The flat Fens of eastern England once held vast woodlands, study finds

November 25, 2023 · 5 minute read
The flat Fens of eastern England once held vast woodlands, study finds

Scientists from the University of Cambridge studied hundreds of tree trunks, dug up by Fenland farmers while plowing their fields. The team found that most of the ancient wood came from yew trees that populated the area between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago. Credit: Tatiana Bebchuk

The Fens of eastern England, a low-lying, extremely flat landscape dominated by agricultural fields, was once a vast woodland filled with huge yew trees, according to new research.

Scientists from the University of Cambridge studied hundreds of , dug up by Fenland farmers while plowing their fields. The team found that most of the ancient wood came from yew trees that populated the area between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago.

These trees, which are a nuisance when they jam farming equipment during plowing, contain a treasure trove of perfectly preserved information about what the Fens looked like thousands of years ago.

The Fen yew woodlands suddenly died about 4,200 years ago, when the trees fell into peat and were preserved. The researchers hypothesize that a rapid sea level rise in the North Sea flooded the area with salt water, causing the vast woodlands to disappear.

The climate and environmental information these trees contain could be a valuable clue in determining whether this climate event could be related to other events that happened elsewhere in the world at the same time, including a megadrought in the Middle East that may have been a factor in the collapse of ancient Egypt’s Old Kingdom. The researchers have published their findings in Quaternary Science Reviews.

The Fens of eastern England once held vast woodlands, study finds
Credit: Tatiana Bebchuk

Yew trees (Taxus baccata) are one of the longest-lived species in Europe, and can reach up to 20 meters in height. While these trees are fairly common in Cambridge College gardens and churchyards across southern England, they are absent in the Fens, the low-lying marshy region of eastern England. Much of the Fens was a wetland until it was drained between the 17th and 19th centuries using artificial drainage and flood protection. Today, the area is some of the most productive farmland in the U.K., thanks to its rich peat soil.

While the area is great for farming and does have its own charms, few people would describe the Fens as spectacular: for the most part, the area is extremely flat and dominated by fields of potatoes, sugar beet, wheat and other crops. But 5,000 years ago, the area was a huge forest.

“A common annoyance for Fenland farmers is getting their equipment caught on big pieces of wood buried in the soil, which can often happen when planting potatoes, since they are planted a little deeper than other crops,” said lead author Tatiana Bebchuk, a Ph.D. student from Cambridge’s Department of Geography. “This wood is often pulled up and piled at the edge of fields: it’s a pretty common sight to see these huge piles of logs when driving through the area.”

For farmers, these logs are a nuisance. But for Bebchuk and her colleagues, they are buried treasure. The Cambridge team approached several Fenland farmers and took samples of hundreds of logs that had been dug up and discarded, to find out what secrets they might hold.

The Fens of eastern England once held vast woodlands, study finds
Inner part of the pile of subfossil yew trunks. Note fresh chain-saw cuts after sampling cross-sectional disks. Credit: Tatiana Bebchuk

“I remember when I first saw this enormous pile of abandoned trees, it was incredible just how many there were,” said Bebchuk. “But when we got them back to lab, we were even more surprised: these trees were so well-preserved, it looked as if they were cut down just yesterday.”

To put current anthropogenic climate change in a long-term context of natural variability, scientists need accurate evidence from the past, and trees are some of the best recorders of past conditions: their annual growth rings contain information about temperature and hydroclimate for every growing season they witnessed. “But the further back in time we go, the less reliable evidence we have, since very old trees and well-preserved wood materials are extremely rare,” said Professor Ulf Büntgen, the senior author of the study.

However, analysis by the Cambridge Tree-Ring Unit (TRU) showed that the yew trees dug up from Fenland fields were very old indeed: some of these ancient trees were 400 years old when they died. The new find provides unique climate information for over a millennium from around 5,200 years ago until about 4,200 years ago, when much of the Fens was a woodland of yew and oak: completely different than it looks today.

“Finding these very  in the Fens is completely unexpected—it would be like turning a corner in rural Cambridgeshire and seeing an Egyptian pyramid—you just wouldn’t expect it,” said Bebchuk. “It’s the same with nature—wood rots and decomposes easily, so you just don’t expect a tree that died 5,000 or 4,000 years ago to last so long.”

The Fens of eastern England once held vast woodlands, study finds
Cross-section of a subfossil yew trunk after surface preparation. The disk contains 380 tree-rings, which means the tree was at least 380 years old when it died. Credit: Tatiana Bebchuk

Given that most of the Fens are barely above sea level, about 4,200 years ago, a sudden rise in sea level most likely killed the Fen woodlands. The period that the Fen woodlands died coincided with major climatic changes elsewhere in the world: at roughly the same time, a megadrought in China and the Middle East was a possible trigger of the collapse of several civilizations, including Egypt’s Old Kingdom and the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia.

“We want to know if there is any link between these climatic events,” said Bebchuk. “Are the megadroughts in Asia and the Middle East possibly related to the rapid sea level rise in northern Europe? Was this a global climate event, or was it a series of unrelated regional changes? We don’t yet know what could have caused these climate events, but these trees could be an important part of solving this detective story.”

“This is such a unique climate and environmental archive that will provide lots of opportunities for future studies, and it’s right from Cambridge’s own backyard,” said Büntgen. “We often travel all over the world to collect ice cores or ancient trees, but it’s really special to find such a unique archive so close to the office.”

More information: Sudden disappearance of yew (Taxus baccata) woodlands from eastern England coincides with a possible climate event around 4.2 ka ago, Quaternary Science Reviews (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2023.108414

Journal information: Quaternary Science Reviews

How to help beneficial insects survive winter

November 25, 2023 · 4 minute read
How to help beneficial insects survive winter

Ladybugs are aphid eating all-stars. Understanding their winter behavior can help Texans protect them so they’ll be ready to fight off plant invaders in the spring. Credit: Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Laura McKenzie

While a decrease in insects as the weather cools is a plus to many people, Texans should keep in mind that beneficial insects in gardens and yards could use a little help.

“Although many  die off in the colder months, some hibernate while others are still active as needed,” said Sonja Swiger, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomologist and professor in the Department of Entomology in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Stephenville.

Some insects have it harder than others depending on where they are in Texas. Some also migrate south to locations where the climate is typically milder. Whether you do a little or a lot, protecting beneficial insects benefits all Texans, Swiger said.

Five things to do right now

Swiger shared five things that Texans can do right now to help beneficial insects stay safe and survive the winter months.

Keep some weeds

While preparing for late autumn and winter, you may be tempted to eliminate weeds and prune back as many plants as you can. Don’t give in to temptation.

“Weeds, perennials and grasses all provide shelter for beneficial bugs in the winter,” Swiger said.

If you’ve already started to prune, pile up cuttings in a corner of the yard or garden and allow it to compost over the winter while providing insects a home.

Some beneficial insects including bees and wasps need the hollow stalks and stems of plants to lay their eggs.

Keeping some weeds around as well as planting perennials can essentially create an insect nursery. And when overwintering eggs, nymphs or larvae, and pupae hatch in the spring, you have a built-in flourishing insect population.

Plant for pollinators

Winter can be a marathon for some pollinators. Swiger said by planting cold-weather plants and trees that bloom later in the season, you can provide a  to keep bees and other pollinator insects going through the chillier months.

Regions where winters are on the milder side may see bees outside the hive more frequently. By having an all-season pollinator garden, you can provide them with the energy they need to get through the winter. They will then be ready to race to pollinate once temperatures warm.

Give ’em shelter

While some bees and wasps live in hives or nests, keep in mind that more often than not they are ground nesters. These pollinators will need some  and leaf litter to get through the winter.

