Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ring Named State Forester of Virginia

Bettina Ring has been appointed State Forester by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Ring most recently served as Senior Vice President of Family Forests at the American Forest Foundation where she was responsible for overseeing the American Tree Farm System®, the largest and oldest sustainable woodland program  in America, supporting more than 80,000 family forest owners collectively managing 27 million acres of certified woodlands.

Ms. Ring has a long history in the conservation and forestry sectors, having spent 14 years at the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF), departing the agency in 2001 as Deputy State  Forester.  In her role, Ms. Ring was responsible for operations, and helped to develop and implement a new mission, vision and strategic plan for the department. In the years following her VDOF service, Ms. Ring held various leadership positions within nonprofit organizations focusing on natural resources management and conservation, including the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts, The Wilderness Land Trust and the Bay Area Open Space Council. Ring holds a bachelor’s degree in forestry and wildlife from Virginia Tech and a master’s degree in business administration from James Madison University.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Cankerworms Expected to Make Return Visit to Richmond Area

As spring finally arrives in the Richmond region, fall cankerworms are expected to return this month with a vengeance, according to officials with the Virginia Department of Forestry.

For the past two years, people in the area have complained about the worms hanging from silken strands in their yards and crawling over everything.  In areas where infestations are heavy, people can even hear them eating the leaves off their trees (the sound is actually due to the worms’ frass [bug poop] falling from the trees).

“While cankerworms aren’t harmful to people, they can be a great nuisance or cause distress to those who have a particular aversion to insects,” said Dr. Chris Asaro, VDOF’s forest health specialist.  “The real problem is the defoliation they can cause.  Typically, one year of heavy defoliation will not greatly harm an otherwise healthy tree, but with two or three straight years of heavy defoliation, tree death becomes much more common.”

Homeowners have just a short time to protect vulnerable trees.

Dave Terwilliger, VDOF’s area forester in Hanover County, said, “There’s a relatively non-toxic insecticide called B.t. that homeowners can have sprayed on trees to control cankerworm, but it must be applied soon after the cankerworms’ eggs hatch to be effective.  The best time to do that spraying is when the host tree’s leaves begin emerging.  If you wait until you see defoliation, it’s too late for B.t. to be effective and the damage is already done.”

Cankerworms become moths, which begin emerging from the ground in the fall.  Female moths are wingless and flightless, and they climb to the tops of trees to lay their eggs.  This occurs between November and March.  In December 2013, VDOF officials wrapped a band of plastic covered with a sticky substance around the base of 70 trees between Richmond and Fredericksburg to monitor the female moths.  As the moths attempt to climb to the top of the trees, they become caught in the sticky bands.  Counting the number of female moths in the bands serves as an indicator of potential spring defoliation levels.

Dr. Asaro said, “Typically, catching more than 100 female moths per tree during the winter would suggest heavy defoliation in the spring.  Most of the trees we banded had several hundred female moths with some approaching 1,000 female moths per tree.”

Large cankerworm outbreaks are often sustained for only a year or two before their population crashes due to natural enemies, such as birds, disease, insect predators and parasites.  During the past couple of years, however, cankerworm activity has spanned more than 2 million acres in eastern Virginia.

According to Dr. Asaro, such an expansive infestation over several years has never been reported before in this region.

“On a broad scale, the current outbreak seems to be self-sustaining, and it’s not clear when a complete population crash will finally occur,” he said.  “Due to the limited dispersal of the adult moths, outbreaks tend to recur in the same areas over many decades.”

Homeowners who wish to protect the trees on their property from fall cankerworms are urged to take action now.  The focus for protection should be high-value landscape trees, particularly oaks, which are a preferred food source for cankerworms.  Contact a professional arborist to perform the spraying operation.

Dr. Asaro said, “In ecological terms, cankerworms and other defoliators can have a beneficial effect on the forest by providing a food source for birds and other wildlife.  In addition, all that frass falling to the ground restores nutrients to the soil, which trees can recover through their root systems.  Most trees will re-foliate quickly and fully recover from defoliation.  The general public should not be too concerned about environmental impacts from this pest.”

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Acorn Crop Very Light This Year

Oaks are among the most common hardwood tree species in many parts of Virginia.  Because of their importance both as a source of forest regeneration and as a mast crop for wildlife, each year’s acorn crop is the subject of much attention.  Many reports from various parts of the Commonwealth indicate that the acorn crop this fall is very light, according to officials at the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF).

VDOF Research Program Manager Jerre Creighton said, “Acorn production varies widely – from nearly zero to a quarter million or more acorns per acre. Different locations, years, species and even individual trees produce extremely different crops, and heavy ‘bumper’ crops occur only every two to seven years.”

Many factors – such as weather, insects and disease – that collectively influence acorn development from the time of flower initiation to acorn maturity.

Late spring freezes and high humidity during pollination are primary causes (we experienced both of these over much of Virginia in 2013).  In addition, research has shown that the inherent cycles between bumper crops and light crops may be an adaptation to allow the trees to restore their resources following a bumper crop.

Creighton said, “In other words, a large crop one year may reduce the trees’ resources resulting in lower production the following year(s). Since 2012 was a bumper crop of acorns for much of Virginia, this could be another explanation for this year’s light crop.  The overall consensus seems to be that there are inherent cycles of reproduction that are modified by the impact of weather conditions in a particular location.”

Gary Norman of DGIF said, “Acorn production in Virginia in 2013 was low – comparable to the previous low in 2008.  The white oak crop appeared to uniformly fail across the state, while some pockets (generally in eastern Virginia) of good red oak production were found.  Mast production has alternated from high to low levels since 2010. The impacts of acorns on wildlife populations are extensive and complex.  And they are most dramatic where there is little diversity of habitat types and few alternative food sources to acorns.”

