Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Penn State Extension - May Webinar Series

I wanted to share the May webinar series from Penn State Extension's Renewable Natural Resources Team with you.  Please share with others that may be interested.  We look forward to having you join these discussions and learning experiences.

Penn State Extension Green Infrastructure Webinar Series: Tips for Success in Establishing and Maintaining Forested Stream Buffers, Tuesday, May 5, 2015, 12 p.m. ET. Presented by David Wise, Watershed Restoration Manager, Stroud Water Research Center.

PA Forest Stewardship Webinar: Shale Gas Development and Landscape Changes, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, noon and 7 p.m. ET.
This webinar will present research examining landscape changes associated with shale gas development in Pennsylvania forests and in particular the effects of pipelines on bird abundance and distribution. To examine landscape scale changes, Lycoming County was used as a case study for a geographic information system (GIS) analysis to quantify habitat fragmentation resulting from shale gas development and determine differences based on land ownership (public vs. private). The webinar will also discuss research conducted on the response of bird communities to shale gas pipelines across the north-central region and strategies for reducing negative impacts through habitat restoration. Presented by Lillie Langlois, PhD Candidate, Penn State Department of Ecosystem Science and Management. Approved for 1.0 Society of American Foresters CFE credit, Category 1-CF.

Northeast Woody/Warm-Season Biomass Consortium Webinar: An Overview of US Law and Policy Affecting Second Generation Biofuels, Tuesday, May 12, 1 p.m. ET.
Law and policy changes over time helped create and shape incentives for biofuel production. This webinar explores the evolution of law and policy over time, especially how it is affecting second generation biofuel development. While the focus is primarily on federal law and policy, the webinar will also touch on state and regional developments as well. Don't miss it! Presented by Lara Fowler, Penn State University.
Penn State Extension Green Infrastructure Webinar Series: Green Roofs for Stormwater Management, Tuesday, May 19, 2015, noon ET. Presented by Rod Berghage, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Horticulture, Director of the Center for Green Roof Research, Penn State University.

Penn State Extension Green Infrastructure Webinar Series: Artful Rainwater Design, Tuesday, May 26, 2015, noon ET. Presented by Stuart Echols, Ph.D., Professor of Landscape Architecture, and Eliza Pennypacker, Ph.D., Department Head and Professor of Landscape Architecture, Penn State University.

Water Resources Webinar: Water Quality Trading, Wednesday, May 27, 12 – 1 p.m. ET. Presented by Jim Shortle, Penn State University.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Spring Green: Reading a Story of Forest Health

Spring, it is finally here. Even if you love winter, there is something about the warming days, gentle rains, and spring green that draws you outdoors or at least warrants a longing look out the nearest window.

Almost magically, we go from the brown gray fields and lawns to that fresh green, which is somehow vigorous and alive. A green that is much different from the green of June and July. Spring green, in its many shades, communicates a message of renewal and health.

If you are fortunate enough to have a forest or woodlot nearby, you can watch as the canopy takes on other colors and hues. A month or so ago you might have noticed tinges of purple, or, now, reds, yellows, and shades of green. This is truly a season of colors. Not the same bold all-encompassing colors of fall; rather, the soft pastels of spring.

Unfortunately, not all shades of green in our forests tell a story of health and vibrant renewal. Some of the early greens tell of unwelcome and health-robbing exotic invasive plant species. Many of these plants once occurred only in our yards and gardens; now they are increasingly dominating our forested landscapes and replacing more desirable native trees and understory shrubs and herbs.

The careful observer is aware that many of the early greens in our urban and forested landscapes are not our native plants. These early, and sometimes just as lovely, shades of green tell a story of changing plant health. Many of the most successful invasive plants have a physiological advantage over natives. Simply, they start to grow leaves earlier in the spring than do many native species.

Looking out my office window, it is easy to pick out the Norway maples in the neighborhood across the way. Already, they are sporting yellow-green crowns of flowers and young leaves, while the native maples, basswood, elm, and oaks are just beginning to show activity. The elms are brown-looking, the red maples are tinted red, and the sugar maples and basswood are still waiting to play their hands. In the woods, where Norway maple is becoming increasingly common, especially near our cities, the green really stands out early in the season.

The understory tells the same story. Some of the first plants to show their young, soft, green leaves are not native. If you know some of these plants, you will readily recognize that privet, bush honeysuckle, oriental bittersweet, and autumn olive are quick to green-up and gather in early spring sunlight before native trees begin to show leaves. These Asian plants also begin to green before native understory plants such as dogwoods and viburnums and by doing this being to express their dominance. Our native plants fall behind in the competitive race for water, nutrients, and light.

Should we care if these once friendly and invited guests from other places take over niches in our forests and woodlands? According to some researchers the answer is an emphatic yes. Physiologically, these plants have a jump on natives and because they are foreign to our landscapes, many of them do not host insects that would normally control, in part, their spread across our landscapes. These competitive exotic plants are not part of the ecosystem and they do not feed insects, which in turn feed other insects, amphibians, reptiles, and birds. In short, many of these plants do not contribute to forest health -- they actually take away.

The story of forest health and early spring green is complicated. If you take your time, you can learn to read this story on many landscapes. If you care, learn how to write a different story in coming springs. Work to control unwanted early spring green and plant natives in your yard and landscape. By doing so, you can still have spring greens, but know they represent a gift to others who benefit from and enjoy healthy forest landscapes.

