Friday, December 22, 2017

Threatened by a Thousand Cuts

Forests cover over half of Pennsylvania, totaling 16.6 million acres. More than 70 percent of forested land is privately owned. With about 58 percent of its 28.6 million acres covered in forest, Pennsylvania still honors its namesake, "Penn's Woods," as one of the more heavily-wooded states in the country. Forest cover was as high as 90 percent before European settlement in the 17th century, and as low as 32 percent in 1907.

It's often assumed that most Pennsylvania's forestland is owned and protected by the state, the federal government, or nonprofit conservancies. But, nearly three-quarters of it is privately owned. Penn State's Center for Private Forests puts the current number of "woodland owners" at a startlingly high 740,000 — more than eight times as many as in New Jersey. Their average age is high, too: 57.

A number of threats influence those vast privately held acres, totaling 11.5 million to 12.5 million acres. Invasive plants and insects, deer over-browsing, improper harvesting practices and others all have their impact on the forest. However, parcelization, taking large tracts of land and dividing them into smaller and smaller parcels, is one of the most significant threats to forests functioning properly. One report estimates that 300 to 600 acres of forest and farmland are lost each day in Pennsylvania, particularly in urban and suburban areas.

Most of what I wrote above can be found in this story provided by the Philly Inquirer

Monday, December 18, 2017

New Year’s Resolution: Creating a Tree and Plant Life List for Your Woods

Written by Allyson Muth, Forest Stewardship Program Associate, Center for Private Forests at Penn State

December 15, 2017 – University Park, PA – As forestry educators, our role is to advance an
understanding of the complexities of the woods, in hopes that greater understanding will lead to well-informed decision-making and well-cared-for lands. One privilege of our role is getting the opportunity to spend time with other forestry educators from other states, to discover new ideas and synergies as we promote good forest stewardship.

Earlier this month a colleague from Vermont shared the idea of a Woods Life List. We were struck by the simplicity of the idea, the recognition of the life list as a way for landowners to understand what they have on their land, and perhaps to track change – new species coming into an area, existing species falling off. With the start of the New Year around the corner, we lay a challenge on you – create a tree and plant life list for your woods. You may have a start of it in your forest management plan. You know trees and plants that you enjoy seeing. But what would a complete list capture that is new for you?

Tree species have ecological niches – growing conditions where they are more likely to succeed in out-competing other species. Your forest may be an oak-hickory forest type, a northern hardwoods forest type, beech-maple, etc. Each type has tree species that are likely to occur within that region. But each site also has micro-niches where conditions are ideal for species not characteristic of the overarching forest type. What occurs on your land?

If you are or know birders, you know that life lists play a role, even for the most novice. Some are more dedicated than others in their tracking, but the finding of rarities, the tracking of the common, the creation of the physical record of species seen represent accomplishment.

If you’re starting life lists of trees in the winter, familiarity with tree buds, branching patterns, and bark is necessary. There are some excellent guides out that that cover bark and buds; having one on your shelf would be helpful. Bark is variable, but often unique between species. Branching patterns and structure will narrow things down quite a bit – trees with opposite branching are only a few: maple, ash, dogwood, honeysuckles, and horsechestnut. And if bark and branches can help you narrow it down, I will admit to searching the ground for fallen leaves to confirm my suspicions. Winter tree ID is about observation and learning the tricks to help you identify.

Starting in the winter means that the life list will first be populated by trees and woody shrubs – things you can identify without leaves. As the growing season comes in, pay attention to the early green. On woody shrubs that will likely indicate some non-native species – worth tracking on a life list? Maybe, but definitely worth noting for assessing extent and potential for control. There are also myriad spring ephemerals that make early appearances and are worthy of acknowledgement on your list. For many of the spring ephemerals, their presence is a good indicator that your deer population is in balance with the land, as those early natives are tasty treats.

As spring progresses, flowers and reproductive structures like cones (for the conifers) offer additional clues to identity. Recognizing that tree flowers are not often showy means that close observation (and a good pair of binoculars – trees are tall) will aid in identification.

Once we get to full leaf out, identification of trees and shrubs is usually the easiest. Again, a good guidebook is an excellent resource. Learn your leaf structures: needles versus broad leaves, compound versus simple, lobed versus unlobed, leaf edge descriptions – these are critical vocabulary for using many guides. You can currently access the Summer Key for Pennsylvania Trees on the Extension website ( It contains excellent introductory descriptions of leaf structures.

Aesop was the first to coin the adage, “familiarity breeds contempt,” but we would offer a contradictory statement: familiarity breeds understanding, and understanding leads to well-informed decision making. Get familiar with your woods or the woods around you. Add a Tree Life List to your New Year’s resolutions. Get to know your spot and then go see what else you can discover in forests around the state, country, and world. Gaining familiarity and appreciation for trees and plants in the woods means we’ll be more likely to protect and take good care of it.

The Pennsylvania Forest Stewardship Program provides publications on a variety of topics related to woodland management. For a list of free publications, call 800 235 9473 (toll free), send an email to, or write to Forest Stewardship Program, Natural Resources Extension, The Pennsylvania State University, 416 Forest Resources Building, University Park, PA 16802. The Pennsylvania DCNR Bureau of Forestry, USDA Forest Service, Penn State Extension, and the Center for Private Forests at Penn State, in Partnership through Penn State’s Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, sponsor the Forest Stewardship Program in Pennsylvania.