“For those hive-dwelling pollinators, keep an eye out for their homes so you can put a plan in place to protect and shelter them,” Swiger said. “Walk around your property and look in eaves and sheds.”

You don’t want to enclose where they are, you just want to provide some protection from the elements. You can utilize wire mesh or add wood protrusions to provide some protection.

Either purchase or make “insect hotels.” These can be anything from what would serve the function of a traditional hive to those designed for the pollinators who prefer no roommates.

Ladybugs will look for crevices and somewhere with moisture when they need to hibernate for the . They cannot survive freezing temperatures, which means that under , a dark garden crevice or your home can all be attractive options for them.

Ladybugs can hibernate in large clusters and though they may look dead for months, most will awake in the spring and start snacking on pesky bugs. Ladybugs and lacewings are beneficial predators that form an insect army to devour aphids and other invaders.

Leave the leaves, please

Leaves make a great compost ground cover for beneficial insects and their different life stages. Composting leaves from trees such as oak will not only prepare your beds for spring but leaves also provide sustenance and protection for helpful insects now.

“Leaving 1 or 2 inches of  on the ground can make a big difference for insects,” Swiger said. “This can be concentrated to one area of the yard or a flower bed to keep an area looking tidy and to not impact the grass underneath.”

The caterpillars we see during the fall also need a pile of fallen leaves to overwinter to become the butterflies we’ll get to see in the spring. This is a great reason not to rake, or at least to leave a few piles around your yard.

Avoid pesticides when possible and read the label

Winter is also a time to avoid treating for pests around the house and inadvertently killing beneficial insects. Pest populations are generally lower during the colder months of the year and can be handled without insecticides. If insecticides are needed, they should be used intermittently or as a spot treatment.

“Keep in mind that there are more beneficial insects than ‘bad bugs’ in most gardens and yards,” Swiger said. “Many beneficial insects also feed on those less desirable ones.”

All pesticides are not created equal. It is important to read the label to ensure that you don’t inadvertently kill beneficial insects or the  that they live on or feed from. When in doubt, hold out.

“Protecting  through the colder months will not only help your own garden, but it also helps support agriculture in your area and that benefits everyone,” Swiger said.

Provided by Texas A&M University

Urban Forestry Program advances Virginia Tech’s Climate Action Commitment

November 15, 2023 · 4 minute read
Urban Forestry Program advances Virginia Tech’s Climate Action Commitment

Virginia Tech takes an integrated and adaptive approach to urban forest management, making use of continuous monitoring and assessments, providing opportunities for community engagement and expert collaboration, and managing the protection, planting, and maintenance of the over 11,500 trees that cover the Blacksburg campus. Responsible for this care is the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities’ urban forestry team – four individuals with expertise in arboriculture and urban forestry who strive to cultivate a low-risk, sustainable, resilient, and attractive urban forest that current and future generations of Hokies can utilize and enjoy.

On Nov. 6, Jamie King, urban forest manager and university arborist, provided an overview of the program to the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, detailing the ways the team helps contribute to the Climate Action Commitment’s goal of carbon neutral agricultural, forestry, and land use operations by 2030.

“As urban foresters, we manage the entire population of trees at Virginia Tech,” said King. “The development of future plans and coordination with university and community partners allows us to properly care for the university’s trees while striving to meet the goals outlined in the Climate Action Commitment.”

Participants in the Arbor Day tree planting work with Jamie King, urban forest manager and university arborist, to plant trees in the old growth forest adjacent to Lane Stadium. Photo by Meghan Marsh for Virginia Tech.

Participants in the Arbor Day tree planting work with Jamie King, urban forest manager and university arborist, to plant trees in the old growth forest adjacent to Lane Stadium. Photo by Meghan Marsh for Virginia Tech.

In 2023, more than 500 trees were planted on the Blacksburg campus with plans for more during the upcoming planting season. Several of these plantings provided opportunities for student and community engagement, including a tree planting demonstration on Arbor Day and restoration efforts at Stroubles Creek.

The urban forestry team’s opportunities for community engagement expand beyond tree plantings. In October, King partnered with the College of Natural Resources and Environment to host a Homecoming Hike, touring alumni and visitors around the Blacksburg campus’ notable trees.

Partnerships such as that fuel the division’s urban forestry program’s success. A co-curriculum developed with the college creates experiential learning opportunities that help students refine their interests, skills, and professional character.

Alumni and visitors learn about campus trees during the Homecoming Hokie Hike. Photo by Luke Hayes for Virginia Tech.

Alumni and visitors learn about campus trees during the Homecoming Hokie Hike. Photo by Luke Hayes for Virginia Tech.

Other recent examples of community engagement include outreach and demonstrations with Radford High School and an urban forest tour for the Virginia Master Gardener College hosted by Virginia Cooperative Extension. During this tour, participants learned the history of notable trees at Virginia Tech in order to gain a greater understanding of the future of campus trees.

These academic and community partnerships also have led to recent achievements such as the Gold Leaf Award, a 2022 Virginia Trees for Clean Water Grant, and a 2022 Urban and Community Assistance Grant. These accomplishments have not only validated the team’s success, but also have allowed for the realization of plans for tree planting and the writing of a management plan that will assess the current tree inventory and the needs of campus trees.

Looking into the future, King notes three clear methods for achieving the university’s urban forestry goals:

  • Implement the urban forest master plan
  • Increase the urban tree canopy
  • Become the first accredited university urban forestry team
Jamie King, urban forest manager and university arborist, speaks to a group of alumni and visitors during the Homecoming Hokie Hike. Photo by Luke Hayes for Virginia Tech.

Jamie King, urban forest manager and university arborist, speaks to a group of alumni and visitors during the Homecoming Hokie Hike. Photo by Luke Hayes for Virginia Tech.

Adoption of the urban forest master plan is underway. This dynamic document – created with input from stakeholders including academic partners; students; every team in the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities; the Town of Blacksburg; and the larger Virginia Tech community – will serve as a guide to assess the university’s urban forest, report its benefits, and recommend paths forward.

“Urban forestry management is not just about planting trees. It’s about sowing the seeds of a healthier, happier, and more sustainable future for our campus,” said Wendy Halsey, assistant vice president for facilities operations. “By nurturing and preserving our assets, we’re investing in the well-being of our community, the quality of our environment, and the prosperity of generations to come.”

Efforts made by King and the urban forestry team are seen across campus as Virginia Tech continues to expand its campus tree canopy. As recommended in the Climate Action Commitment, the goal to reach 25 percent tree cover by 2050 will provide energy savings, offset campus carbon emissions, and provide numerous ecological services while also growing a lush, green campus environment.

Fall leaves on campus. Photo by Lee Friesland for Virginia Tech.

Fall leaves on campus. Photo by Lee Friesland for Virginia Tech.

Through the adoption of the urban forest master plan and the increase in the urban tree canopy, the urban forestry team is prepared to apply to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative’s Urban and Community Forestry accreditation program. Doing so would make Virginia Tech the first accredited collegiate program.

Over the past four years, the urban forestry team has worked diligently to resolve an extensive backlog of tree maintenance. While there is still work to be done, this investment has already contributed to a more resilient tree population. Looking ahead, the team will continue to care for existing trees on campus, grow the urban tree canopy, educate students, and engage in community outreach opportunities to create a more livable campus and a sustainable future.

Acorn by acorn, volunteers gather seeds to help save forests

November 15, 2023 · 5 minute read
Acorn by acorn, volunteers gather seeds to help save forests

On a sunny fall day at the edge of Shenandoah National Park, Jake Good, a nursery technician with the Virginia Department of Forestry, was getting acorns and chestnuts into the ground. More than three tons of them.

