Thursday, May 24, 2018

Ten Forest Myths

I thought I would share this with my readers.  Bill Cook from Michigan State posted these.  There may be others you have heard, see what you thinkFeel free to share.  One that I have heard quite often is, “We will just cut the large old trees to let the smaller younger trees grow.”  Unfortunately, those smaller trees are often the same age and completely different species than the big trees.

By Bill Cook, Michigan State University Extension
April 2, 2018

Forests, forestry and the forest industry are among the most environmentally friendly of human activities, contrary to common perspectives. Our popular culture seems to perpetuate many incorrect assumptions and perceptions about forests and how humans depend upon forests. Do not believe everything you read. Look it up and learn, it can end up being pretty fun stuff!

1. Trees provide the air we breathe.
Most of the Earth’s fresh oxygen is produced from the oceans, which makes sense when you understand that three-quarters of the Earths’ surface is covered with water. For terrestrial systems, non-forest biomes are the most common. So, oxygen from trees? Meh. Okay, they produce some, but it is not a particularly high value attributable to trees or forests.

2. We should plant two trees for every one we harvest.
In the Lake States, planting is typically unnecessary. Our forest management systems are tailored to the various forest types to create environmental conditions that encourage natural regeneration. This management is quite successful. So, why plant a few trees when nature will successfully produce billions? This said, there are circumstances where tree planting is needed and useful.

3. A tree grows one ring per year.
If a tree grew only one ring, how could you tell where last year’s ring ended and the next year’s ring began? In fact, our northern temperate trees grow two annual rings each year. The wider, light-colored ring grows in the springtime, followed by the narrower, dark colored ring in the summertime. Then, the tree stops growing wood for about six months.

4. Forests are disappearing.
This is not true in Michigan or across the Lake States, although it is true in some regions around the world. As of 2017, Michigan has more acres of forestland than any time since the 1930s, when statistical forest inventories began. Now, if you live in an urban area and see sprawl gobbling up the countryside, it might be easy to get this impression. However, statewide, we now have a bit over 20 million acres of forest, and that covers a little over half the state.

5. Clearcutting is deforestation.
Deforestation, by definition, is a land use change from forest to something else. The overwhelming amount of deforestation is for agriculture, and then, secondly, for building human infrastructure. Clearcutting is a forest regeneration practice designed to stimulate the reproduction of sun-loving tree species, such as the aspens, red pine, jack pine and others. Natural clearcutting happens through wildfire, windstorms, insect and disease outbreaks and similar events. While clearcutting is not quite exactly the same thing, it’s far more benign than natural occurrences.

6. Planting a tree will save the planet.
This is a popular promotional campaign and has some value in raising awareness, but in ecological terms it is nonsense. Even if every Michigander planted a thousand trees every year, that amount would not come close to annual natural regeneration. However, planting trees does have strategic value in filling-in where nature missed a beat, to change forest type compositions, or to achieve a visual quality objective at a residence or in a city. So, planting trees is a great thing, it is just not going to save the planet.

7. Mother nature knows best.
Nature knows nothing. It is not sentient. Benign neglect is not a fruitful strategy. The predictable paths of natural succession lead to places most people are not going to be happy with. First, the forest legacy following the historic logging era left forests in an unnatural condition, which is the forest that we see today. Second, ecological forest processes alone are unlikely to meet all the demands that society places upon forests. Third, forest health challenges and exotic species place additional pressures on forests. The solution to these problems is active forest management. We don’t manage forests for the forests’ sake. We manage forests for people, by working with natural processes.

8. Timber harvest destroys wildlife habitat.
Harvest, natural disturbance or forest succession creates habitat changes. These changes benefit some species and do not benefit others. Therefore, any particular timber harvest will have wildlife winners and losers. The same is true without the harvest. More likely, critics of timber harvest react to the change in visual quality, which is an especially poor measure of ecological integrity.

9. Government owns most of the forest.
Nearly two-thirds of the Michigan forest is privately owned. Of that, families own nearly three-quarters. The State of Michigan owns about 21 percent and the federal government owns about 17 percent. Ownership has a huge impact on how a forest is managed. However, regardless of ownership, all forests provide benefits to everyone.

10. Forest industry is a destructive, extractive industry.
It is counter-intuitive to many, but the forest industry provides the financial incentive for forest management. No markets leads to no management. With an unmanaged forest, there is a road of troubles. Additionally, there is no greener industry. Thousands of daily products, made from the most environmentally friendly raw material at our disposal, come from forests. Forest products also include clean water and a diversity of wildlife habitat. In contrast to the myth, the forest industry supports a wide range of goods and services, including a healthier environment. Wood use is not a choice, it is essential to our survival. Every U.S. resident uses an average of three to four pounds of wood every day.

