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Gary A. Chastagner

Gary A. Chastagner was born in Woodland, CA. He received an A.A. in Natural Science from Sacramento City College, his B.A. in Biology and Industrial Arts from California State University, Fresno, and M.S. and Ph.D. in Plant Pathology from the University of California, Davis. Gary worked briefly as a Post Doctoral Fellow at UC Davis before joining the faculty at Washington State University in 1978 at the Research and Extension Center in Puyallup, WA, working on ornamental bulb crop and turfgrass diseases. He added responsibilities for Christmas trees in 1980, hybrid poplars in 1988, and sudden oak death in 2003. He was promoted to Professor in 1998 and currently has statewide research and extension responsibilities for ornamental bulb crops, Christmas trees, and sudden oak death.

Gary has developed a highly respected and productive extension and research program with international impact. He has received over $5.7 million in competitive and noncompetitive funding and published 70 peer reviewed papers, 23 non-refereed professional papers, 27 extension bulletins, 9 web pages, 1 educational video, 9 book chapters, 70 technical publications, 93 popular press articles, 132 abstracts, and given more than 600 presentations to regional, national and international audiences.

The following is a brief summary of Gary’s programs and their impact.

Ornamental bulb crops: Early in his career, Gary showed how some new fungicides improved the control of several Botrytis diseases. On tulips, the increased productivity was estimated at $2 million in Washington State. He also was involved in the development of a detached leaf inoculation procedure that was used by breeders to develop screening procedures to identify sources of Botrytis-resistant germplasm and formed the basis for the development of the BoWaS disease forecasting system in the Netherlands. When growers were facing the loss of formaldehyde to prevent the spread of basal rot during hot water treatment of bulbs, Gary introduced the use of chlorine dioxide as an eco-friendly alternative. This material is now being tested internationally by researchers in other bulb production regions.

Christmas tree disease management: Swiss needle cast (SNC) on Douglas-fir was an emerging problem in the late 1970s. Gary’s research on the epidemiology of SNC led to the development of effective monitoring and control measures for this disease, which, in 1981, caused preharvest losses of $3.4 million in western Washington and Oregon. The control measures Gary developed required a single spray and cost about 5 cents per tree. The disease monitoring and control program that was put in place 30 years ago has virtually eliminated SNC from Christmas tree plantations in the Pacific Northwest and has improved postharvest tree performance.

When the demand for noble fir increased in the mid1980s, growers faced production problems with diseases like interior needle blight (INB), current season needle necrosis (CSNN), Annosus root rot and Phytophthora root rot. Gary’s research showed that INB, which was causing losses of up to $30,000 per acre, could be controlled with 1 or 2 fungicide sprays. He showed that CSNN was a physiological disorder that is under genetic control and is more likely to develop in plantings at low elevation sites. Gary determined that tree mortality of up to 35% from Annosus root rot in some growers’ fields was associated with planting seedlings next to newly-infected stumps. He found that a simple way to prevent stump infection was to “kick” soil onto them immediately after harvest.  Gary’s Phytophthora root rot research revealed that there are at least eight species of this pathogen on trees in the PNW for which applications of fungicides have not been effective. Although most Abies spp. are considered susceptible to Phytophthora root rot, Gary showed that there are some species, notably Nordmann and Turkish fir, that appear resistant. He found that these species are also resistant to several common insect pests. As a result of this work, the number of Nordmann fir planted in 2007 (511,000) was 10 times greater than in 1998.

During the past 15 years, Gary has worked with scientists and industry partners in eight states and four foreign countries to identify genetically superior sources of trees.  North American cooperators collect branches from existing seed orchards and send them to Puyallup for needle loss testing. Scion wood is then collected from the trees with excellent needle retention, which is under strong genetic control, to establish improved grafted seed orchards in North America and Europe. The testing procedure Gary developed has dramatically changed how trees are being evaluated and will eventually lead to better quality trees for consumers.

Gary’s WSU Tree Care Recommendations are widely read across the nation. Because of his extensive knowledge of the care and handling of Christmas trees, he has partnered with the Christmas tree industry and fire regulatory agencies to develop educational brochures and community service programs dealing with proper tree care and fire safety. He co-organized a “Flammability of Cut Christmas Trees” workshop at an International Association of Arson Investigators Annual Conference, where he gave an overview of factors that affect the moisture level of cut Christmas trees and described a research trial studying the effects of fire retardant use and display care on the postharvest quality and flammability of Douglas-fir Christmas trees.

Gary co-founded the International Christmas Tree Research and Extension Conference and hosted the first meeting of this group in 1987. This conference provides a unique venue for research and extension scientists working on Christmas trees to share ideas and, more importantly, develop collaborative projects to address issues facing the industry.

Working with regulatory agencies and industry partners, Gary’s program also provides research-based information relating to the detection, spread and management of sudden oak death in Washington State. He has developed biocontainment facilities to work with this regulated pathogen and a molecular bioscience laboratory that provides valuable information to regulatory agencies on population structure and spread of this pathogen. The WSU SOD program is recognized for its leadership in studying the potential risk this pathogen poses to conifers. Hands-on and web-based programs have provided information to the public and trained hundreds of growers.