Here at the state’s nursery, about 140 miles southwest of Washington, this planting was an industrial operation. Poured from sacks into a machine, these seeds — future Chinese chestnut and white oak trees, many collected from donors around the state — were filtered into tubes that cast them on a row of earth about seven feet wide. Workers walked behind the machine,stepping on the acorns and chestnuts that were not covered by sufficient soil to grow.

Jim Ulmer, a Virginia Department of Forestry tree technician, steps on Chinese chestnuts just dropped onto the agency’s tree field to push them into the soil, while Jake Good loads nuts into the spreader tubes on the tractor. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Jim Ulmer, a Virginia Department of Forestry tree technician, steps on Chinese chestnuts just dropped onto the agency’s tree field to push them into the soil, while Jake Good loads nuts into the spreader tubes on the tractor. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

The process wasn’t gentle but in about 18 months would result in a crop of seedlings that could be sold to landowners and the timber industry. In this way, Virginia’s arboreal future would be secure — thanks in part to acorn enthusiasts who donated more than a million specimens this year as part of a state program.

Good was already excited for early 2025, when the seedlings would be ready for harvesting and distribution: “You see them come up … that’s all my hard work.”

The operations at the Crimora nursery use contributions from an acorn donation program that Virginia’s forestry department has run for about a decade. Last year, the harvest was a formidable eight tons of acorns and nuts — enough to produce 1.5 million seedlings. This year, donors sent 12 tons.

Brittany Blackwell, a tree technician for the forestry department, holds bur oak tree seeds that were sent to the farm by a Virginia resident. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Brittany Blackwell, a tree technician for the forestry department, holds bur oak tree seeds that were sent to the farm by a Virginia resident. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

No matter how many seedlings the program produces, however, there is room for more. Virginia has about 16 million acres of forestland and more than 108,000 residents employed in forestry and related industries. This is big business: The commonwealth’s forestry industry is worth $21 billion annually, according to forestry department spokesman Cory Swift-Turner.

This dollar amount is more than simply the value of the logging industry’s timber. Trees filter the water and air, reduce temperatures to decrease demand for electricity during hot months and bring in autumn’s “leaf-peeping” tourists who spend money across the commonwealth. Eventually, mature trees are felled to provide raw materials for builders, furniture makers and others.

A close-up of young Chinese chestnut trees at the Virginia Department of Forestry tree fields. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

A close-up of young Chinese chestnut trees at the Virginia Department of Forestry tree fields. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

With its collection program, Virginia facilitates this cycle, stabilizing the forest canopy as trees come and go. Money from the sale of seedlings also is invested back into the nursery, according to Swift-Turner.

One of the state’s more diligent acorn collectors is 69-year-old Mike Ortmeier, who started gathering them as a retirement project after leaving the Department of Energy in 2009. As a young boy, he and his twin brother had dreamed of planting forests, he said. Now, by contributing trees-to-be to the Crimora nursery, he was helping Virginia do just that — and fighting global warming in the process.

“I can’t go out and suck out every carbon molecule from the atmosphere,” Ortmeier said. “I see myself as a cog in the wheel.”

A self-described “super-collector,” Ortmeier said he gathers as much as 1,000 pounds of acorns and other tree seeds per year from public streets and other people’s property. Undertaking this mission, he faces an unexpected enemy: landscapers. Among the detritus cleared from gutters and lawns are the future of the state’s forests. If these countless acorns, nuts and seeds can be conveyed to facilities such as Crimora, new forests eventually will be born.

“All you have to do is get people to scoop this stuff off of their driveway,” he said. “It’s a contribution to the universe.”

Nursery technician Jake Good holds northern red oak tree seeds that were sent to the farm by a Virginia resident. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Nursery technician Jake Good holds northern red oak tree seeds that were sent to the farm by a Virginia resident. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Alexis Dickerson, the Potomac Conservancy’s senior director for community conservation, said the nonprofit helps facilitate acorn-collection programs throughout the D.C. region with its “Tomorrow’s Trees” program.

With expanding construction and development, Dickerson said, areas of the river’s watershed are paved over or converted into manicured lawns. When acorns fall, they cannot take root in asphalt or concrete or are dismissed as yard waste by landscapers. Any that become saplings may be devoured by deer displaced byloss of forests and habitat. As a result, the developed area becomes a “desert” that cannot produce the next generation of oaks and other species, according to Dickerson.

But people can help trees reproduce if they take the time to pick up acorns instead of treating them as refuse.

“It’s something they walk past every day that they might step over,” Dickerson said. “You can simply collect those things and get them to the right person that can create the next generation.”

Blackwell transfers bags of Chinese chestnuts into buckets before taking them to be planted. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Blackwell transfers bags of Chinese chestnuts into buckets before taking them to be planted. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Brittany Blackwell, one of the workers pushing seeds into the ground at the Crimora nursery, said she and her children went to a farm her family previously owned to gather Chinese chestnuts as part of this year’s collection effort. When the farm’s current owner thanked her for doing yard work, her response was: “What yard work?”

This wasn’t a chore. This was keeping an important species alive.

“We’re starting the future population,” she said.

As a tractor drops nuts on the ground, Blackwell uses her feet press them into the soil so that they can germinate. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

As a tractor drops nuts on the ground, Blackwell uses her feet press them into the soil so that they can germinate. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Outdoor classroom creates a new generation of forest stewards

November 8, 2023 · 4 minute read
Outdoor classroom creates a new generation of forest stewards

Eight seniors in Jared Hughes’ forestry class measured the diameters of Douglas firs and discussed career options on a beautiful fall morning in the woods behind their school.

“Timber and forestry is relevant to our community and their backgrounds,” Hughes said.

Colton Brooks doesn’t mind being out of the classroom. Fishing, hunting, riding dirt bikes — recreating and working in the area’s forests is simply a way of life here. Brooks attends Priest River Lamanna High School and is enrolled in Hughes’ botany/forestry course that explores ecology and management.

“It’s way better out here,” Brooks said, with a slight grin.

Priest River is one of the rural epicenters of Superintendent Debbie Critchfield’s effort to push millions of dollars into career technical education to build-up programs that will train graduates to meet the needs of local industries.

Jared Hughes

Jared Hughes

In the panhandle region, that means timber production. And there’s plenty of opportunity. According to the American Forest and Paper Association, the U.S. forest products industry manufactures almost $300 billion in products a year and employs about 1 million workers. And Idaho is one of the top lumber producing states.

The state’s $45 million CTE grant program is called Idaho Career Ready Students. Last month, over $16 million was awarded to 11 initial programs. The second round of requests are due Nov. 1. Priest River is asking for $1 million.

“It really excites me that we … are focusing on rural, underserved districts for different career ready pathways,” Hughes said.

Training students in GIS mapping, ecology conservation and chainsaw operation could impact the town’s economic future. After the 2008 housing crash, the number of mills and the need for labor to produce wood products decreased. Although the demand for lumber slowed, the trees remain and young people continue looking for career opportunities, especially those that keep them in Priest River.

Several of the seniors in Hughes’ class want a job that has an opportunity to stay close to home. Although 17-year-olds Kemper Dabrowski, Kayden Reynolds and Brooks are part of multi-generational logging families, they are thinking about training as an electrical lineman, a diesel mechanic and an electrician.

Hughes has a plan — build a program that trains and inspires seniors to embark on natural resource careers.

On the 20-acre plot of forest behind the high school owned by the school district, Reynolds used an increment borer to drill half way into the Douglas fir. A core sample shows the 100-foot-tall tree is about 76 years old.

“What’s the DBH?” Hughes asked.