Dr. Doug Tallamy, professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, has written a very informative book about the importance of native plants to our native insect and bird populations and what homeowners can do to enhance native habitat in their own backyards. "Bringing Nature Home," is an excellent addition to your library as you work to be a good steward of the land.

By Jim Finley, April 23, 2015

Monday, April 20, 2015

Thinking About Firewood

A cord of firerwood measures 4x4x8.
After a colder than normal winter in the Northeast, the last thing you want to think about is firewood. But now is the time to turn your thoughts to next winter and start caching your wood. Burning unseasoned, or worse green, wood is problematic because you lose heat, you create more smoke, and you increase unwanted fire risk as residues collect in venting systems.
Some pundits are suggesting that heating with wood is experiencing another surge in popularity. The last big turn to wood was in the 1970s following the oil embargo. Then, the focus was on woodstoves inside the house, where many found comfort in intense warmth. At the same time, many learned about the puffs of smoke, the never ending sweeping up of sawdust, bits of bark, and ashes after the inevitable cleaning. Today, you increasingly see outdoor heaters standing outside or with their short chimney poking up through a tin roof of the small shelter some erect over the stove to protect it and the wood pile. Other times you first notice the blue-gray smoke wafting across the yard and look around for the source.

Smoke is a concern with wood heating. Wood smoke is full of chemicals that threaten our health and the air we breathe. Smoke and wood are like soup and sandwich, they come together; however, with planning and forethought it is possible to reduce the amount of smoke. Without getting too technical, smoke contains four parts: particles such as ash, unburned volatiles, carbon compounds (think carbon dioxide), and water.

You might still be wondering if there is enough to get through the last few weeks, but now is the time to turn your thoughts to next winter. It will be here before you know it and you want to have dry wood ready. Burning unseasoned, or worse green, wood is not a good idea because you lose heat (which means you need more wood to heat the house), you create more smoke, and you increase unwanted fire risk as residues collect in venting systems.

Tre-axel load.
When firewood has high water content, full combustion does not happen until the moisture is driven off. When wood is wet, the fire smolders and the heavy blue smoke is full of water and chemicals. You can smell the difference; it is acrid and harsh. When dry wood burns in a woodstove with adequate air flow (not a dampered down, smoldering fire), the volatiles burn. On the other hand, when wood is wet, even with adequate air flow, the fire still tends to smolder as the water driven off by slow combustion cools the fire. In this case, there is no flame and lots of smoke. It takes heat to drive off that excess moisture and that heat is lost as the moisture vapor carries it up the chimney. The wetter the wood, the more difficult it is to burn.

The conventional wisdom is that firewood in our climate should be cut, split, and covered for at least nine months to a year before burning. By doing this the wood will have time to lose water due to evaporation and will approach equilibrium moisture content, which for Pennsylvania is around 16 to 20 percent. Achieving this desirable dryness takes time and work. Ideally, it would be great to have a two year supply of wood at the ready at the beginning of each heating season. At the least, you should be working on next year’s wood right now and have it stacked and ready to go by mid-fall.

Cut, split, and stacked is the admonition. Split wood to expose as much surface as possible and to reduce the cross-section so it loses water more quickly. Stacking takes space and is not a haphazard process. Ideally wood stacks should be under roof or at least covered, but in a way that moisture laden air can escape – covering with a tarp that traps water is not the best solution. To encourage drying elevate the stack on runners or pallets. This allows air to move up through the stack. Expose the stack to air and sun, which further accelerates drying. As the fall approaches, if you “smack” dried pieces together, you will hear the tonal difference. Dry wood nearly rings when ready.

Heating with wood provides great exercise, a sense of pride, a different level of comfort; however, it takes time and commitment. For your health’s sake, make sure you are burning dry wood. If you are splitting the wood right before it goes into the stove, or worst yet, burning it in the round all the time, you are likely wasting heat by sending water and volatiles up the chimney and creating more smoke than necessary. Burning dry wood saves money and reduces smoke. Cut your wood now. Follow the safety rules, and get ready for next winter. It comes around every year.

By Dr. Jim Finley
March 31, 2015

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

US Fish and Wildlife Service Designates Northern Long-Eared Bat as "Threatened" (April 1): The US Fish and Wildlife Service has announced it is protecting the northern long-eared bat as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This is primarily due to the threat posed by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has devastated many bat species populations.

At the same time, the FWS issued an interim special rule that eliminates unnecessary regulatory requirements for landowners, land managers, government agencies, and others in the range of the northern long-eared bat. The public is invited to comment on this interim rule as the FWS considers whether modifications or exemptions for additional categories of activities should be included in 4(d) rule that will be finalized by the end of the calendar year. The FWS is accepting public comments on the proposed rule until July 1, 2015 and may make revisions based on additional information it receives.

“In making this decision, we reviewed the best available scientific information on the northern long-eared bat, including information gathered from more than 100,000 public comments,” said the Service’s Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius. “We are listing this species because a disease – white-nose syndrome – is spreading and decimating its populations. We designed the 4(d) rule to provide appropriate protection within the area where the disease occurs for the remaining individuals during their most sensitive life stages, but to otherwise eliminate unnecessary regulation.”

The listing becomes effective on May 4, 2015, 30 days after publication of the final listing determination in the Federal Register.

To read the full story click here.