2020 Brodnax fire

I “identify” as a good looking 24-year-old man. Unfortunately, intolerant and un-PC nature will not forgive those four decades and insists on treating me like I was 64.

I am getting old and this is the end of a long day and I am tired. I got up just before 5am to head down to Brodnax to participate in a patch burn with Adam Smith. We were doing about 20 acres, so this one was easier than the one we did on Freeman. I am not very worried about most of the trees, but I am concerned that my little longleaf got too burned. I think they are okay, but I don’t know and will not know until April. It will be a long couple of months.

I had to leave a little early and let Adam and his crew finish off. I was off to Lexington, VA to do a talk about Aldo Leopold at Washington & Lee University, about a three hour drive from Brodnax.

I enjoy doing talks on almost any subject. It is one of the things I miss most since leaving my old job. Talking about Aldo Leopold was especially interesting for me.
Aldo Leopold. I feel a special relationship with him, or at least with his outlook. When I talk about him, I feel like I am going home, or at least back to my conservation roots in Wisconsin.

The group was mostly students, although it was open to the general public and there were a few old people. I think the students had to come as part of their coursework. I was a little surprised how much the audience knew about Aldo Leopold and it was gratifying to see how much his ideas resonate still.

I talked about what I like most about Leopold and what I think is the meta-message he advocates. My favorite among Leopold’s writing is his essay “Axe in Hand.” I think about that whenever I am cutting, burning or planting on my land. Leopold says that we put our signature on the land and that is how we develop our land ethic. It is the interactions that count. And that leads me to the other thing I like. Leopold does not have a dogma. He points in the general direction, but leaves to each person on the land the responsibility to develop a morality, a land ethic. It is not something that can be written once and for all.
I deployed two of the short idea that I very much believe. The first sometimes sound depressing but I think is very uplifting. “Yesterday’s solution is today’s problem.” Why is it uplifting? Because it implies choice and for me it also implies success. We make plans and we make progress, even if it created an opportunity for people of the future to make plans and make progress. Life is an eternal unfolding and that is beautiful. The other truth (with hat tip to Heraclitus) “You cannot step twice into the same forest.”

My pictures are from our fire this morning. Fire pictures are always sort of the same. I chose the middle picture because it was pretty. No big issues. I got stuck in some green briar for a few seconds and felt the momentary fear that I would get burned, but that was never realistic.

You can see from the pictures that all you need do is step over the fire to be safely in the black.

There is a story from the Mann Gulch tragedy in 1949 that killed 13 young fire fighters. Of course, this was a lot bigger and hotter fire than ours.) The leader of the group was a guy called Wag Dodge. He saved his life by lighting an escape fire. The fire was coming up a hill faster than a man could run. Wag Dodge understood he could not get away, so he lit a fire of his own and then hunkered down in the black, like what you can see in picture #2. The fire passed over him and he survived. Of course, an escape fire works only with fine fuel, like grass. If you tried that in thick timber, you would likely get slow roasted.

After burn December 2019

On my way to pick up the first tranche of this year’s longleaf. I stopped off at Freeman to check out the fire results. It is odd. Some places burned a lot and others not at all. It seems like there is dry grass that should have burned easily next to burned areas.

The fire top killed brambles, but did not burn them away, so it is going to be hard going planting in some of the patches. I am going to be planting all next week and I will push through, but I will use my cutter to make easier paths for the kids when they come to plant. I want them to have good memories. They can get used to the brambles gradually, as I did.

Burning is good, but it always scares me. I inspected my longleaf most carefully. Some of the needles are singed and will fall off. I checked for the buds on some of the lower branches, figuring that that was most likely to be killed and that higher ones would be better. I found that middle was still green and will be growing, so I assume the tops are good.

Longleaf is fire adapted. The needles singe, but when they heat up they release humidity that protects the terminal buds. The buds are what count. If the buds are alive, the tree will grow again

My grass stage longleaf also have green centers. I might lose a few, but I think most will be okay.