“19.8 inches,” Brooks responded. DBH stands for diameter at breast height, a measurement taken at 4.5 feet above the tree’s base.

Discussion turned to tree identification, and Hughes reminded students that hemlocks have a purple inner bark. The focus of Thursday’s class was timber cruising, a way to count volume. Reynolds said the total number of trees can be determined by counting up how many are in 1/10 of the area, and multiplying that by 10.

“That gives you the amount of trees in the whole acre,” he said.

According to Hughes, the goal is to provide industry partners with students who can step in “ready to go.” If the grant is approved, he plans to transform the acreage into a working forest — harvesting, planting and producing wood products.

What Priest River is requesting

Priest River is a rural, outdoor community that likes to hunt, fish and recreate. “Let’s create a workforce that manages our forest,” Hughes said, who has been teaching forestry for 15 years.

The high school has four certified CTE teachers. Hughes, who is certified in natural sciences, plans to obtain CTE certification to lead a new forestry program, which falls under the natural resource and plant soil science pathway. Although he taught forestry, there has never been an official forestry-related CTE pathway.

Colton Brooks is looking toward a career as an electrician. He comes from a multi-generational timber and logging family in Bonner County. Like his classmates, he hopes to find a career that keeps him close to home and out of the big cities.

Colton Brooks is looking toward a career as an electrician. He comes from a multi-generational timber and logging family in Bonner County. Like his classmates, he hopes to find a career that keeps him close to home and out of the big cities.

There was a time when Hughes taught 30 students but today it’s down to an average of 10-15 the last couple of years.

According to historical data, enrollment peaked around 513 students 20 years ago; today that number is around 316. In that same period, the number of students in the district shrunk by 27%, from 1,580 to 1,149.

The grant would fund four areas:

  • Curriculum: forestry science and management; forest products; wildlife ecology and management; GPS/GIS/mapping.
  • Equipment: lumber production equipment; equipment for cruise, soil and disease assessments; scaling, tree planting, forest ecology, wildlife science.
  • Building: a new building/complex, plus passenger vans.
  • Classroom equipment: safety equipment and classroom technology, like printers and plotters to handle large maps, GPS and drones for collecting forest data.

“It’s been a long time coming because Idaho has one of the largest percentages of national forests and endowment grant lands. This is surprising that we haven’t done it before. But the funding hasn’t been there,” Hughes said.

The communities of Orofino, Bonners Ferry, Potlatch, Troy, Deary and St. Maries have similar resources and the same potential as Priest River, he said.

The oldest river in North America flows through West Virginia

November 8, 2023 · 1 minute read
The oldest river in North America flows through West Virginia

When people from outside of West Virginia think of the Mountain State, they are constantly drawn to the scenery and diverse nature offered down every country road.

However, what some may not realize, is that they may come across one of the oldest country rivers in the world.

The New River, which flows through both West Virginia and Virginia, is not as new as its name portrays.

According to the National Parks Conservation Association, the New River is estimated to be anywhere from 260 to 375 million years old. This makes the New River the oldest river in North America. When looking abroad at other rivers around the world, the New River still remains in the top-5 oldest rivers at the number four spot.

This means the river was formed before the Triassic Period nearly 252 million years ago.

Many point to the New River Gorge Bridge when a thought of the New River pops up. However, the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve houses only 53 miles of the river that originates south of the Mountain State.

New River Basin Documents state how the river begins in northwestern North Carolina before flowing through southwest Virginia and along side country roads in West Virginia before joining the Gauley River to help spawn the Kanawha River.

The New River has grown alongside the land and people that inhabit the surrounding regions. Many spend time whitewater rafting or even just floating in the same river that their loved ones did many generations before. The New River was there long before West Virginia and will be there long after we are all gone.

One thing is for sure, while country roads will always take you home, country rivers will take you back in time.

Virginia Cooperative Extension fact sheet addresses new plant disease

November 2, 2023 · 2 minute read
Virginia Cooperative Extension fact sheet addresses new plant disease

Nurseries in Virginia and surrounding states have observed an uptick in vascular streak dieback on redbud (pictured), maple, and dogwood. Early symptoms of the disease include yellowing and discoloration of leaves and stunting and wilting. Photo courtesy of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Throughout the past two years, nurseries in Virginia and surrounding states have observed an uptick in wilt and severe dieback on redbud, maple, and dogwood — Virginia’s state tree. In some cases, almost 100 percent of the stock was unsellable because of the damage.

To address this widespread issue, Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, have released a fact sheet that raises the awareness of vascular streak dieback and provides growers a number of tips on how to avoid and manage it.

Vascular streak dieback, as described in the new fact sheet, “Vascular Streak Dieback: An Emerging Problem on Woody Ornamentals in the U.S.” is a non-curable plant disease caused by a fungus. Early symptoms of the disease include yellowing and discoloration of leaves and stunting and wilting.

Vascular streak dieback has been difficult to diagnose, characterize, and manage because of a number of problems, including the fact that it is not culturable, said fact sheet co-author Elizabeth Bush, a senior research associate in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences and diagnostician in the Plant Disease Clinic at Virginia Tech.

“Many microorganisms cannot be visualized on plant tissue, so culturing them out of plant tissue on culture media is necessary for diagnosis,” Bush said. “Plant diagnostic labs, such as the Plant Disease Clinic, use a variety of culture media to recover various fungal and bacterial pathogens.”

Vascular discoloration in redbud (A and B) and red maple (C and D). Photo courtesy of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Vascular plant diseases, in general, are hard to treat as they attack the water-conducting tissue of the plant. A tree responds by blocking its vascular system to contain the disease. In doing so, the water supply to the plant is cut off, leading to wilt and dieback.

“So it’s not as easy as just pruning out the problem, like with a disease that causes a canker,” Bush said.

In the fact sheet, Bush and Devin Bily, a plant pathologist with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, suggest several best practices to avoid the disease and preventative fungicides for use by nurseries. Unfortunately, there are no current recommended pesticide or cultural treatments for plants already exhibiting the symptoms of the disease. But, Bush said, it is good that nurseries are aware of this disease, are on the look-out, and know how to recognize the problem.

In addition to the fact sheet, the Plant Disease Clinic at Virginia Tech is collaborating with faculty in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences to perform metagenomic analysis on plant samples diagnosed with vascular streak dieback. Metagenomic sequencing consists of obtaining nucleotide sequences of a pathogen directly from a plant sample without the need for culturing. It will help to further characterize the disease, which presents unique challenges since the pathogen is not culturable.

This work is being funded by the Virginia Agricultural Council.

The Importance of Bats

November 2, 2023 · 1 minute read
The Importance of Bats

Recently, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources sent an email about bats in Virginia. We wanted to pass on this great information on these essential members of our Virginia ecosystem!

Protections Under the ESA Have Helped Virginia’s Bats Weather White-Nose Syndrome

While there’s not much that can currently be done to battle white-nose syndrome in Virginia’s bat populations, protections under the ESA have helped the bats persevere through the white-nose crisis. READ ON


DWR’s Bat Guide

Get to know the bats of Virginia in DWR’s Guide to the Bats of Virginia, a comprehensive look at the resident bat species of the commonwealth. LEARN MORE


Bats: The Myths and Truths

Do all bats have rabies? Will bats fly into your hair? You’ve got bat questions. We’ve got bat answers. READ ON


Learn More About Bats!

