Shepherd University tree planting project designed to bring food sustainability

May 24, 2023 · 1 minute read
Shepherd University tree planting project designed to bring food sustainability

A Shepherd University project is striving to build a model for global food sustainability.

It is centered around the chestnut tree which once dominated the eastern American forest. But logging in the glory days of the American railroad decimated the trees.

“The chestnut tree was a part of every aspect of every American’s life,” said Dr. Sylvia Bailey Shurbett with the Center for Appalachian Studies. “The tree would build a barn that would last 150 years. It would feed their pigs. It would help them grow their crops. It was food for them.”

Chestnut trees imported from China are treasured because they are especially resistant to blight.

“The more you can get out and plant trees, whether it’s chestnut trees or other trees, you’re going to be increasing biodiversity,” said Dr. Brooke Comer at Shepherd. “It helps clean the air. It does so many good things. It pulls carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

Researchers say the Appalachian region is the ideal place for the project.

“This is where on the whole eastern half of the United States the species are fleeing climate change,” explained Susan Thompson with the Sustainable Farming Project.

The research done here has global implications.

“The practices that we are doing here,” said farm coordinator Madison Hale, “we’re thinking about social impact, economic impact and the ecological impact.”

The Most Accurate Clock Is A Tree: Keeping Time With Nature

May 24, 2023 · 3 minute read
The Most Accurate Clock Is A Tree: Keeping Time With Nature

Growing on remote mountaintops, the oldest living bristlecone pines have been tracking time for 5,000 years. Their annual rings have much to tell us about past climate conditions. Could they also calibrate our future actions?

This article is part of a series, in collaboration with the Civic Paths working group at the University of Southern California.

In pre-Classical Greece, time was kept by cicadas’ songs and the flowering of artichokes and the migration of cranes. Ballads recounted these annual events and provided their interpretation. Constellations also provided guidance, but celestial authority was contingent. Days were arbitrarily added as the stars fell out of sync with nature.

Gradually, society made calendars more regular. First, the moon was used, and then the sun. Julius Caesar improved the reliability of solar timekeeping by introducing the leap year. We’re now on the Gregorian calendar and Coordinated Universal Time, in which the year is exactly 365.2425 days in duration, as calibrated by atomic clocks with an accuracy exceeding one second every hundred million years.

Of course, the Gregorian calendar and Coordinated Universal Time are useful for keeping appointments and managing multinational corporations. They support industrial development and economic efficiency.

The question is whether this techno-capitalist world is one we want to inhabit — and whether it’s a world that will remain habitable for much longer.

Here’s an alternative plan: Instead of observing atoms or stars, we can look at living trees.

Trees are natural calendars. Every year, they grow a new ring — and you can determine their age by counting. But that’s not all the rings indicate.

As dendroclimatologists have learned, the thickness of each ring is a measure of environmental conditions in a given year. So, the growing girth of the tree is an indication of time — but one that varies with the changing climate.

Imagine a sapling. Imagine a young bristlecone pine tree with an expected lifespan of as many as 5,000 years. Around that tree — which happens to be the longest-living complex organism on the planet — you might set markers made out of stone, regularly spaced in 500-year increments based on the estimate girth of the tree in 500 years, 1000 years and more. That is, if the future growth rate were to remain the same as in the present because the climate didn’t change.

Then you might stand back — and give the tree authority.

“What if we were to choose to live on bristlecone time?”

The tree will almost certainly grow out of sync with Gregorian years. For instance, if it grows faster in the future because of rising carbon dioxide, it may tell you that the year is 3500 when your smartwatch says it’s 3127.

What if we were to accept what the tree says? What if we were to choose to live on bristlecone time?

The bristlecone year could easily be subdivided into shorter increments: months, days, hours, minutes, seconds. For practical purposes, the time kept by the tree could be indicated on a municipal clock. Or, a time signal could be distributed through an internet protocol equivalent to Network Time Protocol used to synchronize computer systems today. This arboreal protocol would allow people to put their smart watches, their computers, and their entire lives onto bristlecone time.

The planet would have a new time standard. A standard that would be anything but standard.

Time would be irregular. The planning of future events would be uncertain.

A rendering of the bristlecone-calibrated clock that the author is developing at the Nevada Museum of Art in collaboration with the Long Now Foundation. | Nevada Museum of Art

A rendering of the bristlecone-calibrated clock that the author is developing at the Nevada Museum of Art in collaboration with the Long Now Foundation. | Nevada Museum of Art

Why would anyone create such a counterintuitive timekeeping system? There are several good reasons.

First, when we superimpose atomic time on the planet, we implicitly assert control over the world. We take charge of nature. And looking at the environmental ruin of the Anthropocene, that doesn’t seem to be turning out so well.

Second, the regular time of atomic clocks gives us the false illusion of being able to forecast the future. With a bristlecone clock, time is alive with contingencies, and we come to terms with where prediction fails us: the limitations of what we can know about the future, and the threat of hubris.

Third, with the bristlecone clock, there is the possibility of interacting with deep time. There’s the possibility of changing the future based on our present behavior.

Our actions will affect bristlecone time. And while we need to be aware of our hubris, we also need to be aware that we have choices and responsibilities. Arboreal time can provide us with an ecological feedback mechanism. The bristlecones can calibrate our time on this planet.

Jonathon Keats is currently developing a bristlecone-calibrated clock at the Nevada Museum of Art in collaboration with the Long Now Foundation.

VDOF partners with Virginia Nurseries to launch “Throwing Shade VA”

May 17, 2023 · 3 minute read
VDOF partners with Virginia Nurseries to launch “Throwing Shade VA”

The Virginia Department of Forestry (DOF) is partnering with three Virginia nurseries to launch a new pilot program featuring discounts on native trees and shrubs. “Throwing Shade VA” helps nurseries promote native trees through customer discounts of $25 on eligible trees valued at $50 or more.

Three nurseries responded to DOF’s request for participation in the pilot program. They are Burke Nursery & Garden Centre (Burke), Woodstock Gardens (Woodstock) and Coastal Landscapes & Nursery (Virginia Beach). The program is funded through state water quality improvement funds, which DOF is using to reimburse participating nurseries for the tree discounts. Available exclusively for retail sales, landscapers interested in using the discount program must ensure customers receive the benefit of the reduced pricing.

Throwing Shade VA incentivizes customers to purchase native species of trees and shrubs, which are adapted to their natural environment and thus more likely to thrive. Native trees and shrubs offer more ecosystem benefits than ornamental species and provide food and habitat for wildlife, especially essential pollinators. Fertilizing isn’t required and watering needs decline once the trees are established. These native trees will mature, provide shade and reduce temperatures in areas with limited green space.

“Throwing Shade VA helps the Virginia Department of Forestry spread the word about the benefits of choosing natives while allowing us to measure our progress towards Virginia’s water and Chesapeake Bay watershed goals,” said DOF Urban and Community Forestry Partnership Coordinator Molly O’Liddy. “We are excited to work with these three partner nurseries, which, to our advantage, are located in different parts of the state. This will give us a good indication for the potential for a statewide program.”

Together with ESRI ArcGIS mapping, DOF developed a tool to map trees planted through the discount program. By scanning the tree tag QR code at the time of purchase, customers enter some basic information that helps DOF track the Commonwealth’s water quality improvement goals. This also provides vital information to inform agency decisions on allocating funding for additional planting projects (for those who prefer, paper forms will be available at the point of purchase). This information is confidential and will not be displayed or given to outside parties.

“We strongly believe in the benefits of reintroducing natives back into our landscapes,” said Woodstock Gardens Garden Center Manager John Fogle. “This program helps provide the incentive for our customers to make the transition to natives. The program helps to also create a conversation in our community as to why natives benefit not only their landscapes but also our local and state environments. Once customers realize how significant an impact adding natives to their landscape can make, many of them shift their purchasing habits to go native.”

“Whether it’s participating with Throwing Shade VA or other native plant programs, there’s a sense of satisfaction knowing that we’re doing our part to maintain and even improve our ecosystems,” said Burke Nursery and Garden Centre Horticulturalist Misty Kuceris. “Perhaps what I like best about this program is the excitement our team expressed when we agreed to participate. This gives all of us the opportunity to discuss native plants, the beauty they bring to the landscape, and the benefits they provide. This program lets us spread the word because our customers do care, and we care.”

Native trees and shrubs have many benefits:

  • create food and habitat for wildlife, especially essential pollinators
  • improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and store greenhouse gases
  • save time and money – once established, are hardy and require little care
  • likely to thrive due to adaption to environment
  • can meet any landscaping needs
  • advantageous to the ecosystem (more than ornamental species)
  • maintain their space and foster biodiversity in our communities and forests

DOF uses the regional list of Virginia native trees and shrubs developed by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) as a guide to determine eligible species and common cultivars. Find your region by visiting the DCR website:

Black bear takes rest in a tree on busy Stafford thoroughfare

May 17, 2023 · 1 minute read
Black bear takes rest in a tree on busy Stafford thoroughfare

Black bears have been out and about across Northern Virginia the past few weeks.

On Saturday, a bear was spotted up a tree along busy Garrisonville Road in Stafford County. Sheriff’s deputies kept an eye on him for everyone’s safety, and took the opportunity to put some beary funny puns on Facebook.

Stafford County Sheriff's Office facebook post

Stafford County Sheriff’s Office facebook post

Wildlife experts say it’s the time of year when Virginia’s black bears are foraging for food and young bears search for new territory, like the young bear in Garrisonville.

Prince William County’s Animal Control Bureau offers the following tips and suggestions for dealing with hungry bears:

  • Remove food sources that might attract bears. This includes bird feeders, garbage, pet food, outdoor grills, livestock food, compost, fruit trees and beehives.
  • Do not store trash – or anything that smells like food – in vehicles, on porches, or decks. Keep your full or empty trash containers secured in a garage, shed or basement. If you do not have a trash collection service, take your garbage to the Landfill frequently (twice a week or more). If you do have a trash collection service, put your garbage out the morning of the pickup rather than the night before.
  • Take down your bird feeders temporarily until the bear moves on.
  • Consider installing electric fencing, an inexpensive and extremely efficient proven deterrent to bears, around dumpsters, gardens, beehives or other potential food sources.
  • Bears generally avoid humans but, in their search for food, they do wander into suburban areas. It is best to keep a respectful distance if you see a bear. Bring your pets inside and leave the immediate area.

Listen to one of the largest trees in the world

May 11, 2023 · 3 minute read
Listen to one of the largest trees in the world

If you journey to Fishlake National Forest in Utah, you’ll be surrounded by a high-elevation behemoth.

It’s one of the largest life forms on the planet: a quaking aspen so colossal it has a name — Pando, which is Latin for “I spread.”

You might mistake Pando for a swath of forest of thousands of individual trees. But in reality, it’s all one tree connected by a single root system.

In a sense, Pando “redefines trees,” says Lance Oditt, who directs the nonprofit Friends of Pando.

What started as one seed now spans 80 football fields and weighs some 6,000 tons. “They look like tree trunks to us, but stems is the proper scientific term,” he says. “They go 80 feet into the sky.”

Oditt is always searching for better ways to get his head around a tree this enormous. And he started wondering: “What would happen if we asked a sound conservationist to record the tree? What could a geologist, for example, learn from that, or a wildlife biologist?”

So about a year ago, Oditt invited sound artist Jeff Rice to visit Pando and record the tree.

“I just dove in and started recording everything I could in any way that I could,” says Rice, who made his pilgrimage to the mighty aspen last July.

Rice says that sound recordings aren’t just works of art.

“They also are a record of the place in time, the species and the health of the environment,” he says. “You can use these recordings as a baseline as the environment changes.”

Microphones attached to Pando. Jeff Rice

Microphones attached to Pando.
Jeff Rice

In mid-summer, the aspen’s leaves are pretty much at their largest. “And there’s just a really nice shimmering quality to Pando when you walk through it,” says Rice. “It’s like a presence when the wind blows.”

That’s what Rice wanted to capture first — the sound of those bright lime green leaves fluttering in the wind.

He attached little contact microphones to individual leaves and was treated to this sound in return:


The leaves had “this percussive quality,” he says. “And I knew that all of these vibrating leaves would create a significant amount of vibration within the tree.”

Rice then set out to capture that tree-wide vibration in the midst of a thunderstorm. “I was hunkered down and huddling, trying to stay out of the lightning. When those storms come through Pando, they’re pretty big. They’re pretty dramatic.”

All that wind blowing through the innumerable leaves offered Rice a sonic opportunity to record the tree.

“We found this incredible opening in one of the [stems] that I’ve dubbed the Pando portal,” he says.

Into that portal, he lowered a mic until it was touching the massive tangle of roots below.

This was the result:

“As soon as the wind would blow and the leaves would start to vibrate,” Rice says, “you would hear this amazing low rumble.”

The vibrations, he says, were passing through Pando’s branches and trunks into the ground.

“It’s almost like the whole Earth is vibrating,” says Rice. “It just emphasizes the power of all of these trembling leaves, the connectedness, I think, of this as a single organism.”

He also captured the bark:

And, finally, the landscape:

Rice and Oditt are presenting these recordings at this week’s Acoustical Society of America meeting in Chicago.

“This is the song of this ecosystem, this tree,” says Oditt. “So now we know sound is another way we can understand the tree.”

In fact, the recordings have given Oditt research ideas, like using sound to map Pando’s labyrinth of roots. But above all, they’re a sonic snapshot of this leviathan at this moment in time.

“We have to keep in mind,” says Oditt, “that it’s been changing shape and form for like 9000 years. I call it the David Bowie problem. It’s constantly reinventing itself!”

And now, we’ve managed to turn up the volume to hear Pando as the baritone soloist it’s always been.

Pando is actually a clone, which means all the individual "stems" seen here are genetically identical. Jeff Rice

Pando is actually a clone, which means all the individual “stems” seen here are genetically identical.
Jeff Rice

Elms were once a staple of Minnesota’s tree canopy; this is how researchers hope to bring them back

May 10, 2023 · 4 minute read
Elms were once a staple of Minnesota’s tree canopy; this is how researchers hope to bring them back

The University of Minnesota is planting “survivor” trees in several places to help elms thrive after Dutch elm disease killed many of them.

Majestic elms towered above city sidewalks and filled out the canopy of dense Midwestern forests with their graceful, arching branches — until Dutch elm disease took them down by the millions.

Now, hopes of revitalizing the species are taking root across Minnesota. Most recently, hundreds of youths gathered Saturday in Bloomington to plant about 80 American elms, each just 6 or 7 feet high. The spindly trees are the pioneers that could spur a comeback, say University of Minnesota researchers.

“We would like to see elms restored to their prominent ecological role,” said Rob Venette, director of the Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants and Pests Center at the University of Minnesota and a biologist with the U.S. Forest Service.

The American elm was an important component of wetland forests when Dutch elm disease arrived in the country, said Linda Haugen, plant pathologist for the U.S. Forest Service.

“It really roared through Minnesota probably in the ’70s and ’80s and we really noticed it in our cities and our towns,” Haugen said. “It killed a very high proportion of our American elms.”

In 1977, there were 1.3 million American elms with a diameter greater than 21 inches in Minnesota, Haugen said. Ninety-five percent of them are gone, leaving fewer than 60,000 big elms.

There are young American elm trees in forests today, but few larger than a foot in diameter. By that point they typically die from Dutch elm disease, she said.

The University of Minnesota Elm Selection Program is broader than Saturday’s event, which was notable because it was the project’s only public planting opportunity so far, said Ryan Murphy, a researcher in the department of forest resources at the university.

Nora Kelly, 6, helps fill dirt around a tree that was planted Saturday in Bloomington. Alex Kormann, Star Tribune

Nora Kelly, 6, helps fill dirt around a tree that was planted Saturday in Bloomington. Alex Kormann, Star Tribune

The project, which began the early 2000s, was among the first large-scale efforts to work with “survivor elms” in Minnesota, Murphy said. Most of its trees have survived the planting process.

Haugen said both the university and the Forest Service, which has elm revitalization projects elsewhere, are trying to find more varieties of disease-resistant elm and sometimes collaborate.

The Minnesota project, funded through the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and the Minnesota Turf and Grounds Foundation, has planted over 200 disease-resistant elms, Murphy said. Those trees are spread across several sites, including Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, Elm Creek Park Reserve in the northwest metro and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen.

The question, though, is whether the trees will resist Dutch elm disease long-term.

Graham Bennett places an elm tree into a hole as part of a tree planting event.Alex Kormann, Star Tribune

Graham Bennett places an elm tree into a hole as part of a tree planting event.Alex Kormann, Star Tribune

‘Survivor elms’ take the lead

It’s not clear how Dutch elm Disease came to the United States, Venette said, but it probably arrived in “some sort of infested wood material.” The disease is caused by a fungus, and spreads when people move wood or bark beetles carry it to a new area.

The disease didn’t kill every American elm — it “left behind some survivors,” Venette said, and those became the basis of the project.

Those hardy trees are being used to grow the next generation, Murphy said.

First, someone identifies a “survivor” elm tree, one that was thriving despite other elms’ death. It might be in someone’s yard or a park, he said.

Cuttings from that tree are grafted to a seedling elm and then grown in the nursery. Once they are big enough, the researchers infect the trees with Dutch elm disease fungus and wait to see whether they’re actually disease-resistant or just survived by luck. Many die, he said.

The ones that live are planted as part of the project.

Venette said the project’s end goal is to diversify Minnesota forests, an effort that has taken on more urgency as the state loses so many ash trees to the Emerald Ash Borer, he said.

A map marks the locations where oak and elm trees will be planted on a Nature Hiking Trail leading to the Minnesota River in Bloomington. Alex Kormann, Star Tribune

A map marks the locations where oak and elm trees will be planted on a Nature Hiking Trail leading to the Minnesota River in Bloomington. Alex Kormann, Star Tribune

“We also care about it in light of climate change,” Venette said. “This is a really nice way to sequester carbon.”

Saturday’s tree planting event also gave young people the opportunity to do conservation work. Teens from the Green Crew, the youth program of the Izaak Walton League’s Minnesota Valley chapter, spent more than six months organizing the tree planting and a Native American-led blessing of the land.

They partnered with U researchers and learned best practices for tree planting and care, secured the support of sponsors and recruited hundreds of community volunteers, including from eight high schools and several Boy Scout units.

“I heard all these stories about big trees … that used to cover the streets in arcs and I wanted them back,” said Hannah Barisonzi, the Green Crew’s co-founder and a freshman at the Blake School, who led the tree planting for an Eagle Scout project.

While the Green Crew used wheelbarrows to transport their elms, younger kids had the chance to plant oak saplings and pollinator plants.

Members of the Green Crew will help researchers care for the new elm trees over time.

“This is about restoring the Earth,” Barisonzi said.

Tree farmer sows the seeds of sustainability

May 3, 2023 · 1 minute read
Tree farmer sows the seeds of sustainability

“The name of our farm is Cobbville Farm and it’s a growing tradition because my children are here, my grandchildren are here, and we’d like the community to be a part of this as well,” Cobbville Farm owner Dave Loomis said

The Loomis Family in Adams Center is setting the roots for a sustainable future by starting a tree farm.

“This is balsam fir, and what we’re planting today is Frasier fir,” Loomis said, indicating the saplings on his property.

With 6,000 trees already planted and more to come, it’s been a learning process to appreciate mother nature.

“I just love to see things grow,” Loomis said. “I like to work with my hands, I like to work outdoors. it’s rewarding to see how durable mother nature really is.”

Loomis says each sapling he plants is making the air fresher and the soil cleaner for his family. And he hopes they’ll continue that cycle.

“The world is changing,” he said. “With my grandkids — they’re younger. Teaching them about the earth, the importance of nature, agriculture, the value of working with your hands. You’ll learn that it’s really up to them to make the world a better place.”

Loomis says springtime is an opportunity for anyone to plant the seeds of sustainability for their community.

“As Earth Day comes, there will be many schools giving away trees,” he said. “For a child to come home and say I planted that tree or mom and dad planted that tree, it’s very rewarding for sure.”

View the video here:

Virginia Cooperative Extension recognized for collaborative project with Virginia Department of Forestry

May 3, 2023 · 2 minute read
Virginia Cooperative Extension recognized for collaborative project with Virginia Department of Forestry

The Virginia Generation NEXT project received a national award for its work to address the needs and challenges of family forestland owners.

Virginia’s Generation NEXT project, a collaboration between Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Department of Forestry, was recently recognized by the National Woodland Owners Association for its work with family forestland owners.

The project was awarded the National Family Forest Education Award for an Individual Program in 2022 at the Society of American Foresters meeting in Baltimore. The award recognizes a project that exhibits excellence in education programming benefiting family forest owners across the United States.

Generation NEXT is an outreach program designed to help family forestland owners make informed and intentional decisions regarding passing their land forward to the next generation. Generation NEXT workshops provide landowners with the necessary tools and resources as they begin planning for intergeneration land transfers.

The program is led by an interagency team, which comprises district Extension foresters Neil Clark, Adam Downing, Jason Fisher, and Bill Worrell, along with Extension associates Jennifer Gagnon and Karen Snape in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, forest conservation specialists with the Virginia Department of Forestry, and Karl Didier, the agency’s forestland conservation program manager.

“I love the breadth and depth of the Generation NEXT program,” said Snape, the program’s coordinator. “We’ve directly reached more than 460 families with workshops, potentially impacting almost 170,000 acres of Virginia’s rural land, plus more through our video and print resources. We are also empowering their most trusted advisors – forestry and Extension personnel – to broach these difficult topics and direct landowners to the resources they need. We’re honored by this recognition of our success so far and excited about the future of the program.”

Family forestland is most at risk of parceling and fragmentation, and possibly passing out of forest use or even family hands, at the time of intergenerational transfer. Respondents to a 2018 Benefits and Barriers Analysis in Southside, Virginia, overwhelmingly expressed a desire to keep their family woodlands intact, as a forest, and in family ownership, yet 79 percent of them had not developed a succession plan.

As a result, Generation NEXT team members generated a 56-page book, “Legacy Planning: A Guide for Virginia Landowners,” to guide landowners in intergeneration transfer as well as a website, the Generation NEXT YouTube Channel, and more 35 events for hundreds of resource professionals and attorneys.

“We are extremely proud in Virginia of the innovative and effective GenNEXT program,” said Rob Farrell, a state forester with the Virginia Department of Forestry. “We are even more proud of the partnership that it is built upon. The Virginia Department of Forestry, the Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment, and Virginia Cooperative Extension worked collaboratively to identify the critical needs of our private landowners, created a program to address those needs and then brought together like-minded professionals to deliver it. This is everything that service to landowners should aspire to be.”

These 4 free apps can help you identify every flower, plant and tree around you

April 26, 2023 · 7 minute read
These 4 free apps can help you identify every flower, plant and tree around you

First I see the wall barley, like tiny fields of wheat on the side of the road. Then a profusion of musk stork’s-bill overflowing with purple flowers. That’s just the crack in the sidewalk.

By the time I reach my office, I’ve identified dozens of species, most unknown to me a few hours earlier.

I’m not a master naturalist, but I have one in my pocket. Thanks to artificial intelligence trained on millions of observations, anyone with a smartphone can snap a picture or record a sound to identify tens of thousands of species, from field bluebells to native bumblebees.

If I’m honest, it’s the kind of thing I would normally miss while walking or pedaling to work. Birdsong might be gorgeous but I’d barely hear it. I’d note “pine tree” as a catchall for conifers.

That has changed. I’m now on a first-name basis with most of my wild neighbors. It has reconnected me to a natural world I love, yet never studied deeply enough to know all its characters and settings. I’m hardly an exception.

A possible Monterey cypress identified by the iNaturalist app in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park on Friday. (Michael Coren/The Washington Post)

A possible Monterey cypress identified by the iNaturalist app in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on Friday. (Michael Coren/The Washington Post)

Borage growing wild in San Francisco. (Michael Coren/The Washington Post)

Borage growing wild in San Francisco. (Michael Coren/The Washington Post)

Homo sapiens sapiens may have never been this divorced from nature. Humans across much of the industrialized world have become an indoor species: About 90 percent of our time is spent inside.

It’s hard to fathom. For 2.5 million years, humans spent a huge share, if not virtually all, of their time outdoors. Today, many adults are spending more hours on screens than outside.

Nature is even disappearing from our books, songs and culture, say researchers who looked at nature-related words in popular works during the mid-20th century. Our mental and physical health has declined alongside our estrangement from the outdoors.

But what technology has torn asunder, perhaps it can begin to mend. For people who don’t know the difference between a robin and a magpie, this new generation of naturalist apps is the Rosetta Stone to the natural world. Reestablishing relationships with your outdoor neighbors might not only transform your commute, it might change your life.

Four apps to rule them all

There are more than a dozen apps promising to help you identify the natural world, many of them paid. Don’t bother. Four apps, designed and managed by scientists with world-class data, meet all your ID needs free of charge. And every observation will advance our scientific understanding of the natural world.

The easiest to use is Seek. The app, an offshoot of iNaturalist, a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, lets you shoot live video. It automatically grabs frames and analyzes them. The augmented reality experience is like downloading a foreign language into your brain. The app identifies the taxonomy of plants and animals instantly as you shoot. If it can’t figure out the species, it will give you its best guess.

In less than an hour, I had racked up dozens of plants and insects near my house from Bombus vosnesenskii, a native yellow-faced bumblebee, to the purple-flowered bush lupine it was buzzing around. The only drawback? The app doesn’t include deeper context about the species it identifies.

For that, there’s iNaturalist and Pl@ntNet. Both offer sophisticated, if slightly less user-friendly, apps that upload and analyze photographs of flora. In seconds, they typically return a ranked list ofpotential candidates with rich descriptions of each. The identification of the most common species is a slam dunk. For rarer ones, it’s easy to compare your observation against those ofothers in the database.

(Michael Coren/The Washington Post)

(Michael Coren/The Washington Post)

The iNaturalist app allows users to upload and analyze photos of flora. (Michael Coren/The Washington Post)

The iNaturalist app allows users to upload and analyze photos of flora. (Michael Coren/The Washington Post)

The apps’ real superpower is the community around them: Millions of citizen scientists who can vet and confirm your observations. It’s particularly satisfying to watch your skills — and ranking — rise in the apps as you get to know your neighborhood. When you’re ready to up your game, download these apps.

(Michael Coren/The Washington Post)

(Michael Coren/The Washington Post)

The Pl@ntNet app allows users to photograph and identify flora, and share their observations with other users. (Michael Coren/The Washington Post)

The Pl@ntNet app allows users to photograph and identify flora, and share their observations with other users. (Michael Coren/The Washington Post)

Finally, there’s Merlin Bird ID, a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Merlin feels like magic. The app uses a phone’s sensitive microphone to identify bird vocalizations in the sonic landscape around you, painting a visual representation or sonogram analogous to a musical score.

Within seconds as I’m walking through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the app recognizes the high-pitched staccato of a dark-eyed junco, as well as the falsetto of the Pacific wren.

Merlin has permanently changed how I hear the world. I can now tune in to birdsong operas that had never entered my consciousness. Within a day, I was able to recognize distinct calls without consulting the app.

That, of course, was the point, says Grant Van Horn, a machine learning researcher at the Cornell Lab, who helped build Merlin’s sound ID feature. “If you ever go on a bird walk with someone who knows their birds, it is crazy cool,” he says. “Our inspiration is getting that expertise and sharing it with anyone who has a phone in their pocket.” They succeeded.

Advancing science

But the apps are more than tools to get acquainted with nature. They’re pushing AI identification — and conservation — forward. Recognizing natural inhabitants, and our relationship to them, helps us rediscover what remains and protect it.

“We’re just at the beginning of actual real scientific progress,” says Van Horn. “And none of this stuff happens without a passionate group of people that helps you curate, train and evaluate the data. There’s still a ton of opportunity for these passionate communities to contribute their expertise.”

The first big breakthrough came around 2018 from Snapshot Serengeti, a research project using digital camera traps to photograph thousands of migrating African animals. Organizing this enormous collection featuring a variety of animals, from wildebeests to giraffes, proved overwhelming for the small team of scientists.

So researchers enlisted thousands of online volunteers to sort and label more than 3 million images. That allowed Jeff Clune, then a computer scientist at the University of Wyoming, and his collaborators to unleash algorithms on what was at the time the world’s largest collection of labeled wildlife images. The new algorithms could identify animals in 99 percent of images with the same accuracy as human volunteers, around 97 percent, according to a seminal paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. When applied to all data, it could save an estimated 8.4 years of human labor.

Breakthroughs like this are why the apps in your hand can now identify daisies, dandelions and, if you are on the African plains, a lion, Panthera leo. And every observation you contribute makes these a little bit better.

Citizen science-powered algorithms are now going beyond individual organisms. They’re mapping their relationships to an entire ecosystem, from the flower a butterfly pollinates to the leaf where the insect lays its eggs.

“My goal is to turn ecosystems into fire hoses of data,” says Clune. “In the same way a video game company knows everything that happens inside their system, we should know that for the Amazon rainforest. Imagine what that would mean for science. We could answer questions we would never have been able to do.”

Naming nature

Ultimately, the apps’ greatest breakthrough may not be technological at all. It may be raising our awareness. We are nearly blind to entire categories of living creatures. In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer described it as “being lost in a foreign city where you can’t read the street signs,” a form of species loneliness. While these plants and animals are our neighbors, we scarcely acknowledge their existence, let alone their right to exist.

By naming my wild neighbors, I’ve found my perception of them transformed from grainy and distant to powerful and familiar.

Author Jenny Odell writes about a similar experience in the book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy. The simple act of paying attention to the birds around her home in Oakland, Calif., led her down a path of reclaiming her attention from the frenetic, exploitative digital cacophony.

Now, instead of asking what’s there, she asks who: a raven, robin, song sparrow or nuthatch. Instead of a blur of green, she sees redwoods, oaks and blackberries.

This could reverse one of the great losses of the past century: our severed connection to the unique, wild character of where we live.

There Are Some Really, Really Old Trees In Fairfax County

April 26, 2023 · 5 minute read
There Are Some Really, Really Old Trees In Fairfax County

The trees — old-growth Eastern hemlocks — are the kind that make you crane your head back for a better look. Their trunks are ramrod straight, with spreading branches, deep-ridged bark, and a feathery canopy of needles at the top. They grow on around 20 acres of steep hillsides sloping down to Bull Run.

The hemlocks, which are located in Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, are likely some of the oldest trees in Fairfax County. Some of them may be 250 years old, meaning that they managed to avoid the cycles of deforestation and reforestation in the eastern U.S. over the past two centuries. (Less than 1% of the forests in this part of the country are believed to be old-growth.)

On Tuesday, the hemlocks in Fairfax became the eleventh group of trees in Virginia added to the Old-Growth Forest Network, an organization with the goal of identifying and preserving at least one native forest in every U.S. county that can support one. The trees are located about a mile down the Bull-Run Occoquan Trail from the trailhead at Hemlock Overlook.

Hemlocks grow more slowly than other tree species. These smaller trees may still be a hundred years old. Margaret Barthel / WAMU/DCist

Hemlocks grow more slowly than other tree species. These smaller trees may still be a hundred years old. Margaret Barthel / WAMU/DCist

It’s remarkable to find a stand of such old, largely undisturbed trees so close to a major metropolitan area, says Brian Kane, who grew up in Fairfax and leads the network’s presence in the Mid-Atlantic region. Kane works with volunteers to identify and designate new local forests to the network.

“You know, Fairfax County people think more of Tysons, they think more of bustling urban villages,” he says. “This is really remarkable that this is here.”

Mature trees like the hemlocks boost biodiversity, create habitats for animal life, and sequester carbon. Their spreading roots help prevent streambank erosion, and their deep shade provides a cooling effect on the nearby stream, too. And they are also a connection to the deep past, says NOVA Parks Roving Naturalist Matt Felperin.

“We’re transported to a different time just by walking through here and seeing all the moss and lichen and ferns just coating the forest floor,” he says.

An informational sign explains the concept of forest succession, the idea that the composition of forests change as they age and new species dominate. Margaret Barthel / WAMU/DCist

An informational sign explains the concept of forest succession, the idea that the composition of forests change as they age and new species dominate.
Margaret Barthel / WAMU/DCist

You might be so busy looking up that you might miss the new informational placard, which is at human level. It was installed recently by NOVA Parks, which manages Hemlock Overlook, and is the first in a series of informational signs that will educate people about the different stages of forest succession.

