Friday, October 17, 2014

Pennsylvania's Northern Bobwhite Quail
Saw this headline today, "Bobwhite Quail Close to Extinction in PA and NJ."  Having spent eight years of my career in eastern Virginia where I was stationed on a small state forest that had a quail habitat management area I saw the impacts habitat improvement can have on the population. Small things such as burning old fields, planting warm season grasses, and disking area on a 3 year rotation greatly improved the quail population.

We are celebrating the 3 year anniversary of the release of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s "Quail Management Plan." The mission of the Northern Bobwhite Quail Management Plan for Pennsylvania was to maintain and restore wild breeding populations of Northern Bobwhite Quail in suitable habitats.

“The northern bobwhite quail is one of the most popular game birds in North America. Its native range included most of the eastern United States north to southern Maine, southern New York, southern Ontario, central Wisconsin and south central Minnesota, west to very southeastern Wyoming, eastern Colorado, eastern New Mexico, and eastern Mexico south to Chiapas. Twenty-two subspecies have been recognized. Since the mid 1960’s, the bobwhite’s range and populations have declined dramatically. Northern bobwhites were relatively common across southern Pennsylvania farmland and brush lands until about 1945. Populations declined rapidly between 1945-1955, but made a recovery in the early 1960’s. Since 1966, the range and populations of bobwhites have declined to the point that most counties in the commonwealth no longer have bobwhites as a breeding species.” (From PA Game Commission, Quail Management Plan, 2011)

In doing a quick internet search to see if anything existed on the current status of the management plan and quail populations I came across a number of interesting news articles but nothing current to provide us with an indication of the success or failure of the plan being implemented here. Unfortunately, this leaves us wondering…What is the current status of quail in Pennsylvania?  Has the management plan been working? Or, are the headlines correct and wild quail populations are close to extinction here in PA?

Bobwhite Quail Close to Extinction in Pa. and NJ
By Edward Colimore, The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 12, 2014
Bill Haines Jr. used to see wild quail on his family's farm all the time when he was growing up. He heard their distinctive "bobwhite" calls and thought nothing of it. Fifty years ago, the small chicken-like bird thrived across parts of the state. Coveys of them were common. Hunters flushed them out by the scores while walking through brushy fields.

Now, their singing has all but stopped. The number of wild bobwhite quail has fallen off so precipitously that — except for small pockets — they're close to extinction in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and barely holding on in Delaware, wildlife ecologists say. Choked forests, paved roads, housing developments, herbicides, and pesticides have destroyed food sources and nesting grounds. The birds disappeared as their habitat disappeared.
Click here for the rest of the story.

These news releases may be of interest to you as well.  They are from 2011 when the quail management plan was released.

Can the bobwhite quail make a comeback in Pennsylvania?
By Marcus Schneck, October 05, 2011
The northern bobwhite quail – a familiar and popular species that even the experts are not sure still exists in the wild, non-stocked state in Pennsylvania – now has a management plan in the Keystone State. The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners on Tuesday approved an aggressive plan, which has a starting point of next July. Although quail can be found in many areas of Pennsylvania, no one seems certain if any of those birds are native to the state or the result of the estimated 60,000 to 70,000 pen-raised birds stocked by hunting dog enthusiasts across the state each year.
Click here for the rest of the story.

A life preserver for bobwhite quail?
By Ad Crable, September 12, 2011
The last time I heard the whistle of a bobwhite quail calling its own name in Lancaster County was at least 20 years ago. I was hiking through tall grass in a long-deserted farm that had become part of the Muddy Run pumped-storage reservoir project. I stopped dead and tried whistling back. Bob-bob-white. Memories of chasing coveys of quail over hill and dale with a pointer and shotgun on Illinois farmland as a young boy came rushing back. I've not heard one here since. That's because there are few wild reproducing quail left in Pennsylvania.
Click here for the rest of the story.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tree Species for Planting in Asian Longhorned and Emerald Ash Borer Beetle Areas

The table of tree species that do well in urban environments and are NOT hosts for Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) or emerald ash borer (EAB) has been revised recently. The table provides a starting point for identifying potential trees species to plant in areas impacted by these two pests. Tree planting, whether a replacement or new, is critical in helping communities provide valuable tree cover for aesthetics, clean air, stormwater reductions, and wildlife habitat.

