Feature: Trip to theTreetops: A Student's-Eye View of the Canopy Crane
—by Emily Thomas
Wind River Canopy Crane, WA
The Wind River Canopy Crane is one of eight canopy cranes in the world and it is the largest, at 250 feet, weighing 190 tons. We clip our harnesses to the sides of the bright yellow gondola and then the crane lifts us surprisingly quickly, 100 feet per minute, Shaw tells me later. Within moments the entire research area beneath the crane comes into view.
From the air, I recognize a place I visited earlier on foot with Kate George, from Banbury, England, who was doing research for Barbara Bond, Professor in Forest Science. The whole crane site is covered with rickety miniature boardwalks, like something out of Return of the Jedi. During that tour, I half expected a friendly Ewok to pop out from behind an ancient hemlock. With big squares of foil insulation attached to the boles of dozens of trees, the old-growth stand seemed hardly less extraterrestrial. The foil devices, however, protected sap flow sensors used to determine how much water was flowing through the trees. The project, Dr. George explained, aims to study water use in trees of different ages and species.
She also showed us a 2-meter-deep soil pit where she is measuring soil moisture at different depths, and we saw other devices for projects where researchers are studying roots, soil temperature, log decay, and CO2, to name a few. As we make our way back along the boardwalks, I see equipment from other OSU research projects, among them, a Swiss Needle Cast study being conducted by Julia Kerrigan (Research Associate, Botany and Plant Pathology) and a soils study conducted by Richard Dick (Professor of Crop and Soil Science).
To visit one of Bond and George's other sites, we drove down the road to a 26-year-old stand of primarily Douglas-fir. There is no electricity at this site, so they power the machinery that collects their data with electricity generated by solar panels.
Our conversation was punctuated by humming and clicking sounds from the data loggers, which was a good sound, Dr. George said, because it meant everything was working.
The research area was nearly identical to the old-growth site, including another big pit for moisture measurements and sap flow sensors covered with foil on the tree boles. But instead of the crane, there was a scaffolding structure they could climb to access the top of the trees. Seeing it, I began to wonder why the crane was important. Now, as the ground drops away below me, I am about to find out.
In just over two minutes, we are completely above the canopy, taking in the spectacular panorama of treetops. As we are buffeted by the wind, it makes me a little nervous that the only thing keeping us near the tree where Woodruff and Burnett are taking measurements is Shaw's hand holding a branch. The researchers clip little twigs from the ends of the branches, then Abby lets me lean over her shoulder with a magnifying glass to watch a twig, which she has inserted into an apparatus. I wait a few moments until I see a tiny explosion of water bubbles emerge from the cut end, which is strangely thrilling. The pressure they apply to force the water out tells the scientists the water tension inside the twig.
They sample twigs at three different heights on five trees, and compare the tension at the different heights. This information is needed for a project directed by Bond and Dr. Rick Meinzer, a scientist with the U.S. Forest Service. It will help them learn more about how trees transport water internally, and may eventually provide clues to explain why trees stop growing at some point, even though they live so long. Looking out over the canopy, I realize that I never thought to wonder why trees stopped getting taller.
"This kind of research was not possible before the crane," Woodruff says. With the crane, scientists have access to 250 vertical feet of forests, 240 feet more than was previously available for study. Looking all the way down to the forest floor, those bottom 10 feet do look pretty small. We finish sampling all five trees in less than an hour. As we begin our descent, I think for a moment of my mom, Jane Thomas, who used to climb trees with ropes in Africa for research — for her, just getting to the top of one tree was an all-day operation — then we are back on the ground.
My last stop is an interview with Mark Harmon, Professor and Richardson Chair of Forest Science, whose research has to do with carbon stored in and released from different forests. Harmon mostly looks at differences between old and young stands, which, "translates into applications pretty fast and allows policy makers to see if their policies make any sense." He has found that old forests actually store a great deal of carbon, which may be contrary to earlier ideas about the capacity of old versus young stands to utilize CO2 from the atmosphere and store carbon. Harmon adds, "By using the crane we have access to different parts of the canopy. That access removes the uncertainty involved in hypothesizing about those areas." The crane itself "really has revitalized research at Wind River," he says. "We're visual animals; we like to see things. To see what the canopy is really like adds back a sense of wonderment. It's very different than you imagine, and every scientist who's been there has had that realization."