“Every forest has a trajectory and, if left to grow, will mature, and the trees that are there will die out and other ones will come in. It’ll become a different mix of species at every stage,” NOVA Parks executive director Paul Gilbert explains. Old hemlock trees, he says, are an indicator that the forest is “at the far end of maturity.”

The hike down to the hemlocks from the parking lot at the park helps showcase those different forest stages. The one-mile trail wanders briefly through a clearcut under some power lines, then down through a forest of mostly secondary-growth beech and poplar trees and mountain laurel.

“Beech [and] poplar tend to grow very quickly,” says NOVA Parks Roving Naturalist Matt Felperin. “It’s pretty quick into succession where they’ll show up and dominate a forest.” Beech trees can be full-grown in fifty years, Felperin says.

Second-growth beech trees fill the forest along the trail going down to Bull Run. Margaret Barthel / WAMU/DCist

Second-growth beech trees fill the forest along the trail going down to Bull Run. Margaret Barthel / WAMU/DCist

By the banks of Bull Run, the trail passes by towering sycamores and tulip poplars — many of them bigger around in diameter than the hemlocks, but much younger, Felperin says.

Fairfax County and parks officials — including Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay and Springfield Supervisor Pat Herrity — marked the unveiling of the placard and the hemlock trees’ old-growth designation by making the trek down.

“We must educate our people not only on the importance of preserving nature, but also our history, how we got to where we are now, and things people can do to stand up for and protect our environment,” McKay said. “These things are worth fighting for and we need the next generation to be able to do that.”

The 18-mile Bull Run-Occoquan Trail is NOVA Parks’ longest nature trail and a key part of preserving a portion of the Occoquan River watershed. The organization manages 25 miles of contiguous lands along the watershed, and more parkland along the Potomac River than any other parks agency, according to Gilbert.

Virginia bluebells along the Bull-Run Occoquan trail near the stand of hemlocks. Margaret Barthel / WAMU/DCist

Virginia bluebells along the Bull-Run Occoquan trail near the stand of hemlocks.
Margaret Barthel / WAMU/DCist

The big stretches of parkland in southern Fairfax, Kane says, are key to the county’s health and well-being.

“I look at them as kind of the lungs of Fairfax County,” he says. “The ability to have large stands of trees on hundreds of acres — they’re doing so much for the environment.”

Herrity reflected on his longstanding push to protect and maintain the county’s decision to down-zone areas in the Occoquan watershed, in an attempt to shield them from the kind of rapid development that’s happened elsewhere in the county. In the wake of neighboring Prince William County’s decision to approve a plan to allow data centers into key parts of its rural areas last year, the Fairfax Board of Supervisors unanimously recommitted to keeping its section of the watershed less developed.

“I think it’s truly important that we, you know, regularly reaffirm our commitment to these areas,” Herrity said.

The hemlocks have been part of Hemlock Regional Overlook Park, a 400-acre preserve operated by NOVA Parks, since the park was created in 1962 by NOVA Parks founder and ornithologist Ira Gabrielson, who also ran the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Before that, Gilbert believes the steep hillsides saved the trees from logging or other development, despite their prime waterfront location.

These aren’t the only big trees in the D.C. region. Arlington’s Glencarlyn Park is also part of the Old-Growth Forest Network, and so is a forest of hardwood trees in a stretch of the C&O Canal National Historic Park in Montgomery County.

To see the hemlocks in Fairfax, you’re going to have to take a bit of a hike. From the parking area at Hemlock Regional Overlook (13220 Yates Ford Road, Clifton VA 20124), they’re a little over a mile along a well-maintained — though sometimes steep — trail. Admission is free to the park.

He got fed up with a Hopewell pothole. So he decided to plant a tree.

April 20, 2023 · 1 minute read
He got fed up with a Hopewell pothole. So he decided to plant a tree.

A Hopewell man took things into his own hands after continually being fed up with a pothole.

“It was about a foot deep. It was maybe about that deep. If you hit it at a good speed, it would mess your car up,” Josh Anderson said.

The pothole, located at the intersection of South 19th Avenue and Richmond Street in Hopewell, left residents frustrated.

“I mean, it was big enough to plant a tree in it,” Samantha Cox, a Hopewell woman, said.

And that’s exactly what Anderson decided to do.

“I was leaving to go back to work, I hit the hole. I backed up, filled the back of the truck with dirt, dumped it in there and stuck the plant in there,” Anderson said.

Before driving away, he took a couple of photos and shared them on social media. Within minutes, the likes on the photos were adding up.

“It was funny. It was kind of a bunch of people making light of it. It was fun,” Blake Cox said.

The views on Anderson’s Tik Tok would soon top two million. However, the first tree didn’t last long after city workers removed it.

“I come back home from work and the tree was gone. So I pulled up another tree and I planted it, put some lights on it,” Anderson said.

Anderson said he complained multiple times to the city about the pothole needing to be fixed.

“As many times as I went to ask to get it done and nothing’s been done about it. And as soon as I make a Tik Tok and put it on their web page with a tree in it, within 24 hours, they had a crew out here fixing it,” Anderson said.

CBS 6 reached out to the City of Hopewell and they have not responded.

A newly discovered orange tree may offer hope to Florida’s citrus industry

April 19, 2023 · 2 minute read
A newly discovered orange tree may offer hope to Florida’s citrus industry

Citrus growers in Florida are facing some of the toughest challenges yet with their crops. Last year, the citrus industry’s crop was one of the smallest since World War II, due to a bacterial disease called citrus greening and an extremely rough hurricane season.

Citrus greening, also known as Huanglongbing (HLB), is a bacterial disease that affects orange trees and can ravage groves and nurseries. The disease can turn fruit green and misshapen and cause a bitter taste. No cure exists.

But officials are hopeful that a newly discovered Donaldson tree could offer a reprieve to citrus growers struggling with greening, according to Ben Rosson, the bureau chief of Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“(Citrus greening) has truly been the most devastating disease that we have had in our industry,” Rosson said. “And couple that with the hurricanes that we’ve had come through the last couple of years…that’s the reason why the crop is so low this year.”

Growers found the tree by chance while giving a tour of a farm in Groveland, located in central Florida. A citrus farmer noticed that the Donaldson tree was still producing fruit and acting differently than other trees in the grove.

“They did some fruit test to determine the Brix/acid ratio and determined, ‘Hey, it’s good fruit, is there something here?'” Rosson said. “This tree has been here over 30 years. It’s surviving. It’s holding on. It’s doing well.”

Officials also found that the Donaldson tree is continuing to produce fruit despite being infected by citrus greening.

“It’s still growing, it still has a good canopy on it. And the fruit is still good. It doesn’t have the fruit drop that a lot of our early varieties have now,” he said.

The hope is that the new tree will help rectify some of the problems seen in Florida’s most precious crop since 2006, when citrus greening was first found.

Rosson said around 200 million 90 pound boxes of oranges — the industry’s standard measurement — were harvested that year.

That’s compared to just over 41 million boxes in the 2021-2022 season, and a forecasted crop of 16.1 million boxes for the 2022-2023 season.

Hurricanes Ian and Nicole pummeled citrus groves during last year’s growing season, adding to an already weak crop.

Rosson says registered citrus nurseries have each received two Donaldson trees from the state, and are now working towards getting them out to other growers.

USF geoscientist discovers new phosphorus material after New Port Richey lightning strike

April 12, 2023 · 2 minute read
USF geoscientist discovers new phosphorus material after New Port Richey lightning strike

After lightning struck a tree in a New Port Richey neighborhood, a University of South Florida professor discovered the strike led to the formation of a new phosphorus material. It was found in a rock – the first time in solid form on Earth – and could represent a member of a new mineral group.

“We have never seen this material occur naturally on Earth – minerals similar to it can be found in meteorites and space, but we’ve never seen this exact material anywhere,” said geoscientist Matthew Pasek.

geoscientist Matthew Pasek

geoscientist Matthew Pasek

In a recent study published in Communications Earth & Environment, Pasek examines how high-energy events, such as lightning, can cause unique chemical reactions, and in this instance, result in a new material  – one that is transitional between space minerals and minerals found on Earth.

“When lightning strikes a tree, the ground typically explodes out and the surrounding grass dies, forming a scar and sending electric discharge through nearby rock, soil and sand, forming fulgurites, also known as ‘fossilized lightning’,” Pasek said.

When the New Port Richey homeowners discovered the ‘lightning scar’, they found a fulgurite and decided to sell it, assuming it had value. Pasek purchased it, and later began a collaboration with Luca Bindi, a professor of mineralogy and crystallography at the University of Florence in Italy.

Together, the team set out to investigate unusual minerals that bear the element phosphorus, especially those formed by lightning, to better understand high-energy phenomena.

“It’s important to understand how much energy lightning has because then we know how much damage a lightning strike can cause on average and how dangerous it is,” Pasek said. “Florida is the lightning capital of the world and lightning safety is important – if lightning is strong enough to melt rock, it can certainly melt people too.”

In wet environments, such as in Florida, Pasek says iron will often accumulate and encrust tree roots. In this case, not only did the lightning strike combust the iron on the tree roots, but it combusted the naturally occurring carbon in the tree as well. The two elements led to a chemical reaction that created a fulgurite that looked like a metal ‘glob.’

Inside the fulgurite, a colorful, crystal-like matter revealed a material never before discovered.

Co-principal investigator Tian Feng, a graduate of USF’s geology program, attempted to remake the material in a lab. The experiment was unsuccessful and indicates the material likely forms quickly under precise conditions, and if heated too long, will turn into the mineral found in meteorites.

“Previous researchers indicate that lightning reduction of phosphate to have been a widespread phenomenon on the early Earth,” Feng said. “However, there is an environmental phosphite reservoir issue in Earth that these solid phosphite materials are hard to restore.”

Feng says this research may reveal other forms of reduced minerals are plausible and many could have been important in the development of life on Earth.

According to Pasek, it’s unlikely this material could be mined for uses similar to other phosphates, such as fertilizer, given the rarity of it occurring naturally. However, Pasek and Bindi plan to further investigate the material to determine if it could be officially declared a mineral and bring additional awareness to the scientific community.

The brothers that lived in a tree in West Virginia

April 12, 2023 · 1 minute read
The brothers that lived in a tree in West Virginia

Every town has it own interesting start, but few can claim that their founders lived in a sycamore tree.

John and Samuel Pringle are considered by many to be the first settlers to occupy the region that would eventually become Buckhannon, West Virginia.

It all began in 1761, when the brothers, who were from the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, decided to desert from their military post at Fort Pitt, located near modern day Pittsburgh, during the French and Indian War, taking with them William Childers and Joe Linsey.

While Childers and Linsey were captured at Looney’s Creek in 1762, the Pringle brothers entered the employment of John Simpson, a trapper and trader, and stayed with him until 1764, when an argument broke up the group.

“John and Samuel Pringle followed the Tygart Valley and reached the Buckhannon River country and Turkey Run,” located in Upshur County, eventually finding a hollowed sycamore tree that they decided to live in, according to

Sycamores are West Virginia’s largest trees native and can grow over 100 feet tall.

Pringle Tree, old image from a book

“The hollow was supposed to have been so big that an eight-foot fence rail could be turned inside the tree,” according to

The brothers stayed in the “Pringle Tree” until the fall of 1767, after John visited the South Branch River settlements and learned that the war had ended, meaning they were no longer wanted men.

They returned home and told their story, drawing the interest of William and John Hacker, Alexander and Thomas Sleeth, John, George and Edward Jackson, Thomas and Jesse Hughes, John and William Radcliff and John Brown. Samuel Pringle led this group back along the Buckhannon River in the fall of 1768 to settle the land for themselves.

This would begin the movement of settlers traveling into central West Virginia, though the original land claims would not be recognized by the Virginia government until 1781.

A historic marker can be found on U.S. 119 north of Buckhannon that marks the location of the Pringle Tree, which is now a third generation descendent of the original.

Pringle Tree WV historic landmark marker

Another historical landmark is Pringle Tree Park in Buckhannon, which “marks the first permanent settlement west of the Alleghenies in Virginia, settled by Samuel and John Pringle in 1764,” according to

More information about the history of the Pringle Tree can be found at

Citizen Science? Yes, You Can!

April 5, 2023 · 3 minute read
Citizen Science? Yes, You Can!

A middle school class documents the spring’s first dogwood and redbud blooms in their schoolyard.

A family records the birds that visit their feeders in the winter.

A retiree places wing tags on monarch butterflies before migration.

A hunter reports sightings of sick deer to a wildlife agency.

What do all of these scenarios have in common? They are all examples of “citizen science” at work.

Citizen science occurs when regular, non-scientist folks volunteer to collect data, complete research projects, or report observations to professional scientific entities. The world around us is full of important questions, and there aren’t enough scientists to answer all of them. Citizen science puts more eyes, ears and hands in more places, greatly increasing our collective knowledge base. Incidentally, the word citizen is not used here in the legal sense, but in the broader definition of someone who inhabits the planet. Anyone can be a citizen scientist! All you need is a little time, a love of nature and a willingness to learn and share.

A volunteer records bluebird nesting data at Sky Meadows State Park. Photo credit: Shenandoah Master Naturalists

A volunteer records bluebird nesting data at Sky Meadows State Park. Photo credit: Shenandoah Master Naturalists

Simply keeping records for yourself doesn’t make for good citizen science but sharing your findings through an organized project does. For every type of natural history observation you make, there’s probably someone – from a university researcher to a local nonprofit organization – who would love to have your data.

VDOF Communications Specialist Cory Swift-Turner isn’t a scientist by trade, but he’s a regular participant in citizen science. He had this to say about one of his recent experiences:

As an avid birder, I try to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) each year. For the 2023 GBBC, I drove down to Wilmington, North Carolina to visit a birding friend and hopefully see some cool birds!

We started by counting all the birds visiting my friend’s backyard feeders as we ate breakfast. Twenty-three species came by to join us, including a female purple finch and some brown-headed nuthatches. Later we visited several parks in Wilmington. The first was a large garden park, where we saw 43 species, including red-headed woodpecker, golden-crowned kinglet and orange-crowned warbler. Along a creek that was only a few miles from the ocean, we saw white ibis, double-crested cormorant, black-crowned night heron and anhinga. A short drive later, at a second park with a large lake, we saw eastern towhee, Wilson’s warbler and belted kingfisher. We wrapped up the day with a visit to Wrightsville beach, where we saw a host of ocean birds, including common loons, gulls, razorbills, pelicans, terns and grebes.

     Redheaded woodpecker by VDOF Communications Specialist Cory Swift-Turner

Redheaded woodpecker by VDOF Communications Specialist Cory Swift-Turner

Golden-crowned kinglet by by VDOF Communications Specialist Cory Swift-Turner

Golden-crowned kinglet by by VDOF Communications Specialist Cory Swift-Turner

My total count during this visit to North Carolina was 82 species, including four “lifer” species. “Lifers” are birds I have never seen before, and these are always particularly exciting.

For me, birdwatching is a great way to spend time outdoors, unwind, and appreciate the incredible wildlife we have. I report my sightings at ebird, and my data helps ornithologists map bird populations, migration and behavior. Participating can be as simple as watching birds for 15 minutes at your backyard feeder.

Here in Virginia, citizen science is a cornerstone of the Master Naturalist program, of which VDOF is a sponsoring agency. Master Naturalist volunteers might monitor the locations of invasive spotted lanternflies, count egg masses of spotted salamanders, or perform many more research activities that don’t involve spots! But you don’t have to be a member of a group to be a citizen scientist. You’ve probably heard about some of the more prominent citizen science programs, maybe without knowing that you could be a part of them. A few popular ones include iNaturalist, Save Our Streams, Nature’s Notebook, and Monarch Watch.

     Sampling a vernal pool at Cumberland State Forest

Sampling a vernal pool at Cumberland State Forest

Not sure you have the knowledge needed to be a citizen scientist? Fear not – there are tools to help you. In addition to the training provided by some organizations, there are amazing apps that can go anywhere your phone can. For instance, Cory recommends Cornell University’s free Merlin Bird ID app, which helps you identify birds from pictures and sounds. Citizen science is fun for the whole family – maybe even addicting! It’s a habit you can feel good about, as you help to answer questions, solve problems, and add to our knowledge of the natural world.

People in Kansas City, Lawrence and Topeka: You can get a good tree for killing a bad one

April 5, 2023 · 2 minute read
People in Kansas City, Lawrence and Topeka: You can get a good tree for killing a bad one

It’s the perfect time of year to do birds and butterflies a solid — by killing an invasive, ornamental and all-too-common pear tree.

This April and May, if you live in or near Kansas City and Topeka and can destroy an ornamental pear on your property, you can get professional help picking out a free replacement tree guaranteed not to wreak environmental havoc.

The annual Deep Roots KC program will give out hundreds of free trees. This year, the program includes a giveaway site in Topeka for the first time. In coming years, the group plans to expand to other Kansas cities.

Early April is when highly invasive ornamental pear trees burst into showy displays of white (often funky-smelling) blooms that make them easy to spot as you drive through many towns, cities and even rural areas across Kansas and Missouri.

The pear trees go by a few dozen names — including Chanticleer, Bradford and Cleveland. They’re all variations of the Callery pear species, Pyrus calleryana.

Landscapers and homeowners planted loads of them over the decades (and still do) because the flowers are pretty and the trees are supposed to be sterile and well-behaved.

Instead, they’re so good at reproducing, they put rabbits to shame.

These aggressive spreaders choke grassy and treed landscapes alike. That squeezes out the native plants that wildlife relies on.

The effects ripple throughout the food web. Butterflies and moths, for example, need those native plants to lay their eggs and fill the pastures, prairies and woods with new generations of caterpillars. Fewer fat, juicy caterpillars each spring and summer translates into fewer baby birds.

To make matters worse, the pears aren’t alone. A number of other non-native invasive species, such as bush honeysuckles, spread just as aggressively in the Midwest and compound the problem.

Scientists have found 90% of the caterpillar population disappears from natural areas infested with these and similar invasive species. Johnson County Park and Recreation District workers have spent years removing hundreds of rogue pear trees from Shawnee Mission Park, and still aren’t finished.

Homeowners who would like a free native tree to replace an ornamental pear can sign up online. You’ll need to chop down a pear, show a photo to the organizers, and then show up to one of three events in Lee’s Summit, Lenexa and Topeka to pick out a replacement tree.

Experts from the Kansas Forest Service at the events can help you pick among an assortment of options ranging from serviceberry and redbud (which put on showy blooms much like ornamental pears do) to oaks that can feed hundreds of butterfly and moth species.

Identifying and removing ornamental pears

Some states have banned the sale of Callery pears, but the trees are still sold in Kansas and Missouri under a wide variety of names.

To check whether a tree on your property belongs to this invasive species, you can download apps such as iNaturalist (from National Geographic) and snap a photo.

Most trees that you spot in Kansas and Missouri covered in white flowers this time of year are invasive ornamental pears. They have clumps of five-petaled white blossoms that open up before the tree leafs out.

The Missouri Department of Conservation lists other species that look similar on its website, to help you avoid misidentifying an invasive pear.

To kill an ornamental pear, chop it down and then immediately treat the stump with herbicide – otherwise it will not die.

1,000-plus years of tree rings confirm historic extremity of 2021 western North America heat wave

March 29, 2023 · 5 minute read
1,000-plus years of tree rings confirm historic extremity of 2021 western North America heat wave
Lead author Karen Heeter takes a core sample from an old mountain hemlock near Crater Lake, Oregon, where at least one tree dated to the 1300s. Credit: Grant Harley/University of Idaho

Lead author Karen Heeter takes a core sample from an old mountain hemlock near Crater Lake, Oregon, where at least one tree dated to the 1300s. Credit: Grant Harley/University of Idaho

In summer 2021, a stunning heat wave swept western North America, from British Columbia to Washington, Oregon and beyond into other inland areas where the climate is generally mild. Temperature records were set by tens of degrees in many places, wildfires broke out, and at least 1,400 people died. Scientists blamed the event largely on human-driven climate warming, and declared it unprecedented. But without reliable weather data going back more than a century or so, did it really have no precedent?

A new study of tree rings from the region shows that the event was almost certainly the worst in at least the past millennium. The research, published in the journal npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, established a year-by-year record of summer going back to the year 950. Scores of abnormally hot summers showed up, many grouped into multiyear . But the new study shows that the last 40 years, driven by human-influenced warming, has been the hottest—and that 2021 was the hottest summer in the entire span.

“It’s not that the Pacific Northwest has never before experienced waves of high temperature. But with , their magnitude is much hotter, and they have a much greater impact on the community,” said lead author Karen Heeter, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “Being able to look at the past and compare that with climate models, and come to similar conclusions, there’s a lot of power in that.”

The tree-ring reconstruction and modern temperature readings show that 1979-2021 saw a sustained period of hot summers unrivaled for the last 1,000-plus years. Most of the hottest years have occurred since 2000. The second-warmest period, indicated by the tree rings, was 1028–1096—at the height of the so-called Medieval Climate Anomaly, when a natural warming trend is thought to have taken hold across large parts of the planet. Another notable hot span during the Medieval Climate Anomaly ran from 1319 to 1307. But even these periods were considerably cooler than temperatures in recent decades.

Summer seasonal temperature anomalies revealed by tree rings and modern weather data, 950-2021. Credit: Modified from Heeter et al., Climate and Atmospheric Science, 2023

Summer seasonal temperature anomalies revealed by tree rings and modern weather data, 950-2021. Credit: Modified from Heeter et al., Climate and Atmospheric Science, 2023

The 2021 spanned a several weeks from late June to mid-July. While the researchers did not try to pick out such short periods in the rings, they say average seasonal temperatures are a good proxy for such events. Summer 2021 held the annual record, at 18.9 degrees Centigrade, or about 66 degrees Fahrenheit. By contrast, the hottest summer in prehistoric times was in 1080, at 16.9 degrees C, or 62.4 F.

This perhaps does not sound very impressive—until you consider that due in part to the near-complete human destruction of ancient trees in the lowlands, the researchers used mainly samples collected at mountain elevations above 10,000 feet. Here, temperatures are drastically lower than in the populous lowlands; there is often still snow cover in June. “You have to think about it in the broader context,” said Heeter; one can reasonably add a few tens of degrees for places like Seattle and Portland, she noted. According to the tree rings, the 2021 seasonal temperature spike was nearly 3 degrees F greater than any annual spike shown by during the Medieval period.

Heeter and her husband and a few colleagues collected about half of the samples for the study during the summers of 2020 and 2021, from high-elevation sites in national forests and parks. She got a personal taste of the 2021 heat wave as she sweltered in 105-degree indoor temperatures in her un-air conditioned apartment in Moscow, Idaho. She feared going into the field until later in the season, since many target forests or ones near them were on fire, and in some cases she was blocked from entering by evacuation orders.

The summer 2021 western North America heat wave. Redder colors represent higher temperature anomalies; white X's indicate sites where researchers took tree-ring samples to put it into long-term context. Credit: Modified from Heeter et al., Climate and Atmospheric Science, 2023

The summer 2021 western North America heat wave. Redder colors represent higher temperature anomalies; white X’s indicate sites where researchers took tree-ring samples to put it into long-term context. Credit: Modified from Heeter et al., Climate and Atmospheric Science, 2023

To obtain data, the team bored out straw-size samples that provided cross sections of rings from about 600 old conifers in northern Idaho and the Cascade ranges of Oregon and Washington. (The coring process does not hurt the trees.) Their oldest sample came from a mountain hemlock near Oregon’s Crater Lake, which took root in the 1300s. They supplemented these with samples taken in the 1990s by other Lamont-Doherty researchers, mostly in British Columbia. The oldest of these was from a Douglas fir on Vancouver Island, dating to the year 950. The area has since been clear cut by loggers.

Most conventional tree-ring studies focus on ring widths, with wider annual rings generally indicating wetter years. To measure temperature, Heeter and her colleagues instead used a relatively new technique called blue intensity. This involves shining onto a high-resolution scan of each ring, and measuring how much of the blue spectrum is reflected back. Trees generally build thicker cell walls in hotter temperatures, increasing the density of the ring. Denser rings reflect less blue light, and this can be translated into temperature.

Another recent Lamont-Doherty study attributed the extremity of the 2021 heat wave to progressively heightening temperatures caused by humans, combined with shorter-term atmospheric patterns that may or may not have been driven by human-driven climate change. That study suggested that by 2050, such heat waves may hit every 10 years. The new one, which used different models to make forecasts, estimates a 50/50 chance of recurrence each year by 2050.

Center, a Douglas fir in the Tahoma Creek vicinity of Washington's Mt. Rainier National Park, from which the authors took a core sample. Credit: Grant Harley/University of Idaho

Center, a Douglas fir in the Tahoma Creek vicinity of Washington’s Mt. Rainier National Park, from which the authors took a core sample. Credit: Grant Harley/University of Idaho

With a climate that is usually quite moderate, the region is poorly prepared to cope with such events. For one thing, like Heeter, few people have air conditioning—possibly one reason for the high mortality rate in 2021. “We can use the long-term record to prepare ourselves,” said Heeter. “For instance, maybe it’s not realistic to put air conditioning everywhere, but communities could create refuges where people could go when these things happen again.”

“The unprecedented nature of summer 2021 temperatures across [the study area] suggests that no region is impervious to the economic and biological impacts of increasing summer temperatures,” the authors write. This suggests, they say, that “communities across the world that have not been historically exposed to extreme heat are likely to experience [greater] morbidity and mortality.”

Two beloved UC Berkeley trees, over age 150, damaged in ‘bomb cyclone’

March 29, 2023 · 4 minute read
Two beloved UC Berkeley trees, over age 150, damaged in ‘bomb cyclone’

The loud crack came at 4:30 p.m. last Tuesday, when Andrew Doran was in his office at the 34-acre UC Botanical Garden in Strawberry Canyon. It was audible despite the ferociously high winds and pelting rain creating havoc throughout the Bay Area that day as part of a rare, so-called “bomb cyclone.”

Doran, the director of collections, went out to investigate, “but after wrecking my umbrella and losing a hat,” he said, “I decided it was unwise.” He did glimpse the tip of the property’s treasured, towering coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) — at more than 150 years old, it predates the garden — and snapped a photo. One of the coniferous tree’s three co-dominant trunks had been sheared off.

The garden’s California buckeye, before it was struck down by the sheared-off trunk of a neighboring coast redwood. (UC Botanical Garden photo)

The garden’s California buckeye, before it was struck down by the sheared-off trunk of a neighboring coast redwood. (UC Botanical Garden photo)

The next morning, the news was more catastrophic. That broken redwood trunk had landed on another garden icon, a California buckeye (Aesculus californica), which also lived on the land before the garden was formally established in 1890. And there was widespread damage among the garden’s plant collections, including to a section of timber bamboo (Phyllostachys bambusoides) by another of the redwood’s three trunks, or stems, that had blown off and flown through the air toward Strawberry Creek.

In addition, one of three large, endangered spruce trees (Picea martinezii) was damaged, as was the top half of the garden’s only Parana pine (Araucaria angustifolia), trunks of red ash (Alphitonia excelsa) and Durikai malee (Eucalyptus infera), and a gum-leaf cone bush (Leucadendron eucalyptifolium).

The garden, among the most diverse landscapes in the world — it’s arranged geographically into nine regions of naturalistic plantings — has more than 10,000 types of plants, including many rare and endangered species.

“Decades of care and nurturing of some of the garden’s treasures have been destroyed,” said Doran.

This fallen oak, along the Grinnell Pathway, was among 20 trees on the central campus that were damaged by the recent storms. (UC Berkeley photo by Robert Sanders)

This fallen oak, along the Grinnell Pathway, was among 20 trees on the central campus that were damaged by the recent storms. (UC Berkeley photo by Robert Sanders)

Meanwhile, on Berkeley’s central campus, the gales damaged about 20 trees, including oaks, eucalyptus and pines.

“Most of the trees were eucalyptus, and the root cause was years of drought stress, high winds, saturated soil and shallow roots, said Felix Deleon, director of operations for Facilities Services, adding that the condition of the trees is is being assessed.

The campus core is home to more than 13,500 trees and nearly 300 different tree species.

The redwood is likely beyond saving and “poses a significant hazard to people and plants in the area,” says Andrew Doran. (UC Berkeley photo by Robert Sanders)

The redwood is likely beyond saving and “poses a significant hazard to people and plants in the area,” says Andrew Doran. (UC Berkeley photo by Robert Sanders)

The botanical garden, too, is now actively assessing the overall damage there with the help of horticulturists, arborists and UC Berkeley tree crews to determine what actions need to be taken. Doran said the redwood is likely damaged beyond saving and “poses a significant hazard to people and plants in the area.”

“Removing the fallen branches and the remaining trees is going to be a significant challenge, with the (steep, hilly) topography, and being so far from a road where a crane could be used,” he added. “It will be very disruptive to the surviving plants (near the tree), so much so that they may need to be temporarily moved.”

Staff members are restricting visitors’ access to the location of the redwood and buckeye so they can quickly document the damage — including to plants beneath the two trees — and determine whether those plants need pruning, propagating, a new location or can’t be saved. All sections of the garden’s understory are densely planted, due to limited space.

“We will have to work fast, as plants are starting to break winter dormancy, and the window for moving them into containers or other positions is closing,” said Doran, who added that the work will take the staff “hundreds of hours.”

Caution tape prevents UC Botanical Garden visitors from getting near the areas where, in record-breaking winds and heavy rain, the redwood trunk crushed the buckeye. (UC Berkeley photo by Marissa Gutierrez)

Caution tape prevents UC Botanical Garden visitors from getting near the areas where, in record-breaking winds and heavy rain, the redwood trunk crushed the buckeye. (UC Berkeley photo by Marissa Gutierrez)

The coast redwood and the California buckeye, which bore a strong resemblance to the buckeye in Faculty Glade, had been growing on land that was planted in the 1920s as the Asian section of the garden.

“The loss of this coast redwood is particularly poignant, being located close to its Asian relative, the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) planted in the 1940s,” said Doran. “Their proximity was useful for pointing out evolutionary relationships between these two species to students and visitors.”

Doran said that despite the damage at the botanical garden, those who work there understand that “these events, while unfortunate, are part of managing a living museum,” as are tasks that include keeping records of flowering and fruiting times, documenting the research done at the garden, taking photos and making specimens.

“And if the redwood is taken down to a stump,” he said, “it could make for a good interpretive platform.”

The garden remains open to the public seven days a week, with the exception of the first and third Tuesdays of each month.

The Truetimber Time Trial Bike Race

March 22, 2023 · 0 minute read
The Truetimber Time Trial Bike Race

Many of our friends, both at Truetimber and outside of Truetimber, are avid cyclists. That’s why on March 25, we’ll host our friend Kurtis Usher as he puts on a fundraising event at Camp Truetimber.

The Truetimber Time Trial Bike Race :

This is a fun fundraising event with the overall objective being to evolve into an all-inclusive event for riders of all abilities. Registration fees will go to raising funds for Kurtis Usher to start the grant application process to obtain an Adaptive Mountain Bike.

The event space will open at 8 am and the event will begin before 10 am, at Camp Truetimber. A 2-mile course has been established. The object of the race is to complete the most laps within the time limit. Riders can ride as many laps as they wish within the time limit.

Registration Information:

There is a minimum of $20 to register for the race. If you would like to come to hang out, not participate, and get some food, please check the appropriate box on the registration form. If you would like to just come hang, cheer, and spectate, it’s free of charge.

Register Here.

Pioneering forestry researcher Suzanne Simard to receive the 2023 Lewis Thomas Prize

March 22, 2023 · 3 minute read
Pioneering forestry researcher Suzanne Simard to receive the 2023 Lewis Thomas Prize

In her scientific memoir, Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, forestry researcher Suzanne Simard gracefully intertwines her private and professional lives. As a child, she learned the rough-and-ready ways of her logging ancestors and developed a deep devotion and commitment to forests. As a researcher, she pressed colleagues to look beyond the superficial, above-ground perception that forests are merely collections of individual trees.

In a series of innovative, years-long field experiments, she discovered and documented a below-ground world where trees share resources and information through intricate webs of fungal conduits. These networks link not only kin but also members of different species into a richly interwoven biological community. In her book, Simard details a deep cooperation in the forests that transcends life’s kingdoms and challenges the idea that competition between individuals is the sole driver of evolution.

For her inspiring and illuminating writing, she will be presented with the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science at The Rockefeller University on April 17. Named after its first recipient, noted physician-scientist and essayist Lewis Thomas, the prize was established in 1993 by Rockefeller’s Board of Trustees.