First picture is the green center of one of the longleaf branches. Next is the burn-over of the 2012 pines and after that some of the grass stage nearby. Penultimate shows the burning under 1996 loblolly and the grassy hills. I planted some clover on the fire line bare dirt. I know that is not “native” but it is pollinator habitat and generally a good plant for that purpose. I scatters some of the native seeds that I gathers onto the burned areas. I will plant longleaf in the clearings among the loblolly. Have to push through those brambles.
My last picture are rude motorcycle guys. they parked their bikes blocking the pumps. They were hanging around inside the Pilot. I was “scandalized” but didn’t have the inclination or courage to confront them. There were other pumps available and I filled up there.
Reminds me of the joke about the truck driver and the bike gang.

A truck driver is having his lunch when a biker gang comes in and starts to harass him. They take some of his food, spill his coffee. He just finishes, pays for his food and leaves.
The lead biker says to the waitress, Not much of a man, is he?” The waitress replies, “Not much of a driver either. He just backed over a bunch of motorcycles.”

Burning Day 2

We finished our burning today in the clearings and under the loblolly. I will pick up the first 3000 longleaf seedlings on Sunday and plant them over the next week. I figure I can plant 600 trees each day. The professionals can do thousands, but they are skilled, besides being younger and stronger. The kids will help with the next tranche.

Espen helped with the burn today. He did a good job and persisted. Burning is fun, but it is also hard work. Adam Smith plus two other DoF guys did a lot of the heavy lifting, but Espen and I did a day’s work too. Glad to have Espen’s help and I think his first burn was good for him too.

I think this was good fire. It rained on Sunday, so the ground was damp and it cool with a decent wind. The wind pushed the fire, but the damp and cool protected the soil. I hope that it did not kill too many of the trees I want to keep and I don’t think it did.

We planted some longleaf under the loblolly last year. In theory, they can survive the fire. I examines some (see picture) and they seem green in the bud area.

We are burning for a few reasons. It is important for the southern pine ecology and we want to further the longleaf transition. We also want to encourage southern grassland in both in the widely spaced pine and in grass and forb in patches and under the power lines. The third picture shows Espen setting that part off. First picture is me and a little longleaf. Next is Espen and me. #4 is just a kind of artistic picture of the fire and last is a burned over section

Other pictures show the fire in process and burned over longleaf stands. Last picture is my prickly pear. I burned about it, so the fire was not too hot. I think it likely will survive. They are native to Virginia pine forests and they do survive fires, but since I have only one, I thought it wiser to give it special treatment.

Burning day 1

We took the opportunity to burn a section of the farm this afternoon, only about eight acres, so Adam Smith and I did it ourselves, although the bulldozer was nearby freshening up lines, so could have been easily available.

This section is unusually easy to burn correctly, since it is bordered by steams and a fairly wide dirt road. I also had laid out and cut paths, so we got it all done except for the mop up in just over an hour.

The wind whipped up a little, creating spectacular but short-lived bursts of flame. I tried to take pictures, but since I was also starting the fires and managing them, it was not that easy. I did get a few. Also took pictures of the pre-burn.

We will burn the rest tomorrow. Espen will help.