Michigan is a big state. It can be misleading to assume that what may be seen in a particular area or along highway corridors is what occurs across the state. Our forests currently produce an amazing array of benefits and unmet opportunities. The potential for increases in quality and quantity of these benefits is huge.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Protect Your Property from Invasive Noxious Weeds

Mile-a-minute vine.  Photo by Dave Jackson

An Act that will regulate controlled plants and noxious weeds (Controlled Plant and Noxious Weed Act) has been introduced to the House (HB 790) by Rep. Pashinski et al. and Senate (SB 567) by Senator Argall et al. Both Bills have been referred to the respective Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committees. The new Act would replace the current Noxious Weed Control Law that has been in place for decades.

The new Act will modernize PA's noxious weed law by prioritizing invasive plant management based on the ability to effectively contain or even eradicate certain species. In addition, it will help build awareness of problem weed species that require proactive attention. Now is a great time to let your House and Senate representatives know what you think about this new legislation on noxious weeds.

The new Act groups plants into three categories;
Class A: weeds are currently geographically limited in the Commonwealth and are intended to be eradicated if at all possible. Kudzu and giant hogweed are good examples of Class A weeds. Two new invasive pigweeds (Palmer amaranth and waterhemp) are included as Class A weeds in the new Act. Palmer amaranth is currently a noxious weed in Delaware, Ohio, and Minnesota and is under consideration in several other states.
Class B: weeds are widely established in the Commonwealth and it is not feasible to eradicate them. Although they are still important, limited resources must be focused on the species that will maximize impact. Canada thistle and multiflora rose are examples of Class B weeds.
Class C: weeds pose a potential threat if introduced, but currently are not known to exist in the Commonwealth. A number of Federal noxious weeds are Class C weeds.

What would the new noxious weed law mean to PA?
First and foremost, it would provide increased awareness to recognize that certain weed species are a big problem. Class A weeds will require proactive management and this will help direct educational efforts. Proactive management reduces the chance of movement and introduction onto your farm or in your area.

There are costs associated with monitoring and managing noxious weeds. With the invasive pigweeds, PA imports unwanted seed through other commodities and equipment. This will require additional quality control measures for feed, seed, and forage producers. The seed industry will need to evaluate seed sources, making sure they have a quality product that does not contain noxious weed seed.

Custom equipment operators will need to be diligent about where they operate and about cleaning equipment if they encounter a contaminated farm. Farm supply and export enterprises need to be part of the solution to ensure that noxious weeds are not transported or spread within or out of the state. In the end, the new Controlled Plant and Noxious Weed Act can help to protect the productivity and profitability of the Commonwealth and position PA as a leader among other states regarding proactive weed management.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Garlic Mustard Management Update

Have you noticed much garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) this spring?  I noticed in my work area, in Central PA, it is mostly absent or greatly reduced in numbers. Below is an update from Dr. Bernd Blossey from Cornell University. Are seeing the results of soil microbial communities as Bernd suggests?

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) was once considered one of the most problematic plant invaders in eastern temperate forests. Declines in native plant species diversity and deterioration in general forest health were attributed to advancing garlic mustard. The lack of success in controlling the species resulted in the initiation of research to develop a biological control program. While ecological investigations were pursued, chemical, and often physical removal programs continued (including “garlic mustard challenges”). At the same time researchers established long term permanent monitoring plots in preparation for potential insect releases. In these plots the abundance of seedlings, rosettes and adult stems, stem height, reproductive output and herbivory were recorded.

New Evidence
Monitoring of garlic mustard at many sites across the Northeast and Midwest in these permanent plots has shown that over time adult density, rosette density, stem height and the number of siliques is greatly reduced to an extent where garlic mustard, while present, is reduced to extremely low abundance (Fig. 1). These results occur at all sites. Additional work using soil sterilization has shown that these effects are, most likely, explained by negative soil feedback, i.e. the build-up of soil microbial communities that selectively suppress garlic mustard (other plant species appear unaffected). We are currently preparing these results with our collaborators for publication in the peer reviewed literature.

Fig. 1. Garlic mustard adult density, rosette density, stem height and the number of siliques over time (since establishment of monitoring plots). Data are pooled from multiple sites in NY and IL.

We are aware that many organizations and communities are gearing up for another season of garlic mustard removal, often dubbed “garlic mustard challenges”. The most recent ecological work has shown that effects attributed to garlic mustard invasion are more likely effects of invasive earthworms and abundant native white-tailed deer. Garlic mustard will only be able to invade and establish populations in areas, which have been colonized by earthworms. Removing garlic mustard will not help to restore thriving native communities. In fact, removing garlic mustard will set back the “self-inflicted” population declines by preventing negative soil feedback. Only in places where garlic mustard is not controlled will the species decline rapidly (often within 5-10 years after initial invasion, but more observations are needed). We recommend stopping all active garlic mustard removal (unless initial invasions can be stopped by removing a few individuals away from well-established populations) and instead focusing on planting native species. Native species will need to be protected from deer herbivory behind fences or in cages until deer populations are sufficiently reduced. Please be aware that garlic mustard will continue to spread to areas where the species has not occurred previously. The decline in population and vigor is a function of residence time.