“By challenging entrenched beliefs with imaginative experiments, Suzanne Simard has overturned the idea that competition alone drives survival of trees in the wild,” says Jesse H. Ausubel, chair of the selection committee. “She has dedicated herself to understanding how trees support one another, and her work has not only established a new line of inquiry, but has also pointed toward improved management practices that promise to ensure long-term forest health. Relentlessly challenging the status quo at significant personal cost, Simard bravely contradicted long-held beliefs in a male-dominated field that did not welcome this young woman with her unorthodox ideas.”

Simard persevered through a battle with cancer, which coincided with the discovery that dying trees give what they can – in their case, generous quantities of carbon – to their neighbors in the forest community. She has drawn special attention to so-called Mother trees, the oldest, most abundantly connected individuals, which play indispensable roles in nurturing seedlings and helping forests heal after disturbances.

Simard majored in forest management at the University of British Columbia (UBC), with her summers spent working for a logging company and the Forest Service. During that time, she began to question standard forestry practices, which were based on the belief that individual trees vie with one another for resources. Silviculturists cleared swatches of vegetation and then planted monocultures of commercially profitable trees, but Simard knew that this approach was not sustainable. Forests are interlaced communities of diverse organisms, not patchworks of single-species ghettos. Furthermore, she had a growing suspicion that an underground fungal web might be essential for arboreal health.

To probe her ideas, she embarked on a research career. Her Ph.D. thesis at Oregon State University upended the notion that trees simply hoard carbon, and it was the first in a series of reports that demonstrated the importance of mycorrhizal connections to forest health. These intricate plant-fungus networks transfer resources and chemical signals. “Mother trees” function as hubs, playing crucial roles in connecting the forest.

In 2002, Simard joined the Faculty of Forestry at UBC, where she is now a professor of forest ecology, leading The Mother Tree Project. This multisite experiment in British Columbia aims to guide renewal practices that support forest resilience as the climate changes. She is also part of the burgeoning movement called the Mother Tree Network.

Simard has earned a global reputation for pioneering research on tree connectivity and communication, studies that hold significance for the long-term productivity, health, and biodiversity of forests. She has published more than 200 scientific peer-reviewed articles, including in Nature, Ecology, and Global Change Biology, and co-authored the book Climate Change and Variability.

Recipients of the Lewis Thomas Prize in recent years include social psychologist Jennifer L. Eberhardt, ornithologist Richard Prum, physician Siddhartha Mukherjee, astrophysicist Kip Thorne, oceanographer Sylvia Earle, and mathematicians Steven Strogatz and Ian Stewart.

Register for the 2023 Lewis Thomas Prize presentation and discussion here.

A sixty-one year old citrus tree is just part of the family.

March 22, 2023 · 3 minute read
A sixty-one year old citrus tree is just part of the family.

As a second grader, he planted a seed from a grapefruit. Sixty-one years later, that indoor citrus tree is part of the family.

It’s the member of the family Mark Was only lets in the house when it gets cold outside.

Not to name names — oops, it doesn’t have one — but it stands more than 6½ feet tall, barely fits through the door, is undeniably bottom heavy, has been known to make a mess in the corner and has a reputation for being a bit of a thorn in his wife’s side.

Still, Was couldn’t love that grapefruit tree more.

He was in second grade when he and his mom planted a seed from the half of grapefruit he was having for breakfast that morning. Not only did it sprout, but 61 years later, the tree it grew into is still with him.

It spent the first 20 years at his parents’ house, graduating from plastic pots to whiskey barrels. It moved in with him when he got his own apartment, and for the last 30 years, home sweet home has been Was and wife Linda Gendrich’s house in Wauwatosa, where it’s officially part of the family.

It summers out on the patio and has breezed through high winds tipping it over, deer sampling its leaves and squirrels using its pot to bury treasures. In the fall, it rides out the Wisconsin winters in a southeast corner of the house with a window view and a grow light for “a little oomph.”

Getting the nearly 100-pound tree in the house and back out again is quite the biannual production. It can grow as much as a foot during the summer, so Was usually prunes it back in the fall to reduce its size. It then gets wrapped in blankets and tied with bungee cords and twine to rein in the branches to better navigate it through the door. It’s taken him, Gendrich and a neighbor to wrangle it, and even then somebody or some wall still gets scratched or poked by one of its sizable thorns.

One of the challenges of moving the potted grapefruit tree out to the patio in summer and back in the house in winter is its sizeable thorns.

One of the challenges of moving the potted grapefruit tree out to the patio in summer and back in the house in winter is its sizeable thorns. Courtesy of Mark Was

“I don’t know how my parents did it for the first 20 years,” Was said. “As soon as I moved to Wauwatosa, they showed up with it in the back of the car and it was like, ‘Here, we don’t want it anymore.’”

Gendrich has been known to share that sentiment at times, but despite her pleas to “get rid of the thing,” the tree is still going strong.

It’s rootbound, but about every three years they pull it out of the pot, cut the roots back, give it fresh soil and watch it flourish once the summer temperatures arrive. Just as Was’ mom told him all those years ago: “Water and sunshine, and it’ll thrive.”

Things were a little touch and go about 10 years ago when it developed a spider mite infestation, but advice from friend and nationally known gardening expert Melinda Myers and the staff at the Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee got it under control.

“Unfortunately, it has never bore any fruit, and I don’t know why,” said Was, who has long given up hope that it ever will. “At 61, it’s well past its prime — kind of like me.”

What it lacks in breakfast table offerings, it makes up for as a conversation piece. At every Christmas party, birthday party and picnic on the patio, it never fails to get people talking. When visitors can’t believe it’s a grapefruit tree, Was plucks off a leaf to rub between their fingers so they can get a whiff of the citrusy aroma.

There was a time when he considered donating it to the Domes, where it could live out its golden years in a spacious and toasty year-round home surrounded by tropical friends and no more stressful seasonal moves.

“But I can’t do that. It’s part of my childhood,” he said. “I can’t get rid of it. I just can’t.”

A little piece of his mom is growing with that tree. It brings back memories of her sitting at the table going through plant catalogs in January and February to pick out the peppers and tomatoes she started from seed.

She’s the love in this labor of love. He’s pretty sure each fall and spring when it’s time to move the tree, she’s looking down and laughing to herself.

A non-native tree species reclaims its prominence after extreme weather

March 16, 2023 · 3 minute read
A non-native tree species reclaims its prominence after extreme weather

The long-term effects on forests of more extreme climate events, plus other drivers of forest change, are highly uncertain. A new study of the tropical forests across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), spanning 19 years, found that after Hurricane Maria in 2017, the total biomass of a fast-growing non-native species, the African tulip Tree (Spathodea campanulata), may again be overtaking that of the most common group of native tree species, even though, at least for young and small trees, non-natives die at twice the rate of native ones. The work is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Extreme climate events are becoming more common in much of the globe. Record-breaking rainfall events have increased worldwide in recent decades. Hurricane Maria was the most intense precipitation event for Puerto Rico since 1956 and has been linked to climate change. The most severe drought event in the Caribbean since 1950 also occurred recently, from 2013-2016.

Besides affecting forests, extensive historical habitat loss on Caribbean Islands, combined with many being endemic to only one or a few islands, have led scientists to rank Caribbean Islands among those regions where is most urgent, as human population densities and associated pressures on forests there remain relatively high.

In Puerto Rico, deforestation reached a maximum around the early 1900s. This happened around the late 1800s in the USVI. Since the 1950s, forest extent has increased on many Caribbean Islands. Meanwhile, many fast-growing, non-native tree species have been introduced to Caribbean Islands. They are now common across Puerto Rico and the USVI, as many can quickly colonize deforested and sometimes degraded lands that were formerly cultivated or grazed. The non-native tree species come from Eurasia or Africa, though some originate in South or Central America or larger Caribbean Islands.

A team of foresters, ecologists, statisticians, and geographers from the USDA Forest Service compared of native vs. non-native small tree species in Puerto Rico and the USVI over the 19 years of Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis data there.

They focused on small trees to account for the influence of large-tree neighbors and because many species of small trees become canopy trees when larger trees die, affecting which species dominate future forests. Overall, non-native species of small trees died at twice the rate of natives, and hurricanes increased mortality rates of all small trees.

Next, they combined the forest inventory data with data on other factors that influence tree survival, asking which factors best predict small tree survival. They used an ensemble computer learning algorithm that considers many combinations of potentially influential factors such as individual tree dimensions, other tree species traits, neighbor tree factors, and factors from and maps of climate, topography, geology, soils and land use. The maps went as far back as 1950.

They found that since the year 2001, even considering other factors, non-natives including the African tulip tree were more likely to die. With Hurricane Maria, of species with less dense wood survived less, including the non-natives.

Finally, they estimated trends in total wood biomass of both small and large trees of different groups of tree species before and after Hurricane Maria, assigning the African tulip tree to its own group because of its extremely fast growth rates and far-ranging seed dispersal. The estimates suggested that the total biomass of the African tulip tree was declining before the hurricane, to the point where it was comparable to the biomass of the most common group of native species, but increased afterwards. Hurricane damage lets light into forest canopies, likely benefitting this fast-growing species.

Before this research, most knowledge of tropical tree mortality in the region came from a handful of intensely studied research plots in forest reserves, where fast-growing species also increase after hurricanes but are mostly . This is the first study to consider the wide range of conditions outside of forest reserves.

The study concluded that how extreme climate events will affect future forests will depend on their frequency, severity, and type. More frequent hurricanes could perpetuate the commonness of fast-growing non-native tree species like the African tulip tree, reversing the recovery of native tree species from past deforestation. Still, native trees (and possibly some non-natives) in the harshest environments that grow more slowly survive hurricanes more easily, and may better withstand drought.

Varying temperatures mean different maple syrup seasons for northern, southern Wisconsin producers

March 16, 2023 · 3 minute read
Varying temperatures mean different maple syrup seasons for northern, southern Wisconsin producers

Sap collection in southern Wisconsin is well underway. One producer says it may wrap up before trees to the north are even tapped.

Scott Walter of Driftless Gold recently tapped his organic maple trees in Richland County. And with temperatures reaching the low 40s this week, the sap is flowing.

But Walter said some smaller syrup producers tapped their trees as early as mid-February because of unseasonably warm temperatures. That’s several weeks before the typical start to the season.

“There were certainly people who were making syrup in their backyards as early as Feb. 15 or so,” he said. “But for the larger producers with not dozens but potentially many thousands of trees to tap, it’s sometimes difficult to adapt that quickly.”

The top maple syrup producing states in the country — Vermont, New York and Maine — have all seen much earlier starts to the syrup season this year.

In Wisconsin, which is fourth-largest producer of maple syrup, the early warm-up means a bigger difference between the start of the season for producers in the south versus in the north.

Dane County resident Dominic Ledesma is one hobbyist who jumped on the early warm weather. Ledesma, who is chief diversity officer for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Division of Extension, started tapping trees at his home and his family’s cabin in Jackson County last year after learning about the craft from his colleagues. He said sap was flowing in when he first tapped his trees in February, but collection slowed down in Jackson County as the weather turned cold again.

“The season really didn’t take off,” he said. “In talking with other colleagues in Extension, I certainly noticed some very significant differences between the southern part of the state and Jackson County.”

Ledesma said he’s collected about 25 gallons from his trees in Jackson County. But he’s gotten 40 gallons from two trees in Dane County and is ready to start boiling down the sap this weekend.

Jeremy Solin, co-owner of Tapped Maple Syrup in Langlade County, said he’s expecting it will be at least another week before producers in his area start tapping trees. Solin said there’s always been a gradient from south to north, but he feels like the start times have been further apart.

“Last year was the first time I remember where parts of southern Wisconsin were completely done before we’d even really started our season in northern Wisconsin,” Solin said. “It almost seems like that’s going to be the case again this year, which will be kind of weird.”

Solin said the variability in temperatures this winter has made it hard for producers to gauge what will happen this season. He said producers that use plastic tubing to collect sap have a little more flexibility when they tap. But for sugar bushes like his that still collect the sap by hand using buckets, Solin said producers have to be more careful about not tapping too early.

And Solin said the possibility of missing the season keeps him up at night.

“Throughout this whole winter there’s been a lot of warm weather. So it’s just created a kind of uneasiness and uncertainty about when the sap will run,” he said.

Walter agrees that stakes are high for syrup producers to get things just right, which includes being ready to go earlier than expected.

“Given that syrup producers make their living throughout the year based on what happens over a three- or four-week period in the spring, you’re always wanting to catch every last drop of sap,” he said. “If you get your trees tapped early, and you’re ready for that early sap flow, you can take advantage of it.”

Last year was a good year for maple syrup, with producers around the state collecting more from their trees and some reporting higher quality syrup because of periods of colder weather mid-season. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Wisconsin producers had almost 18 percent more yield per tap in 2022 than the previous year. Wisconsin produced 440,000 gallons of maple syrup for 2022, nearly 21 percent more than in 2021.

Walter said conditions are lining up for another good season this year. Even with a snow storm expected to hit most of the state later this week, Walter said the sap should keep flowing once the temperatures warm up again.

“The old timers talk about these late spring snow storms as ‘sugar snows,'” he said. “You’ll get good sap flow after an event like this, but it’s got to warm up.”

To the north, Solin said he’s also seeing signs of a good year, including healthy trees and sufficient rainfall. But he said it’ll all come down to whether they get the right temperature conditions this month to get the sap flowing.

Maine woods could store more carbon at current harvest with ‘climate smart’ forestry, study finds

March 8, 2023 · 2 minute read
Maine woods could store more carbon at current harvest with ‘climate smart’ forestry, study finds

Maine forests already absorb about 70% of the state’s annual fossil fuel emissions. Now, a new study shows that Maine’s commercial forest landowners could increase annual carbon storage by at least 20% over the next 60 years while maintaining timber harvest levels. The findings are timely as the demand for carbon offset projects accelerates.

The forest modeling study across 7.6 million acres of mostly privately-owned commercial forest lands in northern Maine was conducted by researchers from the University of Maine, the New England Forestry Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service. Under current management practices, the forestlands are expected to remove 36 million metric tons of CO2 per year. But, if climate smart strategies such as increased planting, thinning and selective harvesting were widely adopted, the study suggests even more carbon could be stored without decreasing harvest levels.

“Unless you maintain harvest there’s the potential for there to really be no benefits to the atmosphere,” said Tom Walker, a natural resources economist and project coordinator.

“If a landowner in Maine cuts back on their harvest and stores more carbon, which makes a lot of sense, [and] if somebody else cuts that wood in Maine or in the U.S. or in the world, you know, there’s no net benefit to the atmosphere,” Walker said.

The study’s authors also say undertaking these improvements could be done at relatively low cost compared to other ways of mitigating climate change. The research comes as demand from companies looking to offset their carbon emissions through forest carbon removal projects increased four-fold between 2020 and 2021. Alec Giffen of the New England Forestry Foundation said there are other reasons to be encouraged by the findings.

“We can improve wildlife habitat. We can produce more wood. We can produce higher quality wood. We can increase the returns that landowners see from owning land,” Giffen said. “And I see this as potentially a game changer in terms of the kinds of things you can do in a financially beneficial way with forest management in Maine.”

The New England Forestry Foundation was recently awarded a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pilot forest management programs that pay forest landowners for carbon storage. Giffen said it’s essential for landowners to be compensated because it takes several decades for improved forest practices to pay off.

Where that funding comes from and how it’s distributed is something that has yet to be worked out.

The study was commissioned by the Forest Carbon for Commercial Landowners Initiative, a group of conservationists, scientists and commercial landowners who want to better understand the carbon storage potential of the Maine woods.

Costa Rica ponders ways to sustain reforestation success

March 8, 2023 · 5 minute read
Costa Rica ponders ways to sustain reforestation success

Costa Rica went from having one of the world’s highest deforestation rates in the 1980s to a nation centered on ecotourism, luring world travelers with the possibility of moving between marine reserves and cloud forest in a single day.

But the Central American country known for lush jungle and rich biodiversity now faces a dilemma as one environmental priority – reforestation — runs headlong into another — reducing the use of fossil fuels.

The program that has paid landowners for 25 years not to cut down trees depends almost entirely on fuel tax revenue, which stands to fade away by 2050 as Costa Rica converts public and private transportation to electricity in pursuit of net-zero emissions. That has the government hunting for alternative funding options.

Those could include new taxes or a tweaked mix of existing ones. Tourists who flock to see toucans, sloths and brilliantly colored frogs might someday see a charge on their hotel bill to aid forest conservation. And Costa Rica will continue to pressure developed countries — the planet’s biggest polluters — to compensate countries doing more than their share to store carbon.

Costa Rica reforestation got a boost last year with President Rodrigo Chaves’ announcement of $16.4 million from the World Bank for forests that are reducing carbon emissions. The program will bring in a total of $60 million by the end of 2025, money Costa Rica hopes can double the amount of protected forest.

A stream flows through a forest that has been officialy protected for 35 years, on the outskirts of San Jose, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. Costa Rica reforestation got a boost last year with President Rodrigo Chaves' announcement of $16.4 million from the World Bank for forests that are reducing carbon emissions. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

A stream flows through a forest that has been officialy protected for 35 years, on the outskirts of San Jose, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. Costa Rica reforestation got a boost last year with President Rodrigo Chaves’ announcement of $16.4 million from the World Bank for forests that are reducing carbon emissions. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

The money is one step toward the international community doing its part to preserve valuable forest, said Jorge Mario Rodríguez Zúñiga, director of the National Forestry Financing Fund, known by its Spanish initials FONAFIFO.

“If it benefits the world, it’s only fair that the world contributes to its protection,” he said, adding that he hopes that one day soon he will be able to say that all privately held forest in Costa is receiving some incentive.

Demand for agricultural land once took a heavy toll on Costa Rica’s forest cover, which fell to 21% of the national territory in the 1980s as nearly 125,000 acres were cleared each year. Even as Costa Rica invested heavily to establish national parks, the government realized that something had to be done to conserve privately held forest as it moved to promote ecotourism.

A forestry law passed in 1996 created the Payments for Environmental Services (PSA) program, with funding from the gas tax. It paid landowners about $60 per 2 1/2 acres (1 hectare) annually for four “environmental services” — water, scenic beauty, biodiversity and carbon — associated with conserving the forest. The program currently enrolls more than 680,000 acres (276,000 hectares).

Along with the carrot came the stick: Strict rules and penalties for changes in land use.

Tourism soon grew so much that agriculture’s share of the economy was eclipsed, falling from 25% in 1982 to 4.2% in 2019. Meanwhile, visits to protected natural areas soared from about 500,000 in 1990 to more than 1.7 million in 2019.

Some landowners were already philosophically disposed to conserve their forest.

Floripe Córdoba and Siegfried Kussmaul had decided even before the program launched that they wanted to let the forest retake the 8 acres near San Jose where they had grown coffee and raised cattle, though they said some neighbors thought they were “crazy.” They now get about $300 annually from the program, for them a largely symbolic amount since they live comfortably off his pension from years as a geology professor.

“When I conserve I let all of the insects, down to the smallest, the fauna and everything there is in the forest, have its place,” said Córdoba, a former tourism guide who strolls in the forest daily. On one such walk, Córdoba pointed out her favorite trees and identified the butterflies flitting past.

Surrounded by cattle ranches, Kussmaul said, “The neighbors see us and say: ‘What a waste of land!’”

The World Bank money is open to landowners not already enrolled in Costa Rica’s program. But it only reimburses for carbon, one of the four “environmental services,” raising the question of whether $18 per 2 1/2 acres (1 hectare) will attract many landowners.

Floripe Cordoba leans against a tree during her morning walk in her protected forest on the outskirts of San Jose, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. Cordoba gets about $300 annually from a program that pays her to conserve her patch of the forest, a largely symbolic amount for her and her husband, since they live comfortably off his pension from years as a geology professor. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

Floripe Cordoba leans against a tree during her morning walk in her protected forest on the outskirts of San Jose, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. Cordoba gets about $300 annually from a program that pays her to conserve her patch of the forest, a largely symbolic amount for her and her husband, since they live comfortably off his pension from years as a geology professor. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

The Foundation for the Development of the Central Volcanic Mountain Chain, FUNDECOR, a nongovernmental conservation organization, for years helped sign up landowners to the PSA program. Executive Director Mario Piedra welcomed the decline in funding that will come from reduced fossil fuels, but said replacement options must be found beyond what the World Bank program is offering.

“What they have failed to understand is that with $7 or $18 per hectare per year it is impossible to improve the sustainability of these areas in the long term because it is very little money,” he said.

Rodríguez, director of FONAFIFO, said he knows $18 isn’t a lot, but said his organization is looking for additional funding that would cover adding biodiversity as an environmental service to be compensated. In the meantime, the program offers retroactive payments to those who had verifiable forest land as far back as 2018.

A frog named "rana azul" or "rana de cafetal" (Agalychnis annae) stands in a protected forest on the outskirts of San Jose, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. Tourists who flock to Costa Rica to see toucans, sloths and brilliantly colored frogs might someday see a charge on their hotel bill to aid forest conservation. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

A frog named “rana azul” or “rana de cafetal” (Agalychnis annae) stands in a protected forest on the outskirts of San Jose, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. Tourists who flock to Costa Rica to see toucans, sloths and brilliantly colored frogs might someday see a charge on their hotel bill to aid forest conservation. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

Officials are also trying to make it easier. Landowners can register through a website, with the government in most cases using satellite imagery rather than a site visit to verify the existence of the forest. And where PSA requires landowners to hire a forester to help monitor their woods — with a cost of up to 18% of the government payments — the World Bank money does not.

Rodríguez said FONAFIFO hopes to find money to make payments beyond 2024. And both Piedra and Rodriguez talked of tapping private capital markets to set up systems that would compensate conservation efforts.

FONAFIFO has been talking with Costa Rican tourism officials because that industry is one of the biggest beneficiaries of forest conservation, but no tax for that purpose exists and it’s not the right time to launch one given lingering economic difficulties from the pandemic, Rodríguez said.

One indicator that tourists may be willing to support some kind of tax: a voluntary program in which they were offered a chance to offset their vacation’s emissions raised $600,000 last year.

Teacher on mission to climb tallest trees in every PA county

March 1, 2023 · 1 minute read
Teacher on mission to climb tallest trees in every PA county

A teacher in Montour County has a goal of climbing the tallest tree in all 67 Pennsylvania counties.

“I was out in the woods a few weeks ago and thinking about how fun it would be to climb to the highest spot in Montour County, and then I thought, why not do Columbia County, and Union County and I wondered how hard it would be to do them all?” recalled Van Wagner.

Wagner is a 46-year-old agriculture teacher at Danville Area and a certified forester, now with a mission to climb the tallest tree at the highest point in all 67 Pennsylvania counties — a feat never achieved before. He is hoping to raise awareness about forestry and its importance in the Keystone state.

“Simply the beauty, you can’t put a price tag on our Pennsylvania forest. The spiritual value that we get from our forest and so I just hope more Pennsylvanians can self educate, learn your trees,” Wagner said.

So far, Wagner has climbed in seven counties. The highest in Luzerne County at more than 2,800 feet. Early Wednesday, he showed some of his students the ropes of climbing and how to apply classroom education into your day-to-day life.

“We get to learn about trees and the carbon cycle and trees talk underground with each other, which is really cool to find that out,” said Brooke Woll, a student at Danville Area High School.

“I think it’s really important for him to raise awareness about trees because Pennsylvanians see it and they see trees and you know the mountains, but they don’t understand what it means to the environment,” said sophomore Alex Cichoskie of Danville Area High School.

And with all the time to check off the next 60 counties, Wagner says he hopes to motivate others who hear his story.

“You never stop pushing your boundaries, you never stop setting goals for yourself in life.”

Growing together: How an elementary school’s tree-planting program will make a difference in Nashville

March 1, 2023 · 2 minute read
Growing together: How an elementary school’s tree-planting program will make a difference in Nashville

Just in time to be a President’s Day gift, Inglewood Elementary School got a new batch of free trees thanks to a partnership with Metro Water Services.

In preparation for the big arrival, students at IES spent months learning about trees. Teachers also partnered with Friends of Shelby to work tree-planting into their curriculum.

Friends of Shelby provided classrooms with GIS mapping technology, and students collaboratively researched the needs of the trees that were chosen to be planted.

“I am really grateful for this opportunity. Our fifth-grade students got to research the needs of trees and figure out where they would thrive on our campus, and then they were actually able to send a draft of a planting plan to Metro Water, and so, it was a really cool, real-world, authentic opportunity to use what they were learning and actually do something for their community,” said Rachel Pruett, a teacher at Inglewood.

Students not only researched the best spots around the school for the new trees but also how to best take care of them.

“I am particularly thankful for my project partners at this school who have helped bring tree-planting into the classroom and involved the students in this project,” said Sarah Welz, the urban forestry project manager at Metro Water Services.

“Hopefully it’ll give them a sense of pride in their community and their school, and knowledge that they were able to help the Root Nashville mission,” Pruett said.

Trees are crucial municipal infrastructure; they cool our city, capture our rainwater, and reduce erosion. They can also be a point of pride for a school or neighborhood.

The trees planned and planted by Inglewood students will serve the school, community, and city of Nashville for many years to come.

“It is with great pleasure that we break ground at Inglewood Elementary School today. And I am happy to announce that after today, Metro Water Services will have planted 900 trees in Nashville this season alone,” Welz said. “These trees all contribute to Root Nashville and the mission to plant 500,000 trees in Nashville and Davidson County by 2050.”

To ensure the long-term health of the trees, the school partnered with the Cumberland River Compact, which will provide two years of watering, mulching, and structural pruning.

“It felt good to plant a tree. You know, there’s so much happening with trees in Nashville — and we just passed a tree bill, and I’m really excited about that — so, we need to do more, and this is an awesome couple of organizations,” said District 7 Council Member Emily Benedict.

Chemical signals from fungi tell bark beetles which trees to infest

February 22, 2023 · 3 minute read
Chemical signals from fungi tell bark beetles which trees to infest
The chemical signature could also be used to build better bark beetle traps

Fungi may help some tree-killer beetles turn a tree’s natural defense system against itself.

The Eurasian spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus) has massacred millions of conifers in forests across Europe. Now, research suggests that fungi associated with these bark beetles are key players in the insect’s hostile takeovers. These fungi warp the chemical defenses of host trees to create an aroma that attracts beetles to burrow, researchers report February 21 in PLOS Biology.

This fungi-made perfume might explain why bark beetles tend to swarm the same tree. As climate change makes Europe’s forests more vulnerable to insect invasions, understanding this relationship could help scientists develop new countermeasures to ward off beetle attacks.

Bark beetles are a type of insect found around the world that feed and breed inside trees (SN: 12/17/10). In recent years, several bark beetle species have aggressively attacked forests from North America to Australia, leaving ominous strands of dead trees in their wake.

But trees aren’t defenseless. Conifers — which include pine and fir trees — are veritable chemical weapons factories. The evergreen smell of Christmas trees and alpine forests comes from airborne varieties of these chemicals. But while they may smell delightful, these chemicals’ main purpose is to trap and poison invaders.

Or at least, that’s what they’re meant to do.

“Conifers are full of resin and other stuff that should do horrible things to insects,” says Jonathan Gershenzon, a chemical ecologist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany. “But bark beetles don’t seem to mind at all.”

This ability of bark beetles to overcome the powerful defense system of conifers has led some scientists to wonder if fungi might be helping. Fungi break down compounds in their environment for food and protection (SN: 11/30/21). And some type of fungi — including some species in the genus Grosmannia — are always found in association with Eurasian spruce bark beetles.

Eurasian spruce bark beetles (larvae seen here) have killed millions of trees in their quest to feed and breed inside Europe’s conifers.Dineshkumar Kandasamy

Eurasian spruce bark beetles (larvae seen here) have killed millions of trees in their quest to feed and breed inside Europe’s conifers. Dineshkumar Kandasamy

Gershenzon and his colleagues compared the chemicals released by spruce bark infested with Grosmannia and other fungi to the chemical profile of uninfected trees. The presence of the fungi fundamentally changed the chemical profile of spruce trees, the team found. More than half the airborne chemicals — made by fungi breaking down monoterpenes and other chemicals that are likely part of the tree defense system — were unique to infected trees after 12 days.

This is surprising because researchers had previously assumed that invading fungi hardly changed the chemical profile of trees, says Jonathan Cale, a fungal ecologist at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, Canada, who was not involved with the research.

Later experiments revealed that bark beetles can detect many of these fungi-made chemicals. The team tested this by attaching tiny electrodes on bark beetles’ heads and detecting electrical activity when the chemicals wafted passed their antennae. What’s more, the smell of these chemicals combined with beetle pheromones led the insects to burrow at higher rates than the smell of pheromones alone.

The study suggests that these fungi-made chemicals can help beetles tell where to feed and breed, possibly by advertising that the fungi has taken down some of the tree’s defenses. The attractive nature of the chemicals could also explain the beetle’s swarming behavior, which drives the death of healthy adult trees.

But while the fungi aroma might doom trees, it could also lead to the beetles’ demise. Beetle traps in Europe currently use only beetle pheromones to attract their victims. Combining pheromones with fungi-derived chemicals might be the secret to entice more beetles into traps, making them more effective.

The results present “an exciting direction for developing new tools to manage destructive bark beetle outbreaks” for other beetle species as well, Cale says. In North America, mild winters and drought have put conifer forests at greater risk from mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus pendersoae) attacks. Finding and using fungi-derived chemicals might be one way to fend off the worst of the bark beetle invasions in years to come.

Charlottesville tree canopy in ‘alarming’ decline

February 22, 2023 · 4 minute read
Charlottesville tree canopy in ‘alarming’ decline

The sky may not be falling, but the tree canopy in Charlottesville is, a situation that could worsen so-called “heat islands” and harm the health of residents.

Trees covered about 50% of the city in 2004, but the canopy shrank to 45% in 2014 and fell to 40% in 2018. And now leaders of the Charlottesville Tree Commission fear that the canopy has shrunk to just 35% of the city.

“The alarming thing was that it took 10 years to creep down 5%, and then it only took four years to decrease another 5%,” Commissioner Peggy Van Yahres told the Daily Progress.

“The irony is that we have these great vision statements that Charlottesville will be an environmental leader,” said Van Yahres. “The reality is quite different.”

Van Yahres and the commission’s Chair Jeffrey Aten will give City Council their bleak appraisal Tuesday, an appraisal that estimates that in under two decades 990 acres of trees have been lost.

Where did they go?

“I think it’s mainly development,” said Van Yahres.

Funded in part by forestry grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the city estimates the urban canopy roughly every five years. The most recent assessment was released last year after experts poring over 2018 satellite images determined the damage: Private lands saw a 7% decrease, while the canopy on public lands decreased by 3%.

The commission attributes the loss of public trees to several issues including the temporary removal of a tree-planting budget, going nearly five months without an urban forester and the death of many sidewalk trees killed by pests such as the emerald ash borer.

The written report accompanying Tuesday evening’s presentation to City Council lauds the city’s decision to budget $50,000 in the current fiscal year to remove diseased or dead ash trees. But in the short run, that removes more trees.

Meanwhile, this is a city whose leaders have been voicing a desire to counter a housing affordability problem by building upward. As planned revisions to the zoning code seem to indicate a greater interest in supplying demand, can the tree canopy rebound? Van Yahres says it’s possible.

A willow oak tree is cut down on the Downtown Mall as a safety precaution. The tree is one of nine scheduled to be taken down on the mall. MIKE KROPF, THE DAILY PROGRESS

A willow oak tree is cut down on the Downtown Mall as a safety precaution. The tree is one of nine scheduled to be taken down on the mall. MIKE KROPF, THE DAILY PROGRESS

“We know there’s a crisis in affordable housing, but we don’t think it has to be one or the other,” said Van Yahres.

The new report urges a multifold pathway: incentivizing saving trees, punishing the removal of trees and some development advice to City Council.

“Try to direct large-scale developments,” Van Yahres urged, “to land that has already been degraded such as parking lots.”

The Tree Commission also wants the planned zoning code rewrite to alter the rules that let developers get waivers from street setback requirements to encourage street- and sidewalk-shading trees.

When Van Yahres and her colleague offer the commission’s State of the Urban Forest report Tuesday, they plan not only to urge bolstered attention to trees in the rewrite of the city’s zoning code, they’ll be asking City Council for funding.

Due to the financial uncertainty in the early months of the pandemic, the city eliminated its tree-planting budget in the 2021 fiscal year, according to the planned presentation. Subsequently, the presentation asserts, tree-planting was brought back into the budget, with $75,000 allocated in 2022 and $100,000 in the fiscal year ending in June.

