PSU researchers to study link between forest runoff and shellfish contamination
Author: Cristina Rojas, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Posted: March 8, 2018

Portland State University researchers have been awarded $213,000 to study whether different forest management practices are associated with contaminants in downstream shellfish.

Elise Granek, a College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (CLAS) professor of environmental sciences and management, will lead a research team as part of a 2-year grant from the Oregon Sea Grant Program at the University of Oregon.

The group wants to know whether shellfish like oysters and clams are accumulating different types and amounts of pesticides, given how practices and regulations differ across federal, state and private forests.

Granek said the types and levels of contamination could vary depending on the size of buffers along streams and whether pesticides are applied by air or on the ground.

"For example, even within state regulations, some forest managers — private or public — may manage their land differently," she said. "We're trying to understand how these different practices affect contamination downstream."

Granek hopes their findings can help inform future policy discussions about forestry practices in Oregon. She said follow-up studies could explore how the contaminants affect the shellfish and whether they pose any health risks to people who eat them.

Max Nielsen-Pincus, a Portland State CLAS assistant professor of environmental management and member of the research team, said that in the future, researchers should also partner with foresters to better understand what improvements can be made to protect downstream shellfish.

Other members of the research team include representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Oregon Departments of Fish and Wildlife, Land Conservation and Development and Environmental Quality, as well as the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians and the National Policy Consensus Center. An advisory group made up of private and public stakeholders will also provide input and help disseminate the findings.

The grant is part of a larger $1.1 million in funding that will support five projects in Oregon. Designated as a Sea Grant College, Oregon State University is one of 33 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Sea Grant Programs nationwide and receives a share of federal research dollars every two years to award to university-based scientists studying ocean and coastal issues important to the region and the nation.

"Oregon Sea Grant is committed to supporting the science needed to address challenges facing our coastal communities and ecosystems," said Shelby Walker, director of Oregon Sea Grant. "These projects reflect a broad array of issues important to the future of coastal Oregonians, communities and our environment."

Photo Captions: In the first photo, a softshell clam from the Alsea Bay estuary waiting to be processed in the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife Research Lab in Newport last summer. 

In the second photo, PSU graduate student Kaegan Scully-Engelmeyer measures the shell length of a western pearlshell mussel. As part of his fieldwork last summer for this project, he collected samples of mussels and clams along the coast, recorded their physical characteristics and froze the tissue. This winter, the tissue samples are being tested for contamination from chemical compounds commonly used in forestry management practices.