Biggest private longleaf forests in Virginia

Everything I can do, Bill Owens can do better, at least when we are talking about longleaf pine in Virginia. This is all to the good, since we all benefit from the good works of others. Bill has a lot more acreage in general, a lot more acreage in longleaf (his land comprises around 20% of ALL Virginia longleaf on private land) and yesterday I attended a program commemorating his committing more than 1500 acres to stewardship for the Nature Conservancy.
Fire in the forest can be good
We started with a field demonstration of fire in longleaf forests. People who know me are bored when I say it, but I need to repeat anyway. Longleaf is a fire dependent species. The first English colonists found vast and generally wide-open forests of longleaf.  Judging from the remnants we see today, they were forests of remarkable beauty and diversity.  They harvested the big trees. This was our founding forest, the forests that first built what became the United States of America.  Trees are a renewable resource, but the colonists did a couple things that prevented regeneration of longleaf forests – they introduced free-range pigs that rooting up longleaf seedlings (the pigs especially liked the longleaf because of their bigger roots) and they excluded fire. They just didn’t understand.
Fire was a regular feature in pre-settlement Virginia pinelands. Some were set off by lighting, more often it was Native Americans who set fires.  Virginia was not a wilderness. It was a landscape managed by humans, with fire as their most potent tool. Fire passed through Virginia pine forests every 3-5 years, more frequently in some other areas of the south. These were low intensity fires, surface fires that pruned the lower branches but did not reach into the crowns, as you see in my first picture. They burned brush and litter, but rarely killed mature trees. This was an ecologically beneficial fire (not like those we read about in California that result from poor land management, but that is a different story.)
Bringing fire back
Virginia Department of Forestry, US Fish and Wildlife, TNC, Longleaf Alliance, NRCS and lots of private landowners, me among them, are trying to reintroduce ecologically beneficial fire to the commonwealth. It a deeply cooperative endeavor.
The ecological benefits of fire are obvious to scientists who study fire and practitioners who use it to improve forest health and wildlife habitat, but setting the woods on fire is not an easy sell to a general public that grew up with Smokey Bear’s messages and images of fire destroying forests and homes. As I am writing this, I am listening to reports of dangerous fires in California. Fire is the enemy, according to most people. If nothing else, they dislike the smoke and disturbance. To this there are two responses.
— Re the problems of fire – fire is an unavoidable and natural part of nature. If we do not choose a good time to set off the fire, nature will give it to us in the worst times. And if we exclude small fires, we will get big ones. This is history and the present, as we hear about every year.
–Re disturbing nature – nature is always disturbed.  It is how nature works, always becoming never arriving. We call that natural change.  Embrace impermanence. It must be welcomed. We can benefit if we understand and flow with natural processes. We can multiply our choices working with nature or we can be dragged painfully along in ignorance & against our will. In either case, we are going.
You can tell which I advocate.  Living within natural processes brings freedom and contentment.  Fighting them brings frustration and ruin.  A life spent trying to understand, or maybe perceive natural processes in meaningful. But I am drifting from my story.
Returning to the Owen story
Bill Owen’s generosity was commemorated with a reception at the Petersburg Country Club. Among the speakers were Reese Thompson from Longleaf Alliance. He is the one who “invented” Burner Bob, a giant bobwhite quail that promotes prescribed fire in the forests the way Smokey Bear told us to avoid wildfire. Bettina Ring, Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry and previous Virginia State Forester. She pointed out that agriculture is Virginia’s leading industry and forestry is number three, after tourism. Brian Van Eerden from TNC opened and closed the ceremony.

My first picture shows the fire in the forest. Next is what it looks like unburned for only a little more than a year. The stuff accumulates. Picture #3 is me and Burner Bob, followed by NRCS and TNC explaining longleaf ecology and programs available to landowners. Next is the ceremony at Petersburg Country Club. The penultimate picture shows a special longleaf beer and the final picture shows some of my bald cypress on the Freeman place. They are easy to see with their fall colors. I have trimmed around them so that they will not be killed by the fire we plan for this winter.

Burning the turpentine beetles

Our goal was to burn out the area with the turpentine beetles and that we accomplished. The secondary goal of cleaning up brush up to the creek, not so much.

The ground was wet. I thought this was good, since I didn’t want to bake the roots and kill trees. Unfortunately, the vegetation did not carry the fire well. We just gave up burning one of the points we had planned. It was covered in ferns and hog peanuts that just would not cooperate.

Just as well. We plan to do burn the larger area in November or December. If the fire gets into the area we tried to burn, that will be okay. It will back down to the stream. If it does not, that is okay too.

It was interesting to watch the fire behavior. We got a patchy burn, with some places not burned at all. The most interesting visual for me was watching the fire go up the side of a tree following a poison ivy vine. I didn’t think there was much chance that it would get into the tree and that was correct. Poison ivy vines are hairy. That was what was burning. It petered out and the vine fell off.

First picture is me at the fire line. Adam Smith took it. Next is DoF starting fire in the woods. Picture #3 shows my longleaf. I just think they look really good. Next is the bald cypress. I was using my cutter around them, so that we can protect them from fire. Last shows some of the devil’s walking stick, one of my new favored plants.

Fire in Eastern Oak Forests Conference – Day 1

Blame Bambi
Blame Bambi. The cute talking animals – a deer, a rabbit and a skunk – were agents of propaganda deployed against hunting and even humans in nature at all. But as John Stowe, one of the keynote speakers at our 6th Fire in Eastern Oak Forests Conference, pointed out, the propaganda was also deployed against fire in the woods. In fairness, this was during a time of war when our country’s leaders feared enemy sabotage in destroying forests. The Japanese did indeed send incendiary balloons toward America, in hopes of setting the woods on fire. It didn’t work, but the aversion to fire stuck.

