Connie Love, faculty research assistant in OSU’s College of Forestry, grew up in the Midwest working on her family’s farm. She never imaged that she’d end up in the tall timber of the Pacific Northwest, working in wood preservation. “In that area of Kansas, there were a lot of trees, but certainly not softwoods—and very few people were concerned with wood preservation,” she says. “Frankly, I don’t think many people even notice the effort that goes into maintaining utility poles. I really didn’t either, until I started working on them, myself.”
Love did not come directly to the field of wood preservation, however. She obtained her B.S. degree in Soil Science from the University of Wyoming, and then went on to earn an M.S. in Plant Pathology from Washington State University. “I first came to OSU in 1985 to work in Crop Science on their wheat breeding project,” she says. “They hired me before I’d finished my degree, so I actually completed it while I was here and working, which was difficult.”
Eventually, that position ended, and Love began working in the College of Forestry for Professor Jeff Morrell (Wood Science & Engineering) on the wood biodeterioration and preservation project. “This job was supposed to last six months, and here I am, working twelve years later,” she says with a grin.
Much of Love’s day-to-day work takes place in the field, her research directed by the Utility Pole Research Cooperative, which she describes as, “a consortium of utility companies, wood treaters, and chemical companies that supply remedial treatment for utility poles.” Her research involves conducting tests poles that are on existing utility lines, as well as on pole stubs that have been installed in the test plots at Peavy Arboretum.
This research is necessary because there is still much that can be done to improve the performance of poles that are currently in service. “We’ve learned to protect the bottom of the pole fairly well, but now we’re seeing that as the poles age, it’s the top that’s starting to fail,” Love says. “Even treated wood eventually fails. You can protect it for years and years, but decay will find the weakest point. It’s particularly troublesome that we’re noticing decay near the top of the poles because they get the least attention.”
Love’s work involves testing different methods for preventing decay and insect attack in wood. In all of her work, the primary goal is to reduce the need to replace the wood in a utility system. “The wood used in utility poles comes from the best trees that they can find. Poles have to be straight, strong, and free of defects, so they are really valuable once they’re treated and in place,” she notes. “It saves a lot of time and money to keep the poles in service—and if we don’t have to replace them, it also saves the wood resource for another use.”
Love’s favorite part of her work is being able to help people. “Researching wood treatment and preservation has a real effect on the way people live their lives,” she says. “It’s great to think that maybe my work has helped someone treat their deck or protect their boat, normal things like that. And I think what we do is fun!”
Bio of Connie Love written by Bryan Bernart, Editorial Assistant, Forestry Communications Group, College of Forestry