Thursday, February 11, 2016

Northern Long-eared Bat Ruling Goes into Effect

The final 4(d) rule goes into effect February, 16. More information is available here. The US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) released the much-anticipated final 4(d) rule for the northern long-eared bat (NLEB) last month. The final rule has streamlined, changed, or even removed several provisions that were concerning to the broader forestry community. 

The positives:
  • The prohibition against cutting around known maternity roost trees during the pup season (June 1 - July 31) has been reduced from a 0.25 mile radius to a 150 ft. radius. 
  • The language about avoiding clearcuts and other similar harvest methods (e.g., seed tree, shelterwood, and coppice) around known roost trees has been removed. 
  • The provision stating that "the conversion of mature hardwood, or mixed, forest into intensively managed monoculture pine plantation stands, or non-forested landscape, is not exempted" has been removed. 
  • The final rule more clearly articulates how private landowners can meet due diligence requirements, and emphasizes that they are not required to conduct surveys on their lands if no data is available.
Thanks to hard work by FWS staff and information from Society of American Foresters, its members, and other forestry organizations, this final rule better reflects that white-nose syndrome is the overwhelming threat, highlights the potential benefits of forest management activities including prescribed fire, and seeks to implement more focused protections than previous iterations of the rule. 

Remaining concerns:
  • The prohibition against year-round harvesting for trees within a 0.25 mile radius of a "known, occupied hibernacula" has been changed to "known hibernacula." According to the FWS, this was an intentional change designed to protect any hibernacula where the NLEB has been observed at least once. The FWS did clarify that short-term sites are not considered hibernacula nor are sites that are no longer suitable as hibernacula. 
  • Although scientists are working hard on solutions, white-nose syndrome continues to spread and affect bat populations. If populations continue to decline, FWS may be forced to consider upgrading the listing to "endangered," which would void all 4(d) exemptions. Another comment period would precede any status change.

Implementation of the interim rule suffered from inconsistencies in communications and expectations across the various FWS offices. We are hopeful that coordination and consistency will be improved with the final rule, but with such a broad habitat range there are bound to be some hurdles. 

Society of American Foresters, Issues and Advocacy Now, February 2016.

Friday, February 5, 2016

White-tailed Deer and Invasive Plants

Most don't understand the relationship between deer and invasive plants or even know a relationship exists. I came across the below article on the Quality Deer Management Association's (QDMA) web site and thought I would share it with my readers. It hits the nail on the head.......high deer impact and invasive plant overabundance go hand in hand. As overabundant deer eliminate preferred native plant species voids are created and native plant competition, that would normally keep invasive plants out, is eliminated. As timber stands are disturbed through harvesting or natural tree mortality, few native plants are able to grow out of the reach of deer. Eventually, the understory gets overtaken by invasive plants, which deer prefer not to eat. 

This is just one more reason the keep deer in balance with their habitat. I have always taught that deer management is a two-pronged approach: Population Management along with Habitat Management. You can't have deer without good habitat to support them. Too often we want to try and carry more deer without providing quality habitat. Please read the article below by Celia Vuocolo as she relates her experience in how deer and invasive plants go hand in hand. Celia and her parents own a 172 acre farm in Hunterdon County, New Jersey.

Whitetails & Invasive Plants: A Dangerous Combination

“I can’t even tell you when we can do the next timber harvest,” our consulting forester, Doug Tavella, said to me in the summer of 2010. “Browsing by deer is so bad that you have almost no hardwood regeneration. That, combined with all of the non-native invasive plants, has stunted the development of your woodlot. You need to do something about the deer.”

These were the last words I wanted to hear. The 172- acre farm that my family and I own and manage in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, has never faced a threat quite like this before. Since 1974, our farm has been under a forest management plan. Like many of the traditional farms in New Jersey, agriculture was abandoned on our land in the early part of the 20th Century. This allowed for the regeneration of the woodland, creating a solid upland hardwood forest that comprises about 95 percent of our property. But forestry doesn’t just make sense for our property, it’s also our means of survival. Maintaining a large piece of property (172 acres is large for New Jersey!) in the most densely populated state in the country can be financially difficult. And it was starting to look like the combination of overpopulated whitetails, an increase in non-native invasive plants, and timber harvesting was threatening our livelihood and our woodland’s sustainability.

