International Programs News

US Embassy supports Oil Palms and Orangutans faculty-led program!


 US Embassy supports Oil Palms and Orangutans faculty-led program!



Following participation in a delegation led by Ambassador Joseph Yun aimed at sponsoring linkages between wildlife and forest conservation leaders in Sabah, Borneo and Oregon, USA, Oregon State University’s College of Forestry immediately began to seek a way to introduce US students to the critical issues surrounding protection of Borneo’s fragile rainforest habitat.  John Bliss, Associate Dean of International Programs and faculty member in the department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, launched a program entitled “Oil Palms and Orangutans: Forest Conservation in Malaysian Borneo”.  The course quickly enrolled ten students (nine undergraduate and one PhD student) from across the university; their courses of study included Natural Resources, Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries Biology, and Environmental Sciences.  Partnering with the Sabah Forestry Department, Danau Girang Field Centre and the CREATE Centre, a two-week course was designed that would expose students first-hand to the forces at play in the region – decline in key species populations, habitat under pressure from commercial use, the need for local and international community education and support for conservation. 

Traveling halfway around the world to encounter one of the world’s most famous rainforests, which houses flagship species such as orangutans, clouded leopards and pygmy elephants, would seem an unattainable dream to most college students.  But we are convinced that firsthand experiential learning is the key to educating a generation that cares about forests and their protection, and that is willing to ask hard questions of consumer society which exploits these irreplaceable ecosystems. In order to provide an international experience that would be affordable to students from all economic backgrounds, the OSU College of Forestry applied for, and ultimately received, grant funding from the US Embassy for assistance with in-country costs. The program was also supported by the Oregon Sabah Collaborative, Oregon State University, and the OSU College of Forestry. Danau Girang Field Centre was a key partner in facilitating the program design, implementation, and continued success.

The OSU group completed a community service project, spending an afternoon with an organization called CLEAR, which works with local communities to turn green waste into compost, plant trees in riparian areas to protect watersheds, and prevent waste from entering the waterways. Students helped out by making compost, filling and planting nursery bags, and helping CLEAR staff cement an area of their headquarters. 

The group began its journey in Kota Kinabalu, arriving on August 17 and transferring to the CREATE Center in Penampang for an introduction to grass roots community organizations that work to protect the rainforest, its indigenous cultures, peoples and wildlife. The group learned from Green Empowerment, a Portland-based NGO, about the benefits of (and challenges to) providing micro-hydrological turbines as alternatives to dam building which destroys riparian habitat and impacts forest communities.  They were also introduced to the key theme of the complexity of resource management – how can the goals of economic development and environmental protection be addressed in one area?  What impact does human activity have on rainforest ecosystems, and how is that investigated by scientists?  Hands-on work gave them personal insight into the daily tasks that go into building caring for the environment on a daily basis.

From Kota Kinabalu, students and faculty leaders then flew to Sandakan and traveled to Sepilok, visiting the Sabah Forestry Department’s ecological education facility, the Rainforest Discovery Centre, where Dr. Robert Ong, introduced them to the biodiversity of Borneo’s rainforests.  They toured Sabah Wildlife Department’s Orangutan Conservation Centre, and the independent Sunbear Conservation Centre.  Here the group learned firsthand about the rich diversity of rainforest habitat, and the wildlife species that make their home in these forests.  Many of these animals are endangered, and the students were brought to understand issues around deforestation, degradation of forest habitat, poaching and human-animal conflicts that have resulted in dwindling and isolated wildlife populations.  Speakers from the Sabah Wildlife Department and Centre staff introduced them to the work being done to rehabilitate individual animals (especially orangutans, elephants and sunbears) and reintroduce them to the wild, and to educate local and global communities about their plight.

“Our group at one of the auction yards at Deramakot.  Robert Ong (center), is surrounded by (from left to right) Amber, Phil, Noel and Larry. After driving through palm oil plantations for miles, we emerged onto this auction yard at the edge of Deramakot Forest Reserve, a sustainably managed forest.  This is easier said than done, as students learned while they watched a worker cut down a tree. Here students learned about the technical challenges of harvesting. They saw, firsthand, how felling one tree would often damage the trees around it, and learned about how factors like rain can delay or even prevent active logging. 'Do you think the price we pay at the local hardware store really reflects this cost, or encourages consumers to think about the process?’ John Bliss asked. After slipping and sliding down a muggy logging road, standing in the heat and humidity of the jungle for even 15 minutes, and hearing about how the immigrant workers would be chased by bees who knew the sound of a chainsaw, and would be unable to return to their families while working, I didn’t see a single student head nod a positive response to John’s question.”