Born to fight fire
It was part of a general campaign against forest fires, which included Smokey Bear. Again, let’s consider the times and the experience. The US Forests Service was born in 1905 and made its early name fighting terrible fires including the Big Burn in 1910. The science of ecology was not well developed, and it made perfect sense to try to exclude fire. I have no doubt I would have been on the side of the exclusionists, given what was known at the time. But we know more now and fire exclusion is no longer something we can do or should even strive for.

Blame southerners
Stowe talked about other targets of the anti-fire campaign. The only people who wanted to set fires in the forests were arsonists, Indians and southerners, none of whose ideas were respected the respectable scientists. There were even the Dixie Crusaders, who went around the South preaching the gospel of fire exclusion, with disparaging portraits of the “hillbillies” who just liked to set the woods on fire. It was nearly impossible to deny the fire exclusion dogma. Smokey big footed dissent. The great conservationist Herbert Stoddard has his observations in favor of burning ignored or suppressed. Since a picture is worth 1000 words, and I do not want to write 1001 words about this, please refer to the picture I have included. The cover of Harpers 1958. This is how the burners were portrayed. It was not until the 1960s that experience started to overtake the theory and even then, even today, it is hard to advocate for fire. It is much easier to see the flaming failure than the steady benefit.

Get science on the ground
Ben Jones, president of the ruffed grouse federation, was the other keynote speaker. He talked about the importance of getting science on the ground and rejoiced that so many of the 260+ participants at the conference were practitioners. We need knowledge in the mind to be actuated by boots on the ground.

Jones commented that fire is like an animal – maybe a keystone predator (my words) – and lamented that fire in upland oak forests is essentially extinct. Its extirpation is a blow to forest ecology and bringing it back will be useful.

To understand the situation, he recommended “The fire—oak literature of eastern North America: synthesis and guidelines” available as a free PDF from the US Forest Service. I will put the citation in the comments.

Jones emphasized the importance of engaging all stakeholders but mentioned in particular hunters. Even after all these years, some hunters still think that fire harms wildlife. The science is very clear that properly applied fire is the biggest boost we can give to wildlife, but not everybody has got the word.

Some new concepts and new words (who knew?)
Charles Ruffner from Southern Illinois University complained good naturedly that the earlier speakers had used up much of what he wanted to say, but he was correct. He added some details to the history and showed some charts and maps about pre-Columbian fire patterns. He mentioned that lack of fire contributes to acidification of water and soil, since fire produces acid neutralizing ash. He also referred to two reports – a 1992 Bioscience on fire in the oaks and a 1993 GTR about oak regeneration.  Ruffner also mentioned that they are using fire now at Gettysburg, on the round tops, among other places. I will have to inquire.

He also introduced me to two new words. I was familiar with the noun forms, but had not heard them used as adjectives. The first is “mesification” – this is when shrubs shade out grass and forbs and trees shade out the shrubs. This is the deep and dark woods – wonderful in their place, but their place is not everywhere. They are not very productive for wildlife. The other word was “Clementian” succession. I think this is a made-up word. It comes from Frederic Clements, the American ecologist who came up with the linear view of ecological succession that many of us old guys learned in school. It has since been superseded.

I know this is getting way too long, but I need to “memory dump” before it all goes into the “memory hole.”

Next speaker was Ellen Schutzabarger from Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry. She was more interested in organizational and social mismatches. For example, she pointed out the forestry departments were set up to fight fire. It is hard to transition to use fires. She mentioned other challenges, such as lack of capacity, scale problems, built landscapes and that timber, recreation and ecological benefits may not always be in harmony.
Interesting point. She said that public support for fire is broader than we might suppose, but it is not very deep. Among the chief benefits perceived by the public is that they think fire kills ticks. Everybody hates ticks, but there is some doubt that fire is effective against them. Sure, it kills all the ticks it reaches, but they quickly repopulate.

Working with others
Tom Dooley talked about need for partnerships. He sounded a lot like we used to in public diplomacy, emphasizing that we need to find shared aspirations and look to what we can do together instead of the differences we might have.
What we really need is more boots on the ground and how we can get them is through working with others.

Adaptive management
John Wakefield from Pennsylvania Game Commission talked about the need for adaptive management. Conditions will not be what we anticipate, and they will change, often because of our efforts.

