Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Describing Sustainable Timber Harvesting: What Do Words Mean?

Below is a great follow-up article to the April 27th post on "Why the Forestry "Profession" Should Harshly Criticize High-Grading" by Dan Pubanz.  The below article is written by Dr. Jim Finley at Penn State University.  Jim is the State Extension Forester and a Professor of Forest Resources.  Give it a read and let me know your thoughts.

Describing Sustainable Timber Harvesting: What Do Words Mean?
From a sustainability perspective, there are right ways and wrong ways to cut trees. A well-planned and executed timber sale focuses on two outcomes: What are you leaving to manage in the future (the residual)? Or, what will or have you done to establish or release regeneration (the next forest)?

If you own more than 20 acres of woodlands, you have likely received a letter or postcard soliciting an opportunity to talk about harvesting trees. The letter might refer to a “select” or “selective” harvest, or cutting only trees larger than a certain diameter. Somehow, they all sound good. These words seem to say the buyer will be careful and select the correct trees to harvest, right?

From a sustainability perspective, there are right ways and wrong ways to cut trees. A well-planned and executed timber sale focuses on two outcomes: What are you leaving to manage in the future (the residual)? Or, what will or have you done to establish or release regeneration (the next forest)?

Unfortunately, terms like “select” and “selective” focus on the trees to cut, rather than the trees to keep. The buyer will select the trees to cut using some criteria such as tree diameter. Where these are the criteria, the select cut becomes a diameter limit harvest and all trees above a set diameter are sold and cut. The logic is that big diameter trees are old and smaller diameter trees are younger. This logic of big and old vs. small and young, however, is most often far from true.

Sometimes the big trees are more likely of one or several species that from the start took advantage of light, moisture, nutrients, and space and jumped ahead. These trees were successful in getting their crowns into the developing canopy to snatch resources away from their neighbors. In essence, they were the winners in the race to gain the dominant position and have continued to exploit it. When you look at a maturing woodland, you will often see that some tree species are consistently larger in diameter. Even if you see a tree species with sizes across the spectrum, just cutting the big ones is almost always the wrong approach. Cutting them first is akin to “selecting” the best and leaving the poorer.

Why does this practice of taking the best and leaving the rest occur? When shopping for fruit, if you take the best looking, someone gets stuck with the rotten, misshapen apples, peaches, bananas. Who? Of course, it is the grower or the store owner. When selling timber, if the timber buyer, or sometimes the seller, picks the best and leaves the rest, who holds the poor quality trees? Obviously, it is the landowner, and those actions and outcomes may extend well into the future as that owner or a future owner tries to recover from a poorly conceived harvesting decision.

Why would woodland owners degrade their forest? There might be reasons. Maybe there is no choice – there is a compelling need for money and taking the best is the only choice. Sometimes, though, the logic of selecting the biggest and best is perceived to make sense. That logic connects to the past and extends into the future. “My grandfather cut these woods. He only took oak trees eighteen-inches and up, and look at it now. There are lots of oaks and red maples.” Those red maples or black birches were much less common when that earlier cut was made. Lack of seed source, herbivory pressure, and other competitive plants have changed the potential for species to succeed in many places. Sometimes woodlots can sustain one diameter or select cut, but the careful observer might note a subtle shift in species composition. The second select cut will shift species, and likely quality, even further from good to worse. That is the connection to the future. How many times can we select the best and leave the rest?

Good harvesting plans have their basis in science, research, and good observation. A good harvest plan concentrates on improving the quality of the woodlands and providing sustainable options for the future growth and management of the woods. Clearly, to practice sustainable forest management takes time – it is a lot more than picking the best or biggest trees to cut and hoping that those left will grow big and strong and represent the diversity of species that can and should grow in our forests. A well-planned harvest focuses on “selecting” the best to leave. Doing this ensures quality in the next harvest, retains species diversity, keeps good genetic and species diversity for regeneration, and results in a healthier and more resilient woodlot.

