Richard A. Werner

B.S., Forestry, 1958

Richard A. “Skeeter” Werner completed a B.S. in Forestry at Penn State in 1958. From 1957 until 2009, he held 10 professional positions with the USDA Forest Service, ranging from forester to supervisory research entomologist, to project/team leader. He is regarded as an authority on boreal forest insects of North America and has taught forest protection courses at the University of Alaska, where he is an affiliate professor of forestry and a senior research associate. He has authored 125 scientific publications including two books. 

Skeeter earned a second baccalaureate degree in Forest Entomology at Penn State in 1960, an M.S. in secondary education from Kutztown State University in 1961, an M.S. in Entomology/Insect Physiology from the University of Maryland in 1966, and Ph.D. in Entomology/Insect Toxicology from North Carolina State in 1971.

His earliest work in forestry included a summer job as a forestry student aid on the Umpqua National Forest in southcentral Oregon doing forest inventory. He started his research career in Juneau, Alaska, in 1960 doing research on the black-headed budworm and hemlock sawfly.

His research for the next 10 years was at the Southeastern Forest Experiment Station in Research Triangle Park, NC. He was the first to determine the metabolic pathway of Monitor and Orthene (acephate) in forest trees. His research aided in the registration of Orthene by Chevron Chemical Company for use in forest trees. This insecticide is still used for phytophagous insects in the United States.

Skeeter transferred to the Pacific Northwest station at Fairbanks in 1974 and was immediately confronted with an outbreak of the spear-marked black moth that defoliated 2.5 million acres of birch. He developed sampling methods for the larval, pupal, and adult stages of the moth and also developed a system for forecasting insect population levels. He assembled information on all aspects of the insect's biology, behavior, natural control, and impact on host trees, and is now the only world authority on this important defoliator of birch.

Several other projects and research initiatives are highlighted here:

  • He studied the population dynamics of arthropods in six vegetation types of the boreal forest.  He found four taxonomic classes representing 94 arthropod families at the herb, shrub, and tree levels of aspen, birch, balsam popular, white spruce, and upland and river floodplain black spruce.
  • He proposed and helped in the development of a handbook on insects and diseases of Alaskan forests published in 1980. 
  • He investigated the carbon/nitrogen balance in aspen and birch and its effect on the production of defensive chemicals.  This information was important in the development of a model to predict the amount of expected defoliation, tree condition, and insect mortality in stands of aspen and birch in interior Alaska.
  • He helped plan, develop, and carry out a series of studies on the effects of fire and insect outbreaks on plant succession and tree growth in taiga ecosystems. 
  • He became the world’s authority on the spruce beetle and conducted many studies on the use of several commercial formulations of insecticides and repellents as possible remedial and preventive control techniques for reducing spruce beetle populations. With a team of colleagues, he developed a knowledge-based decision support system (SBexpert) for spruce beetle management in Alaska. 

As Project Leader at the Institute of Northern Forestry (1985-1991), he directed the research of 12 scientists in seven problem areas. He had administrative responsibility for formulating forest pest control policies and guidelines. He retired from the Pacific Northwest Research Station in 1996 after 37 years with the USDA Forest Service. 

Skeeter currently has a forest health consulting business and is a volunteer for the Pacific Northwest Research Station. He is currently involved in Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) at the Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska conducting research on the effects of climate change on forest insects.

Among the honors he has received are a Certificate of Merit in 1989 for research following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, AK; the USDA National New Perspectives Award in 1993; a Centennial Fellows Award in 2004 from Penn State Mont Alto for scientific contributions to the field of forestry; and for his lifetime accomplishments, he was recognized with the Founders Award from the Western Forest Insect Work Conference at its 2012 annual meeting in British Columbia, Canada.

Skeeter is a member of the Penn State Alpha Chapter of Tau Phi Delta, pledging in the spring of 1956. Later during his grad school days, he was inducted into Phi Sigma, the honor society for students of biological sciences. He has been a Society of American Foresters (SAF) member since his college days and served as chair of the Fairbanks Chapter SAF until his retirement.

Originally from Reading, Pennsylvania, he and Pat, his wife of nearly 40 years, today reside in Corvallis, Oregon. In his community he has served as a merit badge counselor for the Boy Scouts of America, and is involved with the Rose Society of America Chapter in Corvallis and the Corvallis Bonsai Society.