A Note from Dave:
Welcome to the Summer issue of the EOARC Newsletter. As of June 30, I am happy to say that OSU and EOARC are open to the public following almost 1.5 years of restrictions associated with the COVID pandemic. I am very proud of our faculty and staff who remained productive in addressing the challenges and opportunities associated with the management of livestock, rangeland, and forage crops in Eastern Oregon.
EOARC is committed to addressing the complex issues facing natural resources and agriculture in eastern Oregon. Two of our OSU scientists that are working to help stakeholders deal with the consequences of limited irrigation, forage crop selection, wild ungulate herbivory, and rangeland restoration are highlighted in this issue.
Guojie Wang is an Assistant Professor that conducts his irrigation and forage research out of EOARC Union and he has provided a brief update on one of his alfalfa projects. Bryan Endress is an Associate Professor and Rangeland Sciences Program Lead for the Animal and Rangeland Sciences Department at OSU. His research program is based out of EOARC Union and he has provided an overview of a couple of his projects related to the consequences of wild and domestic ungulates on the success of stream and riparian restoration practices and his work with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation related to monitoring, management, and restoration of culturally important rangeland plant species.
Also, you will find an overview of the Summer Ag Institute organized by Kim Reynolds, our Facilities and Budget Manager at EOARC Union, and Chad Mueller, Senior Instructor in the Animal and Rangeland Sciences Department at OSU and the OSU Agriculture and Natural Resource Program at Eastern Oregon University. This is a wonderful project of the Oregon Farm Bureau Foundation that provides an opportunity for K-12 teachers to interact with representatives of Oregon’s agriculture industry and incorporate aspects of Oregon agriculture into their curriculum.
We look forward to conducting our field days, range camps, and student field trips again in the near future. Please take a few minutes to read our Summer 2021 Newsletter and see some of the projects and faculty/staff activities occurring at EOARC.
Director, Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center (Burns and Union Stations)
Oregon State University
A Note from Chad:
Greetings from EOARC Burns. I hope that your summer is going well, or as well as could be expected with the dry conditions we are currently experiencing.
For this addition of the EOARC Newsletter, ARS is spotlighting Stella Copeland, and her research on issues relating to rangeland restoration and management. Stella has a strong and diverse background in rangeland ecology with solid experience evaluating the science behind and effectiveness of rangeland management practices; which is a great fit with our Burns ARS mission. Stella has been the driving force behind a recent publication on our long-term grazing data from the Northern Great Basin Experimental Range, and she has provided key leadership in expanding that effort to include 5 other locations across the western US that also have long-term grazing datasets.
Speaking of personnel, we have a growing number of ARS post-doctoral researchers here in Burns. Lauren Svejcar has been with us for a few months now and is working with Kirk Davies. Devyn Orr will be joining us later this month and will work primarily with Jon Bates. I hope to spotlight their work in an upcoming addition of our newsletter. In addition to these two positions, we have a third post-doc open (with Erik Hamerlynck) and we recently had 3 additional post-doc positions approved for Burns. Post-doc positions are typically 2 to 3 years in duration and are really valuable because they allow us to put additional science resources on specific topics while providing flexibility in research direction to meet changing customer needs over time.
This year both EOARC Burns (both ARS and OSU) became part of a network of university and ARS locations working on Precision Rangeland Agriculture or PRA. Other ARS partners include Clay Center in Nebraska, and the Fort Keogh ARS unit in Miles City, Montana, while university partners include Montana State University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. PRA involves using various technologies bio-monitoring devices, smart feeders, virtual fencing, seed amendment technologies, and remote sensing to impact or monitor animal performance, animal distribution, and rangeland health. Many of these technologies have only recently crossed research and development thresholds that make them feasible for practical application. We are really excited about the potential for some of these technologies to help in management of rangeland ag systems (for example, see virtual fencing article below) and we look forward to working with customers to determine their best uses.
As with OSU, ARS is continuing to relax covid restrictions in our workplace. We are expecting USDA (the parent department of ARS) to announce their workplace “re-opening” plans sometime next month. It’s been a long haul but our ARS employees have continued their excellence in research and administration despite the regulations being thrown at us, and we all look forward to seeing you in the near future.
Research Leader, Burns ARS
A Note from Andrew:
Greetings! For those I have not had the pleasure of meeting, I work for The Nature Conservancy (TNC) as a Rangeland Scientist and am graciously housed at EOARC in Burns along with Owen Baughman, our Restoration Scientist.
The Nature Conservancy shares many priorities with the outstanding staff at EOARC and has collaborated on projects for years now. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, TNC continues to advance projects and strategies that promote desirable outcomes for people and nature in Eastern Oregon’s rangelands.