It is becoming increasingly obvious to foresters, researchers, and woodland owners that regenerating healthy and diverse forests is extremely difficult. Too often, decisions to harvest fail to consider whether tree regeneration is already in place and adequate. Every timber harvest should look beyond just the trees that are cut to assess regeneration and what will benefit from the new light resources reaching the forest floor. It is great when young seedlings are already there; it is bad when the cover near the forest floor is exotic invasive plants (think Japanese stiltgrass, bush honeysuckle, garlic mustard and a host of other species) or native invasive species such as hayscented fern, mountain laurel, beech brush, striped maple and many more. Recent research data from the US Forest Service inventory of Pennsylvania’s forests find that about half of our forests, having undergone sufficient canopy removal to start to regenerate the area, have enough seedlings of desirable species to replace the forest. Our mantra, therefore, should be “every harvest has to consider the future forest.”

It is easy to fall into the trap that all we have to do is harvest the big trees and believe that the next forest will be healthy, robust, and there for the next generation of owners. Practices that on the surface sound good – select, selective, or harvests based on diameter – are not the tools we need to use to care for the land. Good forest stewardship and sustaining forest values means that we have to look forward to leave the best and take the rest.

To learn more about how to avoid mistakes when planning to harvest timber, contact the Natural Resources Extension Office to request copies of Forest StewardshipNumber 7: Timber Harvesting an Essential Tool and Regenerating HardwoodForests: Managing Competing Plants, Deer, and Light.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Effort

Interestingly enough I came across both of these related articles today and decided to share them with my readers. It seems we need to do a better job in our efforts at reducing the amount of non-point source pollution, predominantly from farms, reaching the Chesapeake Bay. As noted in the first article Pennsylvania needs to increase the number of farms under nutrient management plans and continue planting many more acres of forest and grass buffers along streams. In addition, the second article highlights a curriculum I use entitled "The Woods In Your Backyard." This curriculum is focused on landowner with 20 acres or less. It encourages them to begin managing their woodlots with a focus on getting rid of the mega-lawns in an effort to reduce pollution to the Chesapeake.

EPA Chief calls Pennsylvania’s Lagging Bay Cleanup “discouraging”

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy acknowledged this week that Pennsylvania had not done enough to control pollution flowing into the Chesapeake Bay, and said that her agency needed to coordinate with agriculture officials to change the course.

Pennsylvania’s lack of progress is “discouraging at the very least,” McCarthy told hundreds of environmental activists, government officials and foundation leaders attending the Choose Clean Water Coalition conference in Annapolis. “I need to talk to the USDA as well,” she added, to applause, “because there is work that needs to be done.”

EPA officials and the states involved in the Bay cleanup have known for years that Pennsylvania lagged behind. But a report released last June showed the Keystone State would need to double the number of farm acres under nutrient management and plant seven times as many acres of forest and grass buffers as it did in 2014 to meet its interim reduction targets under EPA’s Total Maximum Daily Load pollution diet.

Pennsylvania contributes a large share of the pollution loads to the Chesapeake Bay, and agriculture is the bulk of that. The state has 35,000 farms in the Potomac and Susquehanna watersheds, according to Richard Batiuk, associate director of science, analysis and implementation for the Chesapeake Bay Program. Many of these farms are small dairy farms, exempt from the Clean Water Act regulations of animal farms because they are too small to meet the thresholds. Some are also Amish and Old Order Mennonite operations, and those farmers are hesitant to take government funds to modernize their operations to control pollution.

Pennsylvania officials unveiled earlier this year a plan to “reboot” the state’s lagging Bay cleanup effort by vastly increasing farm inspections and finding new sources of funding.

For the rest of the story click here.

Small woodlots are a big deal to the Chesapeake’s restoration

The commencement of spring is always a significant moment in our Chesapeake forests. Buds swell, ready to break dormancy and add the first of the year’s growth to the canopy while green hues begin to emerge from the forest floor.

