Thursday, July 10, 2014


The Pine Integrated Network: Education, Mitigation and Adaptation Project (PINEMAP) uses research and education to help southern pine landowners manage forests. Through VDOF’s membership in the Forest Productivity Cooperative, one of PINEMAP’s four primary research installations is at Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest.
These tests are designed to evaluate the effects of climate change, soils and management approaches on planted pine carbon sequestration rates.  The results could better prepare us to manage pine forests in response to predicted climate change scenarios and help improve our knowledge of how best to apply thinning and fertilizer treatments to mid-rotation stands.

The annual report for PINEMAP contains updates on all aspects of the effort, including the research, outreach and education tools. The project is funded by the largest grant ever awarded to productivity research in southern pine.

To learn more about PINEMAP and to read the report, visit

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

VDOF Seedling Unlocks The Largest Genetic Code Ever Sequenced

Using a Virginia Department of Forestry tree seedling, a team of scientists from across the nation has decoded the genome of a loblolly pine tree.  With 22 Billion base pairs, this is the largest genome ever sequenced (in comparison, the human genome has 3 Billion base pairs).

Led by Dr. David Neale, professor of plant sciences at the University of California, Davis, the scientific team – using the tissue from a single VDOF pine seedling – broke down the tree’s DNA into smaller, more manageable data pieces and analyzed them with a super-computer.  The team then re-assembled the pieces, figured out which genes were present, where they are on the genome, and what they do.  This new approach, developed at the University of Maryland, enabled researchers to perform such a large and complex genome sequencing.

“It’s a huge genome,” said Dr. Neale.  “But the challenge isn’t just collecting all the sequence data.  The problem is assembling that sequence into order.  The contribution of loblolly pine tree selection 20-1010 from the Virginia Department of Forestry was critically important not only for the genome sequencing, but more so for all those who follow and will now have completely open access to data and germplasm resources.  Researchers worldwide should be very grateful to the Virginia Department of Forestry.”

The Loblolly pine, grown in the orchard at VDOF’s New Kent Forestry Center, was selected for sequencing because of its broad distribution, economic value and long history of genetic research.

Jerre Creighton, VDOF’s research program coordinator, said, “Loblolly pine is the most common tree species in Virginia and the most commercially important tree in the United States.  It’s the primary source of pulpwood (used to make paper) and sawtimber (lumber).  Today, Loblolly pine is being developed as a potential feedstock for the emerging biofuel industry.”

The results of this research will help scientists breed improved varieties of Loblolly pines, some of which will be more resistant to pathogens, such as fusiform rust – the most damaging disease of southern pines.

“The possibilities are endless now that we know the Loblolly pine genome,” said Creighton.  “And what an honor for the Virginia Department of Forestry to have been selected to provide the tree that unlocked the vast genetic code of this important species!”

In addition to UC Davis and the University of Maryland, the research team was comprised of scientists from Johns Hopkins University, Indiana University – Bloomington, Texas A&M University, Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, and Washington State University.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Hike Virginia’s State Forests; June 7 is National Trails Day

Forestry officials invite citizens out to Virginia’s state forests to celebrate National Trails Day June 7.

Many of Virginia’s 23 state forests offer miles of trails for walking, hiking and bird watching. Trails allow for recreation and are a great way to get the public to increase their physical activity in an outdoor setting. Trail users can explore in solitude and find peace and tranquility. Or, join family or friends for an outdoor social activity.

Passive recreational opportunities, such as walking, hiking and canoeing, are provided free of charge. Horseback riding, mountain biking, hunting, fishing and trapping all require a State Forest Use Permit when persons 16 years and older enjoy these activities on a state forest.

Located in the Richmond area, the Appomattox-Buckingham, Cumberland, Zoar and Prince Edward – Gallion state forests offer more than 60 miles of trails. A complete list of state forests can be found on the Virginia Department of Forestry website at

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