We hope you enjoy our Eastern Oregon Agriculture Research Center (EOARC) newsletter. With the assistance of Shellie Tiller in our front office, we are planning on publishing newsletters quarterly with the objective of updating stakeholders and the interested public about recent events, programs, hires, and activities occurring at EOARC.
The last year, though very challenging, saw some positive momentum for Oregon State University (OSU) at EOARC. We have added 2 faculty (Juliana Ranches - Beef Extension Specialist started January of 2020; Katie Wollstein – Regional Wildland Fire Specialist for SE Oregon started in November of 2020), worked with stakeholders, and state and federal partners to obtain funding in support of Precision Livestock Management, we are assisting the College of Agricultural Sciences in developing a Statewide Cattle Plan that will address current and future challenges faced by Oregon’s Beef and Dairy industries, and we are working to add an Assistant Director and a technician/range rider at our Union station.
COVID has resulted in some logistical complications; however, our faculty and staff have continued to support our industries by conducting essential research and outreach. As a result, we have all become entirely too familiar with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and GoToMeeting! One positive aspect of the pandemic is we have expanded our ability to conduct virtual meetings, webinars, and podcasts. This has allowed us to maintain contact with our traditional collaborators and stakeholders while increasing our interaction and impact with people and organizations that normally would not be able to participate in on-site programming and meetings. The resilience and commitment of EOARC’s faculty and staff to remain productive and generate science and outreach for Oregon, the region, and the World has been impressive. I thought of EOARC as a family when I started here back in 1998 – that feeling has only been reinforced over the last year as we have all pulled together to support each other, EOARC, and our stakeholders.
Director, Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center (Burns and Union Stations)
Oregon State University
Greetings from EOARC. A big thank you to Shellie for taking the reins on putting the newsletter together. 2020 has definitely been a year of challenges, but of opportunities and recognition as well.
Last year’s field season was quite a challenge for all at EOARC. Travel restrictions, quarantines, and lab limitations forced everyone to really think outside the box to get essential data collected in a manner that kept employees safe. The EOARC staff, from administrative personnel to technicians, scientist, and seasonal employees more than stepped up and we were able to have a productive field season despite the difficult circumstances presented by COVID.
And our research is pressing forward. This past year Stella Copeland led a group effort to summarize over 70 years of grazing data at the Northern Great Basin Experimental Range. We are now partnering with 6 other locations in the western US to use long-term grazing data to summarize the role of grazing vs. other factors like weather and climate in shaping rangeland vegetation. Our newest hire, Rory O’Connor (detailed below) is kicking off a very timely and well thought-out research agenda for informing carbon mitigation efforts on rangelands. Our seed amendment technology efforts are resulting in larger scale field testing, and some initial discussions with Industry regarding collaborative product development. We (OSU and ARS) initiated research this past year evaluating the use of virtual fencing technology to manage cattle distribution on rangelands. This work falls within a broader effort (six states and counting) that we are participating in to bring precision ag technologies to our customers. Lastly, our collaborative research with the University of Montana is producing some predictive models of rangeland fire occurrence that we think will strongly impact the ability of managers to characterize and mitigate fire risk, before the fire season ever starts.
On the recognition front, Tony Svejcar was awarded the Chapline Research Award from the Society for Range Management (SRM) at their annual meeting in February. Tony has retired but this award is reflective of his outstanding leadership of Burns ARS for nearly three decades. The Chapline award is the highest research award given to a rangeland scientist by SRM. Given that SRM is the preeminent international range professional organization on the planet, that’s quite an honor. Congratulations to Tony for this well-deserved recognition!
I want to end with a thank you to our customers. COVID restrictions have really undermined our ability to implement most of our normal outreach programs and have forced cancelations of advisory meetings, other customer meetings, range camps, and almost all student outreach activities. As David also eludes to, we have done the best we can with what we have to work with in the virtual environment. That said, we are all looking forward to a time in the near future when we can sit down with customers, listen to your needs, tell you about our research, and shake hands at the end of the meeting. Thank you for your patience and support.