-          Gretchen Engbring, PhD student, group leader


With Dr. Ong, the group traveled to Deramakot Forest Reserve, where Dr. Ong explained to us how the Forestry Department seeks to provide an example of carefully managed forests and logging operations that comply with Forest Stewardship Council certification. Although production focused, Dermakot demonstrated how forests can be managed to meet multiple objectives. 

The final stop in the group itinerary was reached by a three-hour boat ride up the Kinabatangan River to the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), operated collaboratively by the Sabah Wildlife Department and the University of Cardiff in Wales; along the way, students passed miles and miles of palm oil plantation, which underlined the severity of the problem facing Borneo’s native forests.  Native plant and animal species are encroached upon on all sides, and critical wildlife corridors are often inadequate, or entirely missing.  The students observed how native forest is often retained in small islands in the sea of palm.  They observed diverse species, including proboscis and silver leaf monkeys, crocodiles, wading birds and birds of prey.  At DGFC, the students spent four days immersed in field work deep in the rainforest.  Graduate and undergraduate students from the UK, US and other nations served as mentors to the OSU students, guiding them through the trackless jungle to observe animals and plants in their native habitats.  The group was introduced to various field research techniques including surveying, camera trapping, GPS and radio monitoring.  The group was able to discuss research objectives with the resident students, and truly come to understand the nature and potential impact of research in this unique environment.

Phil Carbary, OSU undergraduate in Natural Resources, uses radio telemetry to locate a slow loris near Danau Girang Field Centre.  “After wandering around for hours in the jungle, listening to and following the little beeps despite bugs, fallen logs, draping vines, and an utter lack of trails, suffice it to say that the students began to realize that while the conclusions in a journal article may be brief and exciting, there are hours, months, even years of hard work behind these results. It’s a process, an ongoing one at that, and it’s not always glamorous! The trip emphasized the conditions that many scientists endure, but as we took a boat ride down the Kinabatangan past palm plantations that encroached on buffers and came right down to the river, I don’t think any of the students thought that kind of research wasn’t absolutely critical.” 

-          Gretchen Engbring, PhD student, group leader



Following their stay at Danau Girang Field Centre, the group returned by river and road to Sandakan, and six of the ten students returned home.  Four, however, remained on in Sepilok for three weeks of internship experience.  Two students are currently working along Sabah Wildlife Department veterinarians and staff on orangutan rehabilitation and nursery programs at the Sepilok Orangutan Centre; two are involved in preparations for a Wildlife Festival at the Rainforest Discovery Centre.  All students report that the program and subsequent internship are amongst the most significant educational experiences of their academic and professional careers.

This program has been a marked success for the OSU College of Forestry, and it would not have been possible without the generous grant from the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.  We owe a debt of gratitude to Ambassador Yun and his staff for their support.  A number of the students who participated are first generation college students.   Several had not previously left the United States. For all of them, this was their first trip to Malaysia, and for most, their first exposure to an Asian country.  The opportunity to encounter Borneo’s wildlife under the guidance of OSU faculty and to engage with those in Borneo who are striving to make a difference in conservation and sustainable forestry has been life-changing.  We must also extend our profound thanks for the guidance and support of Dr. Robert Ong (Sabah Forestry Department) and Dr. Benoit Goossens (Danau Girang Field Centre).  Thanks also go to Gabriel Wynn at Green Empowerment (CREATE Center), Dr. Wong Siew Te (Sunbear Centre), Dr. Sen Nathan and his staff (Sepilok Orangutan Centre) for their involvement in this program.

New E-Campus Class: Tropical Forest Ecology and Management

E-campus Course, Spring 2017



CRN # 55003 Open to graduate students and senior-level undergraduates.

Instructor: Seema Mangla; seema.mangla@oregonstate.edu; (541)737-6029


Through this 3-credit course we will study tropical forest ecology and the common ecological patterns found within tropical forests. We will also discuss the threats and challenges that tropical forests face in the 21st century and the issues around human use and their impacts. Finally, we will develop strategies for sustainable management and restoration approaches that alleviate pressure on remaining tropical forests.


Taught via Ecampus only.


Visit http://catalog.oregonstate.edu/CourseDetail.aspx?subjectcode=MNR&coursenumber=530 to register.


New Student Story from Malaysian Borneo

Natural Resources
Faculty-Led Study Abroad
Malaysian Borneo

Written by Rebecca Leclere, CoF International Programs 

In the summer of 2016, Natural Resources major Lawrence Bradburn went looking for adventure. After receiving an email from the OSU College of Forestry regarding international opportunities, Lawrence discovered the several short-term faculty led programs offered by the college. After some consideration, Lawrence landed with the program Oil Palms and Orangutans: Forest Conservation in Malaysian Borneo, led by John Bliss.