Few of nature’s animals are as misunderstood as bats. This article from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sets the record straight and highlights the importance of bats. Though often feared and loathed as sinister creatures of the night, bats are vital to the health of our environment and our economy. Here you’ll learn more about why bats are so essential, the threats they’re facing, how we’re conserving bats, and how you can help create a bat-friendly environment. LEARN MORE

Invasive and ubiquitous, English ivy can hurt trees and plants. Removing it isn’t easy

October 27, 2023 · 3 minute read
Invasive and ubiquitous, English ivy can hurt trees and plants. Removing it isn’t easy

English ivy (Hedera helix), a heavy, woody vine with handsome, dark-green, waxy leaves, is believed to have been brought to the New World by European colonists in the 1700s. They likely appreciated its shade tolerance, versatility as both a ground cover and climbing vine, and rapid growth.

But today, it’s classified as an invasive species in many parts of the United States, where it grows quickly and can suffocate, starve and weaken trees.

If you live in one of those regions, you’ve likely seen it climbing tree trunks. And you might be painfully aware of how difficult it is to eradicate.


The vine snakes its way up the tree and under its bark, firmly attaching its roots and tendrils as it grows. Simply yanking the ivy would also remove the bark, which serves as the tree’s vital protection from insects, diseases and the elements. In addition, the ivy’s densely packed leaves can block sunlight from reaching the tree, inhibiting photosynthesis, which diminishes the nutrients it can produce.

The weight of the vine weakens branches and, during severe weather, can topple the tree, placing people and property at risk. It’s also a host plant for insect pests that could attack the tree, and mosquitoes that could attack you.

Because its trunk and vines cling sturdily to surfaces via three different methods — aerial roots, tendrils and a sticky substance called glycosides – removing English ivy should be done carefully to avoid damaging trees.


Always wear gloves when handling English ivy, as the glycosides will stick to and irritate your skin. Some people also report breathing difficulties when working around the plant; a mask will offer protection. And if you are allergic, it would be best to solicit someone else to tackle the job.

Sever the ivy all around the tree, 3 feet off the ground, using loppers or a hand saw. Then, one by one, carefully separate the detached upper part of each branch from its lower portion, which will still be growing from the ground.

Next, working your way around the tree’s base, dig up all the ivy’s roots and remove the plant from the soil. Keep an eye out for new growth from any roots you might have missed, and pull up new sprouts as you see them.

Allow the severed upper portion of the ivy to remain on the tree. Over the course of about a year, it will die and release its stronghold from under the bark. The withered foliage will eventually blow away.


English ivy growing up the side of a brick house risks damage to the structure. As the plant climbs walls, its tendrils become anchored into cracks or gaps in the mortar, which will weaken if the ivy is left in place. Simply pulling the vines down would likely damage that mortar, as well.

Avoid the temptation to apply chemical herbicides, as they may stain the bricks. The leaves’ waxy coating protects it from most weed killers, anyway.

Instead, start by treating the vine as you would if it were growing on a tree: Sever it at the point where its trunks meet the wall and remove the lower portions from the soil.

Next, clip each vine as closely to the wall as possible, but allow the small roots to remain embedded in the mortar for a few weeks. As soon as those roots darken and die, use a stiff brush and detergent to safely scrub them away.

Be sure to assess any damage caused by the plant and make repairs as soon as possible.


Jessica Damiano writes the award-winning Weekly Dirt Newsletter and regular gardening columns for The AP. Sign up here to get weekly gardening tips and advice delivered to your inbox.

The trees arrived with Polynesian voyagers. After Maui wildfire, there’s a chance to restore them

October 27, 2023 · 6 minute read
The trees arrived with Polynesian voyagers. After Maui wildfire, there’s a chance to restore them

LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — For people around the world, the green leaves that sprouted from a scorched, 150-year-old banyan tree in the heart of devastated Lahaina symbolized hope following Maui’s deadly wildfire this summer. Teams rushed to flood its roots with water, hoping to save a magnificent tree that had provided shade for community events, a picturesque wedding venue and a popular backdrop for posing tourists.

But the fire also nearly wiped out another set of trees, one with a much longer history in Lahaina and a greater significance in Hawaiian culture: breadfruit, or ulu, which had given sustenance since Polynesian voyagers introduced it to the islands many centuries ago. Before colonialism, commercial agriculture and tourism, thousands of breadfruit trees dotted Lahaina; the fire charred all but two of the dozen or so that remained.

Now, as Maui recovers from the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century, one that left at least 98 people dead, a band of arborists, farmers and landscapers has set about trying to save Lahaina’s ulu, kukui nut and other culturally important trees, in some cases digging down to the roots of badly burned specimens to find live tissue that could be used to propagate new shoots.

They see the destruction as a chance to restore the trees to Lahaina, to teach about their care and use, and to reclaim a bit of the town’s historic identity amid a larger discussion about whether the community’s reconstruction will price out locals and Hawaiian culture in favor of deep-pocketed outsiders seeking a slice of tropical paradise.

“Even in this tragedy and the destruction, there is a lot of hope in our communities that there is opportunity here to bring awareness and appreciation and incorporation of some of our values and history and identity,” said Noa Kekuewa Lincoln, an associate researcher of indigenous crops at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

The banyan tree at the center of Lahaina was a sapling when it was planted in 1873 — a quarter century before the Hawaiian Islands became a U.S. territory and seven decades after King Kamehameha declared Lahaina the capital of his kingdom. It was a gift shipped from India to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission in Lahaina.

A breadfruit tree at Noho'ana Farm on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Waikapu, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Mengshin Lin)
A breadfruit tree at Noho’ana Farm on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Waikapu, Hawaii. The wildfire fire nearly wiped out a set of trees, one with a long history in Lahaina and a great significance in Hawaiian culture: breadfruit, or ulu, which had given sustenance since Polynesian voyagers introduced it to the islands many centuries ago. (AP Photo/Mengshin Lin)

The sprawling tree is beloved, towering more than 60 feet (18 meters) and spanning nearly an acre with aerial roots descending from its boughs. It has provided shade for locals and tourists alike in a town whose name means “relentless sun.” But for some it also continues to represent the colonization that eventually transformed Lahaina into a travel destination.

By contrast, researchers believe breadfruit and kukui nut — now the state tree of Hawaii — were among the many edible plants Polynesian voyagers brought around 1,000 years ago. Such imports could have been carried across the ocean, wrapped in rotted coconut husk and dried leaves and protected in a woven coconut basket.

Hokuao Pellegrino poses for portrait in front of his first breadfruit at Noho'ana Farm on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Waikapu, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Mengshin Lin)
Hokuao Pellegrino poses for portrait in front of his first breadfruit at Noho’ana Farm on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Waikapu, Hawaii. Researchers believe breadfruit and kukui nut — now the state tree of Hawaii — were among the many edible plants Polynesian voyagers brought around 1,000 years ago. (AP Photo/Mengshin Lin)

Kukui nut oil was used for torches — kukui is known as the “tree of light.” Other uses included wood for canoes, dyes for tattoos and bark infusions for preserving fish nets.

Ulu can grow to 60 feet (18 meters) tall, with large dark green leaves, and each can bear hundreds of pounds of breadfruit. A staple in some tropical countries, the fruit looks like an oversized, scaly lime. It is typically eaten cooked and is starchy, like potatoes or bread. It has a short shelf life, rotting within 48 hours of ripening.

Kaipo Kekona, a ninth-generation Lahaina native, has led efforts to restore its ancient food forests for several years. He said ulu can be made into dishes resembling mashed potatoes, French fries, mousse, hummus, cakes, pies and chips, and that it can help ensure food security when other industries fail, such as tourism during the pandemic or after the wildfire.

“When we look at reforestation efforts in our town, reclamation of ulu and its historical value, it can be complemented by the evolving palates of our community,” Kekona said.

