Oregon State University Student Chapter Builds Community Through Stewardship

A group of OSU Forest Stewards helps to recover oak seedlings from the in-ground nursery.

Written by Paul Catino

While Oregon is known for its impressive conifers lining the coast and Cascade Mountain ranges, between these lies the Willamette Valley, historically dominated by Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana). Prior to European settlement of the Valley, the Kalapuya tribes maintained oak woodland and oak savanna systems through frequent burning, a common practice of First Nations people here. These habitat types had been maintained by Kalapuya people for thousands of years, long enough for many species to adapt and evolve to the vegetation conditions. As European settlers began to dominate the valley, Indigenous people were displaced and land use changes resulted in the widespread destruction of these habitat types. Traveling around the valley, one can often still recognize “legacy” oaks, trees with full, mushroom-shaped crowns due to wide spacing and frequent vegetation control by Indigenous pyro-culture practices.

Oregon State University hosts the first Student Chapter of the Forest Stewards Guild on the West Coast. A fundamental component of the student organization is to provide active engagement in local stewardship projects. Prior to the government restrictions associated with the coronavirus, the Student Chapter hosted several trail-building events, tree-plantings, and vegetation management projects at local parks where oak or other restoration projects have taken place. They also engaged in educational field trips to the HJ Andrews Research Forest and the Arcata Community Forest, a Guild Model Forest.

2-year old oak seedlings after being removed from the in-ground nursery.

To help fundraise, the student organization has partnered with a local landowner who has a  Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) funded restoration project. This landown generously donated oak logs from to be cut and sold as firewood, and helped to construct an in-ground nursery to sprout oak seedlings collected from several sources of “legacy” genetics around Corvallis. After two years, the seedlings were recovered and potted up to be sold this spring. So far the Student Chapter has raised several hundred dollars selling these seedlings to local landowners. These funds help support student participation in educational field trips and promote the restoration of these important trees in our community.

Since its founding in 2019, the Student Chapter has worked diligently to provide opportunities for students to learn and actively participate in forest stewardship projects such as oak restoration. As the Student Chapter moves forward, they will continue to promote active, hands-on stewardship among students through tree-planting, walking tours of forestry projects, invasive species removal, trail-building, and other restoration focused activities. These types of projects allow students to explore innovative and alternative forestry projects, as well as recognize Indigenous stewardship of this landscape.

Editor’s note: if you’d like to read more about this very active Guild student chapter, visit their Facebook page.