Research Leader, Burns ARS
The EOARC Branch Experiment Stations include two separate and fully functional rangeland livestock research stations. The Union Station is Oregon State University’s first branch research station (established in 1901). The station’s primary mission is to conduct research unique to beef production in the intermountain west. The Union Station contains the oldest “university owned” agroforestry research sites and is uniquely suited to address long-term sustainability questions relative to domestic livestock grazing and subsequent impacts on wildlife and vegetation diversity on forested rangelands. In recent years, threatened and endangered species (including Chinook salmon, bull trout and steelhead) and a rapid increase in predators (including mountain lion, bear and wolves) has created a significant research need to address the issues these changes create for agriculture in the region.
The Burns Station is similar to the Union Station in terms of facilities and resources, but, is located in an entirely different ecosystem. “Sagebrush steppe” or Great Basin region extends from southeastern Oregon to southern Wyoming and extends south through most of Nevada and Utah. This region is often referred to as the “cold desert” and is dominated by high elevation rangelands (greater than 3,000 feet) and annual precipitation that is highly variable and often less than 8 inches per year. As a result, this region is challenged by limited and variable forage resources. This region also has substantial issues with invasive species that include natives such as Juniper and Sagebrush, as well as, non-natives such as cheatgrass, medusahead, knapweeds and perennial pepperweed.
Both research stations have a long history of providing research that is specific to their region but recognized on a national and international basis. These locations have demonstrated proactive research programs in multi-disciplinary, multi-agency research for the past 3 decades. In addition, the branch stations have a long history of conducting research that addressed the interface of domestic livestock grazing and biodiversity long before these became known as a challenging issue for public and private rangeland management throughout the western United States. Both stations have long-term cooperative relationships with the United States Department of Agriculture. The Burns Station has a strong partnership with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS) with USDA ARS research scientists stationed on-site that are conducting rangeland ecology research in the Great Basin. OSU faculties at the Burns Station provide the beef cattle research component to the rangeland ecology research. The Union Station, in turn, has a strong partnership with the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station in La Grande. This is particularly evident in the collaboration that has developed with the Starkey Project. That partnership with federal wildlife and forest ecologists has allowed Station faculty to craft a unique team that addresses difficult questions plaguing the long-term management of forested rangelands and the agriculture communities located in the mountain valleys throughout the western US.
Properties that are used in the operation of the EOARC-Burns:
Section 5. Section 5 is located 7 miles outside of Burns, is 640 acres and home to our headquarters. It includes cattle working facilities, hay barns, shop, storage sheds, feedlot, metabolism barn, feed mixing shed, laboratory, dry lab, and other assorted buildings and shops. In addition, there are 60 acres of irrigated alfalfa and approximately 575 acres of native flood meadows.
Northern Great Basin Experimental Range (NGBER). NGBER is 16,000 acres of sagebrush-bunchgrass pasture located near Riley, OR. This property has cattle working facilities, dry lab, shop, and assorted out buildings.
Properties that are used in the operation of the EOARC-Union:
EOARC-Union Station. This is the headquarters. It also includes cattle handling/processing facilities, calving barns, confined cattle feeding pens (feedlot), grain and forage commodity storage, shop, both a dry and wet laboratory facility, and assorted buildings. The station includes approximately 250 acres of irrigated, tillable ground and 400 acres of pasture.
The Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station is the research arm of Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences. It has more than 400 scientists in 28 academic units in four OSU colleges --- Agricultural Sciences, Public Health and Human Sciences, Science, and Veterinary Medicine. They work on projects related to food and fiber production, processing and marketing, wise use of natural resources, human nutrition, commercial fishing and other topics important to the economic and environmental well-being of Oregonians.
EOARC research focuses on beef cattle production and management. Cattle have been raised in Oregon since John Quincy Adams was elected president in 1824. Cattle and calves ranked as the state’s third-leading agricultural commodity in 2019, with a value estimated at $625 million. The scientists at EOARC are working to develop agricultural and natural resource strategies to maintain or enhance intermountain forest and shrub steppe ecosystems for the benefit of present and future generations. Another important role of the stations is maintaining outreach programs throughout the Northwest. This role allows the scientists to spread the news about their research and to generate interest in new management practices. Additionally, active partnerships are maintained which increase the diversity and impact of station research.