That money buys summertime shade only along streets, in parks or on other public land, Van Yahres said. And yet the bulk of the urban canopy comes from private property. That’s why, Van Yahres noted, that the commission helped launch ReLeaf Cville.

A public-private partnership, ReLeaf helps residents in areas that are low in income and low in shade. As the commission notes in the planned presentation, there’s a correlation between poverty and poor tree cover. Worse, there are added expenses, such as summer air-conditioning, and health detriments, such as asthma and other pulmonary conditions found in the city’s “heat islands.”

The commission noted that the city has fallen short of its own goal to plant 200 trees per year.

“It has not met this goal in any of the past five fiscal years, especially FY21 when the fiscal impact of Covid resulted in only 23 trees planted,” reads the presentation report.

That report says that 14 of the city’s 19 neighborhoods have fallen below 40% canopy cover, and two of them, Starr Hill and 10th & Page, are extremely low-canopy – that is, below 20%. That data concerned a group of five University of Virginia students who wrote a letter to The Daily Progress last year urging the city to help those neighborhoods.

“A lack of trees causes not only negative physical and psychological effects, but also economic distress,” wrote the students. “A future with more justly distributed green spaces is a more equitable future.”

Standing in his mother’s front yard in the 300 block of 10th Street on Monday, a man named Lo, who declined to give his last name, was planting 24 lily bulbs. He expressed concern that big trees might create a hazard and mentioned a recent close call with a falling oak while he slept at his home in Keswick.

“It missed the house by 4 or 5 feet,” he said. “It could have killed me.”

Lo said that he likes the idea of added trees in the neighborhood as long as the trees don’t get too big.

“It’s all about safety for my mom,” said Lo, his mother smiling approvingly.

“These houses are so close together,” he said, highlighting a more compact native tree specimen. “She loves the dogwood; it’s a beautiful tree.”

Fairfax County proposes developer incentives to encourage street trees

February 15, 2023 · 4 minute read
Fairfax County proposes developer incentives to encourage street trees

Fairfax County planners want to cultivate more tree-lined streets, but to make that a reality, some more leeway for developers may be needed.

With a proposed pilot program, the county’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) will let developers in more urbanized areas count street trees as part of their 10-year tree canopy requirements — an option already offered in Tysons.

Credits would be awarded in tiered rates designed to encourage high-quality trees, while recognizing that some sites can’t meet the county’s existing standards, staff told the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s environmental committee last Thursday (Oct. 6).

If approved, the pilot will involve Tysons; transit station areas in Reston, Herndon, West Falls Church, Springfield and Huntington; and the county’s community revitalization districts in McLean, Lake Anne, Annandale, Bailey’s Crossroads, Lincolnia, Merrifield, Springfield and Richmond Highway.

“Street trees have a lot of requirements for soil volume, for underdrains, for watering, and so, fundamentally, they’re very expensive to install,” JoAnne Fiebe, who manages the county’s revitalization program, said. “We count them as some of the most important trees that we can plant, particularly in areas that are urbanizing, yet we currently don’t give them credit in most areas.”

According to Fiebe, Fairfax County’s “treeless areas” like Annandale and the southern Route 1 corridor tend to more urban, hotter and home to its lowest income residents, raising equity issues.

Trees can also provide a critical buffer between streets and sidewalks. To illustrate the safety issues that come without that buffer, Fiebe showed an image of Maple Avenue in Annandale, where a driver hit four pedestrians, including a DPD employee, and killed one of them in May.

Maple Place in Annandale, where a pedestrian was killed in May, has no buffer between the street and sidewalk (via Google Maps)

Maple Place in Annandale, where a pedestrian was killed in May, has no buffer between the street and sidewalk (via Google Maps)

“I’m not saying that street trees would’ve prevented that incident, but they create this visual friction as you’re driving that just encourages you to look around you and slow down,” she said. “I can’t help but think that if we had designed this road differently, we would’ve had a different outcome.”

The county’s public facilities manual generally requires tree planting areas to be at least 8 feet wide and over 4 feet away from any “restrictive barrier.” At least 700 cubic feet of soil must be provided, with about 500 cubic feet added for each additional tree in the pit.

Under the proposed tiered system, developers would get 1.5 credits toward their tree canopy coverage if they meet all of the requirements and a full credit if they at least meet the soil standards.

The pilot would give developers partial credit for street trees if the planting area is at least 5 feet wide, 17.5 feet long and 3.5 feet deep with 300 cubic feet of soil provided per tree. They would also have to maintain and replace the trees “in perpetuity.”

Assuming the soil quality is good, these trees outside Penrose Apartments in Arlington would qualify for Fairfax County’s proposed alternative street tree standard, staff said (via Google Maps)

Assuming the soil quality is good, these trees outside Penrose Apartments in Arlington would qualify for Fairfax County’s proposed alternative street tree standard, staff said (via Google Maps)

The proposed standard would allow trees in spots where they otherwise won’t fit due to limited space, utilities and other constraints, Fairfax County Urban Forestry Management Director Brian Keightley said.

“Right now, we see a lot of trees in these smaller spaces,” he explained. “…This would allow those smaller spaces, one, to become bigger, two, for us to kind of guarantee good quality soil is installed, and three, we have significantly more influence on the long-term stability of the tree.”

While staff said the tiered system would incentivize developers to meet the county’s full requirements, Fiebe acknowledged that the Tree Commission and other environmental advocates worry that the lower standard will become the default, a concern shared by the planning commission.

“I’ve just found that [developers are] going to default to the smaller trees,” Franconia District Commissioner Dan Lagana said. “I know they’re going to do that. And we lose the benefit of the deep root systems that we’re in really short supply of right now.”

Dan Lagana Tweets_Franconia District Commissioner

Dan Lagana Tweets – Franconia District Commissioner

According to Keightley, the alternative standard would still surpass what’s required by neighboring localities like Arlington County, where street tree pits are typically 12 feet long and 5 feet wide.

A former Arlington employee, Keightley pointed to trees along Columbia Pike outside the Penrose Apartments as an example of what would be acceptable under the new standard. However, DPD wants to avoid isolated trees in small, shallow pits like what can be seen on Wilson Blvd in Ballston.

Urban Forestry Management Director Brian Keightley said this tree in Ballston had to be replaced three times during his tenure with Arlington County (via Fairfax County)

Urban Forestry Management Director Brian Keightley said this tree in Ballston had to be replaced three times during his tenure with Arlington County (via Fairfax County)

Fiebe said criteria for when the partial credit option can be used will be specified in an amendment to the county’s urban design guidelines. They anticipate presenting the amendment to the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 6.

Mason District Commissioner Julie Strandlie, whose district includes Annandale, asked how more street trees could be added without having to wait on developers.

Fiebe said the county should ensure street trees are provided with transportation projects when feasible, and the revitalization districts have maintenance programs that could monitor the trees. However, to do more than one-off plantings, the county needs a full street tree program like in Arlington.

“Unless we have a true program that looks at both installation and maintenance, we’re going to be reliant on the development community,” Fiebe said. “But [for] those capital projects, we should have a policy that they get included anywhere possible.”

Want to live longer? Consider planting a tree.

February 15, 2023 · 3 minute read
Want to live longer? Consider planting a tree.

The more trees planted in a neighborhood, the longer people live, according to a recent study led by U.S. Forest Service researchers out of Portland, Ore.

Put down the apple. It’s the tree that may help keep the doctor away.

In urban areas, trees shade sidewalks, suck up air pollution, soften traffic noise — and are just plain nice to look at. And by taking climate-warming carbon out of the atmosphere, trees are good for the planet, too.

It turns out the health gains of all that greenery add up.

A recent study conducted in Portland, Ore., found that in neighborhoods where a nonprofit planted more trees, fewer people died.

The paper, by researchers at the U.S. Forest Service, adds to a budding body of research into the health benefits of living around greenery. Its findings amount to a prescription for policymakers to plant more trees.

“Urban trees are an essential part of our public health infrastructure, and they should be treated as such,” said Geoffrey Donovan, the Forest Service researcher who led the study published in the December issue of the journal Environment International.

Green health care

For three decades, the Portland nonprofit Friends of Trees planted nearly 50,000 oaks, dogwoods and other arboreal species around the city, giving Donovan and his colleagues granular data on how its canopy has changed over time.

These D.C. trees were thriving. Then they were poisoned.

Using a mathematical model tocontrol for factors such as race, income, age and education, the team found that for each 100 trees planted, there was roughly one fewer non-accidental death a year.

“Across the board, the benefits of trees are astounding,” said Yashar Vasef, executive director of Friends of Trees, which plants across six counties in Oregon and Washington. “And they come at a lower cost than many other solutions.”

Mount Hood is seen as the sun rises in Portland, Ore. (Alisha Jucevic for The Washington Post)

Mount Hood is seen as the sun rises in Portland, Ore. (Alisha Jucevic for The Washington Post)

The health benefits of living among trees bloomed as the trees themselves grew. As the trees got older, grew taller and cast their leafy limbs wider, the mortality rates among people nearby went down, the study found.

Or as Donovan summed it up: “Bigger trees, bigger impact on mortality, which is what you would expect.”

More trees, fewer deaths

The findings are in line with results from other researchers suggesting nature is good medicine for many ailments, including depression and high blood pressure. Another recent study in the British medical journal The Lancet suggested a third of premature deaths from a 2015 heat wave in Europe could have been avoided with 30 percent more tree cover.

With forests in peril, she’s on a mission to save ‘mother trees’

“Many other global studies have looked at similar research questions but use different study designs,” said David Rojas-Rueda, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Colorado State University who has studied the health benefits of vegetation but was not involved in this latest paper. “Most evidence confirms that tree planting is beneficial in reducing premature mortality.”

There are several reasons trees may boost health, including better air quality, reduced stress and increased physical activity among those in tree-lined neighborhoods. The link between planting trees and lowering death rates held in both already leafy neighborhoods, which tend to be wealthier, and tree-deprived neighborhoods, which tend to be poorer.

“Studies have found links between exposure to the natural environment and improved health in a wide range of different cities and countries,” Donovan said. “We certainly know that air pollution, stress, and sedentary behavior are bad for people no matter their race or socioeconomic status.”

The reverse, unfortunately, seems to be true, too. Mortality rates appear to go up in areas that lose tree cover.

In a previous study, Donovan and colleagues saw an uptick in deaths related to cardiovascular and lower-respiratory-tract illness in counties from Minnesota to New York that lost trees to a wood-burrowing pest called the emerald ash borer.

Gene editing could revive a nearly lost tree. Not everyone is on board.

The study out of Portland has its limitations. Donovan’s team did not have access to individuals’ health records. Instead, the team looked at neighborhoods’ overall deaths. And the researchers did not have other detailed data that could shed light on other factors affecting residents’ health, such as a neighborhood’s smoking rate.

The paper stopped short of asserting a direct cause-and-effect relationship between trees and mortality.

Still, Donovan has taken this research to heart. A resident of Portland since 2002, he has planted fig, plum and pear trees in his yard in Oregon.

“I’m quite fond of fruit trees,” he said. “When you get a sun-warmed fig in that bowl of yogurt and honey, it’s not so terrible.”

U.S. Forestry Service helps train Alabama college students in wildland firefighting

February 8, 2023 · 0 minute read
U.S. Forestry Service helps train Alabama college students in wildland firefighting

The U.S. Forest Service has teamed up with Historically Black Colleges and Universities to help train the next generation of wildland firefighters.

As stated in a news release, Florida A&M University, Southern University in Louisiana, Tuskegee University in Alabama, and Alabama A&M University have joined together to create the 1890 Land Grant Institution Wildland Fire Consortium.

Students get hands-on training with firefighting tools like drip torches and chainsaws, and have assisted in some wildfires and prescribed burns.

“I am learning so many skills and techniques about fire that I will be able to use one day in my future career,” said Bradley Massey, Alabama A&M University forestry student and fire consortium participant. “Our instructors make this experience impactful with their years’ worth of knowledge and service.”

Dangerous formation in Maine tree canopy captures imaginations

February 8, 2023 · 1 minute read
Dangerous formation in Maine tree canopy captures imaginations

How did it get that way?

Unlikely shapes in the forest canopy have long fueled myths and folklore, and a classic example was found on Bald Mountain in southwest Maine.

Photographer Steve Yenco says he was hiking Sunday, Jan. 15, in the Rangeley Lakes Region when he looked up and saw a “perfectly balanced” log sitting horizontally in the trees.

“A good 25 to 30 feet up,” he told McClatchy News. “It was kind of jaw dropping to me to see such a large branch just hanging there.”

Yenco shared a photo on Facebook, showing the limb was 15 to 20-foot-long, giving if a slithering appearance..

Cryptozoologists maintain such oddities found deep in the woods are likely the handiwork of a Bigfoot, a half man, half animal that has never been proven to exist.

However, Yenco’s two decades of experience as a wildlife photographer in Maine and New Hampshire has given him a more down-to-earth perspective.

“It was broken tree top most likely from a winter storm last year,” he says.

The formation will be familiar to avid nature enthusiasts, he says, and is historically known as a “widow maker.”

“A widow maker in logging terms is described as a broken limb or tree top that gets hung up in the branches,” Yenco said. “When dislodged, it could easily fall on a lumberjack working below, thus making his wife a widow.”

“Widow makers” should be avoided and are considered most dangerous during periods of “high winds and snowfall,” both of which are common in the mountains of Maine.

Yenco’s Facebook post has gotten hundreds of reactions and comments, including some who noted the limb easily could be mistaken for something alive in the trees.

“Almost looks like a flying snake!” Judy Danao wrote.

“More reason to stay away!” Sherry McAvoy said.

Bald Mountain is about 135 miles west of Bangor.

‘It is a little eerie.’ Tree in ‘enchanted’ NC forest is growing in a knot. Why?

Fairfax County gets $20,000 grant to remove invasive species

February 1, 2023 · 1 minute read
Fairfax County gets $20,000 grant to remove invasive species

Fairfax County Park Authority is tackling two invasive species in one: spotted lanternflies and tree-of-heaven.

If you see a spotted lanternfly, kill it. That’s the message from Fairfax County Park officials.

The beautiful bug comes from Asia and is invasive to the area. Their voracious appetite makes them a major threat to plants and local wineries.

Spotted lanternflies especially love to eat one particular plant, according to experts. It’s called ailanthus altissima, or tree-of-heaven. The fast-growing trees are themselves an invasive species and are the preferred hosts for the bugs.

In order to crackdown on the number of spotted lanternflies in Virginia, Fairfax County officials are working to remove the trees from Blake Lane Park.

Fairfax Grant to remove invasive species - WUSA9

“By removing the tree-of-heaven, we’re potentially reducing the spread of the spotted lantern fly into new areas,” said Patricia Greenberg, an ecologist with Fairfax County.

Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation has given a $20,000 grant to help the Fairfax County Park Foundation remove the trees and plant new seedlings in their place.

That grant money is important, Greenberg said, because when you remove a tree-of-heaven “if you do not treat it with herbicide immediately, that tree sends out a chemical response into the root system” which leads to seedlings to shoot up from that original tree.

“Without having this awesome grant from Dominion Power to help us managing this park to reforest this area,” Greenberg said, “we would not have been able to remove these trees, because some of them are so large we would not have been able to treat them immediately to get them out of the park.”

Fairfax Park Authority also recommends home owners get rid of any tree-of-heaven from their yard. The thing to look for, according to Greenberg, is the distinctive, smooth and pale grey bark. If you find one in your yard, Greenberg said, you should report it to Fairfax County Urban Forest Management.


Book Review: Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard

February 1, 2023 · 1 minute read
Book Review: Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard
While still in the midst of winter, our thoughts often turn to Spring when we can enjoy planting a garden, flowers, or trees. While waiting for those warmer months to arrive, it is always nice to read a good book to inspire us. I have especially enjoyed the book, Finding the Mother Tree, by Suzanne Simard. This book is about the trees all around us and the scientific evidence that these trees “communicate” with one another beneath the soil. If someone had told me the premise of this book before I had a chance to read it, I might not have believed them. However, after reading this book, I find this theory informative and inspirational. Suzanne Simard is able to impart in a clear and interesting way her detailed scientific knowledge about trees and their mind-boggling ability to communicate with one another. This book should inspire all of us to look at the forests and, additionally, the trees in our own backyards in a totally new light.  After reading this book, I have a newfound respect for the precious trees all around us. I encourage everyone to read Finding the Mother Tree to learn about the incredible life and legacy of the trees all around us.

Jane Janney

Maymont replaces fallen 150-year-old community-loved tulip poplar

January 25, 2023 · 0 minute read
Maymont replaces fallen 150-year-old community-loved tulip poplar

Maymont has replaced a once prominent more than 100-year-old tree after it fell to its demise in 2020.

Maymont made the announcement of the 150-year-old tulip poplar’s replacement on Facebook at the end of December. Maymont said since the tree was so beloved, having been used in weddings, and as a community focus, the organization wanted to replace it with a tree just as impressive.

That special tree was found at Grelen Nursery, in Orange County.

Replacement tree found at Grelen Nursery in Orange, Va.

Replacement tree found at Grelen Nursery in Orange, Va.

A truck spade was used to plant the tree in its new home at Maymont

A truck spade was used to plant the tree in its new home at Maymont

The chosen tulip poplar was brought back to Maymont and installed using a truck spade, a massive hydraulically operated shovel that uses several different prongs to pierce the soil around the tree.

The new tree will reportedly require several hundreds of gallons of water each week to keep it alive. Maintenance of Maymont’s arboretum is taken care of by Truetimber Arborists.

The ancient trees at the heart of a case against the Crown

January 25, 2023 · 7 minute read
The ancient trees at the heart of a case against the Crown

A small indigenous community is fighting a historic land rights claim in Canada – and they are using ancient trees and famed British explorer Captain Cook’s journal to help make their case.

Wearing her red cedar hat and with a microphone in hand, Mellissa Jack stood in front of the British Columbia Supreme Court on a warm autumn day with a message.

“We have proven who we are, where we come from, and we are not going anywhere,” she called out, to cheers from a gathered crowd.

In September 2022 Ms Jack and about 100 others had travelled from all over the province of British Columbia (BC) to be together outside the court as hearings in a closely-watched land rights case being fought by their indigenous community – Nuchatlaht First Nation – were drawing to a close.

The Nuchatlaht case not only has significance for Ms Jack and her people, but is being watched for its potential impact on indigenous land claims in Canada and what it means for the provincial government’s commitment to reconciliation.

As one expert put it, the decision could be “the first tile in the Aboriginal rights game of dominos”.

And to help win their case, the Nuchatlaht are using a unique piece of evidence that they say is not only a part of their cultural heritage, but also an important living artefact that must be cared for to restore a damaged land.

Ms Jack

The Nuchatlaht filed the lawsuit against the province in 2017, claiming rights and titles of approximately 200 sq km [20,000 hectares] of land in the northern part of Nootka Island on the western edge of Vancouver Island.

The Nuchatlaht say they are the rightful stewards of the land, that it has been theirs for thousands of years and they have never surrendered it.

The Crown, which now owns the land, has denied the Nuchatlaht claim, and has argued that the Nuchatlaht have no continuous connection to the territory.

A lawyer for the Nuchatlaht has argued that the community was forced from their land by – among other causes – the creation of the reserve system in Canada, land set aside by the federal government for the exclusive use of First Nations.

“Canada put us aside on a little chunk of land with no value and no resources. That’s why we are fighting in court right now, fighting for what little is left,” Jordan Michael, Chief of the Nuchatlaht, told the BBC.

To win, one of the things the Nuchatlaht must prove is that they continuously and exclusively occupied the land in 1846, when Britain gained sovereignty over what is now BC in a treaty signed with the United States.

Members of the First Nation – there are about 160 of them – are confident they will prevail.

“We are small, but we are mighty,” said Archie Little, Nuchatlaht House Speaker.

The province would not comment on the case, though it has previously said it respects the right of indigenous peoples to choose how they settle legal issues, including through the courts.

If they win rights to the land, “we would manage it, enhance it, protect it,” said Mr Little.

“We need to help heal the earth. We will plant the proper trees and start the healing process. It’s a big chore but we’re up to it. We want to show that we can own and manage better,” he added.

A verdict is expected in the coming weeks.

Ancient cedars in the courtroom

Nootka island is bountiful in natural resources. It is abundant in fish and covered in dense ancient forests. It is home to highly sought-after old-growth red cedar trees that can live for over 1,000 years.

Red cedars can grow to become giants in the forest, and have a distinctive cinnamon red bark. The largest in BC soars 56 metres (183 feet) towards the sky on a trunk base that is six metres wide (19 feet).

Google Earth view of Nootka Island

Google Earth view of Nootka Island

These ancient trees were among the most unusual pieces of evidence the Nuchatlaht have presented to prove that their people continuously lived on the claim area on Nootka Island.

They called in archaeologist Jacob Earnshaw to give evidence about what are called “culturally modified trees” – trees that show cultural use by indigenous people, mainly bark harvesting.

“Culturally modified trees are really important,” Mr Earnshaw, who was commissioned by the Nuchatlaht First Nation to perform surveys in the claim area, told the BBC.

“Arguments about having title to the land is that you can prove continuity, sufficiency of occupation and exclusivity of occupation and they are a very good tool for proving that.”

There are thousands of culturally modified trees across approximately 100 sites in the Nuchatlaht territory. The largest site has 2,700 culturally modified trees showing how lobes of the trees healed around the harvested bark, creating scars that date back centuries.

Ms Jack speaking

Ms Jack grew up on Nootka Island. She remembers running in and out of the water, climbing trees, and collecting clams outside her grandparents’ house.

“I remember the smell of my grandmother’s home – it was cedar wood,” said the mother of two and councillor for the Nuchatlaht.

“Cedar trees are a huge part of who we are. They are part of our identity and we need to preserve that,” she said.

Her aunt, Lydia, explains how they would harvest long strips of bark from the north side of the tree where it doesn’t catch the sun, and make medicines, ceremonial regalia, hats and fishing tools.

If the Nuchatlaht win rights to the land, Mr Little said they would seek to protect it. The province granted forestry licences on parts of the territory and the First Nation says industrial logging has damaged the land.

A look at Captain Cook’s centuries-old journals

The First Nation has also relied on Captain James Cook to bolster their case.

In 1778, the British explorer was on his third and final voyage around the world – a mission to find the Northwest Passage across the Arctic.

In a quiet inlet, Cook sat down to write as he looked out across the dense forested landscape and coastal mountains.

He wrote: “King George’s Sound was the appellation given by the Commodore to this inlet, on our first arrival; but he was afterwards informed that the natives called it Nootka.”

Quoted in court were Cook’s writing about how the indigenous people he met on Nootka had “such high notions of everything the country produced being their exclusive property”.

“The very wood and water we took on board they at first wanted us to pay for, and we had certainly done it, had I been upon the spot when the demands were made.”

Courtesy TY Wyatt Ancient Forest Alliance

Courtesy TY Wyatt Ancient Forest Alliance

In court documents filed in response to the Nuchatlaht claim, BC said that several indigenous groups, including the one that became known as the Nuchatlaht, “at various times” used and occupied portions of the land in question.

But the Crown argued the Nuchatlaht were “relatively small in relation to other indigenous groups in the area” and so had little capacity to prevent others from using the region’s land and resources.

A case that could change British Columbia

The Nuchatlaht case will be the first test of a precedent-setting 2014 Supreme Court of Canada decision on indigenous land title in Canada.

That decision granted the Tsilhqot’in First Nation title to more than 1,700 sq km of its ancestral land in BC – the first time in Canada that indigenous title had been confirmed outside of a reserve.

Jack Woodward – lawyer for the Nuchatlaht who also litigated the Tsilhqot’in First Nation case – described Nuchatlaht community as “punching above its weight” with the lawsuit.

“We are expecting to win and that’s going to be quite a tremendous step forward for the Nuchatlaht people and really for all indigenous people in Canada,” he told the BBC.

If the Nuchatlaht win their case, the many indigenous nations in British Columbia with unresolved land claims will take notice, said Gordon Christie, an associate professor at the Peter A Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia.

The province has focused on negotiating treaties to deal with unresolved questions over land with First Nations communities in BC.

The Nuchatlaht gave up on their lengthy treaty talks to take the case to court – and others could follow if they are successful.

First Nations would “really dig down and push their cases through and your landscape of BC will change,” Dr Christie said.

The possibility is that “sometime in the next 20-30 years, we’ll have all these First Nations across BC with substantial pieces of land that they have property rights over,” he said. “That’ll change the economy and change the way business is done here.”

Second-oldest tree in Virginia recorded in Brunswick County

January 18, 2023 · 0 minute read
Second-oldest tree in Virginia recorded in Brunswick County

Virginia has plenty of rich history, right down to its roots — quite literally.

The Virginia Big Tree Program at Virginia Tech records some of the commonwealth’s biggest and oldest trees. Recently, students measured the second-oldest tree in Virginia, a white oak in Brunswick County that is more than 500 years old.

According to Virginia Tech and American Forests, this tree is currently the largest living white oak in the country.

The oldest tree in Virginia currently recorded is a water tupelo in Greenville County, which is estimated to be roughly 600 years old. That tree is also an American Forests National Champion.

The Big Trees program has recorded over 2,000 trees in the state since 1970, and has archived information on trees that are currently alive as well as “legacy” trees of the past.

Got a big tree near you? Learn how to measure it and report it on Virginia Tech’s website.

Gloucestershire fruit tree project aims to tackle climate change

January 18, 2023 · 1 minute read
Gloucestershire fruit tree project aims to tackle climate change

Hundreds of fruit trees are being planted to help tackle climate change.

Gloucestershire Orchard Trust has given away 450 trees to individuals and community orchards free of charge, to replace ones that have been lost to the disease ash dieback in recent years.

The trust says even though the project is in its first year, it is already fully-subscribed.

The scheme is part of a Woodland Trust rewilding project to encourage wildlife and give people access to fruit.

Martin Hayes, from Gloucestershire Orchard Trust, said the minimum number of trees people could apply for was five, but some had asked for 50.

Gloucestershire Orchard Trust's Martin Hayes said the scheme had been very popular in its first year

Gloucestershire Orchard Trust’s Martin Hayes said the scheme had been very popular in its first year

“It’s not just for the obvious things that you see of climate change,” he said.

“Animals moving north can have shelter under the trees so they’re not in the scorching sun and humans can use them too.

“So there’s lots of different reasons why fruit trees are really good. They’re dense foliage, spaces you can walk by quite easily and you can eat an apple, or a cherry or a plum,” added Mr Hayes.

Beth Birdwood said the project is helping her encourage diverse wildlife into her orchard

Beth Birdwood said the project is helping her encourage diverse wildlife into her orchard

More than 20 trees were recently planted in a community orchard in Chedworth and Beth Birdwood, who owns an orchard in Shipton Moyne, is using the scheme to boost her own collection.

“Martin has given us some great advice on encouraging the right sorts of wildlife into the orchard for pollinating the trees,” she said.

Meanwhile, local resident Bella, has been volunteering with her orchard community group and says the project is a great idea.

“I really love the idea of planting something that’s going to be helping to feed the village in 20 or 30 years time,” she said.

Mr Hayes said the next round of applications for free fruit trees will open next year.

Tree mapping project shows a dynamic new view of campus

January 11, 2023 · 2 minute read
Tree mapping project shows a dynamic new view of campus

Trees provide countless gifts. Todd Lookingbill, chair of the Department of Geography, Environment, and Sustainability, remembered a delightful present the flora at Richmond offered him a decade ago.

That summer, 7th through 10th-grade math and science teachers arrived on campus for the Department of Education’s Math Science Investigators program. Workshops provided activities for the students, and Lookingbill was invited to give a guest lecture.

“We came up with this idea of mapping trees, where you can measure their heights using basic trigonometry and then use that to calculate the volume of wood,” he said. From there, it’s possible to determine the carbon amount they store.

The idea was too interesting to remain theoretical. Not long after the math and science teachers headed out, two students from a UR living-learning community began a project for Lookingbill mapping individual trees on campus.

U of R (University of Richmond) views - by U of R

Ever since, students have steadily captured details about location, species, diameter, height, volume, and carbon storage for a comprehensive online tree inventory. With support from Spatial Analysis Lab operations manager Beth Zizzamia as well as biology professors Emily Boone and Jennifer Sevin, the project has assembled data on thousands of UR trees.

The project is rooted in other efforts — paper maps, a survey for the business school, and a website that biology professor John Hayden’s student Tihomir Kostadinov, a 2002 grad, created cataloging UR tree and shrub species.

“There’s this hodgepodge of loose files all over campus that we’re trying to bring together into one central repository,” Lookingbill said. “We also have this amazing Facilities crew with knowledge that is probably not anywhere else.”

U of R (University of Richmond) views - by U of R

The 18-square-acre Eco-Corridor restoration heightened interest in the project. Students learn in labs how to do fieldwork and use geographic information systems for analysis. Lookingbill said that during a semester, volunteers will typically add around 30 to 50 new trees total to the database, but Osher Lifelong Learning Institute student Tom Eliseuson took that to another level.

Having contributed to inventories at other universities where he took classes post-retirement, Eliseuson was eager to help at UR. Mapping here brought him all around the University. Since last spring, he’s recorded well over 1,000 new entries for the project, including loblolly pines, endangered ash trees, and Chinese pistachio trees.

U of R (University of Richmond) views - by U of R

“This is just an unbelievably beautiful campus,” he said. “There are some really old, impressive trees in the Eco-Corridor.”

All the Eco-Corridor trees are now mapped and marked with tiny silver tags to aid in tracking their health over time. Trees’ dynamic nature means that there is still plenty to discover about them, even after volunteers add the rest to the database.

“If we get through every tree, we’ll go back and resample them,” Lookingbill said. “And then, it’s a whole bunch of new questions that we can ask.”

COLUMN/PERSPECTIVE: A vision for a tiny tree on the beach

January 11, 2023 · 4 minute read
COLUMN/PERSPECTIVE: A vision for a tiny tree on the beach

There are some revered trees in Glynn County. There’s the Lanier Oak where, it is said, Sidney Lanier was inspired to write his poem, “Marshes of Glynn.” There’s Lover’s Oak in Brunswick’s South End, and the Avenue of Oaks that leads into The Lodge is among the prettiest avenues in the South.

A dead cedar, apparently with its roots shorn off by a storm’s violence, lies on its side north of the Coast Guard park access to East Beach. Some of its limbs have been splintered revealing the heart wood that gives the tree its name although “red” doesn’t really capture the beauty of a cedar’s color.

The tree was young, and even mature cedars never achieve the stateliness of old oaks and towering yellow pines.

But Bill Besser has a vision for this little tree that, unless it is somehow anchored, will likely be swept away by a wind driven tide. Besser wants the little cedar’s limbs to become the next hanging places for mementos, memorials, baubles, shells, ornaments, lost flip flops or, well, whatever.

It would not be the first. There has been at least one tree and perhaps two, both of them dead and standing upright close to where the beach and dunes began the curve to the west toward Gould’s Inlet.

The first, if it was the first, may have been a mature myrtle that some say was deposited upright by a storm driven tide and left out of reach of subsequent tides. It had a few main upright branches and people turned it into a Christmas tree, hanging ornaments, tensile garland, shells, sand dollars and mardi gras beads.

Besser said he heard it referred to as Jennifer’s tree, and there is a picture in the ether of Jennifer Whiddon wrapped for winter with her dogs at the tree. She seems to be adding to the many Christmas ornaments.

The tree seemed to shift a few times and the wind took some of the decorations, but it became a sort of attraction, something else people could show their friends and visitors from out of town besides the lighthouse, Christ Church and Fort Frederica.

Then there was a second tree, or perhaps a redesign of the first. It seemed farther south although the topography of the beach changed dramatically in the past 10 years and the adornments underwent a change of their own. In the BC years – Before Covid – the tree was decorated and appeared to have a limb reattached. It still had oyster and clam shells hanging from its leafless branches and a couple of shells, one painted with a Santa face complete with red hat and the other a snowman.

There was a piece of pipe dangling and zip ties. Some were mementos to lost friends, and there was a picture memorializing Jamie Wellman, the beloved principal of Western Hills High School. He enjoyed visiting his sister and brother in law, Amber Wellman and Tim Carlson, on St. Simons and loved their beach.

The robust and unrelenting waves from one of the recent storms took it all, and people apparently miss it because they have begun hanging shells from the dead wax myrtles a few dozen paces north of the cedar that Besser favors. Someone fashioned a cross of sticks and tied them together with a dead root. The cross is decorated with a number of shells and other natural items.