            It sounded “the most adventurous,” says Lawrence, since Borneo was a country he had never thought to explore on his own. After watching the National Geographic video depicting travel to Borneo, Lawrence was hooked.

            In August of 2016, Lawrence and a group of OSU students took to the air on their way to meet in Borneo.

            The program, led by Dr. John Bliss, focused primarily on the effects of palm oil plantations and the forest removal that accompanies them on native ecosystems and wildlife. There was also a social aspect of the study. Aside from the plantations’ ramifications pertaining to ecosystems, Lawrence and the other students on this program interacted with local citizens in order to determine their feelings about the destruction of the native wildlife. They also learned about some of the steps that locals had already taken to aid in prevention and restoration efforts pertaining to these essential ecosystems.

            Lawrence’s journey began at the Create Center. This village-based workshop is designed to train the next generation in micro-hydro, solar, and biomass related technologies. On their visit, Lawrence and his colleagues spoke with researchers and learned about the developments they were studying in micro-hydro technology, which Lawrence describes simply as diverting the flow of a river to turn a turbine and generate power. On one of their last nights at the Center, Lawrence and his classmates got the chance to attend a barbecue hosted by some of the locals complete with karaoke.

Later, the team visited the Rainforest Discovery Center. While in the reserve, they were fairly isolated from the civilization, and so they didn’t get a chance to explore any of the major cities, but that didn’t stop them from enjoying the natural wonders of Borneo. Lawrence and some of his classmates would get up early and go for nature walks around the reserve to look for native bird species. Lawrence fondly recalls going on an elevated canopy walk which gave him a lush view of biodiversity ordinarily obscured from the ground.

Last on the itinerary was the Danau Girang Field Center, where Lawrence and his classmates spent the majority of their trip. This collaborative research and training facility is nestled inside the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in the heart of Sabah. The sanctuary is home to several species of primates, the Bornean elephant, cat species, the sun bear, unique fauna, and hundreds of species of birds. Because of its surrounding diversity in plant and animal wildlife, Lawrence was given the unique opportunity to assist in graduate student research concerned with this impressive array of biodiversity.

The graduate students at the field center were conducting research on the effects of palm oil plantations on different native species, and so Lawrence and his fellow students got hands on experience interacting with several different animals including primates and monitor lizards.

            Lawrence got the chance to meet with other local researchers from conservation companies and research stations when he attended the annual Borneo Rhythms of Rimba (ROR) Wildlife Festival. The mission of ROR is to bring together leading environmental experts and movements that are shaping the way the world is addressing global environmental issues. Lawrence describes the event as vibrant with booths, speakers, music, and food.

            Lawrence’s time in Borneo didn’t end with the program. After Oil Palms and Orangutans was officially over, Lawrence met up his wife and they stayed on to explore more of the country for an additional twelve days.

            From his experiences abroad, Lawrence says that he learned a lot about how “the other side thinks”.

            “We go in thinking we have the solution, as Americans,” says Lawrence. He was pleasantly surprised to discover the innovation that had already taken place to conserve the rainforest and the alternative methods and ideas that local citizens had implemented.

            More than anything else, though, Lawrence relished the opportunity to connect with other students outside of the classroom. As an e-campus student, Lawrence hadn’t experienced live lectures or hands-on group projects for some time. Going to Borneo not only allowed him to see the world, it also gave him the opportunity to work with and interact with other people in his field as they studied and collaborated on projects concerned with preserving the Malaysian rainforest.

            To anyone considering studying abroad, Lawrence urges you to “be open to try new things… don’t limit yourself.”

            In pushing himself to travel to another country, Lawrence experienced incredible new things including trying new foods and befriending people he never would have met otherwise. He made connections with researchers from across the globe and gained unique perspective on different forms of conservation work practiced in other countries. 

Canopy Research in Chile

Are you planning on traveling to Chile this Spring? Or maybe just interested in some of the research that is being conducted abroad? Click the link below to to learn about the research that OSU professors Chris Still and Dave Shaw are working on in tandem with Chilean researcher Camila Tejo that sparked the faculty-led program available to students this Spring break. 

New E-campus Class this Winter

E-campus Course offered in Winter Quarter 2017 (starts on January 9th 2017)

Invasive Plants: Biology, Ecology and Management (3 credits) FES 548

Instructor: Seema Mangla, seema.mangla@oregonstate.edu

Course description: Concepts of plant physiology, genetics and population dynamics are used to understand how plant invasions occur and some communities continue to exist. Management implications are explored.

Link to register for the class: http://catalog.oregonstate.edu/CourseDetail.aspx?subjectcode=FES&coursenumber=548

Sample Syllabus attached

P.S. If you notice a different name for FES 548, the name has been changed starting from winter term 2016

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