The footprint of the burn zone largely overlaps what is known in Hawaiian history as Malu ulu o Lele: “the shaded breadfruit grove of Lele,” Lele being an earlier name for Lahaina. By the late 19th century many of those trees had been burned to make way for sugar plantations. Fresh water sources at streams and canals were diverted. Development transformed the landscape into a tourism destination with far fewer trees.

Breadfruit trees at Noho'ana Farm on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Waikapu, Hawaii.  (AP Photo/Mengshin Lin)
Breadfruit trees at Noho’ana Farm on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Waikapu, Hawaii. “You probably don’t want to put breadfruit in a really high traffic area,” said Hokuao Pellegrino, an ethnobotanist who has helped in the volunteer effort and who has 22 breadfruit trees on his own farm in Waikapu, on the other side of the West Maui Mountains from Lahaina. (AP Photo/Mengshin Lin)

Efforts to revive the banyan and other important surviving trees have included trucking in water, applying compost extract and testing soil. The volunteers working to save Lahaina’s breadfruit have dug down to extract viable root matter. In one case, they peeled back asphalt that butted against a charred breadfruit trunk. Underground, they found life.

The samples they collected are now in a University of Hawaii lab in Hilo, on the Big Island. Lincoln projects hundreds of trees could be propagated, with seeds or saplings given to homeowners seeking to replant their properties.

But replanting breadfruit in urban areas comes with challenges, said Steve Nimz, an arborist on Oahu who has been helping restore Lahaina’s trees.

When ripe breadfruit falls, it splats and rots in an unsightly, gooey, fragrant mess. Trees planted near a sidewalk or public area could pose a threat to passersby, as some varieties have fruits weighing up to 12 pounds (5.5 kg). Falling breadfruit can cause serious injury.

“You probably don’t want to put breadfruit in a really high traffic area,” said Hokuao Pellegrino, an ethnobotanist who has helped in the volunteer effort and who has 22 breadfruit trees on his own farm in Waikapu, on the other side of the West Maui Mountains from Lahaina. “But restoring some of the breadfruit groves as part of the individual homeowner’s landscape, now that is a worthy cause, because those can be managed a little bit better.”

Pellegrino said the efforts to replant breadfruit in Lahaina should also come with efforts to teach people about its care and its uses: “We want people to use the breadfruit. We don’t want it just to be in the landscape.”

FILE - A man reacts as he sits on the Lahaina historic banyan tree damaged by a wildfire on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii.  (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
FILE – A man reacts as he sits on the Lahaina historic banyan tree damaged by a wildfire on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii. After the deadly wildfire that destroyed the historic town of Lahaina this summer, people across the world focused their attention on the green leaves sprouting from the scorched, 150-year-old banyan tree as a symbol of hope. Arborists are also trying to save another set of trees, ones with greater significance in Hawaiian culture, such as breadfruit and kukui nut trees introduced to the island by Polynesian voyagers long ago. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

But for now, many are more focused on housing and cleaning up after the disaster than on what trees to eventually plant. Pellegrino, who calls himself an outsider because he’s not from Lahaina, says reintegrating breadfruit and restoring wetlands, canals and streams could bring a new future for the town.

“It’s about reclaiming the identity of that place,” Pellegrino said.


Komenda reported from Tacoma, Washington.

VCU, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partner to restore migratory fish in Virginia rivers

October 12, 2023 · 2 minute read
VCU, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partner to restore migratory fish in Virginia rivers

The partnership will support the conservation of American shad and other species.

The VCU Rice Rivers Center will receive a $300,000 federal award in support of a new partnership to advance conservation of the iconic and culturally significant migratory American shad and river herring fish species in Virginia rivers.

The Virginia Shad and River Herring Research Initiative is a collaboration between the Rice Rivers Center and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The new partnership between [the Fish and Wildlife Service] and VCU is the most significant step in a decade toward restoration of the iconic American shad and other migratory shads and herrings to Virginia waters,” said Greg Garman, Ph.D., director of the Rice Rivers Center. “It is difficult to overstate the environmental, cultural and economic importance of these species historically. The Rice Rivers Center is excited to be a part of ‘turning the tide’ for these native fishes after over a century of declines from overfishing, pollution and habitat loss.”

Garman added that VCU is grateful for the support of the initiative by Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and Rep. Rob Wittman.

Migratory American shad, hickory shad, alewife and blueback herring once supported vital commercial and subsistence fisheries in Virginia. Beginning in the 20th century, however, a combination of overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, dams and the introduction of non-native predators diminished these once-significant fisheries.

Migratory American shad in the James River. (Photo by Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources).

Migratory American shad in the James River. (Photo by Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources).

The Fish and Wildlife Service and the Rice Rivers Center will engage with a broad consortium of state agencies, tribal governments, academia and nongovernmental organizations to further explore the declines in these native fishes. Biologists also will propose conservation measures to reverse population trends and help recover these valuable and iconic native species to Virginia’s coastal rivers.

“Impact-focused collaborations like this are driving VCU’s growing reputation for research,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “VCU’s ranking as one of the nation’s top 50 public research universities was earned by focusing on real-world challenges like the survival of these historically- and environmentally-significant migratory fish species. We are honored to work with so many partners on this priority project of sustainability.”

The Rice Rivers Center, part of VCU Life Sciences, is located in Charles City along the James River. It supports applied research, scholarship and student training across diverse disciplines, including water resources, climate science, wildlife conservation, wetlands restoration and environmental technology.

Doubling efforts to save ash trees

October 12, 2023 · 3 minute read
Doubling efforts to save ash trees

A metallic-green invasive insect, the emerald ash borer, has been wiping out ash trees as it has spread through Virginia over the past 15 years. The destructive wood-boring beetle has attacked forests from the mountains to the coast – including stands within Virginia State Parks.

With assistance and training from the Virginia Department of Forestry, state parks staff are fighting back, armed with insecticides as well as a tiny, parasitoid wasp.

An ash tree native to Virginia has no natural defenses against the emerald ash borer. The larvae bore into and feed on its inner bark and water system, leaving squiggly S-shaped tunnels, or galleries, in their wake. The galleries encircle the inner vascular tissue of the tree, choking it off from water and nutrients and ultimately killing it.

Last year, ecologists in the Virginia Natural Heritage Program at DCR reported that green ash trees at Machicomoco State Park in Gloucester County were infected with emerald ash borer. These trees had been some of the state’s last remaining healthy populations of ash.

In July, a DCR team began treating dozens of green ash in two areas at Machicomoco by injecting an insecticide into the tree’s vascular systems, where it will kill the borer larvae.

Staff also treated infected green ash at four different areas of Chippokes State Park in Surry County.

Katlin DeWitt, a forest health specialist at DOF, has helped to administer the treatments at state parks and assisted DCR staff.  “We’re very invested in protecting these trees.” DeWitt said. “We like to work with other state agencies and help save trees on state lands.”

DeWitt said the chemical treatment being used is highly effective for controlling emerald ash borer. “The trees we treated are a lot healthier,” she said. “And we can see the decline on other trees that have not been treated.”

In some cases, the insecticide treatment can be complemented with biological control, or biocontrol, to target the following generation of borers before they can hatch.

One natural enemy of the emerald ash borer is a parasitoid wasp called Oobius agrili. These wasps, approved for release and provided by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, lay their eggs inside the eggs of the emerald ash borer. When the wasp larvae emerge, “Her developing young will kill the emerald ash borer,” DeWitt said.

“We can’t go out and chemically treat every tree in the forest. The little wasps will help fill the gap and provide another level of protection out there for trees we weren’t able to treat.”

ash tree treatment2

White and blue ash trees have been treated for protection against the emerald ash borer for several years now at Southwest Virginia Museum, Natural Tunnel and Grayson Highland state parks.

