Monday, December 28, 2015

Disposing of Your Christmas Tree
Once the Christmas holiday is over, the chore of taking down and disposing of the cut Christmas tree remains. Today, because of solid waste regulations, most communities will no longer permit the used Christmas trees to be hauled out with the garbage and sent to the sanitary landfill, reports Rhonda Ferree, horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension.
However, Christmas tree disposal does not have to be a problem, because there are several environmentally sound disposal methods available. People who maintain bird feeders can help the winter residents by creating a small windbreak with a single tree. Put the old Christmas tree on the northwest side of bird feeders that are exposed to the wind. The tree will provide protection for the birds and also help keep birdseed from blowing away. However, don’t place the tree too close to the feeder, so it does not become a hiding place for predators, such as cats.
Another option is to place your tree in the backyard, anchor it with a steel fencepost, and then decorate it as a food source for wildlife. This can lengthen your family’s enjoyment of the tree and attract an assortment of birds, chipmunks, and squirrels to your yard. Some items that Ferree suggests that can be used to “decorate” your tree include: strung popcorn, pinecones smeared with peanut and sunflower seeds, strung cranberries, apple rings and orange slices.
A number of local fishing clubs urge homeowners to drop off their old Christmas trees to be used as fish attractors in their lakes and ponds. Holes are typically drilled through the trunks, the trees are connected by cable and anchored by concrete blocks and are then placed in 8 to 10 feet of water. The Christmas trees serve as places where small fish can hide from larger predator species. And, hopefully, the larger fish will gather around the trees in the area in hopes of an easy meal.
Christmas trees also make excellent material to construct brush piles to provide cover for a variety of wildlife, including small mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. Some good locations for brush piles in rural areas are near field borders and woodland areas. An ideal brush pile is about 6 feet high and about 15 to 20 feet in diameter. If the brush pile is smaller than that, predators can often get into them. If they are larger than what is recommended, they lose some of their effectiveness. Undeveloped areas in suburban yards are also potential areas for brush piles to attract wildlife. However, Ferree cautions that homeowners should check local ordinances before constructing a brush pile in a town or subdivision.
Another environmentally sound way to dispose of your tree is to chip it up with a chipping machine to use as landscaping mulch. The mulch can be used in the garden or planting beds to help reduce weed problems, modify soil temperature and help to retain moisture.
According to Ferree, properly disposing of Christmas trees will benefit Illinois’ natural resources and will also help to save landfill space. Not only are the above methods safe for the environment, but they can provide a source of enjoyment for you, your family and your friends.    
Adapted from article by Robert Frazee, Retired Extension educator in Natural Resources
Source: Rhonda J. Ferree, Extension Educator, Horticulture & State Master Naturalist Coordinator, University of Illinois Extension

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Pennsylvania Change in Rattlesnake Status Likely

Bob Frye of the Pittsburgh Tribune recently reported that the timber rattlesnake in Pennsylvania my be removed from it's current listing as a "candidate" species. Protection of the timber rattlesnake may not change. Currently person's are allowed to catch and/or kill only 1 rattlesnake annually from June 11 through July 31 and it must be at least 42 inches long and possess 21 or more subcaudal scales and it is unlawful to hunt, take, catch, or kill Timber Rattlesnakes west of Route 15 and south of Interstate 81 to the Maryland line where there is no open season except as provided in Chapter 79.7(f) (Fish & Boat Code). You can view the 2016 PA Fish and Boat Commission regulations by clicking here.
"The timber rattlesnake has been classified as a “candidate” species — one on the verge of being considered endangered or threatened — in Pennsylvania for three decades. That might soon change.

With some new sampling showing there likely are more of the snakes than previously thought, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commissioners gave preliminary approval to a proposal to remove them from the candidate list and instead manage them as a common species. Final approval could come as soon as the board's next meeting in January.