Katie Wollstein joined us at the EOARC in November. She is the new Rangeland Fire Regional Specialist with OSU Extension and serves Harney and Malheur Counties. Prior to her move to Oregon, Katie was working on her Ph.D. at the University of Idaho where she collaborated with ranchers and the BLM to understand barriers and opportunities for flexibility in grazing permitting to better respond to variability in precipitation or unexpected events like wildfire. Katie also holds a B.S. from Washington State University and a M.S. from OSU. Over the last several years, her work with landowners and agencies has focused on social and policy aspects of fire preparedness and response in rangeland settings with multiple landownerships and resource uses. She especially enjoys helping ranchers, agencies, and other stakeholders find ways to leverage their experiences and knowledge to respond to emergent rangeland challenges.
In February, Katie talked with Ron Whiting (Lone Pine RFPA president), Zola Ryan (NRCS District Conservationist), and Toby White (BLM fuels planner) about the planning, partnerships, funding, and vision needed to create Fire Prevention Plans in LPRFPA. If you missed the live webinar, you can watch the recording here and also get some tips on fire prevention in agricultural systems from Sherman and Wasco Counties Extension agent, Jacob Powell.
Here are a couple things Katie will be working on in the next few months:
Katie will be helping the Harney County Wildfire Collaborative inventory values at risk of fire in the Stinkingwaters and integrate this information into tools to be used in pre-fire planning like strategic fuels treatments, fire response (e.g., identifying suppression priorities or areas that can benefit from fire), and post-fire recovery and prioritizing restoration investments.
In summer, Katie will be teaming up with OSU’s Rangeland Outreach Specialist, Dustin Johnson, to take a look at how people perceive fire risk and the potential outcomes of fire. These differences can create disagreement surrounding mitigation activities like treating fuels. Katie and Dustin will pair data from Harney and Malheur Counties on fuels conditions and ignition probabilities with stakeholders’ visual assessments of fire risk at those same sites. This work will give them ideas on how to begin to get different stakeholders on the same page about mitigating fire risk.
This spring and fall, Katie and the statewide Extension Fire Program will be producing fire prevention and preparedness programming via webinars and programming tailored to regional locales. Topics will include home and community preparedness, fire ecology, evacuation planning, and assistance and resources available following fire. Wildfire Wednesdays take place from 12:00-1:00 pm PST on alternating Wednesdays. More info and registration: Wildfire Wednesdays
Katie is eager to hear from folks in Harney and Malheur Counties! How can OSU Extension help rangeland communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from rangeland wildfires? You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rory O’Connor joined the EOARC last March as a Rangeland Ecologist for the USDA-ARS. Prior to coming to the EOARC Rory was a Post-Doc working for the USGS in Boise, ID, where he explored how ecological drought impacts sagebrush seeding success post-fire in the Great Basin. Rory holds a Bachelors’ degree from Brigham Young University-Idaho and a Masters’ degree from Brigham Young University in Provo, UT where he studied plant invasion and plant community recovery following fire in the Great Basin and Mojave Desert. He received his PhD from Kansas State University where he researched how woody plants expand into grasslands and how future climate conditions will impact the success of woody encroachers.
This past year Rory has been summarizing what is known about carbon dynamics in the Great Basin and is establishing a large and multi-year carbon research project. In a few months Rory will begin sampling plants and soil throughout the Deschutes, Lake, Harney, and Malheur counties. His hope is to link plant community resilience to invasive or encroaching species, with soils, and fire probability to determine the carbon security of a location. Rory is also working with other researchers at the EOARC on virtual fencing technology and if it can be used to create wildfire fuel breaks on the landscape or be used to keep cattle away from riparian areas.
This fall, Rory is collaborating with Erik Hamerlynck, to look at how well blue bunch wheatgrass and squirreltail grass seedlings respond and recover after intense water stress. Their hope is to determine which populations of these two grass species are best adapted to survive early spring water stresses after being seeded.
Rory is excited to be working in the Great Basin again and with a wonderful group of colleagues at the EOARC. If anyone has questions or wants to chat about rangeland carbon or how plants respond to drought you can reach him at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tired of fixing fence? Our next newsletter will highlight EOARC research using virtual fencing to control cattle distribution on rangeland.