October 12, 2001 11:00 pm
INSECT FASCINATION: Research entomologist Torgie Torgersen often studied insects predatory to the Tussock moth, including the specimens stored here. (The Observer/T.L. PETERSEN).
INSECT FASCINATION: Research entomologist Torgie Torgersen often studied insects predatory to the Tussock moth, including the specimens stored here. (The Observer/T.L. PETERSEN).

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

Alaska and the Pacific Northwest are more than just physical miles from Brooklyn, N.Y.

For a young man growing up in the 1940s and 50s, they were a cultural universe away.

Torolf Torgy Torgersen was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens. He then started training for a life as a meat-cutter.

His father, who worked at New York Harbor, encouraged his sons interest in camping and the Boy Scouts, but the push toward life outside of New York wasnt strong.

Except for one thing.

Torgersen in looking at his future felt sure there had to be something more, something else.

I thought being a forest ranger sounded neat, he chuckled recently in the days before retiring from the Forest and Range Services lab along Gekeler Lane.

He didnt really know what a forest ranger did, but figured hed go for it.

Torgersen, who after almost 40 years, has retired as a Forest Service research entomologist, quit meatcutting to attend the New York Ranger School. He did so well there, it was suggested he study forestry in college.

He agreed to give it a swack, he said, and went on to get a bachelors degree in forestry, with, because of the interest spurred by a single required class, a minor in entomology.

A summer spent as a field technician in the Pacific Northwest, and Torgersen was back at the University of Wisconsin at Madison to work on his masters and later a doctorate degree.

Eventually, fully degreed, Torgersen and his wife, Anna, a technical science writer and editor, headed for a job and a new love in Alaska.

That love living in a maritime climate has lasted through learning to dive, kayaking, sailing bicycling wherever and whenever they can.

After nearly 19 years based in La Grande, the Torgersens are heading to retirement at Anacortes, Wash., to a house from which they can see the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Behind, Torgersen has left an impressive body of work on the Tussock moth and the insects that prey on it, on insect damage to the Western Spruce, and on many of the natural problems of changing forests.

His work, Torgersen said, has taken him to studies about downed trees, black bears and woodpeckers, to name a few. It all suggests how everything is related, he said. But as a scientist, the relationships are clear. What is harder, he insists, is quantifying details.

How much downed timber triggered an outbreak of certain species of insects? What level of insect infestation triggered a population surge among certain types of predatory birds? Does a large population of woodpeckers lead to more damaging insects by creating more holes in the downed timber? The connections go on and on, making twists and turns in what sometimes seems an endless quest for knowledge.

Ill never cease to be interested Torgersen said of the scientific research process. I will continue to be involved with the people involved in the research.

Torgersen will spend several months finishing up the publication process for some of this research, and expects to be involved in reviewing other research for some time to come.

And hell be following the research to come that his work will be triggering.

Torgersen has been responsible for identifying six new species of insects and three subspecies related to the Tussock moth problem, and in recent months hes organized the forestry labs historical photography collection of insects, insect damage, and changes in the land in Eastern Oregon. Many of the photographs were taken using glass plates, and these, along with early black-and-white shots that are now organized by photographer, subject and year.

Torgersen spends no time bemoaning what hes leaving undone. Other researchers will carry on.

He spends little time thinking about what he isnt going to do. Theres simply too much to do with all the plans ahead.

Hell enjoy the sleuthing of research, and is happy to look forward to spending more time with his wife.

Hell stay in touch with fellow researchers and friends.

And hell continue bicycling, whatever the weather in Anacortes. He doesnt expect to be slowed, as happened in La Grande, by too much ice.