It is also significant for forest enthusiasts who, themselves, are breaking from the wintertime’s stupor. For me, spring always provokes an eagerness to get out into the woods just to be there.

It is no wonder that there are many springtime events honoring trees, from maple syrup festivals and the National Cherry Blossom Festival that recognize specific attributes of particular species to Arbor Day, which simply celebrates all of the services that trees and forests provide: cleaning our air, creating habitat, contributing to our economy and providing recreation.

There is little debate as to how crucial forest functions are to the quality of our streams, rivers and the Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Program model estimates that our woodlands prevent more than 180 million pounds of nitrogen from reaching the Chesapeake each year. Around 80 percent of these forests are owned by more than 900,000 private landowners or entities.

Since the 1980s, the region has been losing forest land at a rate of 100 acres per day to development. The forests that remain are more fragmented than ever and face new pressures: invasive plants and pests, diseases, browsing by deer, high-grade harvesting (cut the best and leave the rest) and air pollution. All of these reduce our forests’ ability to provide the vital ecosystem services we depend on to help us restore the Chesapeake.

Although total forest acres are decreasing throughout the Chesapeake region, the number of private forest owners is increasing as land is often divided or sold off in smaller parcels.

For the rest of the story click here. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

PA Game Commission Offers Support for Sunday Hunting Legislation

The Pennsylvania Game Commission today offered testimony to legislators on an issue important to the state’s hunters and trappers. Game Commission Deputy Executive Director Bryan J. Burhans testified before the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee about the potential expansion of Sunday hunting. The testimony is provided in full below:

 “Thank you Chairman Scavello, Chairman Brewster, and members of the Senate Game & Fisheries Committee for the opportunity to come before you today in regards to the expansion of Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania.  I am Bryan Burhans, Deputy Executive Director for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.”

To be clear, we are in fact talking about the expansion of Sunday hunting opportunities in Pennsylvania.  Currently hunting on Sundays is permitted on a very limited basis in terms of species, but it is legal every Sunday throughout the year, not just the typical hunting season.  I believe that point bears repeating – every Sunday throughout the year. We have one of the most restrictive laws for Sunday hunting, and it is important to note that only four states currently prohibit Sunday hunting altogether – Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Delaware.

Contrary to some rhetoric that is floating around out there, the No. 1 reason that people stop hunting is lack of time.  The overwhelming majority of hunting takes place on Saturdays; people work during the week, don’t get a lot of time off, have other commitments, etc.  For a lot of hunters the only option is Saturday. By expanding Sunday hunting, we would be able to increase recreational opportunities for hunters.  Sunday hunting is an effective means of recruiting new hunters and retaining current hunters by increasing the value of the hunting license through offering additional opportunities to spend time in the field.

In a recent survey of lapsed hunters – those who at one time bought a license – 49 percent stated that having the opportunity to hunt on Sunday would encourage them to buy a license again.  Without having the ability to schedule seasons to include one of the days when individuals have the most amount of time available, the PGC is limited regarding what it can do to recruit and retain hunters.
Unfortunately, we know of many cases where Pennsylvania residents, particularly near the state lines, don’t even purchase a Pennsylvania hunting license.  Instead, they opt to drive an hour or so to hunt in Ohio or New York because they are able maximize the time they have available by hunting both Saturday and Sunday. 

Likewise, we miss out on license sales to non-resident hunters because they don’t want to come to Pennsylvania to only be allowed to hunt on Saturday. Youth participation is vital to maintaining the long-standing tradition of hunting in Pennsylvania.  Over the past decade, we have worked to increase hunting opportunities for the youth; mentored youth hunting, early rifle season for deer, additional junior hunting privileges, early opening day for spring gobbler, junior pheasant hunts, junior waterfowl hunts, etc.

With a plethora of other activities vying for their time, especially during the week, and more and more activities taking place on Saturdays, it is difficult for young hunters to get out.  Even to assume that they have Saturday free, many hunters don’t want to drive a few hours to camp just for one day to hunt. We can effectively double the number of hunting days for youths during the school year by offering Sunday hunting.