One such project is the Seed Technology Experimental Garden Array (STEGA). This project seeks to field test innovative seed technologies (seed coatings and other amendments) aimed at improving restoration success in rangelands impacted by invasive annual grasses. We recently hired three seasonal employees to assist with the fourth consecutive year of this important project, Anna Hosford, Emily Ralston, and Isaac Rubinstein. In collaboration with EOARC, we are now interacting with large, agricultural companies capable of producing these seed technologies in relevant quantities for customers such as the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the majority of western rangelands.
Addressing the large-scale threats to sagebrush steppe habitats and western rangelands such as invasive annual grasses and large-scale wildfires requires system-scale solutions and collaboration. The TNC Sagebrush Sea Program leverages the expertise and networks of TNC employees and partners, including our Burns USDA ARS colleagues, across six western states to do just that. Our participation alongside EOARC staff in collaborative conservation and management efforts such as the Oregon Sage-Grouse Conservation Partnership and Harney County Wildlife Collaborative also provides important opportunities for cooperative and innovative solutions to these large-scale issues.
The Nature Conservancy greatly values and appreciates EOARC and will continue to be an enthusiastic supporter and advocate for its staff and programs.
Rangelands Scientist, The Nature Conservancy
Revealing the diversity of genes behind better alfalfa hay
Guojie Wang and his team at Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center-Union Station collaborated with Washington State University (WSU) Extension regional forage specialist Steve Norberg; WSU Extension livestock specialist Don Llewellyn; WSU Extension forage specialist Steven Fransen; USDA-Agricultural Research Service research geneticist Long-Xi Yu; University of Idaho forage specialist Glenn Shewmaker; University of Wisconsin rumen nutritionist Dave Combs; and University of Florida statistical scientist Edzard van Santen on revealing the diversity of genes behind better alfalfa hay. This integrated project used 200 diverse alfalfa varieties to determine molecular markers and other genetic information that predict hay quality based on the linkage of these traits with Total Tract Neutral Detergent Fiber Digestibility. The overall goal was to implement the resulting data into breeding programs so that new varieties of alfalfa can be generated that maximize availability of nutrients in ruminant digestion – this will necessarily involve: i) quantifying alfalfa genetic diversity in forage quality in a diverse germplasm, ii) quantifying the relationship between alfalfa quality and other possible confounding and important agronomic parameters, and iii) identifying genetic information associated with forage quality.
Experimental alfalfa plots at EOARC Union
Breeding programs from industry stakeholders are cooperators on this project which will impact both alfalfa and dairy producers by improving the reliability of access to more digestive alfalfa feed sources. This study was funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture for 2017-2020 at $250,000 and for 2019-2022 at $500,000. Examining 200 alfalfa varieties for 30 traits that affect forage quality, while also noting yields and fall dormancy scores, Wang and his collaborators genotyped alfalfa varieties and identified 28 genetic markers associated with important traits such as fiber content, fiber digestibility, and protein, winnowed from nearly 47,000 elements of DNA. Some of the markers that the researchers found were linked to more than one trait, showing that common genetic factors control multiple traits. Plants’ yield and quality also varied by location, suggesting that the environment interacts with genetics to affect these results. The scientists have shared their discovered markers and promising strains with growers, breeders, and shared and will share results with the research community through publications and discussion.
Managing Rangeland Cattle Distribution with Virtual fencing
Ever wish you had better control of cattle distribution than that allowed by your current pasture fencing? With soaring material costs more fencing isn’t always the answer and herding has its downsides as well. An emerging alternative to temporary fence needs is virtual fencing. The idea behind virtual fencing is to use both audio cues and mild electrical shocks to encourage cattle to graze where you want them to graze, regardless of where your traditional fences are located. We (ARS and OSU) have been evaluating a virtual fence system put out by the Vence Corporation to determine how useful this technology is for addressing common problems associated with grazing animal distribution on rangeland.
With the Vence system, a computer program is used to specify when and where cattle are to graze. That information is communicated to an on-site base station via a cellular connection, and the base station then uses radio communication to relay that information to collars worn by the animal. The collars consist of a GPS unit, which is used to determine the exact position of the cow, an audio speaker, which emits a beep when the cow nears the boundary of the desired grazing area, and two metal contact points which provide a mild electrical stimulus if the cow continues toward the boundary. The collar is placed such that the contact points are on the right side of the animals neck, so that when the animal receives an electrical stimulus, they move away from that pressure and change directions; similar to a horse changing direction as it moves off of pressure from your leg. Success with virtual fencing relies on training the animals for 4 or 5 days in a controlled environment. We used a dry lot for training and created virtual boundaries along 2 sides of the dry lot. This training period helps the cattle to learn that moving away from the audio and electrical stimuli will make the “pressure” go away.