His words echo those of Kate George. "It's a great place to work," she told me, "because there are so many researchers …it's nice to have other researchers because then you can sort of tie things together." I ask Harmon about that and he agrees. Everyone shares data: Dick's soil studies, Bond and George's sap flow sensors, Kerrigan's Swiss Needle Cast studies, and Woodruff, Meinzen, and Bond's work with water use all complement each other. Perhaps then, even with its breathtaking view, the crane itself is not what makes the facility an amazing place after all. Instead, it's the symbiosis of dozens of research teams who work on different projects and share information to produce probably some of the most comprehensive research in the world.
USAID Project Supports South African Development
An international partnership was formed in 1998 among OSU and two universities in the Eastern Cape of South Africa: the University of Fort Hare (UFH) and Fort Cox College of Agriculture and Forestry (FCC).The University of Natal at Pietermaritzburg (UN-P) may soon be added.
Funded by USAID Association Liaison Office (ALO) for University Cooperation and the USAID Education for Development Democracy Initiative (EDDI), the program is intended to strengthen agroforestry and community forestry education at the South African institutions, encourage collaborative research and education, and support the exchange of students, faculty, and curricula among the partners.This is being accomplished through developing curriculum and constructing research and demonstration plots for the South African institutions, and working with the South African communities to transfer technology.
"It's a two-way advantage," says Badege Bishaw, Research Associate in Forest Science and USAID project coordinator."We're helping South Africa improve their education and outreach, and in the meantime,we are also gaining knowledge."
The late Bart Thielges pioneered the project. Bishaw now oversees program activities here at OSU and in South Africa, coordinating the efforts of several faculty members on two continents. He also developed the agroforestry curriculum for the South African universities. Robin Rose, Associate Professor in Forest Science, oversaw the construction of a plant propagation greenhouse at FCC. Also, Rose and Bishaw held several meetings with community leaders in South African villages last May, identifying six villages in which to demonstrate tree planting, rural development, and entrepreneurial skills.
John Sessions, Professor in Forest Engineering, has been involved in resource assessment, agroforestry modeling, and small-scale farm modeling for the South African universities. Jeff Hino and Mark Reed of the Forestry Media Center are involved in technology transfer. Marion McNamara, from OSU's International Research and Development office, is working closely with the South African communities to identify problems and potentials of the land. Philip Humphrey, Courtesy OSU Professor, and McNamara recently held village meetings to assess housing and employment needs in rural communities. Strategies for the village-based manufacture of housing components are now being developed.
Tree Improvement Research Co-op Turns 20
A birthday cake and gifts of travel mugs helped members of the Pacific Northwest Tree Improvement Research Cooperative (PNWTIRC) celebrate a successful 20 years at their regular annual meeting on July 10, 2003. Founding director Tom Adams (now Department Head of Forest Science) presented an overview of the organization's history and successes to date.The current Director is Glenn Howe, Assistant Professor in the Forest Science Department.
The Cooperative conducts genetics and breeding research on Pacific Northwest conifer species in order to enhance the efficiency of tree improvement efforts.The organization complements and supplements genetics research of other organizations in the region. It also fosters communication among tree improvement workers throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Eighteen members contribute an annual membership fee plus in-kind support, and five non-paying liaison members provide a link to other tree improvement organizations in the region. Membership consists of representatives of the forest products industry and governmental agencies in Oregon,western Washington, coastal British Columbia, and northern California.
During the past 20 years, the PNWTIRC published 75 research papers and reports on the genetics of cold hardiness, drought hardiness, stem form, and early selection for improved tree growth. Current research is focused on seed orchard management, molecular genetic markers for Douglas-fir, integrating genetic improvement into growth models, and the genetics of wood quality. Much of this research was conducted by graduate students; the PNWTIRC has supported 10 OSU graduate students during the past two decades.The PNWTIRC also promotes continuing education in forest genetics. Recent and upcoming workshops include "Genetic Improvement of Wood Quality in Coastal Douglas-fir and Western Hemlock," "Genomics of Douglas-fir: Implications for Applied Tree Improvement and Gene Conservation," and "Genetics and Growth Modeling." "We look forward to another 20 years of forest genetics research in the Pacific Northwest," says Marilyn Cherry, the newly appointed Assistant Director of the cooperative. More information on the PNWTIRC can be found at their web site (http://www.fsl.orst.edu/pnwtirc/).
Successful Forest Science Graduate Students — Congratulations!
Keith Slauson, MS "Habitat selection by American martens (Martes Americana) in Coastal Northwestern California"
Steve Van Tuyl, MS "Carbon storage and fluxes in forest biomass of western Oregon — Successional patterns and environmental controls"
Kristen L. Whitbeck, MS "Systematics of Pacific Northwestern Species of the Genus Gymnomyces Inferred From Nuclear Ribosomal DNA Internal Transcribed Spacer Sequences"
Forestry Communications Group, Peavy Hall 256