The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Dick Waring Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

December 18, 2015


Richard Harvey Waring was born in 1935 in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up just outside of the city in the commuter town of Glen Ellyn. As a boy, Waring spent much of his free time in Morton Arboretum in Glen Ellyn, and also made frequent trips to the Northwoods of Wisconsin. These experiences instilled in him an interest in forests that would inform his later career in academia.

During the summer prior to his senior year in high school, Waring worked as a research assistant at the Quetico-Superior Wilderness Research Center in Ely, Minnesota, and in the fall of 1953, he enrolled in the Forestry program at the University of Minnesota. Over the course of his undergraduate years at Minnesota, Waring participated in multiple summer research opportunities, including a stint at the Inland Empire Research Station in Spokane, Washington, his first contact with the Pacific Northwest.

Waring remained at Minnesota for graduate school, completing, in 1959, a master's degree in Forestry with a focus on botany and soil science. From there, Waring moved west to the University of California - Berkeley for his doctorate. During this period, Waring carried out research in the Redwood region, conducting thousands of measurements in an attempt to align the region's vegetation along gradients of moisture, temperature and fertility. He finished his Ph.D. in 1963.

Not long after completing his studies at Berkeley, Waring joined the Forestry faculty at Oregon State University. Asked to focus primarily on research, Waring initially led a study to classify the vegetation of the Siskiyou Mountains. Later, in 1970, Waring was named site director of the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest and began work on a large project, the Analysis of Ecosystems Program, which modeled the flow of water and carbon through forest systems. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Waring also traveled for multiple sabbaticals, including stints in Austria, Scotland, and Sweden.

In the early 1980s, Waring conducted work on bark beetles and spruce budworm, and in the process uncovered a simple method for determining when a tree is stressed and less resistant to insect attack. In the mid-1980s, Waring also began forging a relationship with NASA, first on projects related to acid rain and then, in 1989, as field coordinator for NASA's OTTER (Oregon Transect Ecosystem Research) Project. This initiative sought to pair remote sensing technology with ground observations to better understand the western coniferous forest system. The next year, he temporarily relocated to NASA headquarters to engage in long-term planning at the administration's biogeochemistry and geophysics branch, and in 1992 he was named a NASA program manager.

Waring returned to OSU in 1993 to direct the university's Airborne Environmental Analysis Program. In 1995, he finished his term as director and was named an OSU Distinguished Professor, the first faculty member from the College of Forestry to be designated as such.

Waring retired from OSU in 2001, but continued researching and publishing on a variety of topics. In the early 2010s, he turned his focus to long-term forest trends and began creating models of what future forests might look like. In 2014, Waring co-authored a book, Forests in Our Changing World, focusing on the potential effects of climate change on forests across the world, and proposing potential solutions to forest managers for how they might conserve and manage the forestlands under their care.