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.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Southwest Virginia Residents Starting to See Widespread Decline of Hemlocks

Hemlock trees are an important component of the forests in southwest Virginia, but they are under attack by a tiny insect capable of killing the trees, according to officials with the Virginia Department of Forestry.

While not a major timber species, hemlock trees have numerous environmental benefits due to their high tolerance for shade. Hemlocks grow particularly well along stream sides and moist cove habitats, providing deep shade that helps moderate temperatures, enhances habitat for fish and wildlife, and increases overall biodiversity.

Senior Area Forester Bill Miller said, “The tiny, aphid-like insect called the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA), which is an invasive species from Asia, poses a major threat to the hemlock resource.”

Accidentally introduced to Richmond, Va., in 1951, the insect has since spread throughout the entire native range of hemlock within the Commonwealth. However, despite its presence in Virginia for more than 60 years, it took most of that time to reach the southwestern Virginia counties bordering Kentucky and Tennessee, where it’s been known for only the last five to 10 years. New county records for the hemlock woolly adelgid were established for Russell and Tazewell in 2005; Buchanan, Dickenson, Wise and Lee in 2006, and Scott in 2007.

VDOF Forest Health Specialist Dr. Chris Asaro said, “Hemlock woolly adelgids are immobile after finding a suitable place on the tree to feed. They insert their straw-like mouthparts into the terminal ends of hemlock branches, sucking sap and producing a white, waxy coating over their bodies, which looks something like tiny balls of cotton. Adult female hemlock woolly adelgids also lay their eggs within this protective wax. Most people never observe the actual insects, but are more likely to see these tiny white balls of wax scattered around the underside of twigs and terminal branches.”

While many species of insects suck sap in this way and are mostly harmless, HWA is unique in that its saliva is toxic to eastern hemlocks in North America, according to Dr. Asaro. Thus, their feeding causes localized tissue damage and death, which spreads from twigs to branches and, ultimately, to the entire tree. This process of decline and death from their feeding will often occur within five years of initial attack. However, this is highly variable, and many hemlock trees infested with HWA have survived for many more years without showing symptoms of severe decline. Scientists still don’t fully understand what factors dictate this variability; but older, larger trees seem to succumb more quickly than mid-sized trees and saplings, at least in some locations.

Increasingly, homeowners and landowners across southwest Virginia are becoming more aware that something is wrong with their hemlocks, but may not understand the cause. However, once identification of HWA occurs, there are some control options available. While it’s true that hemlocks will likely continue to decline and die in many forested locations, it is also possible for homeowners to protect their ornamental hemlocks using a variety of products available over-the-counter.

Miller said, “For smaller trees in which all parts of the tree are easily reached, insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils are quite effective, and are relatively safe to use and easy to apply. The down side is that they wash off fairly regularly and have to be reapplied with greater frequency, especially the soaps. Soaps, however, are extremely safe to handle and are relatively non-toxic. Oils are slightly more toxic than soaps but don’t have to be reapplied as frequently. Both are fairly inexpensive.”

For protection of larger trees, systemic insecticides that can be applied to the soil and root zone are available. Systemic insecticides are taken up by the tree through the roots over several months until the product is circulated through the entire tree.

Dr. Asaro said, “This can sometimes take up to six months depending on tree size and other factors, so it should be applied before trees start to decline significantly. Systemic insecticides work best if applied in the springtime. If too much of the crown is already killed, uptake of the insecticide will be poor.”

These products are considered easy to use but are more expensive. However, one application to the soil usually affords two to three years of protection to the tree before it needs to be reapplied.

Dr. Asaro said, “These systemic products should not be used near water or in areas with a high water table, or near trees or crops that are pollinated by insects. Follow all pesticide label directions exactly; the label is the law.”

Homeowners should be aware of their options for protecting their hemlock trees. Unfortunately, HWA is becoming a fact of life for this area and will no doubt impact many landowners negatively. For more information about HWA, please contact your local Virginia Department of Forestry or Virginia Cooperative Extension office.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Scattered yellow-poplar decline reported across Lee, Wise and Scott counties

Recent declines in yellow-poplar in Lee, Wise and Scott counties have landowners concerned over the health of one of the most abundant and resilient hardwood trees in Virginia’s forests. While not entirely certain about the reason for the declines, Virginia Department of Forestry personnel believe they may stem from past insect infestations that previously went unnoticed.

