Monday, August 31, 2015

The Select Cut

"Select" cut oak stand
Each year I spend a number of days staffing a "forest landowner" outreach display for Penn State at a number of statewide events including Ag Progress Days and Farm Show. While at the display I field numerous questions from folks throughout the day on topics ranging from insect identification and invasive plant control to timber harvesting and creating wildlife habitat. Inevitably each year comments are made by visitors proudly announcing they only "select" cut their woods or they "select" cut their woods a number of years ago. Of course they state things like, "when can I go back in and cut it again" or "I would never clearcut it, clear-cutting is bad." I have learned over the years to simply start a conversation with these folks and engage them. I realize it is too late to change any of the decisions/actions regarding the management or mismanagement of their woods. But, inside the first thought in my head is always "what did they select?," "what trees were cut?"  Were the biggest, best, and most valuable trees selected?

To read more about "Select" Cutting here is a one page article from Cornell University.
Just Say No to High-Grading, Selective Cutting, and Diameter-Limit Cutting

This past Ag Progress Days I had the pleasure of spending much of one day with Allyson Muth, Penn State Forest Stewardship Program Associate. And yes, we heard the "select" cut comment numerous times. All those questions and comments prompted Allyson to write the next issue of the Forest Stewardship News around this very topic and she uses a great analogy to help folks understand the concept.  I have provided the article below. 

The Farmer and His Prize Bull: A High-Grading Analogy
Posted: August 28, 2015

Many landowners allow the woods, which they love so much, to be “select cut,” as some call it. In reality, they are confusing what they think is a good practice with what is actually negatively impacting the health of their woods. No, this is not a farming story. We don’t have the answers to improving lines of beef or milk cattle. Someone may, but not here. Sorry. This is a story about forests, about the trees, about forest history, and about the actions we take in the woods.

As a forester and an educator, I get to talk with many passionate people--people who care so deeply about their woods that they work at it beyond rational economic decisions and into their love. These aren’t all longtime woods-owners; they are also people who just inherited or just bought woodland because they love it. Very often they have woodlands because they want to care for it in a way that makes it better. Yet whether long-tenured or short-, many landowners allow the woods, which they love so much, to be “select cut,” as some call it. In reality, they are confusing what they think is a good practice with what is actually negatively impacting the health of their woods. What is often incorrectly described as a “select cut” is known to foresters as high grading or diameter limit cutting – different names for the same practice. Unfortunately, the misconception that select cuts are a good thing persists.

What happens to the species and trees when a high grade is impose?
So what is high grading, select cutting, or diameter-limit cutting? The quick and dirty answer is, “It’s taking the best and leaving the rest.” High grades remove the biggest trees (assumed to be the “oldest” or “most mature”), or trees above a certain diameter (hence, diameter limit). Landowners often think they are doing the right thing, in efforts to thin a stand, make a little income, or “give the little trees a chance to grow up and become big trees…”

To read the rest of the story click here.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Story of Penns Woods Part II

I came across this article posted to the Penn State Forestry Extension site and found that it was a great follow-up to my previous post.  It brings us up to the current day, to the current conditions of Penn's Woods.  As I eluded to in my last article Penn's Woods is not without it's troubles today.  Deer, invasive plants, improper harvesting practices are issues that continue to change Penn's Woods.  Leslie Horner, Extension Associate at Penn State, does a great job of summing that up in her recent article.
A Closer Look at Pennsylvania’s Forests -- Leave Them Be, or Lend a Hand? 
Leslie Horner, July 27, 2015

If we want to continue to enjoy Pennsylvania’s forests and wildlife, we’ll need to think about how we react to changes taking place—shifting trees species and age classes.

Pennsylvania’s woods provide us with numerous benefits -- among them are a variety of recreational opportunities, clean water, and habitat for a wide range of wildlife. These forests, like others in the eastern United States, have returned with vigor since the late 1800s and early 1900s. Then, land clearing and the use of wood for building homes, fueling factories and building the nation’s transportation infrastructure (i.e., roads, canals, and railroads) were so extensive and fast-paced that the Pennsylvania’s forests were reduced to less than half of the forest cover we see today. Today, with over 16.5 million acres of forest, which cover more than half the state, it seems hard to imagine that the forest could be anything but healthy and robust. While that is true, a closer look shows that Pennsylvania’s forests are changing, and some of those changes are cause for our concern and attention.