He said we need general goals and then try to reach them in adaptive ways. For example, research indicates that pre-settlement forests were about 12% new forests (almost clear) 7% early succession, 10% early closed, 57% late closed and only 14% dense. Today, the dense forests predominate. He talked about how burning can change (restore) some but how it does not work out as they thought. A light fire, for example, does almost nothing to change the dense forest. They need to adapt.

Well that is about all I can recall for now. I know I learn more from conferences that I attend in person than from those I just watch online, but there is a lot to take in. We have a field trip tomorrow.

Presentations – http://www.appalachianfire.org/past-workshops-and-webinars/2019/8/26/presentations-from-the-2019-fire-in-eastern-oak-forests-conference?fbclid=IwAR2M57gjfYcwu9vWrcuTywEui7HcdLKopDH_lrFyx-nbCylCBM1NkS2vcNE

Why burn?

People who know me know why we burn and what we are doing, but maybe some people who saw the post about our Brodnax burn don’t know me, so let me explain.
Fire is an important factor in southern pine ecology. Too often, we have excluded fire with negative effects. We are burning on our lands in Virginia to restore the balance. It will encourage the growth of understory plants, including habitat for pollinators and wildlife like quail and deer.

We have also thinned our forest, so that the trees are spaced widely enough to allow sunlight to hit the forest floor to allow that growth mentioned above.

You have seen pine forests that are so thick that almost nothing grows on the ground under the trees. This is an efficient way to grow pulp and timber, but produces a mono-culture that does not share the environment.This is not what we prefer.

Trees are more than just wood and a forest is more than just trees. A more complex and complete ecology is a thing of sublime beauty, that has value beyond its “use” to us.
On our Freeman unit, we have thinned about 80 acres of 22-year-old loblolly to 50 basal area (trees are far apart). We are establishing pollinator habitat and restoring longleaf pine. Longleaf pine ecology is the most diverse in non-tropical North America. Of course that ecology includes more than just the trees, as discussed above. We also planted some bald cypress in the damp rills.

Our Diamond Grove unit is 178 acres, of which 110 acres are in loblolly pine planted in 2003. The balance is stream management zones, mostly hardwood – a lot of beech,maples & tulip trees. We will thin the pines in 2020. I think will go with 80 basal area, not so thin, but still with some light hitting the ground. I will clear 5 acres near Genito Creek and plant that with bald cypress.

This fire is on our Brodnax property. We are patch burning 45 acres: 15 +/- acres each year in rotation. This provides diverse wildlife habitat.

First picture shows the Brodnax burned section. The loblolly there are about 30 years old. Next is thinned Freeman. Those trees are 22 years old. We will burn in December or early next year. We are planting openings with longleaf. Picture #3 shows newly planted lobolly. There were planted in 2016. They are genetically better trees and have grown very fast. Last two are videos from Freeman. It is not so much what they show but the sounds of the peepers in the first and the running water in the second.

Brodnax fire in February 2019

Great fire today. Seems the perfect fire. The rule is that black (char) is good. White (ash) is okay. Red (burned to the clay) is bad. My inspections found all black. And when I kicked under the duff, I found that the dirt under was still moist in most places. We had moderate winds &moderate temperatures, but the big factor was that we had damp and cool soil and dry grass and brush. Perfect. Of course, I will know that for sure only when I see what grows in the spring.

Adam Smith from DoF did the planning and honchoed the operation. I got the easy assignment of laying the fire lines along the roads, while the DoF guys did strips inside the forest. Alex’s friend Colin Michał came down and got to lay a fire line along the stream.

Pictures show Adam, Colin and me. Others are various fire photos.

Healthy forests – Virginia Association of Forest Health Professionals 27th Annual Conference

In praise of “non-essential” government employees
Coming so close to the end of the shutdown, I am reminded of all the good work that Federal workers do. It is work that is low profile. If they stop working, we do not immediately notice. We might not notice at all that they are gone, but we would notice that our forests were less healthy, that our water was not as clean and that we just were confusingly lost.

It is always a little depressing to attend these forest health conferences, with the solace that lots of smart people are working to protect our trees.

Many of the scientists that presented their research at the conference were Federal employees and everybody depended on Federal programs in some way. Could we get along w/o their work? Yeah, but our world would be a lot worse.