Yellow-poplar, or tulip poplar, is the most common hardwood tree in Virginia and one of the most important timber species in far southwest Virginia. Its rapid growth, straight trunk and wood properties, along with its abundance, make it an excellent tree for loggers to harvest in bulk and bring to the mills. Generally speaking, yellow-poplar is a resilient tree that does particularly well in moist cove habitats and fertile soils common to the lower slopes and valleys of the southern Appalachians. It also has very few insect and disease problems due to the fact that the leaves, bark and wood contain a host of chemicals that deter them. Even an invasive species like the gypsy moth, which can feed on more than 200 species of trees and shrubs, will completely avoid feeding on yellow-poplar.

“Two notable exceptions to this rule, however, are native insects known as the tulip tree scale and the poplar weevil,” said Bill Miller, senior area forester with the Virginia Department of Forestry. “The scale is a tiny sap-sucking insect that produces a brown, waxy covering that looks something like a tortoise shell. Populations of these insects can occasionally reach such high levels in the forest that they can damage and even kill poplar trees, although this is rarely seen in southwest Virginia.”

On the other hand, the poplar weevil is a defoliating insect that is particularly common in southwest Virginia, especially in Lee, Scott, Wise, Dickenson, Buchanan, Russell and Washington counties, along with adjacent counties in Kentucky and Tennessee. In most of these counties, as many as six to eight poplar weevil outbreaks have been documented over the last 25 years by forest health personnel with the Virginia Department of Forestry. Feeding by individual weevils in spring causes little damage to newly emerged leaves, other than a small brown patch. During outbreaks, however, millions of weevils can result in poplar trees being heavily defoliated. These outbreaks are often patchy in nature but can span large areas.

VDOF Forest Health Specialist Dr. Chris Asaro said, “While the word ‘outbreak’ can sound very dramatic, the truth is that these defoliation events are often not noticed from the ground for several reasons: they are very patchy across the landscape and often occur in remote areas that are not easily visible. In addition, poplar trees are generally quite tall and most people driving by don’t have the tendency to look up. Furthermore, while complete defoliation of poplar can occasionally occur, trees with adequate moisture often leaf out again pretty quickly, erasing any evidence of past damage. Outbreaks typically don’t last very long in any one area either because poplar weevil has a host of other insects that prey on them, which usually causes outbreak populations to crash after a year or two.”

While one defoliation event by itself is probably not going to cause poplars to decline or die, several defoliation events over successive years can weaken trees and, combined with other stressors such as drought, lead to some localized dieback, decline or even death. Recently, some landowners across Lee, Wise and Scott counties have seen such poplar decline over the last few years and have expressed concerns to local foresters. In most cases, these areas of decline are small – generally from ½ acre to several acres in size – although several locations have exhibited decline spanning 50 acres to 100 acres.

“There appears to be no obvious reason why these declines show up where they do, other than the fact that these areas were known to have several weevil outbreaks during past years,” Asaro said.

“Because tree decline is a gradual process that can take many years and be caused by multiple agents, it’s always difficult to pinpoint exact causes. But knowing that the weevil is a major presence in the region and one of the few insects that can feed on poplar, it seems very possible that it is playing a prominent role in these decline events,” Asaro said.

The good news is that the affected areas are quite small, and most of the poplar trees are weakened but not dead. That means the wood is probably still sound and can be salvaged, so most landowners can still profit from forests with some poplar decline. Forest landowners concerned about their poplar stands should consult their local Virginia Department of Forestry office for further information and advice.

Friday, September 13, 2013

New Community Planning Resource Guide Available

Citizens or communities across Virginia will be better able to map their most significant natural resources and to prepare plans to conserve or restore them thanks to a new guidebook prepared by the Green Infrastructure Center (GIC) in Charlottesville.