Cattle locations within a 2 mile fuel break at our Experimental Range. Red bands are virtual fences of the fuel break.
This is our second field season evaluating virtual fencing. Last year we were very successful in using the technology to keep cattle out of burned areas within small pastures. This was meant to mimic the situation where a portion of a pasture burns and policy dictates that the burned area must be fenced-out or the pasture has to be rested (usually 2 years) before the permittee can resume grazing. Results from this trial are currently in review for publication. This year we are evaluating the feasibility of using virtual fencing to concentrate grazing in a 200 yard x 2 mile long strip within a larger pasture to create a fuel break. We just put the cattle into the experimental pasture this week, but so far it is working very well. Next year our plan is to evaluate virtual fencing as a means of managing cattle use of riparian areas. For more information on our virtual fence research, check out this episode of the “Working Ranch Podcast”: https://www.podbean.com/eu/pb-sj4db-faf7cf.
Summer Ag Institute
This July, OSU faculty members Dr. Chad Mueller (senior instructor) and Kim Reynolds (program coordinator) will be holding the annual Summer Ag Institute (SAI) at the Cove Ascension School. A project of the Oregon Farm Bureau Foundation for Education since 1989, SAI is a three-credit, week-long, graduate-level class through Oregon State University that educates K-12 teachers with little or no background in agriculture. The goal of SAI is to help teachers use agriculture as a context for teaching standard subjects like science, math, social studies, and English. The course is taught by Dr. Mueller who has been involved in this program since 2008 and also includes numerous speakers from a variety of ag commodity groups throughout NE Oregon.
Through SAI, teachers are given first-hand experiences in the agriculture industry. The action-packed week includes field trips to a variety of farms and ranches, tours of logging sites and lectures and hands-on labs taught by producers and OSU faculty. The highlight of the week is an overnight stay on a working farm/ranch where the teacher has an opportunity to meet a farm/ranch family.
There are two sessions of SAI each summer: SAI West is held in Corvallis in June and SAI East is held in Cove/Union in July. The cost to teachers for this graduate-level session is only $600. The remaining expenses are covered by ag industry donations.
For more information on SAI, please visit the Oregon Farm Bureau website at https://oregonfb.org/programs/summer-ag-institute/ or email SAI East coordinator Kim Reynolds at email@example.com.
Newly Established EOARC Pollinator Garden
The idea to create a pollinator garden at the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center started in the fall of 2019. The main objective of this project was to provide a chemical-free and resource-rich area for beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies. Maintaining healthy populations of these critters is critical, especially in North American rangelands.
The benefits of a garden at the EOARC extend far beyond creating habitat for pollinating insects; it also creates a space where employees can practice identifying native plants, residents can grow vegetables, and local youth can learn about pollination, soil, and native plants.
Without hesitation, several organizations (Oregon State University, The Nature Conservancy, the Burns Paiute Tribe Dept. of Natural Resources, and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service) lent their support for the project through seed donations, site planning and material acquisition.
The garden was constructed in the spring of 2020. Galvanized stock tanks and locally harvested juniper lumber were used to create plant beds, which were filled with a mixture of on-site compost and local soil. Plants were grown indoors over the winter and planted in June; the garden now contains 3 species of shrubs, 2 species of grasses, and 11 species of perennial forbs, all of which are thriving! Other features such as a puddling area, nesting area, hummingbird nectar, and bird feeder were added in 2021. We’ve already started seeing a huge influx of dragonflies and bumblebees, and can’t wait to see what we get in following years as we continue to make improvements to the garden!
To find out what you can do to help pollinators in your own backyard, visit the following web resources:
Pollinator Partnership: 7 things you can do for pollinators
Xerces Society: Four simple steps to bring back the pollinators
Questions can be directed to Sam Wolfe, Range Technician, USDA-ARS at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bryan Endress - OSU Union
Bryan Endress joined EOARC- Union Station in 2014. He is an Associate Professor, and splits his time between EOARC-Union Station and the OSU Agriculture and Natural Resource Program at Eastern Oregon University, where he teaches a number of classes including Introduction to Forestry, Rangeland Analysis, and Wildland Restoration. In January of 2021, he was appointed as the Rangeland Sciences Program Lead for the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences.
Bryan is an applied vegetation ecologist, whose research addresses current and emerging natural resource challenges. He collaborates with partners at the research-management interface to advance our understanding of vegetation dynamics while informing management, stewardship and restoration. He works with a wide range of partners, including landowners, government agencies, tribes, non-governmental organizations, and universities both in the United States and abroad. Since joining EOARC, Bryan’s work has been primarily focused on three issues: 1) wild and domestic herbivory effects on forest and riparian ecosystems, 2) the ecology and management of Pacific Northwest Bunchgrass ecosystems, and 3) monitoring, management, and restoration of culturally and ecologically important rangeland plant species. He continues to work with partners internationally as well, including work in Mexico, Peru and Palau.