Chris Urban, chief of the commission's natural diversity section, said a number of species initially were labeled candidates because “we didn't have a lot of information.” Rattlesnakes, he added, were among the first to get candidate status, back in the mid-1970s, when overhunting and habitat loss were thought to have caused “significant declines” in their numbers. 

The commission has put a lot of effort into studying them since, he added. Most recently, between 2003 and 2014 the commission surveyed at least 50 percent of the rattlesnake's historic range statewide. That added up to 1,742 sites. Rattlers were found in 51 of 67 counties, with populations stable in key areas, such as in northcentral Pennsylvania, Urban said. The vast expanse of public land there “has really allowed them to thrive,” he added. 

That data makes biologists comfortable with delisting them, he said. That is not to say they won't be protected, though. Urban said they will be managed like game species, with seasons and bag limits as well as a recovery plan."

To read full story click here.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Is the export of wood pellets more environmentally friendly than coal?
Interesting question, and one that recent research has tried to answer.  A study recently release by University of Illinois professor of agricultural and consumer economics, Madhu Khanna, and her colleagues answers that question with a resounding YES.  In fact, they found that wood-pellet based electricity is between 74 and 85 percent lower than coal-based electricity!  This is great news for the forest industry and not only means lower greenhouse gas emissions but also could ultimately lead to other positive impacts such as  less land conversions to other uses, more trees being planted, and increased carbon sequestered.  This may also mean more dollars to forest landowners who may have low value trees that can be sold for use in pellet markets.

Export of wood pellets more environmentally friendly than coal
By University of Illinois | November 25, 2015

As the export of wood pellets from the U.S. to the European Union has increased six-fold since 2008, questions have been raised about the environmental impact of the practice. According to a new paper from a University of Illinois expert in environmental economics, even after accounting for factors ranging from harvesting to transportation across the Atlantic Ocean, wood pellets still trump coal by a wide margin in carbon emissions savings.

The greenhouse gas intensity of wood pellet-based electricity is between 74 to 85 percent lower than that of coal-based electricity, says published research co-written by Madhu Khanna, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at Illinois.

“One of the concerns with wood pellet production has been that it’s going to lead to an increase in the harvesting of trees in the southern part of the U.S., and that the emissions that go into both the production of these pellets and their transportation to Europe will result in a product that is not going to save a lot of greenhouse gas emissions when it displaces coal-based electricity in Europe,” Khanna said.

But Khanna and her co-authors, including Weiwei Wang, a postdoctoral research associate at Illinois, found that across different scenarios of high and low demand for pellets, the greenhouse gas intensity of pellet-based electricity generated from forest biomass such as pulpwood and milling residues is still significantly less than that of coal-based electricity.

“Even if you include all of these emissions that go into the process of producing and transporting pellets, and if you include for all the land-use changes that occur and the fact that you’ll be diverting some amount of pulpwood and other forest biomass from conventional forest products to pellets, you can still get emissions reductions that range from 74 to 85 percent compared with coal-based electricity,” Khanna said.

“Basically, wood pellets look really good next to coal, even when you account for everything else.”

Click here to read the full news release.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

American Chestnut - Restoring an Icon

The American Chestnut Foundation (TACFA) has announced the release of a collaborative video project with The Rolling Stones keyboardist and TACF member Chuck Leavell.

Help TACF restore an American icon by sharing this video with friends, family, and tree enthusiasts everywhere.  Their goal is to reach 25,000 views during the first 25 days of December.  Help them make it happen! 

The Foundation has many exciting goals to further their mission, including:
  • Genome mapping of hybrid trees to better pinpoint the exact locations of the genes responsible for blight resistance;
  • Construction of a greenhouse at Meadowview Research Farm to serve as a propagation facility and speed up breeding methods;
  • Support the hard work and travel costs of science staff who help plant chapter volunteer-run orchards;
  • Rebuild TACF's website for increased capability and mobile-interface among members.
Share this video via FacebookTwitter, and YouTube by using the hashtag: #25kIn25Days to track the campaign. 

Join them in celebrating this conservation success story.