As I was talking to a friend about the old trees a couple of days ago, she asked, “The mourning tree?”

A cross fashioned of sticks in dead wax myrtles on East Beach is decorated with shells. Terry Dickson/The Brunswick News

A cross fashioned of sticks in dead wax myrtles on East Beach is decorated with shells. Terry Dickson/The Brunswick News

That’s part of what Besser has in mind but not all.

He first saw the original trees when he moved to the island 11 years ago after retiring as a special education teacher in Fort Collins, Colo.

“I just think that has such potential,’’ he said of the possibility of the cedar becoming the new Christmas/Memorial/Mourning/St. Patrick’s tree.

“It was something we saw when we first moved here. It was very attractive and we took guests to look at it,’’ he said.

But that wasn’t his only happy encounter.

One morning he met a man walking on the beach and they struck up a conversation.

“He was one of the first people I met on St. Simons,’’ Besser said, “just walking on the beach.”

They became best friends and they fished from the rocks east of Gould’s Inlet before the sand covered them and later along the stretch where the cedar lies slumped.

That friend, whom Besser declined to name, died a couple of months ago, and Besser wants a tree established as a benchmark of honor and memory to him and to others. The beach is, after all, a good place to remember and reflect.

Besser has contacted Commissioner Cap Fendig and has reached out to the DNR in hopes of getting some kind of sanction for a new piece of memorial drift wood. It’s doubtful an agency with the mission of protecting the environment can sanction hanging flotsam and jetsam, be it plastic, metal or natural, on a tree in reach of the tides.

As shown by the decorated wax myrtles, people aren’t waiting. Someone hung the first shell or perhaps several and others added to them.

Maybe the best advice is in an old Nike sales slogan: Just do it.

Jamestown willow oaks likely descendants of ancient 17th-century trees

January 4, 2023 · 1 minute read
Jamestown willow oaks likely descendants of ancient 17th-century trees

Jamestown willow oaks likely descendants of ancient 17th-century trees living during colonization, Virginia study finds

A recent study by the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) found one species of tree in historic Jamestown is likely a descendant of the original 17th-century trees living during the time of English colonization.

The Virginia Department of Forestry said the study was performed at the request of a curious Jamestown visitor who grew a seedling from an acorn they had collected from the historic site last Spring.

The VDOF worked with the Jamestown Rediscovery and Preservation Virginia to examine indigenous trees located on the grounds of the ruins of the first permanent English settlement in North America. Teams examined trees, including cherrybark oaks and willow oaks.

“Afterward, the team showed us some incredible finds in the lab, including botanical materials and acorns excavated from a well that dated to the early days of the James Fort!” the VDOF said online.

The study done on historic tree material found it is likely the willow oaks located on the island of Jamestown today are descendants of the same ancient trees that stood when English colonists settled on the marshy land in 1607.

A recent study by the Virginia Department of Forestry found the willow oak trees in Jamestown today are likely descended from the original 17th-century trees living at the same time of English colonization. (Photo: Virginia Department of Forestry

A recent study by the Virginia Department of Forestry found the willow oak trees in Jamestown today are likely descended from the original 17th-century trees living at the same time of English colonization. (Photo: Virginia Department of Forestry)

Willow oak, a stately tree popular for ornamental, lumbar and shade usage, flourishes in moist, well-draining soil and can grow to 120 feet tall. The tree grows quickly, has a shallow root system, and can live for more than 100 years, according to Brittanica.

For those interested in growing their own willow oaks descended from the early days of Jamestown, all you need is an acorn and some land. Stop by Historic Jamestown, located at 1368 Colonial Nat’l Historical Pkwy, Jamestown, for a tour, and pluck your own future piece of history right from the ground on your way out — just like that curious visitor who inspired the study. The tree’s acorns start falling annually around September or October.

If you don’t care where your tree comes from but really want a willow oak, you can buy general seedlings through the Virginia Department of Forestry’s website here.

The promise of batteries that come from trees

January 4, 2023 · 7 minute read
The promise of batteries that come from trees

As demand for electric vehicles soars, scientists are searching for materials to make sustainable batteries. Lignin, the stuff that makes trees woody, is shaping up to be a strong contender.

About eight years ago, a major paper producer in Finland realised the world was changing. The rise of digital media, a fall in office printing and the dwindling popularity of sending things by post – among other factors – meant that paper had embarked on a steady decline.

Stora Enso, in Finland, describes itself as “one of the largest private forest owners in the world”. As such, it has a lot of trees, which it uses to make wood products, paper and packaging, for example. Now it wants to make batteries as well – electric vehicle batteries that charge up in as little as eight minutes.

The company hired engineers to look into the possibility of using lignin, a polymer found in trees. Around 30% of a tree is lignin, depending on the species – the rest is largely cellulose.

“Lignin is the glue in the trees that kind of glues the cellulose fibres together and also makes the trees very stiff,” explains Lauri Lehtonen, product manager for Stora Enso’s lignin-based battery solutions.

Lignin, a polymer, contains carbon. And carbon makes a great material for a vital component in batteries called the anode. The lithium ion battery in your phone almost certainly has a graphite anode – graphite is a form of carbon with a layered structure.

Stora Enso’s engineers decided that they could extract lignin from the waste pulp already being produced at some of their facilities and process that lignin to make a carbon material for battery anodes. The firm is partnering with Swedish company Northvolt and plans to manufacture batteries as early as 2025.

Paper mills produce large quantities of waste lignin, which can be used for other purposes – including making battery components (Credit: Getty Images)

Paper mills produce large quantities of waste lignin, which can be used for other purposes – including making battery components (Credit: Getty Images)

With more and more people buying electric cars and storing energy at home, the global appetite for batteries is expected to grow sharply in the coming years. As Lehtonen sees it, “the demand is just mind-blowing”.

In 2015, a few hundred additional gigawatt hours (GWh) were required every year across the world’s battery stocks – but this will rocket to few thousand additional GWh required annually by 2030 as the world moves away from fossil fuels, according to management consultancy McKinsey. The problem is that the lithium ion batteries we rely on today largely depend on environmentally damaging industrial processes and mining. Plus, some of the materials for these batteries are toxic and difficult to recycle. Many are also sourced in countries with poor human rights records.

Making synthetic graphite, for example, involves heating carbon to temperatures of up to 3,000C (5,432F) for weeks at a time. The energy for this often comes from coal-fired power plants in China, according to consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

The search is on for sustainable battery materials that are more widely available. Some say we can find them in trees.

Generally, all batteries need a cathode and anode – the positive and negative electrodes, respectively, between which charged particles called ions flow. When a battery is charged, lithium or sodium ions, for example, transfer from the cathode to the anode, where they settle like cars in a multi-storey car park, explains Jill Pestana, a California-based battery scientist and engineer currently working as an independent consultant.

“The main property that you want in this parking structure of a material is that it can easily take in the lithium or sodium and let it leave, and it doesn’t crumble apart,” she explains.

When the battery is discharged in order to power something like an electric car, the ions move back to the cathode after releasing electrons – the electrons move through the wire in an electrical circuit, transferring energy to the vehicle.

Graphite, Pestana says, is a “spectacular” material because it works so well as a reliable anode that enables such reactions to take place. Alternatives including lignin-derived carbon structures have a fight on their hands to demonstrate that they are up to the job.

There are multiple firms exploring lignin’s potential in battery development, however, such as Bright Day Graphene in Sweden, which makes graphene – another form of carbon – from lignin.

Lehtonen extols the virtues of his firm’s carbon anode material, which Stora Enso has named Lignode. He won’t reveal exactly how the company turns lignin into a hard carbon structure, or what that structure is, exactly, except to say that the process involves heating the lignin – but to temperatures nowhere near as high as those required for synthetic graphite production.

One important feature of the resulting carbon structure is that it is “amorphous”, or irregular, says Lehtonen: “It actually allows a lot more mobility of the ions in and out.”

Stora Enso claims that this will help them make a lithium ion or sodium ion battery that can be charged in as little as eight minutes. Fast charging is a key goal for developers of electric vehicle batteries.

he sustainability of batteries made from waste paper pulp depends on many factors, including ensuring that the raw materials genuinely come from waste (Credit: Stora Enso)

The sustainability of batteries made from waste paper pulp depends on many factors, including ensuring that the raw materials genuinely come from waste (Credit: Stora Enso)

Separate research into lignin-derived carbon anodes, by Magda Titirici at Imperial College London in the UK and colleagues, suggests that it is possible to make conductive mats containing intricate, irregular carbon structures with lots of oxygen-rich defects. These defects appear to heighten the anode’s reactivity with ions transferred from the cathode in sodium ion batteries, says Titirici, which in turn shortens charging times: “This conductive mat is fantastic for batteries.”

Wyatt Tenhaeff, at the University of Rochester in New York State, has also made lignin-derived anodes in laboratory settings. Lignin is “really cool”, he says, because it is a byproduct that could have many potential uses. In experiments, he and his colleagues found that they could use the lignin to make an anode with a self-supporting structure, which didn’t require glue or a copper-based current collector – a common component in lithium ion batteries. Despite the fact that this could reduce the cost of lignin-derived carbon anodes, he is sceptical that they can compete commercially with graphite anodes.

“I just don’t think it’s going to be a big enough step-change in terms of cost or performance to replace the entrenched graphite,” he says.

There’s also the issue of sustainability. Chelsea Baldino, a researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation, says that so long as the lignin used for anode production is extracted as a byproduct from the paper-making process, then additional trees won’t be chopped down in order to make batteries.

A spokesman for Stora Enso confirms that, currently, all lignin the company uses is “a side stream of the pulping process”, and utilising it does not increase the number of trees felled or volume of wood used in pulp-making.

Anyone seeking to make anodes from lignin must ensure that the forestry from which that lignin is sourced is also sustainable, however, adds Pestana. “If the pulp industry isn’t sustainable, then the material itself isn’t a sustainably derived material,” she explains.

According to Stora Enso’s 2021 annual report , the company “knows the origin of all the wood it uses and 100% comes from sustainable sources”.

There is at least one other way that lignin could be used in batteries, besides anodes. In April, a research team in Italy published a paper about their efforts to develop a lignin-based electrolyte. This is the component that sits between the cathode and anode – it helps ions flow between the electrodes but also forces electrons to take the desired path through the electrical circuit to which the battery is connected. In other words, it prevents the electrons from simply bouncing between the electrodes, which would leave your smartphone as dead as a doornail.

You can get polymers for electrolytes from oil, says Gianmarco Griffini at the Polytechnic University of Milan, but he adds that it would be beneficial to find alternative, sustainable sources instead.

He explains that the idea of using lignin arose after he and colleagues experimented with using the material in solar panels – with slightly underwhelming results. “The efficiencies you get in solar cells are relatively limited because lignin is brown, so it actually absorbs some light,” he explains. In batteries, that doesn’t matter.

For anode production, lignin is heat-treated to break it into its constituent carbons. But Griffini, a self-described “polymer guy”, says he prefers to use it in its polymer form. With this in mind, he and colleagues developed a gel polymer electrolyte that aided the movement of ions in an experimental potassium battery. “It actually came out pretty nicely,” he says.

The commercial viability of all these ideas is yet to be proven. Titirici adds however that, in theory, you could make a battery that uses polymers from lignin in the electrolyte as well as lignin-derived carbons in the anode.

Maybe you could even use it to power the wooden electronic components described in a paper earlier this year. Perfect tech for your treehouse, right? Or would that be going too far?

The Western White Pine is Idaho’s state tree, but is no longer common in the state

December 28, 2022 · 1 minute read
The Western White Pine is Idaho’s state tree, but is no longer common in the state

With it being the holidays, a season when trees are celebrated and adorned, it’s a great time to take a look inside Idaho’s state tree – the Western White Pine.

Idaho’s official tree isn’t one that’s widely found throughout the state’s landscape – at least not anymore. The Western White Pine grows almost exclusively in a small area of Idaho’s panhandle. According to the state’s website, this is the largest remaining volume of the species in the U.S.

The Western White Pine was designated as Idaho’s own in 1935 and at the time, there were a lot more of them. Lush White Pine forests used to sprawl across Idaho’s northern region.

Today, the number of Western White Pines is 93 percent lower than 40 years ago, according to the Idaho Forest Products Commission’s website.

“These majestic trees often lived to 350 years but could reach the ripe old ages of 400 and even 500 years,” the commission’s website notes. “They were an integral part of the most productive forests in the region, providing habitat for a highly diverse mixture of organisms, from the smallest microbes to lichens, higher plants, and animals.”

The mountain pine beetle, fire suppression, and harvesting have all contributed to the tree’s declining population. However, these are secondary to the primary cause, which is white pine blister rust, a disease that was introduced in Vancouver, BC, in 1910. By 1940, it was an epidemic in Idaho’s forests.

“Even though most trees will die from the rust, some will live and may carry genes for rust resistance and other traits that are important to the eventual restoration of the species,” the commission’s website notes. “The numbers of plantings have not been adequate to offset the rate of the continuing loss of larger trees and the nonresistant natural regeneration.”

The largest Western White Pine in the world today stands 219 ft. high near Elk River, Idaho – also where the Giant Western Red Cedar lives or the “Champion Tree of Idaho.”

You can read more about the history of Idaho’s state tree, and efforts to preserve it, here.

After three centuries, ice storm fells giant Rappahannock County white oak

December 28, 2022 · 3 minute read
After three centuries, ice storm fells giant Rappahannock County white oak

In 1716, there was still a Holy Roman Empire and George Washington wasn’t born yet. It was about then that a certain white oak sprouted to life in a place that’s now on the grounds of Huntly’s Willis Chapel United Methodist Church.

That white oak grew big: 7.5 feet in diameter and 22 feet in circumference. And it was certainly strong, surviving about every sort of nastiness in its grand life of about 306 years. But, after standing up to so much, last week’s ice storm was one storm too many.

Longtime Willis Chapel parishioner Judi Burke, a county real estate agent, reports that the oak fell as a result of the wintry blast that hit last Thursday, Dec. 15. The tree damaged the church, and Rev. Jeffrey Thompson is holding services next door at Reager School until repairs can be made.

Hollowed out from old age, the big tree was 22 feet around. Richard L. Burke

Jim Costello and his workers cleared everything from the driveway last Friday and Saturday. Wayne Woodward took the tree off of the chapel building and put a tarp over the roof to protect the inside of the church, according to Burke.

Thanks to insurance, the chapel will be repaired. And thanks to Burke’s husband Richard, the white oak will continue to serve its congregation. He plans to kiln-dry some of the lumber and make it into various pieces of furniture that can be used in both Willis Chapel and Reager School.

“Our tree will not be forgotten,” Burke says.

The fascinating history of a Huntly church and its big tree

On the occasion of the church’s 100th anniversary in July 2017, former Rappahannock News Editor John McCaslin looked at the story behind the chapel and its majestic tree. Part of his report:

Willis Chapel United Methodist Church in Huntly is celebrating 100 years of faith and fellowship this Sunday, although the historic chapel could justifiably be observing its bicentennial.

After all, it was 200 years ago, in 1817 — “away up in the Blue Ridge Mountains” in Riley Hollow — that a Methodist Episcopal church named “Shiloh” was built next to a small one-room schoolhouse where Sunday school was taught.

In 1914, Methodist preachers of the so-called Rappahannock circuit ordered the church be moved from its original site — “as there had been quite an exodus of people from that section” — to its present location “on the pike,” better known today as Zachary Taylor Highway.

It so happened that the church was rebuilt in 1917 — exactly 100 years after its 1817 deeded founding as Shiloh Methodist Episcopal Church South — and renamed Willis Chapel.

And who was Willis?

The chapel, according to church history, was placed “as a monument” in the location when on Oct. 14, 1864, a young preacher named Albert G. Willis volunteered to give up his life so that one of his fellow Confederate soldiers — one of Mosby’s Rangers — could live.

It so happened that a deserter from the Union army was in the vicinity of Huntly and came upon some of Mosby’s men, who were described as “intoxicated” from whisky. The rowdy rebels eventually killed the deserter and threw his body into a nearby grove, which was owned by Col. Thomas Settle of Flint Hill.

Learning of the deserter’s death, Col. Settle and his wife quickly retrieved the body, which they wrapped in a blanket and buried (the remains were later moved to the Flint Hill Baptist Church cemetery).

A short time later, a detachment of federal troops investigating the deserter’s death came upon a pair of Confederate soldiers near Huntly, one of them Rev. Albert Willis. In retaliation for the deserter’s demise, the Union soldiers declared that one of the Confederates would hang — to be decided by drawing straws.

The Mosby Ranger, a father of five, drew the fatal straw and immediately pleaded for his life. At which time the chaplain Willis stepped forward, explained that he had no dependents, and therefore he should be the one to hang instead.

History doesn’t reveal where the dastardly deed was done, but consider this: In February 1991 — a century-and-a-quarter after the preacher’s hanging — Lyttelton “Lyt” Wood, of the Washington-based tree-care company Tree Works, was asked by church elders to examine the health of a magnificent white oak tree that still stands today in front of Willis Chapel.

Following his thorough inspection, Wood submitted two pages of findings: “This is a very beautiful tree, with one of the largest crown spreads I have seen,” he wrote. “I would estimate the tree to be about 275 years old.”

Which means the tree has, by all accounts, been around for 300 years or more. Which also means that at the time of the hanging the giant white oak, with its tremendous limbs, was already 150 years old. Strong enough, no doubt, to hang a chaplain or anybody else by the neck.

Oregon’s Elliott research forest will be North America’s largest

December 21, 2022 · 4 minute read
Oregon’s Elliott research forest will be North America’s largest

Vote by the State Land Board removes state forestland from its obligation to fund schools, moves toward designating research forest

Oregon is on its way to creating North America’s largest research forest, following Tuesday’s decision by top state officials to separate the Elliott State Forest in southwest Oregon from its obligation to fund schools and designate the land as a place for scientific discovery.

The State Land Board voted unanimously Tuesday to create the 80,000-acre Elliott State Research Forest, signaling an end to a years-long debate over how to manage a state forest in southwest Oregon that was failing to generate revenue for public education.

The board advanced the transition of the Elliott from a traditional state forest to a research site by decoupling the forest from the Common School Fund, which relies on revenue from the sale of timber on state forests, among other resources, to help pay for public education in Oregon.

The Elliott forest will remain in public ownership in collaboration with Oregon State University.

The Elliott provides habitat to dwindling wildlife populations, including salmon, the northern spotted owl and the marbled murrelet. Oregon political leaders have been struggling for decades to find a way for the forest to comply with wildlife protection requirements while continuing to meet a legal obligation to generate revenue for public schools.

State officials said the Elliott will continue to contribute to conservation, recreation, education, local economies and more as a publicly owned, working research forest.

“The Elliott will provide a better approach for working forest management, improve conservation protections and, significantly, keep the forest in public hands,” Treasurer Tobias Read said in a statement. “We can be proud that current and future generations of Oregonians will benefit from this valuable natural resource.”

Read was joined by Gov. Kate Brown and Secretary of State Shemia Fagan in approving the final plan.

The use of natural resources to pay for education in Oregon dates back to statehood in 1859. Revenues from logging on certain state lands have historically gone to the Common School Fund. After the land board’s vote to remove the Elliott State Forest acreage, there are about 41,500 acres of land left in the fund. While state income tax and local property tax now serve as major funding sources for education, the requirement to make up for the loss in revenue from timber harvest on the Elliott is significant.

Before the plan to turn the Elliott into a research forest, the land was no longer generating enough revenue to cover the costs of managing it. The state considered selling much of it, but the sale never went through.

Tuesday’s vote was enabled by legislative action that transferred $221 million into the Common School Fund to replace revenue that logging on the Elliott might otherwise have generated.

Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Portland Audubon Society, was a member of an advisory committee that helped pave the way to converting the Elliott into a research forest. He is also on a new board of directors created by the land board Tuesday to oversee the research forest going forward.

“From a conservation perspective, it’s exciting because much more of the forest will be protected than was historically,” he said. “The Elliott State Forest was used to fund schools, and it was intensively logged for decades in violation of the Endangered Species Act.”

Lawsuits over charges of illegal logging fueled the state’s move to change how the forest is managed. Sallinger said there’s still a lot of work to be done to meet a statutory deadline of July 2023 to finish transforming the Elliott into a research forest that likely won’t be official until January 2024.

Right now, Oregon State University is developing a forest management plan that will need approvals, federal agencies still need to finalize a Habitat Conservation Plan for protecting threatened and endangered species in the forest, and the state will need to approve a financial plan. The board of directors for Oregon State University will also have to grant final approval for the research forest.

Sallinger said there will still be some logging in the forest in the future, but the goal of the logging operations will be to collect research data. There will also be a 34,000-acre preserve that will be the largest stretch of protected forest in the coast range, as well as stronger stream protections. Research in the forest will likely focus on ecologically responsible forestry, managing forests for climate change and improving forest management for threatened and endangered species.

“I think the Elliott will be a hell of a lot better from an ecological perspective than anything we’ve seen before,” he said. “The coast range has just been hammered over the years, so preserving what’s left and improving it is really important.”

2000+ acres burned in Virginia since start of wildfire season, how to prevent it

December 21, 2022 · 2 minute read
2000+ acres burned in Virginia since start of wildfire season, how to prevent it

Since the start of the wildfire season, the Virginia Department of Forestry said wildfires have burned more than 2,000 acres in Virginia.

The department is encouraging folks to be smart when they burn to avoid any holiday tragedies.

The following are debris-burning tips from VDOF:

“Burning yard trimmings or leaves is a common practice, but a dangerous one. Winds can blow burning yard waste and embers far off-site and ignite combustible vegetation. Fall and spring are ideal times to reduce excess vegetation around your home that could pose an escaped fire threat. Escaped debris burns are the leading human cause of wildfires in Virginia. However, you can burn safely and legally, if you follow safe burning practices.”

The 4 Pm Burning Law is in effect February 15 to April 30, restricting open-air burning until after 4:00 p.m.

Learn about any current county burn restrictions by viewing VDOF’s Burn Ban Map.

Is burning your only option? Chipping, composting, or building brush piles for wildlife may be alternatives.

A recent wildfire in Lee County

A recent wildfire in Lee County

If burning is the best or only option, please follow these guidelines:

  • Call before you burn yard debris. Check with your local fire department, the Virginia Department of Forestry office, or the Air Protection Authority (Virginia Department of Environmental Quality) to learn if there are any burning restrictions and if a permit is required.
  • Know the weather forecast. Never burn on dry or windy days because it is easy for fire to spread out of control.
  • Burn only yard debris. State regulations prohibit the open burning of any material that creates dense smoke or noxious odors. No one in Virginia may burn tires or other hazardous materials at any time.
  • Keep your burn pile small or use a burn barrel. Clear at least a 15-foot radius around a barrel and at least a 25-foot radius around a burn pile, and make sure there are no tree branches or power lines above. Wet down the surrounding area before, during, and after the burn.
  • Always have water and fire tools on site. Keep a water-charged hose, a bucket of water, a shovel, and dirt or sand nearby to extinguish the fire.
  • Stay with the fire. Virginia law requires that you monitor a debris burn continually from start to finish until the fire is completely out.
  • Extinguish the fire. Drown the burn pile with water, stir the coals, and drown again. Repeat until the fire is completely out.
  • Recheck the fire. Go back and recheck old burn piles, as they can retain heat for several weeks and rekindle when the weather warms and the wind begins to blow.
  • Call 911. If your fire escapes or gets beyond your control, call 911 immediately; even a slight delay may be disastrous. Do NOT try and fight the fire unless it is small and you can do so safely and easily. Leave this up to the trained firefighters.
  • Caution. You may be using different types of small equipment when working in the yard. Lawnmowers and chainsaws are examples of equipment that can cause a wildfire when sparks ignite vegetation such as grass, weeds, or leaves.

‘Firmageddon’: Researchers find 1.1 million acres of dead trees in Oregon

December 14, 2022 · 6 minute read
‘Firmageddon’: Researchers find 1.1 million acres of dead trees in Oregon

Oregon’s dead firs are a visceral example of how drought is reshaping landscapes in Western states that have been experiencing extreme heat conditions.

Drought-stricken Oregon saw a historic die-off of fir trees in 2022 that left hillsides once lush with green conifers dotted with patches of red, dead trees.

The damage to fir trees was so significant researchers took to calling the blighted areas “firmageddon” as they flew overhead during aerial surveys that estimated the die-off’s extent.

The surveyors ultimately tallied about 1.1 million acres of Oregon forest with dead firs, the most damage recorded in a single season since surveys began 75 years ago.

Oregon’s dead firs are a visceral example of how drought is reshaping landscapes in Western states that have been experiencing extreme heat conditions. In many areas, these firs might be replaced by more drought-hardy species in the future, reshaping how ecosystems function and changing their character.

“When I looked at it and crunched the numbers, it was almost twice as bad as far as acres impacted than anything we had previously documented,” said Danny DePinte, an aerial survey program manager for the U.S. Forest Service. “Nature is selecting which trees get to be where during the drought.”

Fir die-off as observed during this year’s aerial survey in the Fremont-Winema National Forest in southern Oregon.Daniel DePinte / USFS

Fir die-off as observed during this year’s aerial survey in the Fremont-Winema National Forest in southern Oregon.Daniel DePinte / USFS

Oregon is known for towering volcanic domes covered by a blanket of conifers that becomes sparse and patchwork on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains before it tucks into the high desert.

The people who know the trees best say there are many signs of problems in Oregon.

“We’re seeing forms of stress in all of our species of trees,” said Christine Buhl, a forest entomologist with the Oregon Department of Forestry. “We just need to shift our expectations of what tree species we can expect to be planted where.”

Researchers have been surveying Pacific Northwest forests by air since 1947. Little about the process has changed during that time, according to Glenn Kohler, an entomologist with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, which operates the program alongside the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Department of Forestry.

Each summer, small high-wing planes soar about 1,000 feet above the tree canopy at about 100 mph. Trained observers peer outside both sides of the plane, looking for noticeable damage to trees.

Dead trees — conifers that are completely red or orange — are the easiest to spot, but the observers can also pinpoint trees that are barren of needles in some areas.

The observers rate the intensity of damage and map its location. Pilots fly in a grid pattern with flight lines about 4 miles apart to cover every swath of the forest.

“It’s literally like mowing the lawn,” Kohler said of the flight trajectory.

Paper maps of the past have been replaced today by Samsung Galaxy tablets that track the plane’s progress and make mapping easier — and probably more accurate.

Observers require a season of training, Kohler said. It can be a dizzying task.

Brent Oblinger, a plant pathologist on the Deschutes National Forest, while in the process of conducting a portion of the survey.USFS

Brent Oblinger, a plant pathologist on the Deschutes National Forest, while in the process of conducting a portion of the survey. USFS

“We’re analyzing 16-30 acres per second,” DePinte said, noting that small planes can offer a more turbulent ride. “You definitely have to have a stomach of steel.”

This year, the aerial observation program flew over about 69 million acres of Washington and Oregon forest in about 246 hours.

“We’re just really painting the picture. It’s not hard science. You’re not counting individual trees or inspecting individual trees. The purpose is — what are the major trends and to detect outbreaks,” Kohler said.

The scale of damage in Oregon, which was first reported by the environmental journalism nonprofit Columbia Insight, was staggering to the researchers and begs for a more thorough study.

“We had never seen anything to this level,” DePinte said. “It sets you back and makes you pause. Your scientific mind starts questioning why. We don’t always have the answers.”

Trees are susceptible to bark beetles, root diseases and defoliators like caterpillars. Aerial surveys help researchers capture the booms and busts of these pathogens.

Healthy trees typically can defend themselves against these threats. When beetles drill into a trees’ bark, for example, a healthy tree can push the beetles out by excreting pitch, a gooey substance, where they entered the tree, Kohler said.

Each summer, small high-wing planes soar about 1,000 feet above the tree canopy at about 100 mph, trained observers peer outside both windows of the plane, looking for noticeable damage to trees. USFS

Each summer, small high-wing planes soar about 1,000 feet above the tree canopy at about 100 mph, trained observers peer outside both windows of the plane, looking for noticeable damage to trees. USFS

ut disturbances like drought, wildfire and windstorms can stress trees and weaken their defenses. Large numbers of dead and dying trees could allow bark beetles to lay eggs, feed their larvae and flourish.

Scientists still only have a coarse understanding of the factors that are causing widespread die-offs in Oregon, but many view drought as the underlying culprit.

“There are multiple factors at play here. One of the things most of us agree on: The primary factor we have going on here is hot drought,” Buhl said, meaning that the state has been hampered by higher-than-normal temperatures and also low precipitation.

DePinte said damage was most pronounced in White, Shasta and Red firs on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountain range’s crest, where the climate is drier.

Nearly half of Oregon is experiencing severe, extreme or exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The drought is worse in eastern Oregon.

Oregon’s average temperatures have risen about 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, according to a 2021 state climate assessment delivered to the state’s Legislature. The severity of drought has increased over the past two decades in part because of human-caused climate change, the report says. Summers in Oregon are expected to become warmer and drier.

“We’ve been hearing about climate change for some time. Climate change is happening. We’re now feeling it,” Buhl said. “These summers are getting warm and long. We’re seeing evidence on the landscape. We needed to pay more attention decades ago, but we didn’t.”

Buhl said impacts to forest health are taking out roughly as many trees as wildfires, which are also now  more likely and more intense by climate change.

Heat waves are a growing threat, too. On Oregon’s west side, trees were scorched by the June 2021 heat dome, which sent Portland’s temperature as high as 116. Scientists have said the intense heat wave was “virtually impossible” without climate change.

Fir die-off as observed during this year’s aerial survey in the Fremont-Winema National Forest in southern Oregon.USFS

Fir die-off as observed during this year’s aerial survey in the Fremont-Winema National Forest in southern Oregon. USFS

Aerial assessments last year documented nearly 230,000 acres of heat scorch across Oregon and Washington, DePinte said. Most of the damage was on hillsides with south-facing aspects that soak up more sunlight because of the sun’s angle in the sky.

“It was the combination of the high temperatures in the afternoon with the sun boring down,” said Chris Still, a professor in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University. “We think a lot of those leaves just cooked in place.”

Still speculated that the heat dome could have contributed to this year’s fir die-off, also, but more research and evidence is needed to examine any possible connection.

DePinte said the 2021 scorching was the largest ever recorded, which means the Pacific Northwest has now seen two events of record-breaking damage in its forests in as many years.

CORRECTION (Dec. 12, 5:18 p.m. ET): A photo caption in a previous version of this article misidentified a researcher. The photo is of Robert Schroeter, not Brent Oblinger. The photo has been replaced.

Potted Christmas trees are a rentable alternative to their fake and fresh-cut cousins

December 14, 2022 · 5 minute read
Potted Christmas trees are a rentable alternative to their fake and fresh-cut cousins

When I was a kid, there was a year my parents bought a spruce for our yard. But before we planted it, the three-foot tree had another role to play: our family’s Christmas tree. My mom pulled the conifer inside, and we decked its boughs in ornaments. While it was festive and admittedly adorable, I remember feeling somehow offended that, instead of a traditional Christmas tree from a lot, our small little tree was still nestled in its nursery planter.

What I as a grade schooler saw as a Christmas crime of opportunity is now becoming a more common sight in some homes: potted Tannenbaums. These trees, both reusable and real, provide an authentic feel for consumers in search of an environmentally friendly tree.

How the trees go from the ground your living room

Monica Hudson, originally from Switzerland, had the idea to loan out Christmas trees in 2009. Hudson worked as an independent historical tour guide in Carmel, Calif., at the time, but business had slowed due to the recession. She saw on TV that a garden shop in Britain was renting trees, and she took the idea and ran with it. By the holiday season of that same year, she had 500 trees, about two thirds of which ended up in homes that Christmas.

Now, her business, Rent A Christmas Tree, has about 1,000 trees growing for renters in certain parts of the San Francisco Bay Area and central coast of California. They remain in their pots year-round, hooked up to a drip irrigation system. Most of them are booked by Thanksgiving, Hudson told NPR. About 300 trees stay behind that aren’t quite tall or pretty enough to be loaned out.

Monica's Husky-German Shephard mix, Heidi, is the business's official greeter and CDO: chief dog officer.

Monica’s Husky-German Shephard mix, Heidi, is the business’s official greeter and CDO: chief dog officer.

Customers order their trees online, where they can pick their tree based on species, height and price. Then, the trees are delivered to their homes or businesses for a period of 30 days, after which they are picked up. This makes trees accessible to older people and business owners who don’t have the capacity to install one themselves, Hudson said.

