The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Mike Newton Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Mike Dicianna.

March 15, 2016


Michael J. Newton was born in 1932 in Hartford, Connecticut. The son of two educators, Newton and his family moved to southern Vermont in 1937 where his parents established the Newton School, a private prep school. Mike Newton attended this school, which was located in a rural, forested setting, and later moved on to the University of Vermont where he completed a bachelor's degree in Animal and Dairy Husbandry in 1954.

After spending two years in Germany as an Infantry Platoon Leader in the U.S. Army, Newton, his wife and children moved to Corvallis, Oregon, where he enrolled in a dual BS/MS degree program offered by the Oregon State College School of Forestry. As an OSC graduate student, Newton began a program of research that he would pursue for his entire career: the control of weeds in forest settings. He completed his OSC master's coursework in 1959 and was promptly hired as an instructor at Oregon State. He followed up with a doctorate earned from OSU's Botany department in 1964.

Newton was a faculty member at Oregon State for forty years, during which time he conducted extensive research on the use of herbicides to control weeds in a wide array of forest settings, with the ultimate aim determining the ideal environment for reforestation initiatives. This work took him to Vietnam and the Philippines in the early 1970s, where he ran experiments evaluating the impact of herbicides including 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T - the chemical constituents of Agent Orange - on the region's flora and fauna. He later wrote a manual on the use of herbicides in forest management that was heavily used within private industry.

Over the course of his OSU career, Newton likewise led significant investigations into competition between trees, shrubs and weeds in areas of differing rainfall and soil type. He also oversaw a major program in silviculture, with specific focus on the response of trees to different managed competition environments. This work led to improvements in the scientific understanding and commercial application of differing types of seedlings for use in industrial and recreational forests.

In the latter stages of his tenure as on the OSU faculty, Newton turned his attention to tree growth in cold weather climates. He also oversaw a Mature Forest Study, which attempted to model the ideal regeneration of segments of forestland based on planned thinning and harvesting schedules. Newton was likewise involved in stream temperature studies during this period, working to determine the ideal types of riparian cover to maintain water temperatures that are optimum for healthy freshwater fish populations.

Newton retired from OSU in 1999, but has remained very active as a scholar and mentor. Over the course of his career, Newton supervised sixty-six graduate students hailing from eleven different countries.