In forests statewide, the number of trees with large diameters has been increasing, and trees in smaller diameter groupings have been declining since the 1980s. While size does not always indicate a tree’s age, studies of Pennsylvania’s forests have shown that our trees are aging. In many of our woodlands the bigger trees are about the same age, creating what is known as an “even-aged forest.” Like people, trees have different life expectancies that vary quite broadly, but do not have an infinite lifespan. Eventually all trees die. Since many of our trees are about the same age, we could see many trees reaching the end of their lifespan around the same time.

Why should we be concerned? Won’t the forest just come back again? That is what we would expect, but Pennsylvania’s forest now contains far fewer tree seedlings and saplings than one would have seen in the same woods two or three decades ago. These tree seedlings and saplings (also referred to as “advanced regeneration”), which should be the next generation forest, are absent in many forest stands. One major cause of the decline in regeneration is the increased competition from some plants that are growing where they did not used to be found. These “invasive plants” grow so quickly that they out-compete tree seedlings and other plants in the struggle to access water and nutrients in the soil, space for roots to stretch out, and room for leaves to access sunlight. Tree seedlings that don’t die are stunted in their growth, leaving them small and not very hardy.
Another change in the state’s forests is a shift in species—the species that used to be less common are trading places with species that used to be more common. Red maples are more than twice as common as any other tree species, while the number of oaks is declining. Red maples are native to Pennsylvania’s woods and are not out of place; however, they are competitive. They grow faster than oaks; so in a forest opening where oaks would normally thrive, red maples beat them to the sunlight and slow the growth of oak seedlings, or other species that used to more numerous in our woods.

To read the rest of the article click here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Story of Penns Woods

I wanted to share with my readers a story that appeared in the Pittsburgh City Paper.  The story is entitled "A century ago, Pennsylvania stood almost entirely stripped of trees."  It tells the history of Penns Woods, a much different story than what we have today.  Here are some interesting facts about Pennsylvania's forests.
- Forests cover 59%, 16.58 million acres 9 up from a low of 32%, 9.2 million acres in 1907
- 71% of forests are privately owned, 12 million acres
- 30,000+ acres of true old growth
- Forest cover has remained relatively constant since 1965
- Mixed Oak and Northern Hardwoods are most common forest types
- 10 most common tree species in order: red maple, black birch, black cherry, beech, sugar maple, hemlock, white ash, red oak, chestnut oak, and black gum

Today, as in the past, Pennsylvania's forests and woodlands are an amazing resource.  They provide untold economic, ecological, and social value.  While most think the state owns the forest resource, the reality is seven out of ten acres are privately owned.  The decisions these owners make today greatly impact all the values we receive as benefits from our forests now and into the future.

Managing Penn's Woods is not without its challenges.  Urban sprawl, invasive plants, insects, and diseases, poor harvesting practices, forest regeneration, and energy development are just some of the struggles facing today's forest owners.  To keep this vital resource healthy forests must be managed.  Every day we are challenged to keep forest working as forests.

A century ago, Pennsylvania stood almost entirely stripped of trees
By Bill O'Driscoll
August 19, 2015
Pittsburgh City Paper

This slide depicts the impacts of horse logging
It takes a lot longer to repair environmental destruction than it does to perpetrate it. Look out the window while driving the turnpike, or flying across the state, and you’ll surely consider Pennsylvania pretty well forested. Hike a state park or forest, same deal: Despite centuries of farming, logging and heavy industry, and such recent incursions as the fracking boom, the commonwealth still has, if nothing else, plenty of leaves overhead.

But that canopy camouflages an astounding fact: About a century ago, Pennsylvania stood almost entirely stripped of trees. In 1895, say state records, Pennsylvania contained some 9 million forested acres. That was about one-third of the acreage forested before Europeans arrived. And most of what was left was less real forest than underbrush, prone to soil erosion, and to wildfires that charred hundreds of thousands of acres a year. In a state of 28.7 million acres that was once almost completely tree-covered, only a few hundred acres of true old growth remained. As described in a 1995 history of the state’s Department of Forestry, ours was a landscape “of stumps and ashes.”