I knew I had to come up with a game plan. To understand how things got so bad, I had to go back to the beginning and look at how we managed our woodlot and our deer. Our woodlot is composed of four different even-aged timber stands, classed by age and timber type. The first timber harvest occurred in the fall of 1974. It was modest, and was done on a parcel of about 4 acres. Upland hardwoods like oaks, ash, and yellow poplar with 16-inch diameters were harvested. However, our big timber-harvest projects occurred consecutively in 1994, 1995, 1999, and 2000. In 1994 and 1995, we used the shelterwood technique as a way to increase the production of our white oaks, and harvested about 18,700 board feet.

The goal in our 1999 and 2000 timber projects was timber stand improvement (TSI), so undesirable trees were thinned from two different stands in those seasons. All of our timber management projects and goals were carefully planned and carried out with our consulting forester. We followed every best management practice (BMP) and guideline. Although timber production was a goal, forest stewardship and sustainability always trumped it. We had managed our forest properly, with hardwood regeneration and wildlife biodiversity in mind. So, what happened?

I like to call it the “perfect storm.” In the mid to late1990s, right when we were doing our most intensive timber harvests, the whitetail population in New Jersey, particularly in Hunterdon County, exploded. By opening up the forest canopy to allow for hardwood regeneration and plant growth, we basically set a dinner table for the whitetails. All of the native forbs, grasses, and hardwood saplings were wiped out. Since nothing else was able to grow, non-native and invasive plant species moved right in and established themselves.

Most of the non-native and invasive plants found on our property showed up on the scene the same way many alien plants have in the United States: they were intentionally or accidentally planted at some point in our country’s history. Our main offender at the farm, multiflora rose, was actually distributed and encouraged by the U.S. Soil Conservation Service in the 1930s through the 1960s as a type of natural livestock fencing. Non-native invasives haven’t evolved with the rest of the native ecosystem, so wildlife, like deer, won’t usually eat them. This is great for the invasives, and since they have no natural enemies, they’re free to multiply unchecked. Wherever there is environmental disturbance and available sunlight, invasives will appear. Invasive plants thrive on disturbed ground, whether it is from forestry practices or road construction. Now our woodland is chock full of multiflora rose, Japanese stiltgrass, garlic mustard, Japanese barberry, and a multitude of other non-natives that are completely useless to our wildlife.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2010, where I am having a conversation with our forester that I never wanted to have. After researching our timber management history (I was a kid during most of it), I came to the same conclusion he did: we have to do something about the deer. Our timber management practices were solid, and we did everything we were supposed to do. However, our deer management practices have always been severely lacking. I am not a hunter, nor was my mother or father. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, a few relatives and some family friends hunted the land, with no regulations other than what the state required. In the mid 1990s, my father allowed a local hunt club on the property, and they had been hunting ever since. It became obvious to me that traditional hunting was just not cutting it, and that we needed a different kind of hunting program on the property. I had known about the QDMA for a little over a year, and I came to realize that by using the methods and ideals of QDM, I could manage our deer herd and therefore manage our woodlot.

Finding a local group of hunters interested in QDM wasn’t too hard. I also found it easy to strike up a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship with our new club. Although I am a land manager and they are hunters, we share the same goals and ideals about how to manage our habitat and deer herd. Our first order of business is to assess the herd with a trail-camera survey this year. Like our hunt club, our goal as landowners is to reduce deer density to a healthy level so that hardwood regeneration can start to occur once more and the quality of the deer herd is re-established. I feel confident that using QDM is the first step in the solution to re-establishing biodiversity on our farm.

However, the problem with forest regeneration on our property is two sided, and although one aspect is on the right track, the other one is not as simple to fix. In the years since our timber harvests, my family and I have concentrated our efforts on controlling the non-native and invasive plants in our woodlot. Our struggle with these foreign invaders has yielded some victories in certain areas of the farm, but there have been many losses. Removing a thick understory of non-native invasive plants that spans acres is not an easy or inexpensive task. 

