Francisca Belart: Promoting sustainable forestry

Francisca Belart was initially attracted to Oregon State because of its international reputation in forest operations education. As an undergraduate in forest engineering at Universidad Austral de Chile, she realized that southern Chile and Oregon have a lot in common.

“The landscape and forest operations challenges are similar,” Belart says. “Although we don’t make exactly the same type of forest products, I think we can learn a lot from each other.”

Belart chose Oregon State to earn a master’s degree in forest engineering.

“I’m interested in both economic and environmental sustainability,” Belart says, “and something that really attracted me to Oregon is that it keeps a really good balance in that regard. In Chile it’s more black and white.”

After graduating in 2008, Belart returned to Chile and went to work as a planning engineer at Forestal Mininco, Chile’s second largest forest products company. Three years later, she was offered an opportunity to become involved in a cutting-edge research project to convert to aviation fuel, and she eagerly returned to Oregon State as a graduate research assistant. Funded by the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance, the project allowed her to earn a Ph.D. in sustainable forest management.

In August 2016, Oregon State hired Belart as an assistant professor and timber harvesting specialist. In her new position, she supports the work of county extension agents and teaches classes to small woodland owners. In the near future, she wants to develop a new class to support sound decision-making around biomass operations.

“Harvest residues are a fire hazard,” Belart says. “Landowners need to clear up space for replanting, and protection laws require that you have to replant after harvesting, so most of the time they need to get rid of that biomass somehow — and it’s a problem.”

Selling the biomass for conversion into biofuel is one option, but collection and transportation costs present significant roadblocks to landowners. Belart’s doctoral thesis addressed moisture management to improve biomass transportation efficiency.

“I would like to downscale my thesis so that small, private landowners can have better use of the information,” she says. The class will help landowners make decisions about the financial feasibility of selling their harvest residues instead of burning them, thus reducing the environmental impact of harvesting while supporting financial sustainability.

In the research arena, Belart is working with two other faculty members on a project that examines the effects of new harvesting technologies on soil properties.

Belart supports the College of Forestry’s Chile Initiative by preparing students and interns to travel to her home country and welcoming scholars who travel from Chile to visit Oregon State. 

She also serves as an ambassador of sorts to the Chilean forest industry. Two years ago, she facilitated a tour to Chile with Dean Thomas Maness and several Oregon industry leaders, including providing translation services as the group toured the country’s forestry infrastructure, plantations, sawmills and other sites.