Mostly to blame was unchecked logging, especially the several decades of intensive logging that began in the mid-1800s. To read the rest of the story click here.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Cherry Scallop Moth in Allegheny National Forest Region

Cherry Scallop Shell Moth

A tiny moth is munching on Pennsylvania’s most commercially valuable tree, the black cherry, turning large swaths of the Allegheny National Forest brown and eating into future timber sale profits.

The cherry scallop shell moth, an insect pest native to Pennsylvania and the eastern United States, has defoliated cherry trees on more than 17,000 acres in the Allegheny National Forest and a total of 56,000 acres in the public and private forests around the national forest in the northwestern corner of the state, according to a recent aerial survey by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry.

“This is the first time in more than 20 years that we’ve experienced an outbreak,” said Andrea Hille, a silviculturist for the national forest, in a U.S. Forest Service news release last week. While a moth infestation, even one that lasts for multiple years, rarely kills black cherry, she said some decline in tree growth and overall health of the black cherry trees is likely. The moth infestation and resultant defoliation on the national forest land is visible to forest visitors in Warren, McKean and Elk counties, especially along State Route 6 between Kane and Sheffield, around the Kinzua Reservoir and in the Russell City and Ridgeway areas.

Full grown larva
The state Bureau of Forestry in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is also monitoring the moth on the commonwealth’s 2.2 million acres of forest land, said Houping Liu, a forest entomologist in the bureau. “The moth is a native species found across the state, but this year, for the first year in a while, it’s doing more damage than in most years, and people are noticing it,” said Mr. Liu, although he noted no state forests are experiencing the defoliation impacts seen in the Allegheny National Forest.

 The scallop shell moth, Hydria prunivorata, gets its name from the pattern of alternating dark and light scalloped lines on its wings. According to a U.S. Forest Service fact sheet, the adult moths are found in the trees from late May to early August and lay eggs on the underside of cherry tree leaves. The eggs hatch from July through early August, and the yellow-and-brown-striped caterpillars feed voraciously on the tree leaves, defoliating the trees and stunting tree growth.

The declines in tree growth and health show up in narrower, discolored growth rings when the trees are cut, and those blemishes reduce the wood’s grade and value, said Jason Roblee, sawmill manager at Firth Maple Products in Crawford County, which specializes in black cherry and maple woods. “We won’t see the stuff that’s happening this year … show up at the saw mill for several years, but for the last few years, we’ve been getting wood from central Pennsylvania, where you can see the ‘defoliation ring,’ sometimes two or three rings,” Mr. Roblee said, “and we struggle to sell wood with those rings in it.” He said the price of cherry logs that normally sell for $1,200 to $1,300 per thousand board feet can plummet by $400, depending where in the wood the dark brown rings are located. The rings can eliminate a cherry log from use for high-quality veneer wood, valued from $6 to $8 a foot, and turn it into a “sawlog” with a price tag of 87 cents a foot, he said.

Major outbreaks of the moth and the resulting defoliation to black cherry and other cherry trees occur cyclically and usually in regions of the state, not the whole state. The last to hit the Allegheny National Forest occurred around 20 years ago. Moth populations also spiked in the late 1960s and early 1970s in various regions of Pennsylvania. Mr. Liu said cherry trees in forested areas of Indiana, Bedford and Westmoreland counties were hit hard by the moth in 2009. “It’s very possible the moth populations are still building in the state and next year will be even bigger for the moth,” said Tim Tomon, a forest pest management specialist with the state Bureau of Forestry.

The cherry scallop shell moth is the latest in a growing list of forest pests that includes the emerald ash borer, the hemlock woolly adelgid and the tent caterpillar, which is heavily infesting white and red oaks in the eastern part of the state this year. Mr. Liu said although the state is concerned about the cyclical defoliations of black cherry, it doesn’t normally spray insecticides to control them. “The pests have been here for a long time and the trees have been here for a long time, so the trees have some sort of resistance to native pest species,” he said. “The moth is always in the woods to some degree. They just peak on certain years.”

The Associated Press, Monday August 10, 2015