Asian longhorned beetle
ALB and EAB have had a significant impact on communities in the Northeastern and Midwestern US.  Numerous requests have been received from communities for a list of trees that do well in urban environments and are not ALB or EAB host trees.  To develop this list, the Forest Service combined all the recommended replacement trees for areas where ALB has been found and added information on EAB tree replacement from the Michigan State University website. Information about each tree species was compiled from numerous references which are listed in The Replacement Tree Table. Drafts of the table were sent to urban forestry professionals for review. The table was edited using their suggestions.
Emerald ash borer
To promote species diversity, the Forest Service included many trees that do well in urban areas but realize the table does not include every non-host tree species. Users of The Replacement Tree Table are encouraged to use this as a starting reference for potential replacement trees. The list will then need to be narrowed by researching the species that best fit your specific site characteristics.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Generating Income from Your Woodlands

Can woodlands offer more than just hunting opportunities and timber income? Developing and expanding various natural resource enterprises on your property can increase income while at the same time continue to provide recreational enjoyment. Far too often, woodland owners consider logging or timber sales as their only option for generating income. There is nothing wrong with implementing a sustainable timber harvest. However you may want to consider other possible endeavors to generate income from your property.

Unless you own considerable acreage, income from timber harvesting is periodic. With rotations stretching to 100 years on our oak and cherry forests, generating income even every 20 years can be a challenge. With property taxes, repairs, snow removal and other expenses accumulating on an annual basis, it is to the landowner’s advantage to cultivate annual income in addition to the periodic income they may be currently settling for. Identifying enterprise ventures from natural resource assets will potentially generate annual income from properties making for a more even cash flow.

Enterprises can be various business activities that range from utilizing products already established on the property to cultivation and propagation of new products. Promotion of pay to hunt or eco-tourism opportunities on ownerships could also be interesting as well as profitable natural resource based ventures.

Some annual enterprise opportunities are more common place; firewood or tapping maples for syrup production for example. Others may be less common, for instance harvesting wild mushroom or growing ginseng. Soil types, marketing availability, available investment assets, size of ownerships may all be barriers to some projects however some projects however some new options are probably available for most landowners to consider.

September 23, 2014 by Mike Schira, Michigan State University Extension

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Planting Acorns to Grow Oak Trees

I noticed we are having what looks to be a bumper crop of acorns here in central Pennsylvania. The red oaks are loaded and I even saw a white oak in my yard that appears to have a good acorn crop. I wanted to provide a few pointers about how to grow an oak from seed. It is easy and you can begin collecting acorns now, before the birds, squirrels, insects, and deer get them all. The number of acorns produced by both oak groups varies greatly from year to year. Scientists have been studying this for years but are unable to explain it.  More than likely it has to do with the weather conditions, nutrient availability, and acorn-feeding insects.

There are lots of reasons to grow your own oak seedlings. Oak is one species that has a difficult time regenerating in the forest. Not only will deer and other wildlife species eat the acorns but deer also browse heavily on the twigs, leaves, and buds year round as it is one of the most preferred species. Once an acorn germinates in the forest it spends a lot of time and energy growing roots rather than stems. This means it may sit in the understory for years, maybe even decades growing roots. This gives oak a great advantage when the forest is disturbed by logging or fire. But, if there are no well-established oak seedlings, called advanced oak regeneration, present in the forest understory when a disturbance happens then species like black birch and red maple are quick to take over the site. These species will quickly outgrow an oak that is just starting from an acorn. Enrichment plantings are used to re-introduce oak in a forest that was recently logged or disturbed in another way, such as gypsy moth defoliation.

White Oak Leaf
It is important to be able to tell the difference between red and white oaks,
Red Oak Leaf
which are the two broad categories of oaks. They can easily be distinguished by examining the leaves. The lobes, which are the projections along the edge of the leaves, of white oak leaves are rounded without bristle-tips; red oaks typically have bristle-tips on the lobes. Another important difference is that white oak acorns take just one year to develop on the tree and will germinate in the fall soon after hitting the ground. While red oak acorns take two years to develop on the tree and will not germinate until spring.

