EPA’s Western Ecology Division Reflects on 50 Years of Research

By Coral Tily

A photo of the listed contents of the time capsule: a newspaper, a photo of the building, a list.

Contents of the time capsule.

The Western Ecology Division in Corvallis, Oregon is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the building. To commemorate the anniversary, the division opened the cornerstone and unsealed the time capsule to reflect on 50 years of research.

The time capsule was located in a document box behind the cornerstone encased in 50-year old plaster.

The contents in the time capsule were a snapshot of life in Oregon in 1966. It included photos of the original building, an Oregon State University newsletter, current copies of the Corvallis Gazette-Times and the Oregonian, the dedication invitation list, a Life Magazine, and the Oregon State Flag.

In 1966, the facility was constructed for research pertaining to waste treatment and water pollution control. It was originally called the Pacific Northwest Water Laboratory under the Department of Interior’s Federal Water Pollution Control Administration. The Interior Secretary at the time, Stewart Udall delivered the dedication address.

The facility was transferred to the newly formed EPA in 1970, and became the National Environmental Research Center – Corvallis. Research transitioned to fish toxicology and air pollution in the 1970’s. In the 1980’s, the facility began research in acid rain, ecotoxicology, and air pollution. The 1990’s saw a shift to environmental monitoring and biotechnology.

In 1995, with a reorganization of the EPA, the National Environmental Research Center-Corvallis became the Western Ecology Division under the National Health and Environmental Effect Laboratory. The environmental monitoring program evolved into the current research of the National Aquatic Resource Surveys.

Today, the Western Ecology Division is fully engaged in climate change, ocean acidification, ecosystems services, and emerging nanomaterials research. During the next couple of weeks, the division is taking suggestions for items to place into the document box for future excavations.

Read more about the event in the Corvallis Gazette-Times article EPA office in Corvallis celebrates 50 years.

About the Author: Coral Tily is an information services specialist at EPA’s Western Ecology Division.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

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Interconnections in the Web of Life

By Randy Comeleo

For the past five years, we have been composting our food scraps with the assistance of red worms in outdoor bins at EPA’s Western Ecology Division (WED) laboratory in Corvallis, Oregon.  Last winter, we noticed that large food scraps were being stirred-up overnight by something in our compost bins.  We installed a self-operated wildlife camera inside one of the bins and soon identified the culprits: an after-hours party of dusky-footed woodrats–handsome, ash gray packrats with large ears and furred tails–were enjoying the freshly added vegetables.

A night-vision video captures a rat enjoying food from the compost bin

A dusky-footed woodrat visits the EPA Western Ecology Division laboratory compost bins.

Over the next several months, our self-operated wildlife camera revealed a continuous nighttime parade of skunks, raccoons, opossums, gray foxes, and coyotes on our WED campus.

The video captures a fox hanging around the fence of the campus at night

A self-operated wildlife camera captures a photo of a coyote at the EPA Western Ecology Division.

A remarkable example of the interconnectedness of species occurred a few weeks ago when we witnessed a female osprey carrying a large fish over our WED property.  The osprey lost her grip on the fish when she turned into a strong westerly headwind and the fish landed a few feet from the WED gray fox family’s den site.

A bird flying carrying a fish

An osprey carrying a largescale sucker flies over the EPA Western Ecology Division laboratory (Photo by Randy Comeleo).

The next day, we found the partially scavenged fish on the ground and identified it as a largescale sucker, most likely from the Willamette River, located nearly two miles away.

Gray fox pups enjoyed a fresh fish delivery to the EPA Western Ecology Division (photo by Bonnie Smith).

Gray fox pups enjoyed a fresh fish delivery to the EPA Western Ecology Division (photo by Bonnie Smith).

The fish was soon completely consumed by the hungry little foxes and the event illustrated just how interconnected we all are in the Web of Life.

 

About the Author: Randy Comeleo is an Ecologist for EPA’s Western Ecology Division research lab. He works primarily with the Air, Climate, and Energy research program as a Geographic Information System Analyst.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Foxes and Ecosystem Services at Western Ecology Division

By Randy Comeleo

Late this spring, a self-operated wildlife camera captured several photos of adult gray foxes carrying food items from surrounding wild lands onto the grounds of EPA’s Western Ecology Division (WED) Laboratory in Corvallis, Oregon.