Anyway, before I go into the insights I took away from the first day of the Virginia Association of Forest Health Professionals 27th Annual Conference, I want to say thanks to all those “non-essential” government employees who do the essential work of keeping our forests safe and defending our country from pathogens and pests, or at least giving us the science to fight back.

The agenda is attached, and you can see the biographies of the speakers. I am not going to make a full report but rather talk about my own takeaways.

Spotted lanternfly, the current bad bug
Eric Day talked about our latest big threat, the spotted lanternfly. If we can control this pest, it will become not important. If it gets away, it will cost us billions of dollars. The spotted lanternfly is very fond of another pest from China – the ailanthus or tree of heaven. Mr. Day said that one way to control the fly would be to control the tree of heaven. He meant it ironically. We have been fighting the tree of heaven for more than 100 years. I have been going at it in my own corner of the forest going on fifteen years. The best we can do is fight it, knowing we will never win. Tina MacIntyre, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also talked about the fly. She emphasized the need for people who spend a lot of time in the woods to be vigilant. If you see something that looks like a lanternfly, get a sample to share with the extension and then kill as many as you can. These bugs have no place in the Old Dominion. Kill them first and ask questions after.

Remember the birds, bees and butterflies
I listened carefully to Anand Persad, Ph.D., Davey Institute, talking about pollinator habitat because I am working on pollinator habitat on my land. I am looking forward to March to plant more varieties of wildflowers. Most of what he said, I kind of knew already, but it was good to hear it again. You need a variety of plants that flower at different times, since pollinators need to eat all season long. One thing I just had not thought about was the need for tree flowers. Deciduous trees flower, although most forest trees are not showy. They flower earlier in the season, before the wildflowers even emerge. This tree pollen provides early food for pollinators, especially bumble bees. Bumble bees also need nesting places, often in fallen logs. An ecosystem is complex.

Early warning system
Most of the nasty pests that show up in America come from Asia. The big and obvious reason is that trade with Asia is so robust. There are lots of opportunities for the bugs to hitch a ride. Less easily seen but just as obvious when you look is that East Asia has many similar ecosystems. The forests there are similar to ours and their pests can easily adapt to our tree species. Back in Asia, many of these bugs are endemic, but not big problems. The ecosystems have developed balance and defense. When a foreign bug shows up in America, it does not bring along the full panoply of predators and counter measures. North American pests, BTW, can have the same disruptive effect in Chinese forests.

Dave Coyle, Ph.D., Clemson University talked about the above and suggested that we need for an early warning system. Take the example of the emerald ash borer, that is spreading across our ash forests like a deadly wave. Back home in China, it does not generally kill healthy ash trees. They have developed defenses. But a while back, the Chinese were reforesting their hills. Among the trees they chose for this were American imports – green and white ash. At first, they did wonderfully in their new environment, having left many of their old pests behind. But then the emerald ash borer found them.

The Chinese noticed this. They studied it and wrote about it. They even wrote about it in English, the international language of science, but nobody paid much attention inside or outside China. In retrospect, we could have seen this coming. What we could have done about it is another story, but it need not have been such a surprise.

Prevention is always better than cure, but it is hard to do. A pest now destroying laurel and bay trees throughout the South is a vascular fungus transmitted by the invasive redbay ambrosia beetle. This beetle is smaller than a sprinkle on a donut. Genetic testing indicates that ALL the beetles that have killed 500 million trees in the last decade originated from ONE bug that hitches a ride from China, probably to the Port of Savanna. These bugs can reproduce asexually, so one is all it takes. It is a tall task to keep out all these things. This bug is small enough to fit through a spaghetti strainer, and it takes only one.

Those of us who grow pines in Virginia are not overly fond of sweetgum that overrun our piney woods. Nevertheless, we can appreciate their place in the ecosystem. The Chinese like sweetgum for their nice form and beautiful fall colors, so there are lots in China. But they are now being attacked by a bug called the sweetgum inscriber. If this gets to America, it will devastate our forests. We should take the warning.

… And you need fire in pine ecosystems
Adam Coates, Ph.D., Virginia Tech, talked out the value of fire in the ecosystem. He was responding to studies that showed that wildfire destroys forest soils. These studies are true but off target. The hot and destructive wildfires destroy forest soils. Prescribed fires and the formerly common light fires do not. I have written about fire so often, that I will not go more here, except to note that Mr. Coates talked about a couple places I want to go in South Carolina: the Santee experimental forest near Cordesville and the Tom Yawkey forest near Georgetown, SC.