Guidelines for Successful Acorn Collection and Planting:
·         Time your acorn collection until the majority of acorns are falling. Ripening dates vary from year to year and from state to state by as much as three to four weeks, making it difficult to use actual dates to determine maturity. The acorn is perfect when green, plump, and the cap is easily removed.
·         Lawns, woods roads, field edges, or paved areas help in collecting acorns. Be sure to identify the species of tree and mark the bag or bucket so you know the species collected.
·         Collect two to three times as many acorns as the number of seedlings you want to plant.  This will allow you to remove bad ones and still ensure enough seedlings even with low germination rates.
·         Discard acorns that show any rot, mold, or small holes that may indicate insect damage.
·         It is critical that acorns are not allowed to dry out or heat up.  They can lose their ability to germinate very quickly.  Keep acorns shaded and spray with water to avoid moisture loss. If not planting them right away place them in polyethylene plastic bags with damp peat moss or sawdust and put them in the refrigerator. Do not freeze acorns.
·         After collecting the acorns drop them into a bucket of water. If the acorn floats it is no good, as this is an indication that the embryo has not fully developed or is damaged and the seed is hollow. Soaking also provides moisture to any acorns that may have dried out some during collection.

Seed Dormancy and Stratification
Because of differences in seed dormancy between red and white oaks, the process of storage and sowing differs. White oaks germinate in the fall, and red oaks germinate in the spring.

Red Oak Acorns
Red oak,
Red oak acorns must go through a process known as stratification before they will germinate in the spring. Stratification breaks down the heavy seed coat allowing the acorn to sprout. Red oak acorns need about 4-8 weeks of cold stratification. When storing, place moist acorns in plastic bags (4 to 10 mil thickness), which can either be sealed or partially left open, and put in a refrigerator. Do not place in airtight bags as that can kill acorns. Keep the acorns moist by adding peat moss or sawdust. Every 2 to 3 weeks visually examine acorns for fungus or mold growth and dry by opening the bag, which will also release any gas buildup. Because of the risk of seed predation it is not recommended to sow red oak acorns outdoors until spring, March or April.

White Oak Group Acorns
White oak,
White oak acorns have no seed dormancy. As a result, white oak acorns can be seen on the ground in the fall with the root protruding from the seed. They can be planted immediately or stored and planted in the spring. If sowing in the spring, they need to be stored by placing them in refrigeration at 34–40°F in moist sand. Do not store white oak acorns for more than 3 or 4 months.

Planting Acorns
Both white oak and red oak acorns can be planted outside in a seedbed, in containers/pots, or in the forest protected in tree shelters. An outdoor seedbed will produce large numbers of seedlings at once. Prepare the seedbed as you would a garden. Acorns can be planted at a density of 5 acorns per square foot and about an inch deep with the acorn on its side. Once emerged, remove the suppressed seedlings to allow more room for the other seedlings to grow and develop. Be sure to water and remove grass and other weed competition as needed. Seedlings should be left in beds until the following spring when they can be dug and planted when dormant as bare root seedlings. It may be necessary to place wire cages or fences over seedlings to protect them from deer browsing.

Acorns can also be planted in pots that are at least a foot deep (1 gallon size or deeper) to accommodate the tap root. Fill the container with a mixture of potting soil and top soil. Multiple acorns can be placed in each pot. Again, plant acorns an inch deep and oriented lengthwise. Once germination occurs weed out the smaller weaker seedlings leaving one tree in each pot. Place pots off ground in a sunny location and water as needed. By placing pots off the ground roots that emerge from drainage holes will be air pruned. Seedlings should be transplanted as soon as the first leaves open and become firm but before extensive root development occurs.  Be sure to protect from deer browsing with wire cages or fences.

Acorns can be planted directly in the forest but must be protected from small mammals and deer.  Plastic tree shelters or tubes are effective at protecting the acorn while allowing seedling growth. Lay an acorn on its side an inch deep in the forest soil where you intend to plant it. Place a tree shelter over the acorn and gently tap it down until it sits approximately and inch or two in the soil. Stake the shelter in place. If deer browse pressure is not a concern then short tubes (16-18 inches) are sufficient. However, if browsing is a concern a shelter 4-5 feet will be necessary to protect growing seedling.

Different species of oaks grow at different rates. Growth is dependent on a number of factors including soils, water, nutrient availability, and the amount of sunlight.  Once established it is not uncommon to see height growth of 1-2 feet per year or more. If you are growing oaks for wildlife and acorn production then planting them wide apart is preferred. A more open grown tree will begin to produce acorns at an earlier age. This can mean planting trees as much as 20-30 feet apart. For timber production plant trees closer together to force trees to self-prune lower limbs and grow straight and tall.

Rousseau, R., A. B. Self, and D. Beliech. 2014. Growing Your Own Oak Seedlings, Mississippi State University Extension Service.