Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Socially Distant, but Naturally Near

University Park, PA – March 25, 2020 – Uncertainty is a thing we spend most of our days avoiding. But today, this is different. Uncertainty has stepped forward and has asked us to see it, as the respiratory disease COVID-19 has rapidly evolved into a pandemic. The stability and certainty of our daily lives is impacted. Government and medical officials stress to us, “Stay home, distance yourself from others around you, and do not gather with others at this time.” What does this mean and what do we do? Do we now have to huddle inside, in front of the news, with uncertainty settling in beside us?

Pause there, put some cookies in a lunch bag, and let’s go outside. At this moment in time, as you place distance between yourself and the social world, take this opportunity to move into the natural one. Even as school are closed, work is changed, and socializing is paused, spring is still budding, the weather is still warming, and there is an abundance of learning, productivity, and fellowship that can still safely and fruitfully occur in the woods! Go grab your boots as we share with you all the ways you can use this time to care for yourself and your woods.

If you are a lover of the wild things, grab a few field guides on birds and wildflowers and see what you can find! Spring woodland plants will soon be on full display, and some may even be beginning to appear now. Look for trout lily’s brown, mottled leaves or the brownish-purple shell of skunk cabbage. Even edible plants, like wild ramps, are beginning to appear and can make for a fun cooking project!

If you don’t own woods, but love spending time on public lands, you can still access trails at state parks and state forests, even as the facilities there are closed to the public – make sure you practice good social distancing and trail etiquette, avoiding crowds and ensuring room to pass when you encounter other hikers. Take this time to learn with your children or grandchildren, making dry leaf collections or practicing tree identification using buds and nuts. Virtual opportunities abound to compare discoveries when you can’t be face-to-face.

If you are a woodland owner, consider using this time to create and evaluate management goals. If you have a forest management plan, read through it to ensure it is up to date with documentation of your previous activities. Take the time to plan and organize the actions you wish to take this year. If you don’t have a written plan, email your forester and discuss the possibility of developing one in the coming months.

While the sun is down or the rain is falling, dive into the PA Forests Web Seminar Center to do some online learning about forest management activities and even have some of your questions answered. Walk your trails and assess their quality – are they intact or are they being eroded, and do you have a plan to correct this? Walk along your streams and consider the possibility of planting a buffer of trees to improve the quality of the water.

As the weather warms, invasive species like honeysuckle and Japanese barberry are beginning to break bud and display new leaves. Walk your woods and identify what invasive plants you have and where they are located. Devise a plan of action to manage them this year, such as cutting or herbicide treatments.

In your downtime at home, reflect upon your goals for your land after your gone and contemplate how those can be solidified in an estate forest legacy plan. Use ArcGIS to create a Story Map, a virtual tour of your woodlands, to demonstrate the hard work you have done.

Write articles for your local newspaper or your organization’s newsletter about how you are spending this time with the forest. Use social media to share your passion about caring for woodlands and why it is so important to be a good steward. Call your neighbor or send them an email to ask how they are spending quarantined days and suggest some woodland activities for them too.

At the Penn State Center for Private Forests, we and our partners care about ensuring that you have the resources you need to learn about woodlands, to practice good management, and to enjoy the solace that being in the woods provides. Therefore, at the bottom of this article we provide a directory to link you with tools to help you maximize your time during the quarantine.

We also collaborated to provide fun and easily accessible informational content for learning on our social media platforms. Follow the Center for Private Forests and Penn State Extension Renewable Natural Resources Team on Facebook to take part in April conversations around these practices and activities. Rest assured, you are practicing social distancing as you draw near to the natural world and the shadow of Uncertainty will disappear behind you as you enter the woods in springtime.

By Abby Jamison
M.S. Student, Forest Resources and Human Dimensions of Natural Resources and the Environment, Center for Private Forests at Penn State

Resources for You
For Learning

Forest Management Activities

Forest Stewardship Outreach

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