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Russ Mitchell oral history interview - Part 2, September 20, 1996

Oregon State University
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Max Geier: (resumes recording) Okay, go ahead.

Russ Mitchell: Well, it's not a very long story. I said that Jerry and I were both working on subalpine fir at the same time. He was working on it from an ecological standpoint, and I was to some extent, but my focus was the balsam woolly aphid. It was killing a lot of subalpine fir at the lower elevations of where subalpine fir grows along the Cascades. Anyhow, he comes to me one day and asks, "What's your impression about how subalpine fir grows?" I said, I think it's a pioneer species. Before, we always said it was highly tolerant to shade. That's the byword, everybody says that trees grow highly tolerant to shade and grew up underneath [shade of other trees], but subalpine fir didn't fit that 00:01:00model, despite the fact that that's what it was supposed to act like. He and I agreed on that, and we started comparing notes and so forth. So, we wrote this paper on the successional status of subalpine fir in the Cascade Range, and threw in stuff on the balsam woolly aphid, which at that time looked like it could pretty much wipe out subalpine fir in some critical environments, particularly on avalanche slopes. That's how we got we got together and how this paper was turned out.

Geier: Hmm. Had you known him before that?

Mitchell: Yeah, I knew him before that. We're both about the same age, we both came to the station [PNW] about the same time.

Geier: When was this, roughly?

Mitchell: Huh?

Geier: When was this study, roughly?

Mitchell: When was that? Must have been around '65, something like that. I can't 00:02:00remember now.

Geier: Well, you knew Jerry from the station, and that was when the station was small, so pretty much everybody knew everybody.

Mitchell: Yeah. Everybody knew everybody in the station those days.

Geier: So, you knew him, but you really hadn't worked with him until this project?

Mitchell: No, no.

Geier: And did you work with him after this much?

Mitchell: No, I never worked with him after that, much, other than we talked to each other about various things we were doing. And occasionally, we asked each other's advice on something that one knew more about than the other one did, but that's about it.

Geier: Your insights that this species was a pioneer species; what was the origin of that insight?

Mitchell: That the tree was a pioneer species?

Geier: Yeah, the tree.

Mitchell: From the way he was working with it, Jerry found out it only seemed to be growing on open spots, and that's the same impression that I'd got. When I 00:03:00was working in stands where I had subalpine fir and silver fir, I always had lots of silver fir coming up underneath, and I never had any subalpine fir coming up underneath. And where there was subalpine fir, it was always in some avalanche track or in a meadow, where the beavers had dammed it up long ago, and then the trees had invaded the edge, and they were always subalpine fir. It was out growing in the open in the sun. That was always my impression. I didn't really study it. I just looked at it. But it sure looked to me like this was a pioneer species. And lava beds, that was the other place that they were constantly [growing]. They always got into lava beds, one of the few trees that does.

Geier: Nobody had ever made that connection before?

Mitchell: Nobody'd seen it, at least, nobody had worked at it in the region. As a matter of fact, when I first started working out on the aphid, we weren't sure 00:04:00how to tell the difference between subalpine fir and silver fir. (Laughs) They grow in the same places and sometimes they look the same. Once you get onto them, it's a cinch. But at first we didn't know, and that's because nobody had ever worked on them. They were just a couple species that "flew on by," and nobody paid attention to them.

Geier: Well, the only question I've got, is if you've got any issues that you think this study ought to be addressing. Anything in particular that you'd like to see? In relation to studies on the Andrews?

Mitchell: On the Andrews?

Geier: Uh-huh.

Mitchell: No. I'll probably regret not saying anything. I always thought that if 00:05:00you could get up and look at what's up in the tall trees, that it would be interesting. Not that it would be worth anything, but it must be a different life up there, but I never knew how you would do that. But I guess they're addressing that.

Geier: You mean the canopy work?

Mitchell: Yeah, working in canopies, and they've got better equipment for doing that now than we did. Regeneration, also. I guess regeneration insects, and seed and cone insects, those are two things that never got addressed very well. We don't know what happens to all that regeneration that starts out 1-year-olds, 2-year olds, and so forth. You know, there's a terrific population. When I was counting regeneration, there's a terrific population of Douglas-fir and other things, other trees. Yew, for example, grows a lot out there, and then it all 00:06:00disappears. I don't know where it goes. But I would like to have seen some sort of a life cycle study on regeneration that's really good, that would identify what's taking out regeneration. Because my feeling is that there's a lot of insects that we don't even acknowledge as being the problem, or that are even involved in that.

Geier: These are questions that kind of interested you, but you didn't have the resources, or the opportunity? Mitchell: I never had the opportunity to do it. I always wanted to work on regeneration insects, and I always wanted to work on seed and cone insects. Nobody else was interested, I mean, people who had money, who had control of the money, weren't interested. Geier: Well, we should probably end this, but if you want to take a look at that, if you have time to 00:07:00look at that prospectus.