Asian longhorn beetles, dangerous but big and stupid
The Asian longhorn beetle has the capacity to be one of the biggest forest pest in the history of forest pests. It can kill almost everything in its way. Fortunately, after it is detected it can be controlled and eradicated. Eternal vigilance is the price of this, explained Joe Boggs, Ohio State University. By the time they are discovered, they usually have been there for a while, but they are not very mobile; they can fly but usually prefer not to and they are big. The infestations can be traced to single introductions from Asia and then their spread. They tend to move where people move them. Don’t move firewood.

Pine beetles, bad but manageable
Dave Coyle came back to talk about the southern pine beetle. This bug was the plague of southern pine forests, but it now mostly under control in the south. There are lots of possible reasons, none of which tell the whole story. The biggest factor is management. Pine beetles depend on over thick forests. If you thin your trees on time, the beetles have trouble getting hold. A forest with 120+ basal area is “beetle bait.” BTW – my forests are thinned to 50 BA.

Beetle outbreaks have not been a problem in Virginia for more than 20 years. Beetles are a problem still in Mississippi and Alabama. Reasons for this are not completely clear, but one reason may be lack of thinning in National Forests. You can see an almost perfect correlation between poorly managed USG lands and beetle spots. Mr. Coyle showed us an aerial photo of a beetle outbreak that stopped exactly on the properly line between an private and thinned forests and an essentially unmanaged government property.

The pine beetle is a manageable problem in the South, where we are used to it, but the bug is moving north, affecting loblolly and pitch pine in New Jersey and as far as Massachusetts. If the bugs can keep moving north, they may eat their way into white & red pine. This could be a disaster. These trees do not have the same sort of open ecology as southern pines, with their regular burning regimes. I grew up around white pines and I simply love them. The idea that they could be so endangered is heartbreaking. Let’s hope those smart guys working to find solutions will find one in time.

The heartbreak of the ash apocalypse
Speaking of heartbreaking tree death, Kathleen Knight, Ph.D., U.S. Forest Service talked about her research into ash mortality and the emerald ash borer. She has been monitoring ash in Ohio for more than ten years. The bad news is that mortality is nearly 100%, nearly – more on that later. The less bad news is that ecosystems can adapt. As the ash die back, other trees take their places, especially silver maples, elms & basswoods, that are present in the forest and in the understory. The dead ash are very brittle and they tend to fall down rapidly, presenting a danger to people walking in the woods, but making way for new trees. The good news and the bad news is that in a few years it will be hard to tell that the ash tree were ever there.

Ms. Knight also discovered some good news after returning to one of her sites, showing the value of follow up. She and her team saw a perfectly healthy ash tree among the many dead stems. Closer inspection of the site turned up 106 more. This was only around 1% of the total, but they are hope. Ash trees can be easily grown from cuttings. There may be hope for resistant trees in a short time. Studies show that the resistant ash can kill the borers. This is an adaptation of the Asian ash trees. The resistant American ash trees are not quite as good at this, but it is the first generation.

The other good news about ash trees is that they can be saved chemically. This is not cheap and cannot reasonably be done in forests, but valuable ash trees near homes or shading streets can be preserved. This is because of how the emerald ash borer interacts with the trees. The borers are phloem feeders, i.e. they are shallow. The phloem easily carries insecticide to kill the bugs and their larva. The question is if there can be “herd immunity”. If a sufficient number of ash trees are treated and the bug that invest them are killed, will the populations be cut enough to save unprotected trees?

The pathogen attacking the pest
Last presentation of the day was about a pathogen that is attacking tree of heaven. Rachel Brooks, Virginia Tech, presented her research. Tree of heaven, ailanthus, is a serious pest from China so it seems almost poetic justice that a new pathogen from Asia might help free us from this trouble. So far, it looks like attacks only tree of heaven and spreads via root graphs. Biocontrol is good but I am always a little leery of it. What can kill one species today, might turn on another later.

I didn’t stick around for the pesticide safety presentation, since I don’t handle pesticides myself. Those who do get continuing education credit for these things. I do not. I will be back tomorrow for more.