First of all, we can’t successfully remove the invasives without getting the initial instigator under control: the deer population. If the deer are still too plentiful, they will wipe out any new native plant growth that comes up after the invasives are removed. Secondly, removing all of the invasives can be incredibly time consuming and expensive. The amount of manpower, time, and equipment needed is overwhelming. Some areas of the property are so thick with multiflora rose that they create up to a half-acre of impenetrable vegetation. One area in particular, at the site of our first timber harvest in 1974, has been nick-named ’Nam by one of our new hunters. The only way to tackle these areas is with heavy machinery that can clear a couple of acres in a day, and start from scratch.

Resolving our issue of re-establishing a healthy forest is a long way off. However, I have faith that with some resourceful thinking and QDM, we will be able to conquer this problem. By enlisting a QDM oriented hunt club on our property, we may actually kill two birds with one stone. Our club recognizes the need to restore and enhance our property’s natural habitat in conjunction with managing the deer herd. My hope is that by combining my family’s continued efforts with our club’s habitat management goals, that we may be able to curb the tide and get a handle on our invasive plant problem.

I’ve learned that managing habitat is not always black and white; there are actually a lot of shades of gray. My family was unaware of the fluctuations of New Jersey’s deer herd in the 1990s and its devastating effect on our future livelihood. We didn’t realize the dangers of opening up the tree canopy and disturbing the forest floor. Once the composition of our woodlot changed, it created a ripple effect that impacted all wildlife.

We all know that habitat management is one of the Four Cornerstones of QDM, but it goes beyond simply managing for the best quality forage. Non-native and invasive plants are in every state, and it’s important to know what they look like, and whether you have any, before you disturb the soil and increase sunlight to the ground. By removing invasive plants and ensuring valuable native plants become established, you’re that much closer to guaranteeing the highest quality habitat for deer, enhancing the biodiversity of your land, and sustaining forest management practices for years to come.

I have learned a valuable lesson about land management, and I will carry this knowledge with me as my family and I continue to restore our property.

About the Author: Celia Vuocolo is the Sustainable Habitat Program Assistant with the Piedmont Environmental Council of Virgina. She earned a degree in conservation and wildlife management from Delaware Valley College in Pennsylvania. She is a Level 1 QDMA Deer Steward. You can follow Celia on Twitter @CeliaVuocolo. This article was first published in QDMA's Quality Whitetails magazine.

Monday, January 25, 2016

New Concerns About Glyphosate Herbicide

I wanted to share with you an update concerning the herbicide active ingredient Gylphosate. Gylphosate is the active ingredient in the original "Roundup" herbicide by Monsanto. It is found in many, if not hundreds, of generic brands today. Many brands of glyphosate have "forest" labels such as Accord XRT II and Rodeo, both by Dow AgroSciences.  Some glyphosate products, such as Rodeo, also contain aquatic labeling.

Glyphosate was one of the first herbicides studied in Pennsylvania for controlling interfering understory vegetation such as fern, striped maple and beech in Allegheny and northern hardwood forests. It was found to be very effective, especially when mixed with sulfometuron methyl (e.g., Oust XP), in controlling many interfering understory plants. It is used widely today in site preparation and release treatments including the control of exotic invasive plants. Without the use of this herbicide regeneration of hardwood forests on many sites would be all but impossible. It may be one of the most commonly used herbicide active ingredients in forestry, not to mention its use in agriculture which far exceeds the forestry use.

A recent declaration by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) prompted Acting Director Lauren Zeise of the California Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to add glyphosate to the state’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals that are “known to the state of California to cause cancer.” Monsanto is now suing California over the proposed rule and wants a California court to prohibit a state listing of glyphosate as a known carcinogen.

At the heart of Monsanto’s complaint is how OEHHA arrived at its determination and the apparent reversal of opinion within the agency over the toxicity of glyphosate. In response to the OEHHA proposal and as part of public comment, Monsanto presented 15 pages of annotated and footnoted comments to the agency late last year, saying effectively that peer-reviewed science does not support listing glyphosate as a carcinogen. Even OEHHA said as much within the past 20 years. In 1997 and again in 2007, the state agency said that glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a cancer hazard to humans.” Four separate studies cited by the IARC and numerous entities agreed that glyphosate was not linked to tumors in laboratory tests.