“There is no crawling around the floor seeing if it’s straight, crawling under there to water it,” Hudson said — her trees come with a funnel to make daily watering easy. “It’s ready for you to put the lights on.”

Very rarely is one of the rented trees stolen or killed. Only three have been swiped in 13 years of business, and those were largely due to customers leaving their trees in the wrong place to be picked up, Hudson said. Otherwise, about 2% of trees die each year of dehydration, despite people signing a waiver promising to water them each day. Hudson described it as a big loss, as the trees take a long time to grow: It can take about 10 years to cultivate a six-foot tree.

 Seasonally hired delivery drivers can carry around 30 trees at a time to people's houses or meetup spots.

Seasonally hired delivery drivers can carry around 30 trees at a time to people’s houses or meetup spots.

The impact of the Christmas tree industry

The environmental impact of Christmas tree farming is complicated and depends on factors like how far the trees are transported, how they’re watered, and what kinds of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are used.

The National Christmas Tree Association points out on its website that real trees are grown as crops, not harvested from a forest, and seedlings are planted in place of each one cut down.

“Real Christmas Trees are a renewable, recyclable, natural product grown on farms throughout North America,” the association said. “Fake Christmas Trees however are a non-renewable, non-biodegradable, plastic and metal product most often made in overseas factories.”

In many places, potted Christmas trees aren’t really an option, said Chal Landgren, a Christmas tree specialist at Oregon State University. He told NPR that, in certain climates, the temperature shock between the frigid outdoors and warm indoors would kill some tree species.

Lienna Hoeg is a Christmas tree specialist at Perennia Food and Agriculture Corporation in Nova Scotia, where cold temperatures preclude indoor potted trees. She recommends that environmentally minded buyers look for a nearby cut-your-own tree farm or retail lot to keep fuel emissions low. When the season ends, roadside tree collection will help with responsible disposal. Alternatively, people can put the tree in their backyard for wildlife or donate it to farms for goats to munch on.

Hoeg said that for each tree harvested in Nova Scotia, one to three more trees are planted or cultivated. The Christmas tree industry provides about 4,000 full and part-time employment each year in Nova Scotia, which supports around 1,100 families, she said.

“Not many people are aware that for every one acre of Christmas trees, daily oxygen can be produced for 18 people. If you use or purchase an artificial tree, you’d have to use that tree for 20 years for it to have the same environmental impact as one natural Christmas tree,” she told NPR in an email.

The benefits of a potted Christmas tree

For Hudson, the benefits of a living tree aren’t all about the environment. There’s the aspect of convenience, since live trees don’t drop needles that need to be cleaned up like cut trees do. They look fresh and produce oxygen.

There’s also a feel-good factor, she explained; customers know that their tree won’t end up in the trash after Christmas Day. Instead, they’ll likely end up like the spruce tree from my own childhood: planted in the ground.

“Because once the trees are too big to rent, they get planted,” Hudson said. “So we are educating our clientele that not only are they having a living tree, but they’re really adding to the beauty of the state.”

For example, Rent A Christmas Tree is trying to loan out more California Redwoods, which are native to the region and can live for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. They can be donated to help reforest areas that have been affected by wildfires, Hudson explained.

For those interested in renting a Christmas tree, be warned: There is one major thing living trees don’t do. They don’t quite smell as much like Christmas.

“When you buy a dead tree cut tree, it outgasses as it dies, and that smell that you adore for Christmas is actually the smell of it dying,” Hudson said. To get that strong, fresh pine smell? “We recommend that customers get a balsam wreath.”

Forest replanting: North State nursery to grow 25M seedlings a year to help after wildfires

December 7, 2022 · 1 minute read
Forest replanting: North State nursery to grow 25M seedlings a year to help after wildfires

Faced with millions of acres of burned up forests and a need to replant them, a private timber company and the state of California are working together to build a new tree seedling nursery in Siskiyou County.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection announced Tuesday that is has awarded Sierra Pacific Industries of Anderson a $3 million grant to build a nursery that within four years should be able to produce 25 million seedlings a year.

The new production facility will be built in the small community of Gazelle, northwest of Mount Shasta, and will cost about $10 million, Cal Fire said. The nursery will employ 10 people full time and another 110 seasonal workers, officials said.

Current nursery capacity is not sufficient to keep up with the damage done from wildfires that have burned millions of acres of California forests in recent years, Cal Fire said.

“More than a third of the forests that have burned recently have seen high-severity fire, which kills at least 75 percent of vegetation, leaving altered landscapes of dead trees behind. Without direct intervention, the most severely burned forests are likely to be replaced by brush,” Cal Fire officials said in a news release.

The grant will enable Sierra Pacific to start construction on the nursery sooner, officials said.

The Milky Way can be seen in the sky as the Dixie Fire burns at a mountain across Highway 89 by Highway 147 near Canyon Dam on Aug. 4, 2021, Hung T. Vu

The Milky Way can be seen in the sky as the Dixie Fire burns at a mountain across Highway 89 by Highway 147 near Canyon Dam on Aug. 4, 2021, Hung T. Vu

“This nursery will add much needed capacity and jobs and will serve to further our combined efforts to restore forest cover on private and public lands. We are thankful that Sierra Pacific Industries can make this a reality,“ said Stewart McMorrow, chief of wildfire resilience at Cal Fire.

Seedling production will ramp up over the next several years, with as many as 6 million seedlings expected to be sown in 2024 and 12 million in 2025. At full capacity, the nursery is expected to produce up to 25 million trees a year.

USDA Forest Service, Trout Unlimited partnership

December 7, 2022 · 3 minute read
USDA Forest Service, Trout Unlimited partnership

USDA Forest Service, Trout Unlimited invest up to $40 million to restore watersheds on America’s national forests

The USDA Forest Service is announcing up to $40 million will be provided to Trout Unlimited as part of a five-year agreement to improve watersheds on national forests and grasslands – home to many of America’s most important trout and salmon species. Projects include clean-up of abandoned mines and removing barriers to improve fish passage, as well as stream habitat improvements.

Trout Unlimited diagram

Made possible by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, this five-year National Watershed and Aquatic Restoration Initiative aims to increase the pace and scale of watershed restoration on national forests and grasslands, with priority given to projects that use local employees and contractors to improve water quality in underserved communities and on Tribal lands.

“Our agreement with Trout Unlimited continues our joint success as stewards of national forests and grasslands,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “Our partnership is not just about cleaning a stream or increasing fish population. It’s life sustaining work that is as vital to aquatic species as it is to people and communities. When our natural resources are healthy, we are healthy as a nation and as individuals.”

“It is heartening to see the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s resources being put to good use,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “This agreement builds on a long and productive partnership between the Forest Service and Trout Unlimited. Together over the years, we have already restored more than 400 miles of important fish habitat, reconnected more than 700 miles of habitat by removing barriers to fish migration, and improved hundreds of thousands of acres of National Forest System lands. We are excited to continue and expand on this work over the coming years.” More than 40% of trout streams in the U.S. flow through the 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands. In recent years, Trout Unlimited leveraged $20 million in Forest Service funding to carry out $62 million worth of projects, improving forest health, water quality and building key partnerships while supporting hundreds of family-wage jobs in rural communities.

Wild and native trout and salmon face countless challenges, including warming fueled by climate change. Trout Unlimited is identifying a national network of priority waters based on the best fisheries science and guided by its strategic plan. Over the coming years, Trout Unlimited will use the funding from this agreement to work alongside partners to protect and restore these waters to improve fish population diversity, resilience and productivity. In its recent work, Trout Unlimited has worked with Tribes, agricultural landowners, mining companies, and government agencies to reconnect habitat and reduce flood risk on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin, restore native brook trout habitat on private lands around the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, restore streams in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest in Idaho and clean up mines and restore streams in the Chugach National Forest in Alaska.

About the Forest Service

The Forest Service manages 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands for multiple uses. From timber and mineral resources to recreation and environmental conservation, the agency’s portfolio is diverse. Much of these lands are in the headwaters and recharge areas of the nation’s water supplies. National forests and grasslands provide sources of drinking water for people in 42 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

About Trout Unlimited

Trout Unlimited image

Trout Unlimited image

Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest cold-water fisheries conservation organization dedicated to caring for and recovering America’s rivers and streams so our children can experience the joy of wild and native trout and salmon. Across the country, Trout Unlimited brings to bear local, regional and national grassroots organizing, durable partnerships and science-backed policy muscle.

Additional Resources

Trout Unlimited and the U.S. Forest Service: A partnership that works
Trout Unlimited: New Directions

Mass Extinctions May Have Been Driven by the Evolution of Tree Roots

November 23, 2022 · 3 minute read
Mass Extinctions May Have Been Driven by the Evolution of Tree Roots

Geologists find parallels between ancient, global-scale extinction events and modern threats to Earth’s oceans.

A series of mass extinctions that rocked the Earth’s oceans during the Devonian Period over 300 million years ago may have been triggered by the evolution of tree roots. This is according to a research study led by scientists at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), along with colleagues in the United Kingdom.

Evidence for this new view of a remarkably volatile period in Earth’s pre-history was reported on November 9 in the scientific journal Geological Society of America Bulletin. It is one of the oldest and most respected publications in the field of geology. The study was led by Gabriel Filippelli, Chancellor’s Professor of Earth Sciences in the School of Science at IUPUI, and Matthew Smart, a Ph.D. student in his lab at the time of the study.

“Our analysis shows that the evolution of tree roots likely flooded past oceans with excess nutrients, causing massive algae growth,” Filippelli said. “These rapid and destructive algae blooms would have depleted most of the oceans’ oxygen, triggering catastrophic mass extinction events.”

Scientists collect rock samples on Ymer Island in eastern Greenland, one of several sites whose analysis provided insight into the chemical makeup of lake beds in the Devonian Period. Credit: John Marshall, University of Southampton

Scientists collect rock samples on Ymer Island in eastern Greenland, one of several sites whose analysis provided insight into the chemical makeup of lake beds in the Devonian Period. Credit: John Marshall, University of Southampton

The Devonian Period, which occurred 419 million to 358 million years ago, prior to the evolution of life on land, is known for mass extinction events, during which it’s estimated nearly 70 percent of all life on Earth perished.

The process outlined in the study — known scientifically as eutrophication — is remarkably similar to modern, albeit smaller-scale, phenomenon currently fueling broad “dead zones” in the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, as excess nutrients from fertilizers and other agricultural runoff trigger massive algae blooms that consume all of the water’s oxygen.

The difference is that these past events were likely fueled by tree roots, which pulled nutrients from the land during times of growth, then abruptly dumped them into the Earth’s water during times of decay.

The theory is based upon a combination of new and existing evidence, Filippelli said.

Gabrielle Filippelli. Credit: Liz Kaye, Indiana UniversityGabrielle Filippelli. Credit: Liz Kaye, Indiana University

Gabrielle Filippelli. Credit: Liz Kaye, Indiana University

Based upon a chemical analysis of stone deposits from ancient lake beds — whose remnants persist across the globe, including the samples used in the study from sites in Greenland and off the northeast coast of Scotland — the researchers were able to confirm previously identified cycles of higher and lower levels of phosphorus, a chemical element found in all life on Earth.

They were also able to identify wet and dry cycles based upon signs of “weathering” — or soil formation — caused by root growth, with greater weathering indicating wet cycles with more roots and less weathering indicating dry cycles with fewer roots.

Most significantly, the team found the dry cycles coincided with higher levels of phosphorous, suggesting dying roots released their nutrients into the planet’s water during these times.

Matthew Smart. Credit: Photo courtesy Matthew Smart

Matthew Smart. Credit: Photo courtesy Matthew Smart

“It’s not easy to peer over 370 million years into the past,” said Smart. “But rocks have long memories, and there are still places on Earth where you can use chemistry as a microscope to unlock the mysteries of the ancient world.”

But the dynamics revealed in the study shed light on other newer threats to life in Earth’s oceans. The study’s authors note that others have made the argument that pollution from fertilizers, manure and other organic wastes, such as sewage, have placed the Earth’s oceans on the “edge of anoxia,” or a complete lack of oxygen.

“These new insights into the catastrophic results of natural events in the ancient world may serve as a warning about the consequences of similar conditions arising from human activity today,” Fillipelli said.

Bringing back the white pine, a foundational American tree

November 23, 2022 · 7 minute read
Bringing back the white pine, a foundational American tree

In a forest several miles north of Grand Rapids, Minn., John Pastor places his hands on the trunk of a giant white pine, cranes back his neck and gazes up into its crown, a hundred feet above.

“For me, I just get a feeling in my brain and my heart and my soul,” said Pastor, a retired University of Minnesota Duluth ecologist. “Good job, old boy. You survived all of this and you’re still here. Great job.”

The tree is likely about 150 years old. That’s not even middle age for an Eastern White Pine. It was a young sapling when loggers came through here in the 1890s. Now, its bark is thick, silvery, and fire-resistant, its trunk straight and true, more than three feet across.

“I’m interested in it scientifically, of course,” said Pastor, whose new book, “White Pine: The Natural and Human History of a Foundational American Tree,” comes out in January. But for him, standing next to such a giant tree, in a silent forest dotted with similar-sized old growth pines, is a spiritual experience.

Retired University of Minnesota Duluth biology professor John Pastor measures the circumference of a white pine while talking about its cultural and ecological significance on Oct. 13. The circumference of this white pine was 89 inches. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Retired University of Minnesota Duluth biology professor John Pastor measures the circumference of a white pine while talking about its cultural and ecological significance on Oct. 13. The circumference of this white pine was 89 inches. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

In the late 1800s, grand trees like this would have been commonplace. Loggers described a “veritable ocean of pine” stretching across northern Minnesota.

Between 1900 and 1910, thousands of loggers sawed their way across the state, cutting enough white pine every year in Minnesota to build a boardwalk nine feet wide all the way around the world.

By 1930, only a tiny fraction of old growth pines remained, mainly in protected areas such as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, or Itasca State Park. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimates the state lost 75 percent of its white pines.

What’s more, the tree wasn’t coming back on its own. “By the 1960s and 70s, you just didn’t see this type of white pine,” said John Rajala, CEO of a fifth-generation forest products company that owns the land where this towering white pine stands.

“We had to start asking ourselves, ‘what’s happening?’”

But in recent years, efforts to restore the iconic white pine to Minnesota’s forests have slowly taken root. Rajala’s family has planted millions of white pine seedlings and perfected a method of protecting them so they grow into maturity.

State and federal landowners, along with nonprofit groups, have also planted thousands of white pines, partly as a climate change strategy, since white pines are projected to do well in northern Minnesota as temperatures warm.

John Rajala, CEO of Rajala Companies, talks about the significance and importance of white pines on a tract of his property, Oct. 13 near Grand Rapids, Minn. Rajala has planted millions of the iconic tree while his dad is often called the savior and godfather of the white pine. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

John Rajala, CEO of Rajala Companies, talks about the significance and importance of white pines on a tract of his property, Oct. 13 near Grand Rapids, Minn. Rajala has planted millions of the iconic tree while his dad is often called the savior and godfather of the white pine. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

“We are bringing the white pine back,” said Rajala. Because, as Pastor said, “We want our grandkids to see [trees like] this.”

Walking Wolf Lake

Pastor and Rajala recently walked across a several thousand acre tract of land known as Wolf Lake Camp, which the Rajala family purchased about fifty years ago.

It’s a place where old growth white pines soar above an understory of more than a dozen species of hardwood, from red oak to sugar maple, surrounding small, clear lakes.

It was here, John Rajala said, his father came to an important realization. He needed more white pines to supply their sawmill in Bigfork, Minn. But the seedlings planted to fill that demand weren’t growing back.

A white pine rises into the sky on a tract of land belonging to John Rajala. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

A white pine rises into the sky on a tract of land belonging to John Rajala. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

“When we did get white pine regeneration, it would just vaporize, you’d go back two years later, and there’d be nothing there.”

The problem was deer. The logging era opened up the forest, creating new habitat and causing an explosion in the deer population. And deer love to feast on the buds of white pine saplings.

“And so we either had to quit, which a lot of people did at that time,” Rajala said, explaining that many private and public forestry professionals in the 1970s and 80s declared it was time to give up on the white pine. “But my dad was stubborn. And he wasn’t going to give up.”

So John Rajala’s father, Jack, started fiddling with different ways to discourage deer from munching the trees. They experimented with rotten egg mixes, and different commercial products.

But what worked best was stapling a folded piece of paper over the bud. Simple, but backbreaking and incredibly time-intensive work. It’s called “budcapping,” and now it’s used by pretty much anyone who plants trees in the North Woods.

Jack Rajala detailed the work in his book titled “Bringing Back the White Pine.” John Rajala said over the years his family has planted, and budcapped, millions of white pines.

You see evidence of it all throughout the forest, small squares of white paper topping tiny trees dotting the forest floor.

Protecting white pines from deer and helping them grow is labor and time-intensive, and expensive. Rajala also thins the forest, clears out brush from competing with young pines. He even prunes the lower branches. It can cost thousands of dollars per acre.

“What this represents is a massive investment,” he said.

But Rajala believes the biggest reason why white pines haven’t returned on their own is that there simply weren’t enough big trees left behind by loggers to provide seeds for new ones.

He stops in front of another giant white pine. He estimates it’s about 120 years old. It’s beautiful, and valuable. But Rajala says he’ll likely never cut it.

“We err on the side of leaving our greatest ecological assets for seed genetic value,” he explained.

John Rajala (left) and John Pastor talk about the history of white pines in northern Minnesota, on Oct. 13. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

John Rajala (left) and John Pastor talk about the history of white pines in northern Minnesota, on Oct. 13. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

John Pastor says white pines provide all kinds of benefits to the ecosystem, from creating wildlife habitat, to storing immense amounts of carbon. He says ecologists refer to them as a “foundation” species of the North Woods.

“Because so much of the sunlight, the energy that’s coming into this forest is being captured and controlled by these giant trees and their progeny. So much of the food web and the carbon and the nutrients in the forest, are controlled by these kinds of trees,” Pastor said.

Being in the lumber business Rajala knows these trees are valuable. But he believes most of them are more valuable standing where they are.

“We just have to be patient. There’s no way around it. And believe me, I’ve got a lot of mill workers and family members wondering when are we going to finally start to cut a few.”

A climate change ‘winner’

Rajala’s company is a rarity now in Minnesota’s timber industry that mostly focuses on harvesting aspen and other fast-growing trees for pulp and paper.

Yet other groups, including The Nature Conservancy and Minnesota Conservation Corps, are also planting tens of thousands of white pines across the landscape.

Also land managers such as the U.S. Forest Service are increasingly practicing this kind of “ecological forestry,” where forests are managed for a range of trees of different species and different ages, and some of the largest trees are often left standing, to provide seeds to grow future giants.

A small white pine with a bud cap to protect it from deer browsing is dwarfed by a massive white pine behind it. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

A small white pine with a bud cap to protect it from deer browsing is dwarfed by a massive white pine behind it. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Nearby, on the Chippewa National Forest and within the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe reservation, researchers have planted a dozen different species of trees that are projected to thrive into the future in northern Minnesota, which is already experiencing some of the fastest warming in the country.

“And Eastern White Pine is one of them,” said Brian Palik, a forest ecologist with the Northern Research Station of the U.S. Forest Service. “When you think about its range, from the southern Appalachians to southern Canada, it’s extremely diverse in terms of the habitats it occurs in, and it’s genetically diverse. So it’s not surprising that it’s projected to be a climate change winner, if you will, under what the projection is for this part of Minnesota.”

The Forest Service has planted trees in northern Minnesota that are from a slightly warmer region to the south, in Wisconsin. Palik said they’re faring extremely well.

Planting white pines also provides an insurance policy in case red pines, also known as Norway pines, Minnesota’s state tree, fare poorly in coming years. Red pines are extremely sensitive to drought. “And so we’re not quite sure about its future,” Palik said.

“People feel strongly attached to white pine,” Palik added. “And we know how to regenerate it. Yeah, it takes work, but it can be done. And people know how to do it.”

Study: West depends on national forests for drinking water

November 16, 2022 · 2 minute read
Study: West depends on national forests for drinking water

Western states and cities are more reliant on drinking water from U.S. Forest Service lands than previously known.

A first-of-its-kind study by the Forest Service reveals how some of the largest public water systems in the country rely on surface waters from the federal agency’s land. The agency plans to use the new data to help public water systems plan for a future of higher demand, development and climate change.

Previous studies have attempted to measure the amount of surface water moving directly from national forests and grasslands into public water systems, but the latest study from the agency includes measures of how much surface water from its lands are moved by pipe and canal networks to major cities nationwide.

The study revealed that about 90% of people in the West served by public drinking water systems rely on water from national forests and grasslands, sometimes transported hundreds of miles from points of origin to flow into taps.

In the East, most surface waters that end up in public drinking water systems begin in private forests.

Portland relies on the Bull Run Watershed for more than 90% of its drinking water. The Forest Service owns about 94% of that watershed 25 miles east of the city, along with about one-quarter of all the land in Oregon.

The agency manages 193 million acres of forests and grasslands nationwide. More than 80% of that land is in the West.

More than 136 million people nationwide rely on surface water from Forest Service lands for some portion of their drinking water, according to the report.

Although land and waters within Forest Service boundaries can be used for mining, logging and irrigation, the agency is also tasked with sustaining and improving water resources by protecting and restoring national forests and grasslands.

The study’s authors wrote that the new data can help state and federal agencies and the forestry industry develop better conservation and management plans responsive to climate change, population growth, land development and other threats to water supplies.

Across the country, there is greater demand for water as population and food production increase and climate change creates uneven demand.

Since 1950, total annual water withdrawal in the U.S. has nearly doubled along with the country’s population, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Census Bureau.

Many drinking water utilities are increasingly looking at better forest management as a way to protect water quality and supply.

The researchers wrote that they also hope to draw attention to the need to preserve all forested lands in the U.S.

About one-third of the country is covered in forests, but studies predict this will decline as population continues to grow, according to the report.

“A century of research has demonstrated unequivocally that forested lands provide the cleanest and most stable water supply compared to other land types,” researchers wrote.

I climbed one of Seattle’s biggest trees. Here’s why

November 16, 2022 · 4 minute read
I climbed one of Seattle’s biggest trees. Here’s why

By the grace of a carabiner, harness and a sturdy rope, I gently swung in the breeze, hidden within the crown of the towering European beech tucked behind the Seattle Asian Art Museum at Volunteer Park on Sunday afternoon.

It’s one of Seattle’s largest trees by volume, the arborists tell me, with a trunk spanning nearly 6 feet across.

It wasn’t until guide Noel Rodriguez instructed me to stand on a branch a few — or many — dozen feet up that I confessed I was afraid of heights. My feeling of terror brought joy to David Anderson, executive director of Canopy Watch, who was harnessed in just a few feet away.

Anderson gives a TED talk on the “transformative power” of climbing trees. He leads these climbs, essentially pushing people out of their comfort zone for a living.

“This is what happens, Isabella,” he told me after the climb. “People come to the trees and they look nervous. There’s tension in their face. And their posture is usually closed. But, when they come to the ground. You’re beaming with this big smile.”

Anderson organized a day of tree climbing Sunday, inviting forestry leaders to get up in the crown ahead of the Partners in Community Forestry conference in the city this week. He wanted attendees — urban forestry leaders, advocates and researchers — from around the world to feel the “electric buzz” from within the tree before the event starts.

Seattle Times reporter Isabella Breda, left, and Noel Rodriguez climb a European beech tree on Sunday in Volunteer Park. (Kylie Cooper / The Seattle Times)

Seattle Times reporter Isabella Breda, left, and Noel Rodriguez climb a European beech tree on Sunday in Volunteer Park. (Kylie Cooper / The Seattle Times)

Urban forests provide clean air and water, habitat for creatures displaced by development, and shade. They’re critical for providing refuge in extreme heat.

A 2021 King County heat mapping study found “more urbanized areas” were up to 20 degrees hotter than less urbanized areas. Areas with more natural landscapes retained less heat.

There are some things that can’t be seen by just craning your neck to look at the tree tops, Anderson told me.

Midway up the tree, I shuffled my clunky boot-laden feet off the branch, released my shaky grasp from a white rope and shifted my weight into a blue speckled hammock. It was tightly stretched between two branches dotted with moss.

Burnt orange leaves rustled in the gentle winds. Some shook loose and drifted toward the soft earth beneath.

Blue sky peeked through holes in the dense canopy, and the afternoon sun in the west illuminated the round leaves.

Some already had released their chlorophyll, exchanging their lustrous dark green glow for autumnal shades of copper, crimson and maroon. One crunchy leaf oscillated back and forth until it came to rest on my puffer jacket.

On my way there, it was hard to observe much beyond the ascent itself. My arms were fatiguing more and more each time I pulled, and my legs ached from the unforgiving harness straps supporting them.

Beneath my dangling hiking boots, families walking through the park continued to shrink and disappear from view. Leaves provided shade and helped camouflage myself and others climbing nearby.

People look up from the ground. (Kylie Cooper / The Seattle Times)

People look up from the ground. (Kylie Cooper / The Seattle Times)

The bark was mostly smooth, but some ridged ribbons of texture danced around the trunk as I swung in my harness between heaving pulls toward the top.

Not far across the pathway, more urban forestry leaders were pulled up a towering pine by an “elevator system.” Anderson texted me a photo he had received from Scott Baker, of Tree Solutions, of the hazy amber sunset lighting up the rigid city towers between the dense spiky needles.

This was the skyline view from a nearby tree, which was also climbed on Sunday in Volunteer Park. (Courtesy of Scott Baker / Tree Solutions)

This was the skyline view from a nearby tree, which was also climbed on Sunday in Volunteer Park. (Courtesy of Scott Baker / Tree Solutions)

Earlier that morning, I hid with a white envelope the cover of a December 2012 copy of National Geographic that has been sitting on the coffee table in my Everett apartment for months. It showed a scientist suspended by not much more than a rope has one boot perched on the rusty red bark of “The President,” one of the giants in Sequoia National Park.

Looking at the man hanging alongside one of the world’s largest trees made my palms sweat.

But just hours later, Rodriguez successfully urged me to continue climbing to ring the cowbell, marking the top of my rope about 60 feet up.

He was one of the many arborists helping newbies get up the tree. He swung from branch to branch in fluid movement.

The beech was his playground. He found a sunlit branch to perch on as I asked him about his profession. He lives and breathes trees — as we all do, he said. When he’s not at work, he’s looking for a tree to climb.

“You get a different perspective about trees,” he said. “ … It’s important to see how big they are, how magnificent they are. And we are just so small. Sometimes we don’t see what we have in our own backyard.”

When I neared the top, Craig Bachmann greeted me. The arborist with Tree 133 used one foot tucked behind him as an anchor on the branch toward the tree’s top.

The towering beech is a tangible example of carbon sequestration, he said, taking the compound from the air, turning it into wood, providing shade and clean air.

“It’s hard to really fully appreciate what a tree is until we’re inside of it,” he said. “And we realize the scope and scale and majesty of these incredible organisms.”

Tree adoptions help restore Asheville’s tree canopy

November 10, 2022 · 2 minute read
Tree adoptions help restore Asheville’s tree canopy
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — An organization is working to help nature reclaim parts of Asheville.One supporter says it’s important to try and replace trees that were cut down for construction, which can be done through tree adoption.
What You Need To Know
  • Robert Udashen has been adopting trees from Asheville Greenworks for three years
  • The organization grows 2,500 trees each year
  • A study concluded that over the span of 10 years, Asheville experienced a 6.4% tree canopy loss, which equates to 891 acres of trees

Robert Udashen planting a tree

Robert Udashen prepared for his new arrival, a tree, as he pulled up for collection.

“Today, I’m receiving a Virginia pine,” Udashen said. This is one of many trees he’s adopted over the past few years from Asheville Greenworks. The organization grows 2,500 trees each year. Asheville Greenworks’ goal is to restore the tree canopy, which was diminished due to urban development in the area.

In 2019, Asheville Greenworks partnered with the City of Asheville, Davey Tree, the Urban Forestry Commission and NASA Develop on an urban tree canopy study. The study concluded that over the span of 10 years, Asheville experienced a 6.4% tree canopy loss, which equates to 891 acres of trees.

Udashen has seen changes in his own neighborhood. “It’s a new neighborhood and a lot of trees have been lost to new construction, and so it’s been important for me and some of my neighbors to replace the trees that have been cut down for new homes,” Udashen said. He’s putting in the effort to bring some of this nature back with Greenworks. “It’s a very gratifying experience,” Udashen said, when reflecting on his three years of tree adoptions.

When he first began his Greenworks journey, he took a tree-planting class that would help the process go as smoothly as possible. “You have to dig a hole bigger than this root to put it in,” Udashen said, as he pointed to the roots of the Virginia pine. “You don’t want to plant it too deep.” The growth doesn’t always pan out as expected.

“These are ones that the deer ate,” Udashen said. “Some of these little stumps.” He’s going to continue planting and continue learning each year. “That’s why I decided to do this evergreen, because I believe the deer won’t eat it!” Udashen said.

The Greenworks public native tree adoption events are held twice a year, and the next one is set for spring.

VA Department of Forestry Establishes 200th Conservation Easement

November 10, 2022 · 2 minute read
VA Department of Forestry Establishes 200th Conservation Easement

The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) has announced the creation of its 200th conservation easement in the Commonwealth of Virginia. With the addition of the 1,428-acre property in Wise County known as Pine Mountain, VDOF has now protected 91,597 acres of land, 84,112 acres of forest and nearly 460 miles of streams and rivers.

Using funding earmarked to mitigate the environmental impacts of the construction of Route 460 in southwest Virginia, VDOF collaborated with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to help conserve more than 1,400 acres of managed forests and four miles of headwater streams. According to the National Conservation Easement Database, VDOF is the largest holder of easements in terms of acreage dedicated to conserving working forests in the Mid-Atlantic and southeastern states. All forest management activities on VDOF conservation easements must follow an approved management plan that ensures forest resources are used sustainably.

The Pine Mountain project ensures perpetual protection of a key connecting point in a 125-mile wildlife and recreational corridor that runs from the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee, through Kentucky and Virginia, and into southern West Virginia. The property contains a portion of the Pine Mountain Trail with forests and streams supporting various plants and animals including the threatened black-sided dace, big sandy crayfish and Swainson’s warbler, which have been documented in the area.

“Specializing in the creation and stewardship of easements that conserve relatively large, connected expanses of managed forestlands, VDOF’s easement program maintains water quality and wildlife habitat, helps prevent flooding and supports the Commonwealth’s forest products economy,”  said VDOF Forestland Conservation Program Manager Karl Didier. “Many people might be surprised to discover that we have an Open-Space Easement Program, let alone its size and impact on Virginia. VDOF looks forward to growing its easement program to ensure that our working farms and forests remain intact and healthy for the benefit of generations to come.”

“The Nature Conservancy identifies Pine Mountain as an essential forested corridor for wildlife movement in the Central Appalachians,” said TNC Clinch Valley Program Director Brad Kreps. “We are pleased to collaborate with VDOF to protect this critical tract along the mountain, which helps stitch together a larger conservation corridor that includes other Nature Conservancy properties and lands managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service.”

VDOF’s easement program began in 2004 with the protection of a 244-acre property in Rockbridge County. Since then, the program has grown steadily and now includes easements in 66 Virginia counties. VDOF’s easement portfolio includes:

  • “Highlands” easement – 25,856 acres in Russell County, which represents the largest open-space easement in Virginia history
  • “Feedstone” easement – 1,101 acres in the Allegheny Mountains of Rockingham County. Surrounded by National Forest, the easement protects the cow knob salamander and unique spotted skunk.
  • “Nottoway Properties” easement – 838 acres in Southampton County that protects extensive cypress-tupelo forests along nearly three miles of the scenic Nottoway River

For more information about VDOF’s Open-Space Easement Program, visit

Tribe seeks to adapt as climate change alters ancestral home

November 2, 2022 · 6 minute read
Tribe seeks to adapt as climate change alters ancestral home

SANTA CLARA PUEBLO, N.M. (AP) — Raymond Naranjo sings for rain, his voice rising and falling as he softly strikes his rawhide-covered drum.

The 99-year-old invites the cloud spirits, rain children, mist, thunder and lightning to join him at Santa Clara Pueblo, where Tewa people have lived for thousands of years on land they call Kha’p’o Owingeh, the Valley of the Wild Roses.

“Without water, you don’t live,” says Naranjo’s son Gilbert, explaining the rain dance song his father, a World War II veteran, has sung for decades — and with increasing urgency as the tribe fights for the survival of its ancestral home.