“Evaluating and Conserving Green Infrastructure Across the Landscape: A Practitioner’s Guide” is a 132-page spiral-bound guide that presents a way to think about and catalogue a community’s natural assets as well as to prioritize them for long-term stewardship. The guide is based on six years of field testing from the Eastern Shore and coastal plain to the Piedmont and Shenandoah Valley. It sells for $29.95.
Green infrastructure includes all the interconnected natural systems in a landscape. These include intact forests, woodlands, wetlands, parks, rivers, and soils that help provide clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat and food.

“This is not a guide about how to stop development or limit population growth,” said GIC Director Karen Firehock. “It describes the steps a community can take to determine what is important and develop a rationale for what to protect. The guide helps planners, land trusts and community groups determine where their most significant natural assets, such as large intact forest blocks, are located. They can also determine which of these assets are the most important for achieving key functions, such as protecting clean water, supporting wildlife or providing outdoor recreation.

“If we don’t know where our best watershed areas are or where our best quality agricultural soils are located, this vital information isn’t included in the comprehensive plans, master plans or zoning laws that guide development,” Firehock said. “Once such natural resources are removed from the community, they are most often lost forever.”

The guide provides the steps for determining how to facilitate development in ways that reduce its impact on the landscape. It also provides the steps to use cost-free state models to develop maps that can inform planners, builders, community groups or agencies in making the best decisions on how and where to develop and what to conserve.

“While most people would prefer to make land-use decisions that restore rather than deplete our environment, land planners and decision-makers may still overlook natural resources,” Firehock said. “But, just as we plan for our gray infrastructure – roads, bridges, power lines, pipelines, sewer systems and so on – we should also plan to conserve landscapes and natural resources as our green infrastructure.”

To order a copy of the guidebook, send a check for $29.95 made payable to the Green Infrastructure Center, to P.O. Box 317, Charlottesville, VA, 22902 or visit . The guidebook was funded by the Virginia Department of Forestry, the US Forest Service’s Southern Region and the Blue Moon Fund.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Several Virginia Counties Seeing Increased Levels of Southern Pine Beetle

Based on the spring trapping survey, the southern pine beetle (SPB), once again, is not expected to reach outbreak levels in most VA locations, but there are several areas that have seen increased populations of the bug, according to officials with the Virginia Department of Forestry.

Populations increased somewhat in Cumberland and Chesterfield counties compared to last year, but overall numbers were still relatively low, according to Dr. Chris Asaro, forest health specialist.

“As always, this does not mean that localized infestations will not occur. In fact, western Hanover County has been plagued with SPB outbreaks for the last three years, and there is a fair probability that it will be declared an outbreak county by year’s end if current trends continue,” Asaro said.

An outbreak is defined as one SPB spot per thousand acres of host type (pine) per unit area, but this is a crude definition because many small spots can join together to form one large spot, which has happened in Hanover already.

“Folks in southern portions of Spotsylvania and Caroline counties as well as eastern portions of Louisa and Goochland counties may want to keep a close eye on their pines for any potential spillover from Hanover.The hope is that there is enough hardwood cover around to prevent any major spillover, but large areas of contiguous pine cover would obviously be a concern,” Asaro said. “Another area experiencing outbreak levels of SPB is Chincoteague/Assateague Island, although there is no widespread activity reported along the rest of the Eastern Shore.”

Virginia has not experienced a statewide outbreak of SPB since 1993, when more than 50 counties were affected and $14 million worth of timber destroyed.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Veteran VDOF Employee Honored for Education Efforts

A 34-year veteran of the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) has earned the Bronze Smokey Bear Award.

Toano resident Paul Reier, a forestry technician who protects and serves the counties of Charles City, Hanover, Henrico, James City, King & Queen, King William and New Kent, was nominated for the “energy, dedication, and commitment” he demonstrated in countless Smokey Bear education programs.

Paul Reier, a forestry technician who protects and serves the counties of Charles City, Hanover, Henrico, James City, King &  Queen, King William and New Kent, has earned the Bronze Smokey Bear Award.“Paul works tirelessly, even after hours, to ensure Smokey is at numerous fairs, special events, baseball games and schools. He partners with everyone from local nursing homes to the local rescue organizations and fire departments,” said Fred Turck, VDOF’s assistant director of resource protection. “Paul always finds new ways to get Smokey Bear involved in community events and is proactive in his efforts.”