Jordon Blevins, district resource specialist for the Southwest Region of Virginia State Parks, said that the white ash trees at Southwest Virginia Museum still appeared to be healthy after a few years of treatments.

Saving larger trees in the mountains will help protect the scenic views in addition to preventing damage to the ecosystems, he said.

Nationwide, the emerald ash borer has taken a major toll on forestry and lumber industries, threatening to permanently alter our forest ecosystems.

Of the six species of native ash to Virginia, all are considered endangered, according to DeWitt. “Losing any species that’s native has a whole cascade of effects from an ecosystem perspective,” she said.

Losing ash is even more critical when the species makes up a significant part of a natural community that is rare. A natural community is an assemblage of native plants and animals that occurs repeatedly on the landscape under similar ecological conditions. At Machicomoco and Chippokes, the ash stands are located in the globally rare natural community type called Coastal Plain Calcareous Seepage Swamp Forest.

Erik Molleen, district resource specialist for the Tidewater Region of Virginia State Parks, said that when large ash trees in this natural community die, more sunlight will be let in, promoting the spread of non-native, invasive plant species. “That will open up the canopy and change the herbaceous vegetation. It’s very important that we protect the green ash,” he said. “By protecting that one tree, we’re also protecting the other species in that globally rare ecosystem.”

It Starts In Your Yard

October 4, 2023 · 2 minute read
It Starts In Your Yard

This week’s article is by our guest writer Ingrid Girardi.

The forests, beaches, mountain ranges, and meadowlands have always been places of incredible beauty. What is it about these wild landscapes that I and so many others love? Possibly it’s the diversity of life they all share. There’s always something new to discover. This love led me to an Instagram account, @homegrownnationalpark where I discovered people creating such natural spaces right in their own backyards!

As it turns out, there is so much more than beauty and curiosity that make these wild areas amazing. They are the places that sustain all life! This was evident after hearing the author, professor of entomology, and creator of the aforementioned Instagram account, Doug Tallamy, speak last week. It was a very hopeful presentation explaining the positive impact everyone can have on the future of the planet just by changing our perspective on how we approach our own spaces in just a few ways.

An overall theme of Doug’s research is how to work with and not against the natural world. Native plants are the main focus of this idea. Collectively, the yards we all have, from a container to a huge plot of land, have a massive impact on the diversity of life on this planet. Doug writes extensively about this in his book Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach To Conservation That Starts In Your Yard.

Planting natives, especially keystone species, wherever you are able will have a positive ripple effect on the web of life. Many species of insects rely on specific plants from which they have evolved. When these host plants are removed and replaced with exotics, the insects die and the creatures who rely on those insects die. Doug speaks extensively about the tiniest critters appearing to be the most important.

A great way to ensure the survival of vital food sources for birds and other creatures is to leave the debris that falls from your plants throughout the seasons in place. The leaves on the ground in fall provide the perfect habitat for so many small animals and keeps the soil permeable. This is where a slight change in perspective is needed. Rather than seeing a mess of leaves, you will now see all the biodiversity you helped steward!

One more simple way to increase the biodiversity in your space is to avoid herbicides, pesticides, and other chemical inputs. Nature has her own exquisite way of balancing herself out. This is overwhelmingly evident in the beautiful natural places we all admire and long to linger.

For more information, check out native plant resources in Richmond by visiting the Virginia Native Plant Society, More resources can be found on Doug Tallamy’s website

‘Lost’ Brazilian holly tree species found again after nearly 200 years

October 4, 2023 · 3 minute read
‘Lost’ Brazilian holly tree species found again after nearly 200 years

An expedition team has found a rare Brazilian tree that botanists thought might be extinct after nearly two centuries without a confirmed sighting.

The Pernambuco holly tree (Ilex sapiiformis), which can grow to a height of 12 meters (nearly 40 feet), was found again in March in northeast Brazil by a team led by ecologist Gustavo Martinelli. They located four trees, two male and two female, in a fragment of forest next to a sugarcane plantation in the municipality of Igarassu, part of the greater metropolitan area of the city of Recife in Pernambuco state.

The Pernambuco holly (Ilex Sapiiformis), found again in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. Image courtesy of by Fred Jordão.

The Pernambuco holly (Ilex Sapiiformis), found again in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. Image courtesy of by Fred Jordão.

“The moment when we found Ilex sapiiformis, it seemed that the world had stopped turning its gears,” local researcher Juliana Alencar said in a statement. “Finding a species that hasn’t been heard of in nearly two centuries doesn’t happen every day. It was an incredible moment, and the emotion of it was felt throughout the entire team. When I looked at Professor Milton Groppo, I saw that he had tears in his eyes.”

“It was like finding a long-lost and long-awaited relative that you only know by old portraits,” said Groppo, a researcher at the University of São Paulo.

The Pernambuco holly was described by science in 1861, from a specimen collected in 1838. That original specimen was the only confirmed record until now. The team spent months searching herbarium records globally before an unidentified 1962 sample provided a lead that helped Alencar pinpoint survey areas.

Juliana Alencar stands next to the holly trees, found in a patch of forest by the river. Image courtesy of Gustavo Martinelli.

Juliana Alencar stands next to the holly trees, found in a patch of forest by the river. Image courtesy of Gustavo Martinelli.

The team searched four areas in the Recife metropolitan region. Identifying the inconspicuous greenish flowers among similar holly species was challenging, Martinelli said, but the researchers spotted the four plants on their second day in the field.

“It was exciting when we found the first individual of Ilex sapiiformis, thanks to the keen eyes of [field assistant] Mr. Lenilson [Barbosa dos Santos], who was able to find some white flowers in a tree alongside the dirt road,” Groppo said.

The trees live in an area once dominated by tropical Atlantic Forest but that’s now primarily urban sprawl with sugarcane plantations dispersed throughout. Less than 7% of the original forest biome remains, most in fragments of less than 50 hectares, or about 120 acres.

The area around Igarassu, Brazil, where the trees were found. Only a few patches of Brazil’s Atlantic forest remain.

The area around Igarassu, Brazil, where the trees were found. Only a few patches of Brazil’s Atlantic forest remain.

Since the expedition, one of the trees has already died, Martinelli told Mongabay. The trees grow close to a river, and he said he suspected that flooding had inundated the roots and killed the tree.

“The Pernambuco holly is in an emergency situation now,” Martinelli said.

Researchers want to search for more trees, work with the landowner to better protect the site, and collect seeds to germinate more trees. However, this is all expensive, Martinelli said, and they’re still determining how to fund these efforts.

Re:wild, a U.S.-based NGO, said it’s working with Martinelli to get the area where the Pernambuco holly was found listed as an Alliance for Zero Extinction site since it’s the only known area where the plants live. If the area becomes an AZE site, that could open up more resources to help the Pernambuco holly.

Only 3 individual Pernambuco Holly (Ilex Sapiiformis) trees are known to exist. Photo courtesy of Fred Jordão.

Only 3 individual Pernambuco Holly (Ilex Sapiiformis) trees are known to exist. Photo courtesy of Fred Jordão.

The holly is one of the 25 “most wanted” lost plant and animal species targeted for rediscovery by the Search for Lost Species project. It’s the ninth that’s been “rediscovered” since the initiative began in 2017. Others include the Somali sengi (Elephantulus revoilii), the silver-backed chevrotain (Tragulus versicolor), the velvet pitcher plant (Nepenthes mollis), and Jackson’s climbing salamander (Bolitoglossa jacksoni)

Martinelli said he’s found more than 20 species lost to science during his career. “I love the challenge of finding lost plants,” he said.