DGIF officials are concerned about a light crop because acorns are a preferred food for many wildlife species, including white-tailed deer, black bear and wild turkey.  Acorns are rich in fat, soluble carbohydrates and energy, which are important nutritional needs that contribute to the animal’s body condition, survival, harvest rates, reproduction and, eventually, population status.  The roaming range of black bear and wild turkey can increase two- to four-fold in years with mast failures, and long-range gray squirrel movement can be significant as they search for acorns.

Norman said, “Oftentimes the search for food creates situations that bring wildlife closer into residential areas to find human-related food sources resulting in unwanted interactions between animals and people.”

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Forests and Fall Migration

At this time of year, Virginia’s forests are changing in ways beyond the obvious fall color display. Forest dwellers are changing their seasonal habits as well. Birds and waterfowl, noticing the drop in temperature, shorter days and dwindling food supply, are beginning their annual migration.

A streamside forest is a great place to observe birds and waterfowl migrating from September through January. Follow the trails along rivers, streams and forested shorelines. These riparian buffer zones, with habitat and food for a variety of ducks and birds, are great places to watch the activity.

Migratory species require frequent meals to sustain their energy. Favorite foods include insects, small fish, fruits, small nuts and seeds.

Migrating finch are on the lookout for small seeds. River Birch, Sycamore, Sweet Gum, Cottonwood Poplar and pines all have smaller, nutrient-rich seeds to boost the energy level of migratory species. Turkeys scour for acorns. After a frost, fruits such as soft persimmons, holly berries and dogwood berries have high sugar content, making them a good migratory snack. Some fruits remain on trees throughout the winter, providing forage for the year-round residents that don’t migrate, such as cardinals.

To learn more about migratory species that frequent and live in riparian forests along waterways visit the following websites:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology www.birds.cornell.edu 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Find Fall Color Off The Beaten Path

Visitors come from near and far to admire Virginia’s autumn splendor. Some of our foresters have developed local scenic driving tours as an alternative to well-known, and well-traveled, locations.

The self-guided driving directions offer spectacular views in some of our most picturesque countryside. Scenic driving tours are listed for the following areas:

  • Charlottesville and Culpeper Area: counties of Greene and Madison
  • Harrisonburg area: counties of Rockingham and Shenandoah
  • Lexington area: Bath County
  • Roanoke area: counties of Bedford, Craig and Franklin
  • Staunton area: Highland County
To learn more about the fall foliage season in Virginia, and access or print driving directions, visit dof.virginia.gov/fall/.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fall Fire Season Now Underway

As temperatures begin to dip and the leaves on the trees begin to change color, it’s time once again for the start of fall wildfire season in the Commonwealth. Officials at the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) remind all Virginians that the threat of wildfire increases each autumn as leaves dry out and fall from trees, grasses turn brown, humidity levels drop and winds increase.

“Wildfires are directly linked to weather conditions,” said John Miller, director of resource protection at VDOF. “Whether it’s someone burning debris or trash, an unattended campfire or an intentional case of arson, wildfires have a greater chance of causing bodily harm or property damage in the fall and spring months because the conditions are right for fires to burn hotter and spread faster.”

Each year, Virginia experiences more than 1,200 wildfires that burn more than 10,000 acres of land. VDOF employees annually protect hundreds of homes from the ravages of wildfires, but each year there are always some homes that are destroyed by these wildfires.

Miller said, “Since more than 95 percent of wildfires that occur in Virginia are the result of human activity, taking even the simplest precautions with outdoor fires will significantly reduce the occurrence of wildfires and the threat to you and your neighbors.”

Fall Fire Season runs annually from October 15 to November 30.

Friday, September 20, 2013

VDOF Working to Plant Trees on Open Lands

As part of its Open Lands Tree Planting Initiative, the Virginia Department of Forestry has hired a mapping and outreach specialist to work out of the Mecklenburg County Forestry Office. Tim Minich will analyze land-use data from multiple sources, identify appropriate land for tree planting and conduct some field forestry work in one of three outreach focus areas of the Commonwealth.
The Open Lands Tree Planting Initiative is designed to prevent the loss of forestland; increase the sustainability of the forest resource, and improve water quality and diminished species concerns. The strategies to tackle these issues are to: promote and enhance forested watersheds; improve stewardship, health, diversity of forest products, and conserve the forestland base.
Senior Area Forester Adam Smith said, “The opportunities to consider in the open land outreach are to increase forests and benefits; plant pine in the more than 71,000 acres each year that revert back to a natural forest, and to overcome the natural reversion of forest stands that are under stocked with undesirable species.”
Minich will be working with area VDOF employees who have local knowledge and extensive county contacts, along with partner agencies, such as the Soil and Water Conservation District, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm Service Agency and Virginia Cooperative Extension. He will send letters to land owners, conduct presentations for community groups and develop landowner workshop opportunities.
Minich said, “The state target goals will be 200 new sites and more than 2,000 acres of open land on which to plant.”
Smith said, “We are confident the additional outreach efforts will pay great dividends. The Virginia Department of Forestry will provide the tools and the manpower to assist any interested landowner with available cost-share funds from state and federal sources. It is a win, win situation for all.”
Minich will focus his efforts in the counties of Mecklenburg, Lunenburg and Brunswick but will also do some work in the counties of Prince George, Sussex, Surry, Isle of Wight, Greensville, Southampton and the City of Suffolk.
To learn more about the Open Lands Tree Planting Initiative or to contact Tim Minich, please call 434.738.6123.