A self-operated wildlife camera captures a recent photo of an adult gray fox returning to EPA Western Ecology Division with a camas pocket gopher.

A self-operated wildlife camera captures a recent photo of an adult gray fox returning to EPA Western Ecology Division with a camas pocket gopher.

Within a few weeks, photos from the camera revealed why the adults were carrying, and not consuming, their prey.  The pair had denned in a quiet corner of our campus and were delivering food to six pups!

A self-operated wildlife camera captures a photo of nursing gray fox pups at the EPA Western Ecology Division.

A self-operated wildlife camera captures a photo of nursing gray fox pups at the EPA Western Ecology Division.

The gray fox is a mesocarnivore – a mid-sized carnivore in which 50-70% of the diet is the flesh of another animal.  Mesocarnivores are often more numerous when residing in close proximity to humans where their foraging activities can provide an important ecosystem service: keeping the level of property damage by rodents to an acceptable level.

We have been thrilled to observe these usually secretive small canids carrying food for their pups, basking in the sun, and even climbing trees!  Gray foxes have adaptations such as short, powerful legs and strong hooked claws which enable them to climb trees and avoid larger predators like coyotes.

Four gray fox pups enjoy the early morning sun at the EPA Western Ecology Division (photo by Bonnie Smith).

Four gray fox pups enjoy the early morning sun at the EPA Western Ecology Division (photo by Bonnie Smith).

The pups are now learning to hunt with their parents and will forage on their own in several weeks.  The family will likely remain together until autumn, when the youngsters reach sexual maturity and head-out on their own.

About the Author: Randy Comeleo is an Ecologist for EPA’s Western Ecology Division research lab. He works primarily with the Air, Climate, and Energy research program as a Geographic Information System Analyst.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

How Did You Celebrate Earth Day?

By Diane Simunek

Bird Feeder 9000

“Bird Feeder 9,000”

Earth Day has always been one of my favorite holidays, because adequate celebrations require little more than a walk through the park. A bike ride or a hike always seemed like enough to show my appreciation for the environment, and I couldn’t be happier with how little preparation was needed for these festive activities. Unlike for me, however, Earth Day for local middle schoolers of Corvallis, Oregon has involved significantly more planning.

Each year the researchers and other staff at EPA’s Western Ecology Division lab host a competition for local middle school students to channel their innovative sides and create something out of nothing.

This year the Re-use It or Lose It! Animal Edition event challenged students to create animal-themed masterpieces from reused, recycled, or salvaged items. Fourteen finalists were chosen and the students, as well as their parents, were invited to an Earth Day reception at the lab to showcase their projects. The event featured an ensuing awards ceremony announcing the winners.

The students had a choice between two categories, “Functional” or “Fantasy,” around which they could focus their projects. A number of creative entries were seen, from a television turned into a cat bed to a mason bee box. Top honor in the Functional category went to Lauren Dye of Cheldelin Middle School for “The Bird Feeder 9,000,” which she constructed using a stainless steel pot and lid, forks and spoons, and bottle caps with beads strung on fishing line to add flair.

Spotted Owl Earth Day sculpture

Northern spotted owl

The Fantasy category was won by Megan Mayjor of Franklin Middle School and her sculpture depicting a Northern spotted owl, which just happens to be the subject of a population model developed by an EPA researcher from the lab (read more about it in our newsletter). The piece was assembled with brown paper, corrugated cardboard, and an intricate attention to detail seen in the decoration of each feather. “I feel very happy and excited that I won! My rabbit actually seems to like the owl,” Megan said.

Congruent with the competition, the trophies the winners were awarded were also creatively constructed with reusable material by EPA chemist Bill Rugh. He used wood items from Habitat for Humanity, seed pods, plastic twist-ties, screws, burnt out toaster elements, and coffee grounds. Appropriately, the elaborate trophies were presented to the finalists by lab director Tom Fontaine.

Although my own Earth Day celebrations may be effortless in comparison, these students have put in the time, effort, and imagination to make remarkable results. They developed an idea, acquired the material, and built their creations all in a gesture supporting and appreciating our environment. I’ll be thinking about them on my next hike.

About the Author: Diane Simunek is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.