State Forester of Virginia Carl E. Garrison III said, “I'm so glad to see Paul's extraordinary efforts being recognized on a national level. He has been a leader in wildfire prevention and education efforts for many years, and he's so very good at making sure Smokey Bear's message (“Only You Can Prevent Wildfires”) is understood by children of all ages. His work has been an important part of our goal to reduce the number of wildfires casued by human activity. Paul Reier is most deserving of this Bronze Smokey award, and I congratulate him on his achievement.”

The Bronze Smokey Bear Award is the highest honor given for wildfire service on the state level, and is reserved for people or organizations that provide sustained, outstanding service in wildfire prevention. The award is sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters and the Advertising Council.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Forest Conservation Easement Protects 306 acres in Sussex County

In 1961, when Mrs. Segar White Guy inherited her father’s 306-acre tract of unmanaged forestland in Sussex County, she made the long-term commitment to improve the quality of the woodland. The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) and Consulting Forester Hunter Darden developed a Forest Stewardship Management Plan that eventually led the family to prosperity and a healthy forest.

Fifty years and several forest management awards later, the timber on the land was both healthy and profitable for the Guy family. Cash from timber and pulpwood sales supported the family quite well, even covering the cost of their daughter Judi’s college tuition. In late 2010, however, the Guys learned Segar had pancreatic cancer, and, subsequently, the family decided it needed to protect their greatest family heirloom – the forestland.

Like the Guy family, many Virginia forest landowners face the issue of how they will pass their land down to the next generation. Private owners hold 13 million acres of Virginia’s forestland; landowners age 55 or older own seven million acres of that. With the decisions made today, these landowners will either protect our farms and forests or convert to them to other uses. For some families, perpetual protection from development provided by a conservation easement with VDOF is the answer.

Segar’s goal was to keep the land in the family and pass it on to the next generation.

Daughter Judi Guy said, “My mother wanted the land to go into conservation easement because of the feature of perpetuity for the land being used for sustainable forestry management using Best Management Practices. The tax benefits were of secondary concern to her.”

John Guy, Segar’s husband of 56 years, said, “Segar had a deep love of the land. She became actively involved with many forestry organizations that helped her become a good steward to the land.”

After 50 years of working with VDOF, Darden, the Virginia Forest Education Foundation (VFEF) and the Virginia Forestry Association (VFA), Segar’s vision of good forest management came to fruition by becoming certified under Virginia’s Forest Stewardship Program.

After several months of work, the Guys, their attorney Lee Stephens and VDOF Forestland Conservation Specialist Rob Suydam recorded the conservation easement on April 3, 2013 – nearly two years to the date of Segar’s passing.

Judi said, “This was such great news. The irony is it was two years ago we lost Mom. The timing could not have been more meaningful to me.”

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Forest Legacy Program Coordinator Wins National Award

Larry Mikkelson, our Forest Legacy program coordinator here at VDOF, earned the national Conservation Excellence Award 2012. He is only the fifth recipient of this award in the 108-year history of the U.S. Forest Service.

The award recognizes his “exceptional leadership managing a state’s Forest Legacy program.” Scott Stewart, national director of the Forest Legacy program, presented the award.

The USFS Forest Legacy Program (FLP) supports state efforts to protect environmentally sensitive forestlands. Designed to encourage the protection of privately owned forestlands, FLP is an entirely voluntary program. To maximize the public benefits it achieves, the program focuses on the acquisition of partial interests in privately owned forestlands. FLP helps the states develop and carry out their forest conservation plans. It encourages and supports acquisition of conservation easements, legally binding agreements transferring a negotiated set of property rights from one party to another, without removing the property from private ownership. Most FLP conservation easements restrict development, require sustainable forestry practices and protect other ecosystem service values.

Virginia has received 10 Forest Legacy grants since 2001. VDOF holds 11 easements on 5,287 acres of forestland. In addition, the Forest Legacy program helped purchase all or parts of three state forests (Sandy Point SF; Dragon Run SF, and Big Woods SF) and two natural area preserves (Chubb-Sand Hill NAP and South Quay Sand Hills NAP).

A 35-year veteran of the Virginia Department of Forestry, Larry graduated from Purdue University with a degree in forestry.