Here are a couple of projects Bryan is currently working on:
Since 2012, Bryan has participated in long-term collaborative research evaluating the effects of cattle, elk, and deer on stream and riparian restoration for salmonids. The development of grazing systems that are compatible with riparian restoration and salmonid conservation is a major challenge in the region. Results from this research, which is being conducted at Starkey Experimental Forest and Range are intended for management applications on public range allotments to help integrate grazing approaches compatible with riparian restoration. Collaborators include the Wallowa Whitman National Forest, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Grande Ronde Model Watershed, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Oregon Water Enhancement Board and others. In addition, Bryan continues research on understanding wild and domestic herbivore impacts on forest development, and the effects of forest management practices, such as stand thinning and prescribed fire on forage quantity and quality for cattle, elk and mule deer.
In collaboration with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), Bryan is also conducting research on monitoring, management and restoration of culturally important rangeland plant species. Many rangeland forbs, such as xmáas (camas; Camassia quamash), xáwš (cous biscuitroot; Lomatium cous), and pyaxí (bitterroot; Lewisia rediviva), are considered First Foods that have sustained tribal people since time immemorial. First Foods are essential to the ongoing culture of tribes and play a fundamental role in health, diet, well-being and cultural identity. Yet, the ecology, health, status and management needs for these species are poorly understood. Research is focused on 1) the development of cost-effective inventory, survey and monitoring protocols and 2) propagation and establishment methods required to support restoration efforts. This summer, the team is pilot-testing monitoring protocols and collecting seeds and plant materials.
Bryan enjoys working with partners to address stewardship, management and restoration challenges, so feel free to reach out to him at email@example.com – he is happy to visit.
Stella Copeland - ARS
Greetings! For those of you I haven’t met, I joined EOARC in Burns as a Rangeland Research Ecologist with ARS in December 2018. I deeply appreciate the welcoming and collaborative community I found here at EOARC.
Over the last 3 years, my research program has focused on restoration and long-term vegetation trends in sagebrush steppe rangeland, though I also work on other topics in response to customer needs. Many of my projects address vegetation variability with weather, soils, and climate and outcomes of various restoration treatments. I particularly enjoy developing applied research for specific sites and situations with partners.
A precision restoration framework developed to guide application of innovative and traditional restoration techniques with several EOARC co-authors. This was a joint effort between ARS and The Nature Conservancy (TNC and ARS).
Analysis of long-term grazing exclosures (since 1936) at the Northern Great Basin Experimental Range with Jon Bates, Kirk Davies, and Chad Boyd (ARS) demonstrates that moderate cattle grazing did not affect vegetation recovery trends after cessation of historic sheep grazing.
With US Geological Survey partners, we identified cost trade-offs for vegetation treatment methods, such as types of woody plant removal, seed mix, and herbicide application, relative to desired outcomes across hundreds of treatment areas.
One my favorite parts of this job is discussing rangeland ecology and management with a wide variety of partners. Please get in touch with questions or to chat about research needs: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Natural Resource Gathering
"I’m Elsie Denton; I’ve been a Range Technician at Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center (EOARC) since 2015. The people at EOARC are great and we have a fantastic community, but when I first arrived, there wasn’t much of a broader Natural Resource community in Burns even though we have many federal and state agencies in town (at least ten agencies by my last count). We were all rather siloed within our own organizations. It was actually down in Reno for a Society for Rangeland Management Conference that I finally met some fellow Burns residents that happened to work for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service (FS). We got talking and decided that we could do better. So, starting in 2019 Katy Bartzokis (formally of the BLM), Jacob Arnzen (FS) and I started organizing once monthly (May – September) potlucks for the entire Natural Resource community in the county up at Idlewild Campground. The goal is to build community through fun,
food and silly mixer games. We regularly have around 20 people in attendance and sometimes many more. I like to think that these potlucks are why things like the regular Natural Resource Frisbee pick-up game and the Thursday hangout for Natural Resource folk at Steens Mountain Brewery now exist. We started the ball rolling that is helping to build a tight knit community across our many agencies and we are better for it.
Potlucks are generally the third Friday of each month, starting at 5 pm up at the Idlewild picnic shelter. Come join us for the next one, won’t you? "
Elsie M. Denton
Range Technician, USDA-ARS
** Spotlight **
OSU Forestry and Natural Resources Extension’s Wildfire Wednesdays have wrapped up for the summer but will begin again in the fall—stay tuned! You can watch the recordings of the webinar series here, and more info, checklists, and other resources related to fire preparedness in your home and community can be found here.