Raymond Naranjo, 99, poses for a photo outside his home in Santa Clara Pueblo in northern New Mexico, Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. Pueblo elders say ancestral knowledge is key for future generations to develop a strong cultural and spiritual connection to this ancient place to help preserve their way of life.Andres Leighton/AP

Raymond Naranjo, 99, poses for a photo outside his home in Santa Clara Pueblo in northern New Mexico, Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. Pueblo elders say ancestral knowledge is key for future generations to develop a strong cultural and spiritual connection to this ancient place to help preserve their way of life. Andres Leighton/AP

With unsettling speed, climate change has taken a toll on the the pueblo’s 89 square miles (230 square kilometers) that climb from the gently rolling Rio Grande Valley to Santa Clara Canyon in the rugged Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico

Hotter temperatures and drier conditions, exacerbated by global warming, have made their forests a tinderbox, shrunk waterways and parched pastures and gardens, threatening a way of life tied to land, water and animals they pray for daily and celebrate through stories, songs and dances passed down through the ages.

Elders in the tribe of about 1,350 remember dense forests of fir, pine, spruce and aspen. A creek cascading through a series of ponds in the canyon. A valley of sage and juniper with shady cottonwood galleries and gardens along a creek and river.

They hunted deer and elk, gathered firewood and medicinal and ceremonial plants and dug clay to make the shiny black and redware pottery pueblo artisans are renowned for. Fields irrigated by the creek and the Rio Grande bore a bounty of corn, beans, squash and chiles.

Farmer Eugene “Hutch” Naranjo harvests corn at his ancestral family farm on the Santa Clara Pueblo in northern New Mexico, Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. Climate change is taking a toll on the community, which has been home to Tewa-speaking people for thousands of years.Andres Leighton/AP

Farmer Eugene “Hutch” Naranjo harvests corn at his ancestral family farm on the Santa Clara Pueblo in northern New Mexico, Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. Climate change is taking a toll on the community, which has been home to Tewa-speaking people for thousands of years. Andres Leighton/AP

But three large wildfires in 13 years burned more than 80% of the tribe’s forested land. The last one, the 2011 Las Conchas fire — then the largest in New Mexico history — burned so hot it hardened the ground like concrete.

And in a cruel twist two months later, it took just a quarter-inch of rain to unleash the first of several devastating flash floods, scouring charred slopes and sending tree trunks, boulders and vast quantities of sediment surging through the pueblo. It buried sections of a Santa Clara Canyon road 50 feet (15 meters) deep, blew out earthen dams and drained ponds where the tribe planned to reintroduce native trout. It decimated habitat for beavers, bears, elk, mule deer and eagles.

In the valley, flash floods still fill irrigation ditches with sediment and ruin crops planted near the creek. And now tribal farmers who for centuries freely diverted water from the Rio Grande can only do so on designated days because the river has been critically low. Hotter temperatures and stronger winds dry the soil quickly, rain is unpredictable, snowfall is scarce.

People here in the high desert are familiar with drought. About 500 years ago, the tribe moved from the pueblo’s cliff dwellings — called Puye, or “where the rabbits gather” — to the Rio Grande Valley after drought dried up a stream and made dryland farming difficult.

But the megadrought now gripping the West and Southwest, the worst in 1,200 years, makes the future less certain.

“How do you prepare … with so many unknowns?” says Santa Clara Pueblo Gov. J. Michael Chavarria. “Where do we go? We have nowhere else to go.”

So the people are trying to adapt by returning to their roots: embracing natural methods to restore their watershed and make the forests more resilient, growing trees and crops from native seeds that evolved to withstand drought. But they’re also willing to embrace new ways if that helps them stay.

Their connection to this place and the future of their people is too important to do otherwise, Chavarria says. “We can’t just pack up our bags and leave.”


Garrett Altmann peers into the woody debris, looking for conifer seedlings planted last fall along Santa Clara Creek. Only a third have survived.

But as he keeps walking, Altmann is surprised to find fir and spruce seedlings sprouting naturally in a previously burned area. Though just an inch high, they represent an ecological victory, says Altmann, a geographic information systems coordinator and project manager with the tribe’s forestry department.

About 60% of the more than 2 million trees planted in the past 20 years, from seeds collected on the pueblo, have died. And some areas, especially unshaded south-facing slopes, may never again support trees in a hotter, drier world.

So to see some sprouting on their own is “like the apex of restoration,” says Altmann, who has crews place logs and scatter tree branches to stop erosion and build up soil. “Knowing that you’re doing something that nature will be able to propagate from, it just makes me happy.”

The tribe hopes to restore and even reengineer the canyon by combining scientific and native knowledge and using natural materials: rocks to slow water, bend waterways and create ponds and floodwater diversions; tree roots and debris to create habitats, enrich the soil and shade seedlings and Santa Clara Creek.

“My goal for this watershed is to build it back better than it was before,” says Altmann, who is not a tribal member.

That’s a difficult but important target, tribal officials say — not just to protect the canyon and prevent runoff that could threaten the village, but also to ease the tribe’s collective grief and restore some of what’s been lost: family hunting and camping trips, pilgrimages to ancient sites so sacred they’re kept secret from outsiders.

Some elders weep when they see treeless slopes, deeply eroded stream banks and burned out cabins, says Daniel Denipah, the tribe’s forestry director.

Burned pine trees stand in the Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. Large areas of the northernmost New Mexico national forest were ravaged by the Hermit's Peak and Calf Canyon wildfires in April 2022.Andres Leighton/AP

Burned pine trees stand in the Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. Large areas of the northernmost New Mexico national forest were ravaged by the Hermit’s Peak and Calf Canyon wildfires in April 2022. Andres Leighton/AP

“They say, ‘This just doesn’t look like the same place,’” he says. “It breaks your heart.”

They also worry a generation of children — many who’ve never seen the canyon — will lose an important connection to their culture, including songs that identify special places and give thanks to the animals, plants and life itself.

So the forestry department enlists schoolkids to help plant trees and grass plugs and build rock dams to forge a bond with the land. That’s what motivates Denipah, who says it could take more than 100 years for the tribe’s beloved forests to regrow.

“I’m going to … try my hardest to put things back the way they were and to keep this culture alive,” says Denipah. “That’s what’s important to me – trying to give that back to the people.”

Read the full article here.

Beech leaf disease found in more southeast Michigan counties

November 2, 2022 · 3 minute read
Beech leaf disease found in more southeast Michigan counties

Still time to check trees for symptoms

Invasive beech leaf disease was first confirmed in Michigan in July 2022 after landowners noticed its characteristic thickened leaf bands on trees in a small woodlot in St. Clair County. Since then, new detections in Oakland and Wayne counties indicate the disease is more widespread.

Beech leaf disease is associated with the nematode Litylenchus crenatae, a microscopic worm that enters and spends the winter in leaf buds, causing damage to leaf tissue on American, European and Asian beech species. Trees weakened by leaf damage become susceptible to other diseases and can die within six to 10 years after initial symptoms.

Affected trees have been found on properties in Birmingham, Bloomfield, China, Clay, Grosse Pointe Shores, Rochester and Troy. The condition of the leaves at these sites suggests the infestations have been present for at least a year, possibly longer.

Though leaves are changing and beginning to fall, Simeon Wright, Michigan Department of Natural Resources forest health specialist, says there is still time to check beech trees for signs of the disease.

“We’ve now seen beech leaf disease in both woodlots and individual urban trees in southeast Michigan. The disease causes dark, thick bands between leaf veins, which can be seen on both green and brown leaves,” said Wright. “If you have beech trees, take time now to look for symptoms.”

Beech leaf disease nematodes also are associated with damaged leaf tissue and dead buds. From one year to the next, leaf curling and distortion may progress, resulting in withered or yellow leaves and a thin canopy. Noticeable leaf loss can occur in early summer on heavily infested trees.

Why be concerned?

Many questions about beech leaf disease remain unanswered. Researchers are still working to understand if the Litylenchus crenatae nematode is the primary cause of the disease or the carrier of another causal agent responsible for the disease.
“Because of this, we don’t yet know all the ways the disease might be spread,” said Wright. “Currently there are no known treatments to protect trees or reduce disease impacts, although trials are ongoing.”

Michigan is home to approximately 37 million American beech trees. The potential spread of this disease through the region could have a devastating effect on beech trees, which play a significant role in both forests and urban landscapes across the state.

Report potential infestations

Take time now to look for any signs of the disease on American or ornamental beech trees. If you suspect you have found a symptomatic tree, take one or more photos of the infested tree, including close-ups of affected leaves; note the location, date and time; and report it in one of the following ways:

Avoid moving beech material

First identified in Ohio in 2012, beech leaf disease has now been documented in areas of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and Ontario.

The microscopic nematodes cannot move long distances on their own. It is possible that the disease can spread through the movement of infested nursery stock and other beech material containing leaves and buds. As a precaution, beech trees, tree material and firewood should not be moved from areas of known infestation.

What is being done?

Beech leaf disease was added to Michigan’s invasive species watch list in January 2021 to encourage nurseries, foresters, residents and land managers to look for and report suspected infestations.

Tree surveys continue across the state, with Michigan State University forest health researchers reporting no additional detections of beech leaf disease in their surveys this year. Researchers from University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability are planning surveys for 2023, and the DNR and Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development are working with cooperative invasive species management areas in southeast Michigan to broaden survey efforts near affected areas.

For more information including how to identify some common diseases frequently mistaken for beech leaf disease, visit

Michigan’s Invasive Species Program is cooperatively implemented by the Michigan departments of Agriculture and Rural Development; Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy; and Natural Resources.

Tree rings offer insight into devastating radiation storms

October 26, 2022 · 1 minute read
Tree rings offer insight into devastating radiation storms

A University of Queensland study has shed new light on a mysterious, unpredictable and potentially devastating kind of astrophysical event.

A team led by Dr. Benjamin Pope from UQ’s School of Mathematics and Physics applied cutting edge statistics to data from millennia-old trees, to find out more about “storms.”

“These huge bursts of cosmic radiation, known as Miyake Events, have occurred approximately once every thousand years, but what causes them is unclear,” Dr. Pope said.

“The leading theory is that they are huge . We need to know more, because if one of these happened today, it would destroy technology including satellites, internet cables, long-distance power lines and transformers. The effect on global infrastructure would be unimaginable.”

Enter the humble tree ring.

First author Qingyuan Zhang, a UQ undergraduate math student, developed software to analyze every available piece of data on .

“Because you can count a tree’s rings to identify its age, you can also observe historical cosmic events going back thousands of years,” Mr. Zhang said. “When radiation strikes the atmosphere, it produces radioactive carbon-14, which filters through the air, oceans, plants, and animals, and produces an annual record of radiation in tree rings. We modeled the to reconstruct the process over a 10,000-year period, to gain insight into the scale and nature of the Miyake Events.”

The common theory until now has been that Miyake Events are giant solar flares.

“But our results challenge this,” Mr. Zhang said. “We’ve shown they’re not correlated with sunspot activity, and some actually last one or two years. Rather than a single instantaneous explosion or flare, what we may be looking at is a kind of astrophysical ‘storm’ or outburst.”

Dr. Pope said the fact scientists don’t know exactly what Miyake Events are, or how to predict their occurrence, is very disturbing.

“Based on available data, there’s roughly a one percent chance of seeing another one within the next decade. But we don’t know how to predict it or what harms it may cause. These odds are quite alarming, and lay the foundation for further research,” he concluded.

The research is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A, and was completed with help from undergraduate math and physics students Utkarsh Sharma and Jordan Dennis.

One man has collected more than 8,000 pounds of acorns for Virginia

October 26, 2022 · 3 minute read
One man has collected more than 8,000 pounds of acorns for Virginia

Mike Ortmeier with 20-lb bags of seed he collected for the Virginia Department of Forestry. (Mike Ortmeier)

The start of September may signify to some that fall is coming, but Mike Ortmeier looks forward to a different type of fall – the fall of acorns from native trees.

For Ortmeier, the sight of the first acorn on the ground means it’s time for him to break out his broom and dustpan and add to the more than 8,000 pounds of acorns he’s collected for the state over the past 13 years.

Every year, Ortmeier walks up and down the streets within a one-mile radius of his Arlington home each day sweeping up acorns during the roughly one-and-a-half-month collection window designated by the state, starting in September. He can collect hundreds of pounds each day in a good year, he said, and has accumulated a total of over 715,000 acorns across eight species of trees.

The Virginia Department of Forestry plants the acorns and nuts from native tree species at state-run nurseries to grow into seedlings that will be transplanted throughout the state. These seedlings will help reforestation projects and, in turn, can decrease the amount of carbon in the atmosphere while increasing biodiversity.

“In just a few hours of collecting acorns, you have the potential for forests of these huge oak trees that bring all the benefits with that,” said Katie Blackman, vice president of operations and programs for the Potomac Conservancy. “What we are really looking for is more Mikes.”

Ortmeier’s collection journey began in the fall of 2009 after he retired from the U.S. Department of Energy, where he worked as an economist. He and his wife came across a nearby acorn collection station set up by the Potomac Conservancy, which donates the seeds to state-run nurseries. Realizing that his yard and neighborhood were abundant with acorns, he put two and two together and decided to start collecting them. The conservancy provided him with a user’s guide to collecting seeds and acorns, as well as other resources to help him get started.

“Well,” Ortmeier said, “it turned into something bigger because I kind of like doing it.”

Every fall, he collects the seeds independently and even has a special agreement with Arlington County which allows him to collect various seeds in county parks as long as he doesn’t damage anything.

Bags of seeds collected by Ortmeier for the Virginia Department of Forestry. (Mike Ortmeier)

Bags of seeds collected by Ortmeier for the Virginia Department of Forestry. (Mike Ortmeier)


His yield became so big that after a year or two, he said the conservancy was no longer able to accept his donations because it could not accommodate the massive quantity of acorns. However, this year the conservancy launched a new seed collection program known as Tomorrow’s Trees that aims to expand collection opportunities for people in the Potomac region.

Back then, he turned to the Virginia Department of Forestry’s Augusta Nursery Center, which gladly accepted his donations.

Ortmeier “has been a blessing for us here at the nursery,” said Joshua McLaughlin, assistant nursery manager at the Augusta center.

Volunteers like Ortmeier are responsible for the majority of acorns and nuts the nursery plants each year, McLaughlin said. Nursery staff also collect seeds, but sometimes the state has to turn to suppliers, which he said can be expensive. The nursery is self-financed and cannot take monetary donations, which is why he said seed donations are so important

“Every dollar we don’t spend keeps the nursery still floating,” McLaughlin said.

The Department of Forestry offers tree seedlings for sale as well.

Ortmeier estimates that almost 500,000 trees have made it into the wild from the seeds he’s donated over the years. This season is a different story, as he didn’t donate any acorns because there weren’t as many compared to previous years. He had collected 40 pounds, but a small army of chipmunks snatched away the majority after he left his haul outside.

Regardless, Ortmeier managed to donate over 40 bags full of walnuts before the Department of Forestry’s collection season ended.

Nursery staff are currently in the physically laborious process of cleaning, sorting and planting millions of seeds for the next few days. The acorns will grow into seedlings in the following months, after which they will be transferred to areas across the state for permanent planting.

Protecting very old trees can help mitigate climate change

October 19, 2022 · 1 minute read
Protecting very old trees can help mitigate climate change

Ancient trees—those that are many hundreds, or even thousands, of years old—play a vital role in biodiversity and ecosystem preservation by providing stability, strength, and protection to at-risk environments. In a review article published on October 19 in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, a team of ecologists highlight the importance of preserving these monumental organisms and present a project initiative to ensure their protection and longevity.

“Ancient  are unique habitats for the conservation of threatened species because they can resist and buffer climate warming,” write the authors, including Gianluca Piovesan and Charles H. Cannon. Some of these trees, such as bristlecone pines in the White Mountains, U.S., can live up to 5,000 years and act as massive carbon storage.

Ancient trees are hotspots for mycorrhizal connectivity, the  with underground fungi that supplies plants with many of the nutrients they need to survive. This symbiosis with fungi also helps reduce drought in dry environments. Ancient trees play a disproportionately large role in conservation planning and yet are being lost globally at an alarming rate.

The researchers propose a two-pronged approach to protect ancient trees: first, the conservation of these trees through the propagation and preservation of the germplasm and meristematic tissue from these ancient trees, and second, a planned integration of complete protection and forest rewilding.

“Mapping and monitoring  and ancient trees can directly assess the effectiveness and sustainability of protected areas and their ecological integrity,” they write. “To carry out this ambitious project, a global monitoring platform, based on advanced technologies, is required along with public contributions through community science projects.”

Currently, protecting ancient trees in forests, woodlands, historic gardens, and urban and  remain limited by national policy levels. “The current review of the Convention of Biological Diversity and Sustainable Development Goal 15 ‘Life on Land’ of Agenda 2030 should include old-growth and ancient tree mapping and monitoring as key indicators of the effectiveness of protected areas in maintaining and restoring forest integrity for a ,” write the authors.

“We call for international efforts to preserve these hubs of diversity and resilience. A global coalition utilizing advanced technologies and community scientists to discover, protect, and propagate ancient trees is needed before they disappear.”

More information: Gianluca Piovesan et al, Ancient trees: irreplaceable conservation resource for ecosystem, Trends in Ecology & Evolution (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2022.09.003

Journal information: Trends in Ecology & Evolution

Why mystery surrounds what may be Earth’s oldest tree

October 19, 2022 · 7 minute read
Why mystery surrounds what may be Earth’s oldest tree

Keeping the location a secret is essential to protecting it from overenthusiastic tourists. But drought is also threatening the ancient bristlecone.

Did you know that Maymont is home to a nationally recognized arboretum?

October 14, 2022 · 0 minute read
Did you know that Maymont is home to a nationally recognized arboretum?

Over a century ago, James and Sallie May Dooley carefully selected over 200 species of trees and plants to decorate their riverside estate. Many of these same trees provide shade for the families that visit Maymont today, with nearly 20 ranked as state and national champions for their species.

Time and weather will eventually take their toll on even the strongest trees, such as the 150-year-old Tulip Poplar that fell last year after a series of heavy rains. For generations, its enormous trunk and spreading crown made it a popular site for weddings, picnics, class trips, and family photos. Perhaps you have a few photos of it in your own collection?

Now, we are asking for your support to replant the Tulip Poplar and provide funding for the ongoing preservation of the historical landscape.

You can help ensure that Maymont’s arboretum continues to inspire generations to come by donating today! The first $10,000 raised of our $25,000 goal will be generously matched by True Timber Arborists.


Arbor Day RVA 2022

October 14, 2022 · 0 minute read
Arbor Day RVA 2022

What is ArborDayRVA?

Join Reforest Richmond for a week-long celebration of all things TREES! Focused on bringing the community together through a variety of different events happening throughout the city – from tree plantings and seedling giveaways to workshops and tours of our green spaces. Their hope is to spread awareness of all the fantastic organizations, community groups, and City departments, whose mission is to increase and maintain our urban canopy, as well as inspire the next generation of urban and community forestry advocates.

Click here to check out the Schedule of Events for full details on dates, locations, and times.

Climate change is turning the trees into gluttons

October 5, 2022 · 4 minute read
Climate change is turning the trees into gluttons

Researchers find that trees are getting bigger, thanks to carbon dioxide

Trees have long been known to buffer humans from the worst effects of climate change by pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Now new research shows just how much forests have been bulking up on that excess carbon.

The study, recently published in the Journal Nature Communications, finds that elevated carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased wood volume – or the biomass – of forests in the United States.

Although other factors like climate and pests can somewhat affect a tree’s volume, the study found that elevated carbon levels consistently led to an increase of wood volume in 10 different temperate forest groups across the country. This suggests that trees are helping to shield Earth’s ecosystem from the impacts of global warming through their rapid growth.

“Forests are taking carbon out of the atmosphere at a rate of about 13% of our gross emissions,” said Brent Sohngen, co-author of the study and professor of environmental and resource economics at The Ohio State University. “While we’re putting billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we’re actually taking much of it out just by letting our forests grow.”

This phenomenon is called carbon fertilization: An influx of carbon dioxide increases a plant’s rate of photosynthesis, which combines energy from the sun, water, and nutrients from the ground and air to produce fuel for life and spurs plant growth.

“It’s well known that when you put a ton of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it doesn’t stay up there forever,” Sohngen said. “A massive amount of it falls into the oceans, while the rest of it is taken up by trees and wetlands and those kinds of areas.”

Over the last two decades, forests in the United States have sequestered about 700-800 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, which, according to the study, accounts for roughly 10% to 11% of the country’s total carbon dioxide emissions. While exposure to high levels of carbon dioxide can have ill effects on natural systems and infrastructure, trees have no issue gluttoning themselves on Earth’s extra supply of the greenhouse gas.

To put it in perspective, if you imagine a tree as just a huge cylinder, the added volume the study finds essentially amounts to an extra tree ring, Sohngen said. Although such growth may not be noticeable to the average person, compared to the trees of 30 years ago, modern vegetation is about 20% to 30% bigger than it used to be. If applied to the Coast Redwood forests – home to some of the largest trees in the world – even a modest percentage increase means a lot of additional carbon storage in forests. Researchers also found that even older large trees continue adding biomass as they age due to elevated carbon dioxide levels.

Unlike the effects of climate change, which varies over location and in time, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere mixes almost evenly, so every place on Earth has nearly the same amount, Sohngen said.

So to test whether the chemical compound was responsible for beefing up our biome, Sohngen’s team used historical data from the U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis Program (USFS-FIA) to compare how the wood volume of certain forest groups has changed over the past few decades. The study estimates that between 1970 and 2015, there was a significant increase in trees’ wood volume, which correlates with a distinct rise in carbon emissions.

Researchers were also able to use this method to test whether there were differences in naturally occurring trees versus trees that were planted. Sohngen thought that planted trees would undergo a bigger fertilization effect, as they have an advantage in that planters often pick the best seeds to plant in only the best locations. On the contrary, he was surprised to find that planted trees respond to carbon dioxide levels in the same way natural ones do.

Overall, Sohngen said this work shows that the wood volume response to carbon dioxide in our ecosystem is even higher than his colleagues predicted with experimental studies.

The results should show policymakers and others the value of trees in mitigating climate change. Sohngen said that carbon fertilization could one day make tree-growing efforts more efficient. For instance, if it costs $50 to plant one acre of trees today, with the help of carbon fertilization, that number could easily be decreased to $40. As climate change costs the United States about $2 trillion each year, that decrease could help drive down the cost of mitigating climate change, Sohngen said.

“Carbon fertilization certainly makes it cheaper to plant trees, avoid deforestation, or do other activities related to trying to enhance the carbon sink in forests,” Sohngen said. “We should be planting more trees and preserving older ones, because at the end of the day they’re probably our best bet for mitigating climate change.”

The study was led by Eric Davis, a Ph.D graduate of Ohio State’s agricultural, environmental, and development economics program. This research was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Naturalists in Haiti rediscover the elusive magnolia flower

October 5, 2022 · 1 minute read
Naturalists in Haiti rediscover the elusive magnolia flower

The northern Haiti magnolia known for its bright white flowers and delicate fragrance hasn’t been spotted since 1925.
Credit: Courtesy of Eladio Fernandez

Haiti was once lush and teeming with biodiversity. Plants used to flourish there that were found nowhere else in the world. Take the northern Haiti magnolia, known for its flowers with bright white petals and delicate fragrance.

But today, with Haiti among the most deforested countries on earth, sightings of the native magnolia had not been recorded there since 1925. In fact, no one had even snapped a photo of it. Then in June, a team of naturalists with Haiti National Trust trekked to Haiti’s longest mountain range, the Massif du Nord, to try to find the elusive flower.

Expedition leader Eladio Fernandez, from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, said the search was like “an act of faith.”

“You know, when you look for these lost species, there’s a little fever in you that kind of drives your energy,” Fernandez told The World’s host Marco Werman.

Before the trek, the team researched the original specimen collected by Swedish botanist Erik Leonard Ekman in 1925. They referred to the specimen’s labels and matched those with the magnolia’s locality. They were able to identify the exact town and base camp used by Ekman using Google Earth. And then they surveyed the area for these last fragments of forests where the magnolia might be growing.

Marcsillion L’Homme (left) and Eladio Fernandez (right) naturalists who found the white flowers with their delicate fragrance on a mountain trek. Credit: Courtesy of Andres Miolan

Marcsillion L’Homme (left) and Eladio Fernandez (right) naturalists who found the white flowers with their delicate fragrance on a mountain trek.
Courtesy of Andres Miolan

Elation aside, Fernandez said that the really big, difficult work still lies ahead.

“We need to go back. We need to collect seeds. We need to set up a nursery. We need to get the community involved. We need to do education. We need to find the funding for this,” he said.

Fernandez would like to see further collaboration between naturalists from Haiti and the Dominican Republic, two sides of the same island whose shared history has been fraught with conflict.

“This expedition [is] a good example of what can be done if we all combine and collaborate for the better.”

The American chestnut is not dead

September 28, 2022 · 6 minute read
The American chestnut is not dead

Chestnut enthusiast Kieu Manes hugs the Coverdale tree found in Delaware and verified by Virginia Tech. Courtesy of The American Chestnut Foundation.

Like a ghost, the chestnut haunts the forests of the East.

Once a key source of food for people and animals, and rot-resistant timber for fences and buildings, the mighty American chestnut was felled by an imported fungus first identified in New York City in 1904. Within a half century, the chestnut population was reduced from nearly four billion giants dominating the eastern woods to spindly sprouts that survive a few years before withering.

Except … the chestnut is not dead. Every now and then, mostly in remote and rugged areas, a full-grown American chestnut is discovered. And scientists at Virginia Tech recently helped confirm one.

In 2019, a hunter, helping thin a deer herd in Delaware’s Coverdale Farm Preserve, owned by the Delaware Nature Society, discovered a 65-foot tall tree that, to all appearances, was a native American chestnut. But was it pure, or a hybrid?

Leaves were sent to Virginia Tech for DNA analysis.

Jason Holliday is a professor in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation at Virginia Tech.

“I’ve been working with The American Chestnut Foundation for 10 years,” Holliday said. “If somebody gets in touch with TACF and says, ‘We want to have this tree tested,’ they’ll send it to us most likely. As far as the testing, you can do it with any species, lots of labs do this sort of stuff. But as far as wild chestnuts that people find on their land, they’re probably going to find their way to me.

“Let’s say you find some tree that’s got a big diameter, looks like a chestnut, it can still be a hybrid. There’s lots of hybrids out there … we find all kinds of weird things, like, you’ll find three-way hybrids between Chinese, Japanese, and American chestnut.”

The 65-foot-tall American chestnut discovered in Coverdale Farm Preserve in Delaware and verified by Virginia Tech. Courtesy of The American Chestnut Foundation.

The 65-foot-tall American chestnut discovered in Coverdale Farm Preserve in Delaware and verified by Virginia Tech. Courtesy of The American Chestnut Foundation.

It’s easy to distinguish a Chinese vs. an American on the basis of leaf shape, Holliday said.

“Hybrid are harder, especially multi-generational hybrids (e.g., the offspring of a mother tree who is herself a hybrid). It might look like a characteristic wild American chestnut, but nevertheless be some kind of hybrid. So if it’s important that we know, we always sequence and can say with certainty on the basis of those data.”

An article published Aug. 26, 2022, on the Delaware News Journal website said the Delaware Nature Society received confirmation “this month” that the Coverdale tree was indeed a bona fide American. An article posted on the website of Delaware public radio WHYY on Sept. 9, 2022, said the verification process took “more than two years.” Messages left for Delaware Nature Society for clarification on the timeline were not returned. But Holliday said DNA testing “doesn’t take that long. We’ve sequenced about 6,000 chestnut trees at this point. And so when somebody sends us a sample, it may get in there quickly, or it may be in a line behind a lot of other samples that we’re working on. So it’s just a question of resources and so on.

“If somebody hands me a sample and says this is — and we decide that it’s — priority number one, then it could be a month or two, when we can get the data back. We don’t do them one at a time. We do them in batches when we sequence them, and so a batch is 96 trees usually. And so unless I have 95 ready to go and somebody hands me number 96, I’m not going to be doing that one by itself.”

The chestnut’s native range. Courtesy of The American Chestnut Foundation.

The chestnut’s native range. Courtesy of The American Chestnut Foundation.

Sara Fitzsimmons is chief conservation officer at TACF. In an email, she wrote, “As for ‘Large’ trees, those which are 10″ DBH or larger, we have logged over 500 of these trees in our database, this Coverdale tree being one of them.”

DBH is diameter at breast height, measured at 4.5 feet from the ground. The Coverdale tree was reported to be 18 inches in diameter by WHYY.

“There are an estimated 430 million American chestnuts across the native range,” Fitzsimmons wrote. “84% of them are 1″ DBH or smaller. We have not made an estimate of the Large trees, but it’s likely in the 10s of 1000s.”

How did the Delaware specimen manage to escape the fate that befalls most American chestnuts?

“If you go for a walk anywhere in the forest around here, you’ll see the stump sprouts,” Holliday said. “So the blight will kill the stem. It girdles the stem as if you took like a weed whacker, and went around all the way around a tree and kill it. And so they’ll fall over, but they have this ability to resprout.

“Usually they resprout and they can be six or eight feet tall. They’ll be little, diameter-wise. So soon as that resprout gets to a certain size, the blight is going to infect it again, and knock it back.

“The large trees are much, much more rare. We don’t know very much about whether they’re actually resistant to the blight, or whether they kind of got lucky and are in an environment where they didn’t get infected, or they’re in such a rich environment that they can fight it off in a way that another tree of the same genetics planted on a different site wouldn’t be able to.

“There’s a big environmental component for a lot of diseases. You think about when you get sick. When you’re run down, that cold is more likely to get you harder. It’s not exactly the same thing, but you can sort of think of it that way. If a tree is on a really favorable site, and they’re in really good health, they’re much more likely to be able to fight off a disease of some kind, than the same tree on a worse site.”

The American Chestnut Foundation is pursuing three methods to restore the chestnut, according to its website.

One is genetic modification, in which a wheat gene that confers blight resistance is inserted into the tree’s DNA.

Another is attacking the blight fungus with a virus that reduces its ability to sicken trees.

The other more traditional approach is a long-running breeding program at TACF’s research farm in Meadowview, Va., and other locations across the tree’s traditional range. “They cross American and Chinese chestnut. And then they take the progeny of that and cross them back to American,” Holliday said. “And so one of the tricks with that is finding the offspring in the final generation that are the most resistant. And so we sequence a lot of their trees in order to basically predict which ones are going to be the best, based on genetics.”

One of Holliday’s Ph.D. students is Alexander Sandercock. In an email, Sandercock wrote that he studies “patterns of genomic diversity within the American chestnut natural range … We can then use this information to breed the TACF blight-resistant populations with wild American chestnut trees to develop locally adapted blight-resistant American chestnut populations. Developing locally adapted trees for reintroduction is important so that they have the greatest chance of thriving and reproducing.”

The Delaware tree “will be of particular interest in our current and future genomic studies,” Sandercock wrote. “Now that we know that this tree is 100% American chestnut, it will be included in future batches where we sequence the whole genome.”

Fitzsimmons wrote that Holliday and his department “have helped us unlock many mysteries regarding the diversity of remnant populations of American chestnut. TACF seeks to not only create a disease-resistant tree, but one that has enough genetics from the remaining wild population that it can be fully re-installed back into the forests of the eastern U.S.

“How many wild American chestnuts do we need to use and from where? Jason’s work – and that of his lab – are helping us zero-in on which and how many of those remnant trees we need to use to effectively restore the population.”

Boston launches forestry division to maintain city’s urban forest and plant new trees

September 28, 2022 · 3 minute read
Boston launches forestry division to maintain city’s urban forest and plant new trees

“Trees are our best green technology to fight climate change and build healthy, beautiful communities, especially as heat and storms intensify.”

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced Wednesday that a new forestry division, tasked with caring for and growing the city’s urban forest, is being created within the Boston Parks and Recreation Department.

The division increases the workforce focused on trees in the city from five to 16, and according to the city, it will have dedicated leadership and resources “to plant new trees as well as proactively inspect, maintain, and prune existing trees, focusing on under-canopied and environmental justice neighborhoods.”

Trees are key for combating climate change, particularly heat islands in the city.

The creation of the new unit was one of the recommendations in Boston’s newly-released Urban Forest Plan, which includes an analysis of the city’s tree canopy, direction for ensuring equitable access, and suggestions for how trees could have better care.