We will have to continue to follow the ruling. If glyphosate is found to be cancer causing this could change the way weeds are treated in both forestry and agriculture.

Read the full story by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Oh, deer: Study uses GPS to explore animal's relationship with the forest

Rachel Garman
Penn State News
January 18, 2016
.. ..

White-tailed deer, though cute and wide-eyed like Bambi, can wreak havoc on the land around them. And no one knows this better than Jack Ray. Ray’s property borders Rothrock State Forest, a prime location for an outdoorsman like himself. Yet when it comes to the apple trees he uses for his annual homemade apple cider, the location poses a bit of a challenge. Those apples are a favorite snack for deer, and he’s witnessed firsthand how innocent snacking can ruin any hopes of delicious apple cider.

According to Christopher Rosenberry, supervisor of deer and elk management with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, deer snacking like the kind that wipes out Ray’s apple harvest is normal behavior, and it presents a danger to the entire forest.

“Deer are browsers. They will browse on woody vegetation, and too much browsing may eliminate the small trees in the forest. If there's a timber harvest or an ice storm or something that removes the canopy, and those young trees do not exist under the canopy, you can potentially lose your forest.”

Thanks to geospatial technologies like GPS, one Penn State research study may soon have a better understanding of how to balance these woodland creatures’ affect on forest vegetation. The Deer-Forest Study, led by professors Duane Diefenbach and Marc McDill, is a collaborative project among Penn State, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Forestry and the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.

Entering its third year, the study outfits deer in three areas — Rothrock, Bald Eagle and Susquehannock State Forests  — with GPS collars that monitor each deer’s location. In addition to the GPS collars, field researchers also go in the field to collect data on vegetation levels in the locations visited by each deer.

“The objective of the research is to look at the simultaneous effects of deer browsing, competing vegetation and soil conditions on the vegetation that's out there in our forests,” said Diefenbach, an adjunct professor of wildlife ecology. According to Diefenbach, the GPS technology has been instrumental in the success of the project.

“The deer collar is basically a GPS unit that relies on satellites to estimate a location,” Diefenbach said. “Those collars can transmit data to a satellite, which then transfers that information to us via the Internet. Because of this technology, we can get more locations over a longer period of time.”

Thanks to this technology, Diefenbach, McDill and other researchers can watch remotely from their computers as each deer zigzags across the forest terrain. “I think one thing that the GPS collars have provided is some insights into how adult male deer are able to avoid being killed,” Diefenbach said. “Because we've been following their movements every 20 minutes during the hunting season, you can see they respond incredibly quickly to the hunters.”

According to Diefenbach, opening day of regular deer hunting season in Pennsylvania brings as many as 700,000 hunters to the state’s forests. “We've known for decades that adult males are much harder to kill than females or even younger males, but this study has really shed light on how they survive.”

For a seasoned researcher like Diefenbach, the evolution of technology in the field has been crucial to recent discoveries and advancements in deer research. “When I was a graduate student, we had very high frequency (VHF) collars. Generally, what people did was go out on the ground, try to plot the animal’s location as best they could on a USGS topographic map, and then by recording multiple readings of where a signal was coming from so they could determine the location,” Diefenbach said.

“Using the technology we have today, we can get hundreds of locations per day on one animal. So it's just a game changer in understanding animal movements and how they respond to environmental factors and human activity. There's just no other way we could collect data this accurate.”

According to Rosenberry, studying deer movements isn’t only crucial to species-specific management, it’s also necessary for a better understanding of forest management in general. “One of our goals is to maintain deer populations at levels where forest habitat is sustainable. And that's important not only from a deer standpoint — because the forest provides a habitat for deer — but for many other wildlife species, plant species and recreation.”

For Rosenberry, studying this relationship is an important step in preserving forests for future generations. “When we look at a forest, a lot of times we just see the big trees,” Rosenberry said. “But in order for those big trees to exist, there had to be small trees at some point in the past. Those small trees that are growing today will be the forests of tomorrow.”

To follow the Deer Forest Study click here.  You can also subscribe to their blog and have posts emailed directly to you.  Click here to view blog.