Suppose you couldn’t golf on Sundays, or ski resorts were required to close on Sundays.  Would that be enough to drive the number of participants down?  Maybe a better question would be, to what degree would that drive participation down?  If you think about it, on a nice Sunday during the summer, just about any golf course is going to be booked with tee times from sun-up to well into the evening. The PGC recognizes that other recreational user groups are paying close attention to this issue as they have been for years – groups like the hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, among others.  These groups advocate for just one day per week that they can recreate as they choose without the fear of a hunting related incident or accident.

The truth of the matter is that these groups recreate 365 days per year, including Saturdays and Sundays during hunting seasons.  They recreate on State Game Lands, State Forests, at State Parks, and in the Allegheny National Forest; all lands where hunting is permitted. It is important to note that despite the inaccurate portrayal by these groups, hunting is an inherently safe sport.  In fact, over the past decade, hunting related shooting incidents have decreased by half.  In 2015, the total number of hunting related shooting incidents was 23.  Out of nearly 935,000 hunters, 23 incidents represents less than one one-thousandth of 1 percent.

We have heard from many people on both sides of the issue, hunters and non-hunters.  I can tell you that a majority of those that we hear from support Sunday hunting.  Where the difference is lies with what season they want Sunday hunting implemented.  Rest assured, that if given the authority to further regulate Sunday hunting, the PGC would be looking for input from a wide variety of stakeholder groups and will endeavor to engage these stakeholders before passing any new regulations in regard to Sunday hunting. Additionally, Sunday hunting will provide substantial economic benefits to rural areas and businesses by increasing money spent by hunters on lodging, food, gas and other incidental items.

According to the 2010 report by Southwick Associates, prepared for the Pennsylvania Legislative Budget & Finance Committee: In 2010, if Sunday hunting were permitted, considering spending and economic multipliers...  “Spending by all hunters would likely have increased by $460.0 million. The multiplier effects of that spending would have produced $803.6 million of total output in the Pennsylvania economy and supported 7,439 jobs with $247.4 million of salary and wage income. The increased activity would have generated $56.8 million in tax revenue to state and local governments and $60.7 million in federal tax revenues.”

By nature, Sunday hunting is what is commonly referred to as a blue law.  Blue laws are antiquated, religious-based laws that were originally designed to restrict or ban some or all Sunday activities in order to encourage a day of worship or rest.  To date, all but two blue laws in Pennsylvania have been repealed: the complete ability to hunt on Sundays, and the option to purchase a vehicle. 
In 1937, the Legislature repealed the blue law that made it illegal to fish on Sundays.  The law was changed so that fishermen were permitted to openly fish any public waters, and allowed to fish private waters with the permission of the landowner.

According to the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission’s historical records, “The Bureau of Law Enforcement reports that relatively few landowners take action to restrict fishing on Sundays, but anglers should respect "Sunday Fishing Prohibited" signs where they are posted. A person who violates a Sunday fishing restriction commits a summary offense of the third degree.” The PGC is willing to work with landowners who choose to not allow Sunday hunting on their land, even going as far as providing the corresponding signage at no cost to those landowners enrolled in our public access programs.  We are also willing enforce a Sunday hunting restriction for landowners, much like PFBC agreed to when their blue law was repealed.

Today, with the exception of hunters, every single person in Pennsylvania has the ability to recreate as they choose every day of the week.  In 1937, it was determined that fishermen should be allowed to recreate as they choose any day of the week.  It wasn’t mandated that you had to fish on Sundays, but you had the option.  Almost 80 years later, we are asking for the same consideration.  A considerable majority of hunters want the ability to recreate as they choose to on Sunday.  If an individual chooses not to, that is absolutely fine as well.  The time has come and hunters deserve the option. Thank you again for your consideration.  I would be happy to take any questions you may have.”

Release #39-16
May 18, 2016
For Information Contact:
Travis Lau