“Trees are our best green technology to fight climate change and build healthy, beautiful communities, especially as heat and storms intensify,” Wu said in a statement. “Dedicating staff and resources to our new Forestry Division will empower the City of Boston to strengthen our tree canopy citywide so every community benefits from these treasured resources.”

The recommendations, the creation a forestry division among them, in the city’s new Urban Forest Plan are organized under seven strategies:

  • Engaging in comprehensive, progressive, and proactive urban forestry work across City departments.
  • Conducting proactive care and protection for existing trees across public and private land, involving a cyclical care program, and a well-defined risk management approach.
  • Expanding the tree canopy in line with broader citywide goals of equity, resilience, public health, and community well-being.
  • Creating solutions to make space for trees in Boston, as well as improving the quality of planting sites to allow trees to thrive.
  • Improving communication between the multiple City departments, agencies, non-governmental organizations, and citizen groups that plant and care for trees within Boston.
  • Improving access to neighborhood tree data to give local groups the tools to make decisions and improvements for their own communities.
  • Utilizing and developing local talent to grow workforce opportunities in alignment with fulfilling the goals of this urban forest plan.

Ryan Woods, commissioner of the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, said in a statement that the new tree division will “significantly expand” the city’s ability to plant and care for trees in every neighborhood.

“We are committed to increasing the survival rate of our new plantings and supporting the growth and maturation of trees across Boston, particularly in communities that need more canopy,” he said.

The division will include a director of urban forestry, three arborists, three maintenance crews made up of three people, as well as several support staff. The city said the increased staff will help the department respond more quickly to requests submitted through 311 for tree maintenance, and decrease tree mortality.

Wednesday’s announcement of the new division was accompanied by other tree news: Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum is gifting the city 10 dawn redwood trees to plant throughout Boston neighborhoods.

The trees, according to the city, are “descended from the first such trees to grow in North America in over two million years, known as ‘living fossils.’”

“I’m especially grateful for the partnership with the Arboretum in sharing the wonder of dawn redwoods citywide as a connection to our legacy of research, discovery, and global collaboration here in Boston,” Wu said of the new trees.

According to the city, applications are now being accepted for the forestry director position. Other open positions within the division are opportunities for graduates from PowerCorpsBOS, the city’s ARPA-funded workforce development program that launched earlier this year for young people aged 18 to 30 years old.

New tech aims to track carbon in every tree, boost carbon market integrity

September 21, 2022 · 6 minute read
New tech aims to track carbon in every tree, boost carbon market integrity
  • Climate scientists and data engineers have developed a new digital platform billed as the first-ever global tool for accurately calculating the carbon stored in every tree on the planet.
  • Founded on two decades of research and development, the new platform from nonprofit CTrees leverages artificial intelligence-enabled satellite datasets to give users a near-real-time picture of forest carbon storage and emissions around the world.
  • With forest protection and restoration at the center of international climate mitigation efforts, CTrees is set to officially launch at COP27 in November, with the overall aim of bringing an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability to climate policy initiatives that rely on forests to offset carbon emissions.
  • Forest experts broadly welcome the new platform, but also underscore the risk of assessing forest restoration and conservation projects solely by the amount of carbon sequestered, which can sometimes be a red herring in achieving truly sustainable and equitable forest management.

Users of a new digital platform from nonprofit CTrees will be able to track in near-real-time the carbon stored and emitted in the world’s forests. The platform is borne out of two decades of research and development by a team of the world’s leading climate scientists and data engineers. It’s being touted as the first-ever global system for calculating the amount of carbon in every tree on the planet.

“Forests are extremely important to mitigate climate change because they absorb a major part of the carbon in the atmosphere annually,” Sassan Saatchi, a senior scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who collaborated with colleagues in the U.S., Brazil, Denmark and France to develop the platform, told Mongabay.

However, because trees are so efficient at stashing away carbon dioxide, they release vast quantities of carbon back into the atmosphere when forests are degraded, felled or burned. Recent studies have shown that many forests are nearing a tipping point that compromises their ability to store carbon, with parts of Southeast Asia and the Amazon already net carbon emitters due to multiple human-induced stressors.

Pine trees in the Sierra Nevada, U.S. Photo by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay

Pine trees in the Sierra Nevada, U.S. Photo by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay

Due to this weighty influence on atmospheric carbon, forest conservation and restoration have become major components of climate change mitigation efforts through climate policy initiatives that rely on forests to offset carbon emissions. But up until now, the world has lacked a globally consistent and transparent means of quantifying and tracking forest carbon.

The new CTrees platform now fills this gap, said Saatchi. It’s a “game changer,” he said, for the world’s governments, investors and organizations to make better science-based decisions. “The transition to carbon neutrality requires accurate accounting,” he said. “To truly evaluate the benefits of carbon reduction efforts, market and policy actors need a global state-of-the-art system for measuring and monitoring. Until now, this technology hasn’t been available to carbon markets, and only on a limited basis to climate policymakers.”

The new platform is due to officially launch at COP27 this November, when world leaders will convene in Egypt to discuss progress made toward national climate commitments. Knowing exactly how much carbon forests emit or capture will be key for decision-makers involved in calculating individual countries’ nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement.

Saatchi said CTrees’ science-based approach offers a much-needed update to the current method of forest carbon accounting, which relies on nationally reported figures that are often incomplete and inconsistent. By providing a high-accuracy, up-to-date overview of the carbon implications of forest conservation and restoration at local, national and global levels, the new platform can bring unprecedented levels of transparency and accountability to the arena, he said.

Besides policymakers and investors, the platform is a boon for environmental advocates and rights groups that can access open-source global and national-level data, enabling them to hold governments and organizations to account on their commitments.

Global forests are still an overall net carbon sink, but some forested areas have transitioned to net emitters due to degradation, deforestation, rising temperatures and many other threats. Image courtesy of CTrees

Global forests are still an overall net carbon sink, but some forested areas have transitioned to net emitters due to degradation, deforestation, rising temperatures and many other threats. Image courtesy of CTrees

Fine-scale accuracy and detail

There are an estimated 3 trillion trees from 60,000 species on the planet. Therefore, tracking the forest carbon flux across the globe a huge task, but one that Saatchi said new technology can deal with. “In the old days, we had to take [airborne] pictures and then draw lines around these single trees to identify them and separate them. … Now, we do it with cloud-based artificial intelligence and we can process terabytes of the data in hours.”

The CTrees forest carbon monitoring system merges carbon flux datasets spanning back to the early 2000s with artificial intelligence-enabled high-resolution satellite data from a range of systems, including Planet, which provide datasets of up to 3 by 3 meters (10 by 10 feet) resolution and other sources that go down to 0.5 by 0.5 meters (1.6 by 1.6 feet) resolution.

“This gets us to the level of trees,” Saatchi said, allowing individual trees outside of forest stands, such as in urban centers, to be included in carbon accounting — a practice typically lacking up until now. The fine-scale approach to carbon accounting makes it possible to estimate emissions and sequestration not only at the country level, but also at much finer scales such as individual jurisdictions, forest patches, plantations and tree-planting projects.

The platform can also distinguish between natural forests and commercial plantations, the cutting cycle of which can be tracked. Such information is vital to assess which types of forest investments could make the most impact, he said.

CTrees map of carbon stored in forests globally during 2021. Image courtesy of CTrees

CTrees map of carbon stored in forests globally during 2021. Image courtesy of CTrees

A boost to tree planting accountability

Karen Holl, a restoration ecologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said tools that enable real-time and rigorous monitoring of tree cover are critical to verifying whether the world’s massive tree growing efforts are having the desired effects. This is because many organizations involved in tree planting overly focus on the number of trees put into the ground, she said, rather than investing in long-term monitoring to ensure planted trees remain healthy and alive well into the future.

“There are many examples of tree growing efforts that have failed initially, and sometimes the same areas are planted year after year with the trees being counted multiple times,” Holl told Mongabay in an email. “Monitoring on most of these reforestation projects is short-term (1-3 years) or nonexistent. Moreover … young secondary forests are often recleared within a decade or two.”

Meredith Martin, an assistant professor of forestry at North Carolina State University, said the lack of monitoring is a major concern. She and her colleagues recently found that fewer than one-fifth of organizations engaged in tree planting in the tropics have a monitoring program, with still fewer measuring tree survival or amounts of carbon stored.

Martin acknowledged that platforms like CTrees are powerful tools to promote transparency and accountability in the sector, but noted that reducing the merits of reforestation efforts down to the amount of carbon sequestered alone risks overlooking other important factors.

“Carbon doesn’t tell us anything about biodiversity or even about actual forest resilience to climate change,” Martin told Mongabay in an email. “For example, we are seeing new invasive pests and diseases spreading throughout the US that can wipe out individual tree species quite quickly, so managing forests for diversity and functional redundancy may be more important in the long term than just focusing on the amount of carbon sequestered in the short term.”

Mark Ashton, a professor of silviculture and forest ecology at Yale University, said that the problems of forest loss and degradation are unlikely to be solved solely through technological solutions. “The real solutions to forest recovery and sustainable use are social, cultural and economic,” Ashton told Mongabay in an email. “Better forest management is obtained when you direct your focus to solving human problems in the forestlands that are undergoing deforestation and degradation.”

Martin echoed Ashton’s call for more human-centric solutions. “Ultimately I think much more attention should be spent listening to local communities and stakeholders to support forest stewardship in a truly sustainable way,” she said.

Keeping Dead Wood

September 21, 2022 · 3 minute read
Keeping Dead Wood

Dead wood, also called woody debris, woody material, or even necromass, is a normal and natural part of forests. Dead wood takes a number of forms, from dead-standing trees (snags) to twigs and small branches (fine woody material) to larger pieces (coarse woody material). Dead wood helps build and enrich forest soils, benefits forest hydrology, and provides habitat for more than one-third of New England’s mammals and amphibians in addition to nourishing seedlings and helping protect young trees from deer browse.

The ecological importance of dead wood expands what it means for a tree to be “alive.” In fact, research from the Pacific Northwest suggests that dead trees can harbor as much as quadruple the living biomass as living trees. As with living trees, dead trees provide complex and important habitats. Nurse logs, for example, supply moist, rich seedbeds for trees, plants, mosses, lichens, and liverworts – as well as habitat for amphibian species such as salamanders. Dead wood also provides critical habitat for fungi and invertebrates, which are important to soil formation, as well as for some of our hundreds of species of native bees. Snags offer foraging sites for woodpeckers, which excavate cavities that shelter dozens of species of birds and mammals.

So why don’t we love dead wood? While there are several popular misconceptions about it, including that dead wood spreads disease, the most common answer is aesthetics. In my experience, when landowners say that their forest is a mess, they are nearly always talking about the presence of downed trees and snags. We’re also just not used to it; while forests with lots of dead wood were the norm in the Northeast for thousands of years, land use during the last two centuries has created young forests with one-quarter to one-half as much dead wood as old forests. Now, landowners often go to great lengths to clean it up: they cut it, pile it, chip it, and gather it into windrows.

Unless you live in a fire-prone area, or are maintaining access to your forest for stewardship purposes, cutting up or removing dead wood serves no ecological purpose. In fact, it diminishes many of the positive benefits that dead wood offers to soil health, carbon storage, wildlife habitat, forest hydrology, and forest ecology.

When I’m working in my forest, I celebrate dead wood and try to create more of it. I leave fallen trees on the ground and leave snags standing (except where they constitute a hazard). Instead of cutting dead trees, I focus on being proactive with my management: felling living trees to encourage the growth and vigor of remaining trees, to create canopy gaps, and to release pockets of established regeneration. I find that most time is spent – and most residual damage done – in the process of skidding trees out of the woods, and I’ve become comfortable with leaving smaller and more marginal trees on the ground. When I do pull trees out of the woods, I leave limbs and treetops completely un-lopped on the forest floor.

Girdling, a method of creating snags quickly or killing large trees in a way that is generally safer, can also be an effective tool and is faster than felling trees. However, research suggests that girdled trees do not provide the same habitats as trees that decline naturally during a longer period of time. For this reason, in addition to girdled trees and snags, I also leave some legacy trees (see “Forest Insights” in the Spring 2022 issue) to become snags and dead wood on their own schedule.

When I’m working with loggers, I ask (or even require) them to avoid lopping treetops and brush and encourage them to cut and leave commercially-marginal trees on the ground. While some loggers are initially resistant – they’re concerned that to leave a “messy” forest would reflect poorly on their professionalism – it’s gratifying when they eventually realize that working this way can be safer and more efficient.

As we expand our idea of what forests are, and the factors that contribute to their health and productivity, we have an opportunity to redefine what healthy forests – and responsible forest management – look like. While it may seem counterintuitive, lots of dead wood of all different arrangements, shapes, sizes, and species, and in all different stages of decomposition, is critical to the health of the forest’s biological community. It may look messy, but it is part of what makes our forests so vital and so beautiful.

Invasive tree-destroying insect found in Acadia National Park

September 14, 2022 · 3 minute read
Invasive tree-destroying insect found in Acadia National Park

An invasive insect that has been devastating stands of eastern hemlock trees along the East Coast has been found in the park near Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park.

Hemlock woolly adelgid, a tiny insect that eats the sap of eastern hemlock trees, has been spreading north toward Maine after first being detected in Richmond, Virginia, decades ago.

Now, the insect has been found among eastern hemlock trees on either side of Jordan Stream, which runs south from Jordan Pond to Little Long Pond and then drains into the ocean at Bracy Cove. The affected trees are spread among roughly 40 acres of woods that are split by the water, Acadia natural resources specialist Jesse Wheeler told the park’s citizen advisory panel on Monday.

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid_NPS

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid – image by NPS

“We found it in July of this year,” Wheeler said. “We knew it was coming.”

Wheeler said the invasive insect, which is originally from Japan, was found elsewhere on Mount Desert Island in 2020. The insect weakens and often kills the affected trees, where little spots of what looks like white wool gives the insects’ presence away.

The insect also has been found on eastern hemlocks in about a 2-acre area of woods near Amphitheater Bridge on the park’s carriage road network, on the western side of Jordan Ridge from Jordan Pond.

Wheeler said the park has been trying to mitigate the spread by clipping branches on infected trees so that passing animals or people don’t brush up against them and then unknowingly transfer the tiny insects to other trees.

But the insect also can move from one tree to another simply by blowing across on the breeze, he added.

The park is looking into other mitigation strategies such as introducing native predatory insects that will eat the adelgid, though the effectiveness of this strategy is limited, according to Wheeler. Using more than one type of the predatory insects, which include certain beetle and fly species, likely would increase the impact of the predatory insects, he said.

The park also is looking at possibly using targeted pesticides “in a couple of years” if the problem persists, he told the panel.

Changes to the types of vegetation found in Acadia National Park — such as when birch and aspen trees became more prominent in the wake of the Great Fire of 1947 that burned 17,000 acres on MDI — are not unprecedented. Climate change already has been affecting plants in the park and elsewhere in Maine, but the park has long sought to try to prevent the spread of invasive species within its boundaries, whether they are plants or insects or something else.

Wheeler said that as climate change makes Maine winters less and less cold, the spread of the adelgids will become more prominent, because more will survive milder temperatures. The park’s strategy will be to contain the insect, rather than eliminate it altogether, which means the park may have to prioritize where it implements its eastern hemlock defenses and where it decides to let the trees die off and be replaced by other tree species, he said.

“It will be more difficult to control the spread,” Wheeler said. “We need to prioritize because we won’t save all the hemlock.”

Nick Fisichelli, director of the Schoodic Institute in Acadia, told the panel that he worked at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia in the early 2000s. While he was there, eastern hemlock trees that had been infested with the adelgid were unable to to survive an ensuing drought, and 90 percent of them died, he said.

“It’s a serious forest pest and a serious forest health issue,” Fisichelli said.

Research on world’s largest tree group will help conservation and management of rain forests

September 14, 2022 · 3 minute read
Research on world’s largest tree group will help conservation and management of rain forests

An international study that analyzed the world’s largest tree group has made breakthrough findings. The results are expected to guide future conservation of tropical and subtropical rain forests as well as help with predicting how certain plants will respond to climate change.

More than 60 researchers explored the evolution and speciation patterns of the tree group Syzgium, which includes the trees that gives us the spice clove as well as numerous fruits.

The study was led by the Singapore Botanic Gardens of Singapore’s National Parks Board in collaboration with 26 international research institutions including the University of Aberdeen, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Nanyang Technological University and the University of Buffalo.

Published in Nature Communications the research is the most extensive study of any Syzgium group of trees to date and was carried out over two years using samples from some 300 species growing in Africa, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, Australia and the Pacific Islands.

Trees growing in are understood to be some of the most valuable in the world in protecting biodiversity and global warming, but they are also among some of the most threatened because of commercial needs and use of the land for farming.

Native and widespread in tropical and subtropical rain forests, studying the origins and drivers of the large hyperdiverse tree group Syzygium contributes to the understanding of how have emerged in the past in response to environmental changes. This knowledge is valuable for predicting how plants might respond to ecological changes brought about by climate change and will guide conservation and management efforts for plant communities.

The Syzygium species may be found growing together with other trees within the understory and canopy layers of forests. Because of its large diversity, they play an inordinate role in the functioning of forest ecosystems. Many Syzygium species are also cultivated in for different types of spices as well as their large edible fruits.

Understanding how Syzygium species have evolved will help to advance knowledge of the highly complex species-environment relationships in forest ecosystems and anticipate forest ecosystem changes in response to climate change.

The University of Aberdeen’s Interdisciplinary Director for Environment and Biodiversity Professor David Burslem says that “ are under severe threat from conversion, industrial logging and climate change. The new results on the origins and biodiversity of Syzygium, an important group of tropical trees containing many species of commercial importance for timber and fruit production, provides the raw material for devising strategies for species conservation and restoration.”

“This new paper will serve as a benchmark for future studies combining genomic analyses with extensive data-sets on species distributions and satellite-derived environmental sensing to finally understand the mechanisms that drive patterns of tropical forest biodiversity.”

“It was a privilege for the University of Aberdeen to work closely with experts from Singapore Botanic Gardens as well as many other prestigious international organizations on this vitally important project which is one of the first genome-scale plant evolutionary studies on a single group to be published that was so widely-sampled.”

Dr. David Middleton, coordinating director at Singapore Botanic Gardens, says that “Southeast Asia is a region of exceptionally rich species diversity. The Singapore Botanic Gardens has played a contributory role to the study of plant diversity in the region since its founding in 1859, as part of the Gardens’ core roles in research, conservation and education.”

“The enormous genus Syzygium, the species of which are mainly understory trees, has long been neglected in comparison to the iconic forest giants and plant groups of more immediate economic interest. However, their role in the diversity and functioning of our forests must be better understood if we are to succeed in our conservation goals.”

“In partnership with our collaborators at home and abroad, we have begun to understand what drives such exceptional species diversity in tropical Southeast Asia and can make better informed decisions on how to conserve this diversity. This strengthens the science on conservation in the region and contributes towards Singapore’s City in Nature vision.”

Pine Country – America’s longleaf pine tree.

September 7, 2022 · 8 minute read
Pine Country – America’s longleaf pine tree.

America’s longleaf pine tree evolved to survive natural disasters. Now a range-wide recovery effort is helping it stand the test of time.

Across the coastal plains of the southeastern United States, amid miles of industrial slash and loblolly pine farms, remnants of another pine forest—once North America’s largest—hide in plain sight. Unlike densely shaded deciduous forests, longleaf pine trees grow wide apart. This distance forms an open canopy that lets sunlight spill down through a mostly vacant midstory to reach a forest floor tightly packed with grasses and flowering plants. Though these forests can feel almost empty, the longleaf pine ecosystem is a trove of biodiversity. Some researchers estimate its species richness is surpassed only by tropical forests and coral reefs. But with less than 5% of longleaf pine forests remaining, states, the federal government and conservation groups, including The Nature Conservancy, are working to save these Southern forests—and the species that depend on them—before it’s too late.

by Andrew Kornylak

Wide View Panorama image of longleaf pine at Green Swamp Preserve, North Carolina. © Andrew Kornylak

Left to its own devices, the longleaf pine tree is remarkably resilient. Its armor-thick bark and deep tap root help the tree withstand hurricanes, droughts, pests and wildfires. Instead of destroying longleaf pine forests, frequent fires clear them of hardwoods that crowd the ground, unlock nutrients on the forest floor and expose the mineral soil that longleaf seeds need to germinate. With every fire, the forest floor is remade to better support this bustling natural metropolis from the ground up.

“The important part of a longleaf pine landscape is from the knees down,” says David Printiss, fire program director for TNC in Florida. “It’s the grasses and forbs that make up the ground cover—that’s where the magic is.”

by Andrew Kornylak

Golden Hour The sun sets on longleaf pine saplings in Florida’s Torreya State Park. This young forest was restored by planting longleaf pine seedlings and sowing thousands of pounds of wiregrass seeds into the sandy soil—a technique developed nearby on TNC’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. © Andrew Kornylak

More than 50 kinds of plants can be packed into one square meter of longleaf pine forest, and scores of at-risk species call it home: prehistoric gopher tortoises, glossy indigo snakes, red-cockaded woodpeckers and carnivorous plants with delicious names like sundew and butterwort.

by Nathan Yoder

The Nature Conservancy is working to restore the longleaf pine forest. © Nathan Yoder

The historic range of the longleaf pine forest spanned 92 million acres from southern Virginia to eastern Texas. The ubiquity and utility of its trees made them indispensable to colonists who needed raw materials to fuel their New World ambitions. Its surprisingly strong softwood was ideal for raising buildings, producing furniture and laying floors. Its gummy resin formed a tar perfect for waterproofing ships, and the forest’s wild game fed laboring settlers. In the 1800s, longleaf pine wood formed the railroad ties that pushed industrial logging farther inland. In the years following the Civil War, longleaf pine timber was fed to sawmills to rebuild the South and plug a hole in the market left by depleted Northern forests.

by Andrew Kornylak

Banded Biologist Mike Keys holds a newly banded red-cockaded woodpecker in the early morning in a longleaf pine forest in the Disney Wilderness Preserve. © Andrew Kornylak

But every step of regional progress put a bigger dent in the ecosystem. Longleaf pine forests were converted into agricultural fields, paved over or replanted with other species of pine that grew back faster and could yield more timber per acre. Eventually, a federal policy of fire suppression robbed remaining stands of the low-intensity burns they needed to regenerate.

By the time the Department of the Interior launched its first full review of the health of American landscapes in 1995, less than 1% of old-growth longleaf pine stands remained. The federal study identified longleaf pine as the third most endangered ecosystem in America.

Beneath the Crown

A healthy longleaf pine forest is a buzzy home to 900 types of plants and hundreds of kinds of animals, including 29 species federally listed as threatened or endangered. Meet some of the flora and fauna that rely on this woodland to survive.

  • Eastern indigo snake illustration

    Eastern Indigo Snake

    The eastern indigo snake is North America’s largest native, nonvenomous snake and can grow more than 9 feet long. Its scientific name, a Greek phrase meaning “lord of the forest,” is an apt description for this apex predator.

  • White-Topped Pitcher Plant illustration

    White-Topped Pitcher Plant

    Longleaf pine ecosystems harbor nearly 200 rare vascular plants, including the white-topped pitcher, which uses a “pitfall” trap and other lures to snare its prey. Bamboozled insects tumble into the throat of the plant, where they’re digested.

  • Gopher Tortoise

    Gopher Tortoise

    Using its front legs like small shovels, the gopher tortoise digs extensive burrows where it can escape predators, take shelter from fire and cold weather, and protect its hatchlings. More than 300 opportunistic species seek refuge in its tunnels.

  • Red-cockaded woodpecker illustration

    Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

    The social red-cockaded woodpecker lives in an extended family group that includes one mating pair of adults and up to four additional “helper” birds that assist in incubating and feeding offspring.

  • Venus fly trap illustration

    Venus Fly Trap

    The Venus fly trap requires the sun-drenched understory of a longleaf pine forest to thrive. But the forest’s acidic boggy soil delivers few nutrients, so the plant developed an appetite for insects.

  • Flatwoods salamander illustration

    Flatwoods Salamander

    The flatwoods salamander spends most of its time underground, making use of crayfish burrows or root channels in wet sandy soil. The amphibian leads a solitary existence outside of breeding season.

by Andrew Kornylak

Still Standing Jesse Wimberley with longleaf totem his property at Lighterwood Farm. © Andrew Kornylak

“I’ve read about how settlers could ride their wagons through the forest and see [longleaf pine] for miles and miles,” says Colette DeGarady, longleaf pine whole system director for TNC. “It’s hard to imagine that with the complex land use that we now have, we could ever get back to where it was. But our range-wide goal is to bring back as much of that native forest as possible, not just tiny snippets throughout the landscape.”

by Andrew Kornylak

Healthy Forest Regular controlled burns, conducted by trained professionals like TNC burn crews, are critical. Prescribed Burn Associations assist landowners in using controlled burns (like this one, led by Jesse Wimberley) to restore and manage longleaf pine forests on private property. © Andrew Kornylak

by Andrew Kornylak

Out of the Ashes A burnt young longleaf pine in the Green Swamp Preserve, Supply, North Carolina. © Andrew Kornylak

The Conservancy’s work is part of a massive effort to revive this piece of the country’s natural heritage. So far, America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative (a coalition of state and federal agencies, industry, researchers, private landowners and conservation groups like TNC) has helped the forest recover from a historic low of 2.95 million acres in 1996 to nearly 5 million acres today. The group aims to restore another 3 million acres in the coming years.

Growth Strategy

The lifespan of a longleaf pine can bridge more than four centuries. To reach that point, the tree passes through five stages of development timed to give it the best chance of survival.

  • longleaf pine cone illustration.

    Pine Cone and Seed

    A seed falls from its cone in late autumn, settling on the forest floor, where it is either snatched up by eager squirrels, mice, birds or ants, or germinates in bare mineral soil.

  • longleaf pine grass stage

    Grass Stage

    A spray of dark-green needles protects the growing bud from fire, while the plant devotes its energy to striking a deep tap root that can take up to seven years to develop and will reach up to 12 feet long before the tree begins upward growth.

  • longleaf pine bottlebrush stage.


    A white bud known as a “candle” sprouts from the top of the plant. The tree remains limbless—resembling a bottlebrush—and vulnerable to fire during the two years it takes for its newly developed scaly bark to thicken.

  • longleaf pine sapling.


    When the plant reaches 6 to 10 feet in height, it begins sprouting limbs. The tree continues to make swift vertical progress at a rate of more than 3 feet per year, pushing the candle bud high above the ground where fire can’t damage it.

  • longleaf pine tree

    Mature Tree

    Thirty years on, the mature longleaf begins to produce pine cones, and the cycle continues. The tree typically stops vertical growth at 70 to 100 years of age, with some trees topping out at more than 120 feet tall and 3 feet in diameter.

To reach that target, TNC and its partners are working across nine states. Returning regular controlled burns to the ecosystem and letting natural wildfires burn through when developed areas are not at risk is helping existing forests thrive. Land acquisitions and conservation easements are knitting together large swaths of connected habitat to bolster populations of threatened and endangered species. And empowering private landowners (who hold 86% of potential longleaf pine habitat) to reintroduce longleaf pine trees onto their property is not only creating new forests but also generating sources of income.

by Andrew Kornylak

Seed Collection TNC employees unload wiregrass seed to store at the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravine Preserve, Florida. © Andrew Kornylak

As climate change drives more severe storms and warmer temperatures across the South, restoring habitat this resilient is an investment in biodiversity, the Southern economy and America’s environmental future, says Brian van Eerden, pinelands program director for TNC in Virginia. But it won’t be a quick fix. “It took 400 years to pull this landscape apart—it’s going to take some time to put it back together.”

by Andrew Kornylak

Longleaf pine Lauren Goodman, TNC Conservation Coordinator, at Black Ankle Preserve in North Carolina. © Andrew Kornylak

How the world’s loneliest tree is helping scientists advance climate change research

September 7, 2022 · 4 minute read
How the world’s loneliest tree is helping scientists advance climate change research

On a remote and windswept island some 700km south of New Zealand, grows the world’s loneliest tree.

Green, bushy, large — as trees go, it’s pretty unremarkable.

Sitting in the middle of the permanently uninhabited subantarctic Campbell Island, the nine-metre-tall Sitka spruce is 250 kilometres away from its closest companion. In fact, it is the only tree on the island.

The 100-year-old pine has been recognised by the Guinness World Records as the “most remote tree in the world”.

However, technically, this lonely tree should not be here.

Its very existence is now helping to advance groundbreaking climate change research.

In search of CO2 history

by Jocelyn Turnbull

Jocelyn Turnbull analyses air samples taken from the world’s loneliest tree. (Supplied: GNS Science New Zealand/Jocelyn Turnbull)

The world’s loneliest tree has long attracted attention online for its story of survival.

However, the tree caught the eyes of climate scientist Jocelyn Turnbull for another reason.

As GNS Science New Zealand’s radiocarbon science leader, Dr Turnbull leads a major research project part of the Antarctic Science Platform, a government-funded research project that aims to improve understanding of Antarctica’s impact on the Earth’s system.

Dr Turnbull and her team specialise in radiocarbon measurement to investigate the source of fossil fuel CO2 emissions over the Southern Ocean to understand its role as a carbon sink.

“We humans burn fossil fuels and put CO2 into the atmosphere, and that’s what’s driving global warming,” Dr Turnbull explains.

“Of the CO2 we put in the atmosphere, only about half stays there. The other half gets reabsorbed into the earth’s system. And it turns out, about half goes into the land’s biosphere, which is photosynthesis, and half goes into the ocean.”

Dr Turnbull said the Southern Ocean is the most important place to analyse the exchange of carbon dioxide because of the westerly winds and the lack of land to slow down the wind.

by Jocelyn Turnbull

The practically untouched island means that sea lions roam freely. (Supplied: GNS Science New Zealand/Jocelyn Turnbull)

“That windiness drives this huge overturning of the water, brings up deep water to the surface and mixes, which allows the ocean to take up more carbon than other areas in the ocean that aren’t as dynamic,” she said.

The Southern Ocean takes up about 10 per cent of all the CO2 that we’ve emitted since the Industrial Revolution.

However, Dr Turnbull says, there have been questions about whether the amount the ocean is absorbing might be changing.

“We really want to understand, because that tells us what the future will hold,” she says.

So, where does world’s loneliest tree come in?

To reach a conclusion, Dr Turnbull needs to compare historic and current measurements of radiocarbon and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere around the Southern Ocean.

“We did not collect samples in the Southern Ocean 30 years ago, and you can’t go back and sample the air that was there 30 years because it’s not there anymore,” she explains.

As it turns out, tree rings can give you this record.

“Every year, you have a ring you can distinguish and you can slice those rings out and measure the radiocarbon in them, and then we can get this story back in time of what’s been happening with how the Southern Ocean has been changing,” Dr Turnbull says.

But why this tree?

Dr Turnbull and her team needed to get as far into the Southern Ocean as they possibly could without running out of things to measure.

“You can pretty quickly look at a world map and find out there’s not a whole lot of land,” she said.

At 52 degrees south latitude, it was the lowest the team could go where there was a living tree.

With slim pickings, the team took a punt on Campbell Island — and this lonely tree.

A story of survival

Dr Turnbull’s shining star is believed to have been planted on the remote island in around 1907 by the then-governor-general of New Zealand, Lord Ranfurly.

Many believe the tree has survived for so long due to the practically “untouched” nature of the island.

“You are literally tripping over penguins, you have albatrosses flying up to have a look at you. Compared to anything else you can think of, they are untouched,” Dr Turnbull says.

by Jocelyn Turnbull

Dr Turnbull says the island is a “global treasure”.(Supplied: GNS Science New Zealand/Jocelyn Turnbull)

Before the Sitka spruce, the Tree of Ténéré held the honour of being crowned the loneliest tree in the world.

The only tree for 400 kilometres in Niger’s Sahara Desert, this single acacia served as a vital navigational landmark and a reminder of resilience amid a harsh climate.

However, in 1973 a Libyan truck driver ran into the tree while he was following an old caravan route.

The dead tree was put on display in the Niger National Museum.

So, is the tree lonely?

While there is heated debate among botanists and scientists over the future of the spruce, Dr Turnbull believes its existence has benefited people far beyond her research — providing companionship to those most lonely.

“There’s been a princess who fled from Scotland, whalers, seafarers, research exhibitions and people stranded,” Dr Turnbull explains.

“I’ve even heard that when people were living there on research exhibitions, supposedly they would go and take the top out of this tree and use it for a Christmas tree.”