Dave Shaw, assistant professor of Forest Science at OSU’s College of Forestry, has a had a long and varied career doing everything from researching locally adapted species of ponderosa pine to investigating Swiss needle cast in Douglas-fir, and from assessing dwarf mistletoes in southern Washington to spearheading the Canopy Crane project in the Wind River Experimental Forest. His childhood experiences probably lent a great deal to his career choice. “I grew up in Southeast Asia, playing and doing things in the forest when I was around seven or eight years old, Shaw explains. “When my family moved back to the States, I spent 10 years in northern Ohio, becoming a naturalist in the Boy Scouts. I wasn’t particularly engaged in high school, but I did hang out in the woods a lot, and even backpacked part of the Appalachian Trail between my junior and senior years in high school.”
By the time he got to college, Shaw knew that he should take steps to carve a career out of his passion for the outdoors. “When I got to Northern Arizona University, I knew that I wanted to be a field biologist, and so I earned my B.S. in biology and applied plant science.”
A few years later, after working in landscaping and other related jobs, Shaw earned a master’s degree at Western Washington University, where he studied insect pollination ecology. “I really got into entomology then, and plant ecology,” he says. “After I finished my master’s, I went to work for the Forest Service seasonally doing vegetation classification work, which is when I started getting interested in forestry.”
During the mid 1980s, Shaw worked for three years in the Multnomah County Educational Service District teaching soil resources at Outdoor School for sixth-grade students. Following that, he returned to school in forest entomology at University of Idaho, but then ended up doing forest pathology at the University of Washington, where he got his PhD in 1991. “I am really into the whole forest management, silviculture, and forest protection amalgam, which deals with how forestry interacts with insects and diseases,” he explains.
His research involved the influence of forest management on root diseases in young-growth western hemlock plantations on the western Olympic Peninsula. “I got somewhat sidelined into working on the Wind River Canopy Crane right as I was graduating with my PhD.”
The Wind River Canopy Crane Research Facility (WRCCRF), established in 1995 at the Wind River Experimental Forest in southern Washington, provides a means for scientists to study the tops of trees, a region of the forest that was previously neglected in many studies of ecology. Initially the project was slated for the Olympic Peninsula, but after a 3-year effort, the project shifted to the Wind River Experimental Forest due to public opposition on the Peninsula. This experience really emphasized to Shaw that it is important to communicate with people regarding the role of basic and applied forestry research in solving forestry problems.
Shaw’s time at the Wind River Canopy Crane was spent working primarily on projects in research and education. “Our work dealt in broad whole forest ecology,” he says. “I spent a lot of time working on how the structure and composition of a forest canopy in particular relates to the biology of the stand. An application of that is studying forest pathology and entomology, and the role of insects and diseases in determining forest ecosystem function.”
For example, Shaw studied western hemlock dwarf mistletoe, which is particularly important to forest biology because it impacts tree health, tree and forest structure and composition, and wildlife habitat. “Dwarf mistletoes are particularly common in eastern and southwestern Oregon, where they also interact with fire,” says Shaw. “Dwarf mistletoes can cause major deformation of a tree crown by the development of profusely branching brooms. These brooms are very flammable because they accumulate debris, and persist in lower crowns. They allow fire to climb up into the branches of trees. If you look at data from the last 50 to 100 years, you will find that, due to fire suppression, dwarf mistletoes are far more abundant now than they ever were in many regions of the west. The massive fires that used to kill off all of the dwarf mistletoes don’t exist anymore.”
There is a flip side to the situation, however: “These mistletoes are really important in wildlife ecology,” Shaw notes. “For example, if you look at spotted owls that live in certain forest types in SW Oregon, you will find that they nest on platforms created by dwarf mistletoes. So, they’re using these huge brooms as important habitat features. On the east side, many more charismatic animals do the same thing, including goshawks and pine martens.”
This creates an interesting dilemma, says Shaw. “You have a pest which eventually kills trees, but increases wildlife values. There are a lot of positive aspects to having this species around, but if you’re a production forester, you don’t want mistletoe in your trees. This complex interaction is why I find the whole situation really fascinating.”
Shaw came to the College of Forestry at OSU in August of 2005 as an Extension Forest Health Specialist, where he heads up the Swiss Needle Cast Cooperative (SNCC). The cooperative investigates the Swiss needle cast foliage disease, which is caused by a fungus and affects Douglas-fir. Shaw enjoys the challenges and the complexity involved with research on forest health through SNCC. Since coming to OSU, he also has been involved with Extension and outreach to the public on the health of Oregon’s forests. “My uncles and grandfather were all farmers so Extension has always had a gold star in my book, Shaw says. “I love working directly with Extension agents and their clientele because everyone there is really committed to what they do. I’m so glad to be working for a group that’s really committed to helping people. It’s thrilling to be a part of that effort.”
Bio of Dave Shaw written by Bryan Bernart, Editorial Assistant, Forestry Communications Group, College of Forestry