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.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Who Owns Pennsylvania's Forests

As you drive across the state of Pennsylvania one thing you notice is that it is a heavily forested state, we are very much "Penn's Woods." Forested ridges and scattered woodlots mixed with farmland in the valleys characterize most of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania's dominant land cover is forest, covering nearly 16.5 million acres or 59% of the state. Many people believe the government owns our forestland. However, government only controls 3 of every 10 acres. The largest government land managers in Pennsylvania include the DCNR Bureau of Forestry (2.1 million acres), the Game Commission (1.1 million acres), and the US Forest Service (513,000 acres). The bulk of this acreage is found in the north-central part of the state and constitutes some of the most remote forestland in the eastern US.

The remaining 12 million acres are held by private owners, estimated to be over 700,000. Said another way, about 1 in 8 households in the state owns some forestland. The average ownership size is estimated at 17-21 acres, with an average ownership tenure of only 7-13 years, and an average age of 57. The decisions these landowners make affect the strength of our forest-based industry, employing about 90,000 workers and contributing 17 billion dollars to the economy of the state. In addition, private forests provide ecological services such as clean air and water, supply habitat for wildlife, and contribute immensely to our quality of life.

Pennsylvania is blessed with an abundance of public land but this is not the case with most eastern states. Western states, on the other hand, have an abundance of public land. In some western states the US government owns more that 50% of the land base. So why such a difference? An article recently posted by the NY Times does a good job of explaining. 

Why the Government Owns So Much Land in the West


The United States government owns 47 percent of all land in the West. In some states, including Oregon, Utah and Nevada, the majority of land is owned by the federal government. Of course, it used to own nearly all of it.

And that remaining ownership and management of large tracts of forest and grazing lands is the core of the problem for antigovernment protesters in Oregon. They have taken over a federal building, the latest in a long history of fights between the government and Western settlers about how the lands should be used.

Which Federal Agency Controls the Most Land?

(In Millions of Acres)

Bureau of Land Management – 247.3

Forest Service – 192.9

Fish and Wildlife Service – 89.1

National Parks System – 79.6 

How did the federal government get the land?

The history of federal land ownership has been largely one of divestiture and public use, not acquisition. As the United States expanded across the continent, it did so by purchasing or taking the land that became new states. (Among the groups it took land from were Native Americans.)

Over time, it transferred land to state governments and individuals, largely through homesteading and land grants, which allowed farmers to procure parcels of land for agricultural use. The government also tended to allow free use of unclaimed lands by ranchers and others, though there were skirmishes over the years when settlers tried to fence in public land or claimed land in Indian territories.

That strategy worked well in the Midwest, where very little land remains in federal hands. East of the Mississippi, for example, the federal government owns only 4 percent of land. But in the 11 states in the West (including New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, and not counting Alaska), a combination of geography and politics slowed things down. “The whole disposal system sort of hits a speed bump,” said Patricia Limerick, a history professor and director of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado.

The many mountainous, arid and difficult-to-reach tracts of land in the West simply weren’t attractive to farmers. Settlers claimed the few valleys where farming was feasible and built towns. The only thing most of the remaining land was good for was grazing, but cattle ranchers and sheep herders needed large tracts of land to feed their livestock, not the smaller parcels they could claim through homestead policies. More recently, federal law eliminated homesteading and set up more formal systems for management of the remaining land. 

To read the rest of the story click here.  

Monday, January 4, 2016

Keeping Forests as Forests

Will your heirs keep your forest as forest?  With the new year upon us maybe a New Year's resolution could be to have that conversation with the future heirs of your forested property? Throughout the Northeast and across the country numerous pressures threaten our ability to "keep forests as forests." Perhaps the greatest threat to forest loss is land conversion that occurs when forest is passed from one generation to the next. Most States served by the US Forest Service Northeastern Area have identified forest fragmentation through inter-generational transfer, dividing land up among your children, as an issue of critical importance in their Forest Action Plans. The Forest Stewardship Program has recognized and responded to this need over the years. A display, publications, and technology transfer products have been developed by the Forest Service for family forest owners and service providers about options for keeping land in forest as it passes to the next generation. Additionally, the new Forest Stewardship Program Standards and Guidelines, just released in November 2015, require that each Stewardship Plan developed throughout the country must provide conservation-based estate planning or legacy planning information. To find out more about estate planning options for your family forest visit the Forest Service Forest Stewardship Program web page. Additionally, Penn State Extension has developed a Legacy Planning web site that provides a ton of useful information including links for presentations, publications, stories from landowners, talking points and other resources. Be sure to check out both of these useful links to keep your forests as forests for 2016 and into the future. Have that conversation today.