and California, yet little is known about the nesting habits of this curious, short-beaked seabird in Oregon. A better understanding of murrelet nesting habitat is critical for informing tough policy decisions on conservation and active management of coastal forests, according to Jim Rivers, a professor of animal ecology in Oregon State University’s College of Forestry who is leading a multi-year study of the seabird. Nesting away from the coast makes murrelets unique from their relatives like puffins or guillemots, species that often nest on rock outcroppings along the coast. It also makes them exceptionally challenging to study, and researchers go to great lengths to locate nests. “We start by capturing the bird at sea during the night when they can be netted from a small boat close to shore,” Rivers says. “We then attach tracking tags, release the birds and use fixed-wing aircraft and a small army of ground-based researchers to traverse coastal forests to find the tagged birds. If all goes well, we narrow the secretive bird’s location to an individual tree where we can closely monitor the nest.” To help find the cryptic nests, the OSU research team is also working with researchers from a private NGO, Oceans Unmanned, to fly unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with thermal infrared cameras in coastal forests to help locate active nests. After a successful pilot season in 2016, the research is ongoing and ever expanding. If the project goes well and enough data are collected, the research team will be able to make recommendations to land managers about how murrelet habitat should be managed to sustain murrelet populations. The research was made possible by an increase in funding for research in the College of Forestry provided by the state Legislature in 2015 with broad support from the timber industry and conservation groups.
Port Orford cedar is native to a limited area along the Pacific Coast from Coos Bay to the mouth of the Mad River near Arcata, California. For a variety of reasons, including its ability to tolerate serpentine soils and live along streams and other wet areas, the tree plays a significant ecological role in certain forest communities. For decades, root rot caused by the non-native pathogen Phytophthora lateralis has caused widespread mortality of the tree throughout its natural distribution in southern Oregon. Breeding programs have produced genetic resistance to the pathogen, but restoration planting has focused primarily on public lands. In order to build genetic resistance in the ecosystem, there needed to be a wider distribution of genetically resistant seedlings across the landscape. Since 2016, Norma Kline, forestry and natural resources agent for the OSU Extension Service, has provided information and disease-resistant seedlings to small woodland owners in Curry County. In 2017, she distributed 6,600 genetically resistant Port Orford cedar seedlings to 26 locations in Curry County on Oregon’s south coast. The majority of the seedling recipients shared their seedlings with neighbors and friends – creating a multiplier effect. Others pooled seedlings for planting in one general location. The distribution of disease-resistant Port Orford cedar seedlings highlighted cooperation and sharing behaviors that can be used to incentivize future seedling distribution across the landscape.
Wildfires are a natural disturbance in most forest ecosystems across the West, but they have become more widespread and severe in recent decades. Experts point to a legacy of fire suppression and other human activities, coupled with a trend toward a hotter, drier climate. Homes located in the zone called the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI), as it’s called, are highly vulnerable to wildfire. A 2013 survey of 13 western states revealed that, of the several million private properties located in a WUI zone, about 740,000 homes—worth about $136 billion—are at high or very high risk of damage or destruction. More than 9,000 of these high-risk properties are located in Oregon. OSU Forestry and Natural Resources Extension professionals developed a Citizen Fire Academy to teach homeowners and community volunteers how to protect WUI properties from the ravages of wildfire. The comprehensive, peer-reviewed curriculum covers fire science, home protection strategies, living in a fire-active environment, fuels reduction strategies, and effective community outreach. The course may be delivered in a standard classroom/field format, or in a hybrid format with some lessons delivered online. Citizen Fire Academy also runs one-day workshops based off of the curriculum. About 60 volunteers in central, southwestern, and northwestern Oregon communities have completed full CFA trainings to date. In addition, 1- and 2-day workshops on home protection strategies and fire-wise techniques were pilot-tested in 2017 and 2018, reaching 235 landowners in total. Participants from all five full trainings rated the CFA as very good or excellent overall. As a result of the training, more than 60 homeowners completed wildfire protection plans for their properties. The plans included measures to make homes and properties more fire-resistant and strategies to evacuate safely if a fire strikes. CFA-trained participants also pitched into community activities, including spearheading the creation of Firewise communities, hosting field tours, conducting outreach, educating high school students on wildfire, doing informal home inspections and serving as Peer Mentors through the My Southern Oregon Woodlands program. Several participants offered favorable feedback. An owner of a business that builds homes in the WUI commented: “I found CFA was outstanding, relevant personally and professionally.” Another participant said: “I feel like I have a more credible voice in the community."