“It’s incredible that the Pernambuco holly was rediscovered in a metropolitan area that is home to nearly six million people,” said Christina Biggs, lost species program officer at Re:wild. “Even if a plant hasn’t had a confirmed sighting in 186 years, it could still be hanging on in the last vestiges of the wild somewhere, and this tree is a perfect example of why it’s important to keep looking.”

As critical pollinator populations decline, cities and campuses find ways to encourage bees, butterflies and bats

October 4, 2023 · 11 minute read
As critical pollinator populations decline, cities and campuses find ways to encourage bees, butterflies and bats

Cities and college campuses across the region have been certified as “bee-friendly.” Their efforts include reducing the use of pesticides, allowing native species to thrive, and educating residents and students about how best to help pollinators.

As morning clouds begin to dissipate and the sun begins to shine, raising the temperature to a warm 85 degrees, Lucy Hudson stands next to the pollinator habitat that covers a corner of Miller Center, the headquarters of Lynchburg’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

Hudson, a park services specialist for the department, gazes at the wide array of flowers and herbs like a proud mother. The area around her is buzzing with activity, as sweat bees and bumblebees float from blossom to blossom and plant to plant. The colors range from pink and purple to red and yellow. She points out the African blue basil and the coneflowers as both enjoyed by bees and a great source of food.

African blue basil at the Miller Center. Photo by Zack Denton.

African blue basil at the Miller Center. Photo by Zack Denton.

After taking a class on bees, Hudson decided that it was important in her work to ensure that Lynchburg would become more bee- and pollinator-friendly. It has been a labor of love as she has spent the last several years planting and digging in the various pollinator habitats around the city, including many located at community centers and parks such as Riverside Park.

The habitats are eye-catching additions to their surroundings. But they were created for a specific purpose: to address the fact that the plight of bees and other pollinators has gone downhill and their future is uncertain.

Over the last few years the United States, as well as the rest of the world, has seen a decline in the number of pollinators. The most commonly known pollinators are bees and butterflies, but birds, bats and other foraging animals are also pollinators.

According to a recent U.S. Geological Survey-led study, the once common western bumblebee has declined by 57%. Much of the general decline can be attributed to an increase in temperatures, the use of pesticides and overall human activity.

Humans depend heavily on the activity of pollinators for survival yet are a large contributor to their decline. An ever-expanding population in the U.S. is constantly widening the spaces where humans live, removing native grasses and flowers that pollinators depend on.

Federal agencies including USGS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been warning for years of the danger that further decline of pollinators poses to both the economy and the survival of humans and wildlife as a whole.

In Virginia, a number of colleges, universities and municipalities have taken steps to try and help pollinators continue to play their part in the ecosystem. Randolph College in Lynchburg was the first university in the state to be certified “bee-friendly” in 2016 by Bee City USA, an initiative of the Xerces Society, an organization focused on the preservation of invertebrates and their habitats.

To date, there are 191 cities across the United States that can boast of being a Bee City; 13 of those are in Virginia. In addition, there are 173 college and university campuses that can lay claim to being a Bee Campus, with six of them in Virginia.

Randolph College

Randolph College maintains several, rain, organic and pollinator habitats around campus and the community, says Lindsey Van Zile, the school’s sustainability and campus projects. The school also has areas where grasses aren’t mowed so that they attract pollinators, touching only those areas necessary to harvest seeds for future growth. The school also maintains a greenhouse for seeding flowers and plants that are then planted in the pollinator habitats.

An important key to the effort’s success is the education of the public. Van Zile says that the college provides information to both the public and students about the role that pollinators play in the ecosystem. Students have shown great interest in getting involved, she says, and tend both the habitats and the greenhouse.

Since she started her position at Randolph College at the end of October 2022, Van Zile has seen an increase in the instances of pollinators around campus and in Lynchburg. She says that she has seen the greatest increase in the unmowed areas where the blooms in those grasses have attracted more bee visits.

A sign at the Miller Center in Lynchburg explains the city’s pollinator-friendly initiatives. Photo by Zack Denton.

A sign at the Miller Center in Lynchburg explains the city’s pollinator-friendly initiatives. Photo by Zack Denton.


Lynchburg became a Bee City in 2019. The city was already taking steps to become more pollinator-friendly when it was approached by the Xerces Society, Hudson says.

Many of Lynchburg’s efforts have been in tandem with those of Randolph College. All across the city, pollinator habitats have been planted with native flowers and herbs that provide shelter and food. Hudson says that the Department of Parks and Recreation also has encouraged the city to be cognizant of the types of pesticides that it uses, and how much or how often it sprays them in the gardens.

Also, like Randolph, Lynchburg has designated certain areas within Riverside Park as no-mow zones. This both allows for the attraction of pollinators and reduces some of the gasoline fumes being released into the air.

A no-mow area at Riverside Park in Lynchburg. Photo by Zack Denton.

A no-mow area at Riverside Park in Lynchburg. Photo by Zack Denton.

Education also has been a key element in Lynchburg’s sustainability efforts. Hudson says that the city placed signs within the un-mowed areas, explaining that they’re being allowed to grow so that they can attract bees and other pollinators. The city also has engaged in efforts to educate the public on how to plant beneficial plants, flowers and trees and how to maintain their own gardens at home.

Hudson says she has been working for years on her own garden to make it more pollinator-friendly. She says that bees native to Virginia are solitary, meaning they don’t have a hive structure, and the young depend on their mother to find and provide food. If she is unable to do so, both mother and the babies will die. This point emphasizes the importance of maintaining pollinator habitats and un-mowed grasses so that our pollinators can feed themselves and thrive, thus also benefiting humans in the long run.


In the fall of 2020, the city of Martinsville became a Bee City. Cindy Edgerton, chairperson of the city’s Bee City Committee — and also a member of several local garden clubs — says that she approached the city council to propose that the city become a Bee City. Given her involvement with garden clubs, she had been thinking for some time about how to protect pollinators.

To her delight, the city council agreed to apply, but with one caveat: The city did not want to spend any money.

While this presented a challenge, the community dove in head first. Edgerton says that the committee relies heavily on education, from setting up booths at public events — she says that a bee costume is in the works to add a bit of flair — to providing practical advice to residents as to how they can help protect pollinators. She says that she tells people that they can mow their lawns, but the grass should not be cut below 4 inches. She also recommends that herbicides be used instead of pesticides in personal gardens and on lawns.

The city also has several baseball fields that have fallen into disuse. A plethora of clover has overgrown the fields, and the city has decided to allow that to grow so that it can be a source of food for pollinators, Edgerton says.

Edgerton adds that the community is truly excited to be involved. Schools, museums and even the chamber of commerce have been heavily invested in the educational aspect of the efforts.

Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech was designated a Bee Campus last year.

The university has planted and maintains habitat gardens around the campus, says Margaret Couvillon, an assistant professor in the Department of Entomology who focuses on pollinator biology and ecology. While Tech began by planting flowers such as lavender, it has since diversified its array of pollinator-attracting perennial flowers, plants and trees.

Couvillon and her team have also worked with the campus grounds crew to reduce the pesticides used in and around their gardens. While spraying may kill the insects that damage flowers and plants, it also can kill bees and other pollinators.

These efforts are a long-term project, she says. Tech is developing a method to measure the increase in pollinators as a result of the school’s efforts. Though it has only been a year since Virginia Tech was certified as a Bee Campus, there have been intangible results, Couvillon says.

“This has brought together Hokies around a common cause,” she says.


In May 2022, the Roanoke City Council adopted a resolution declaring Roanoke a Bee City. The Roanoke Valley Garden Club and others had been advocating for the city to become a pollinator-friendly community for many years, and in May 2023, the city officially launched its project.

The city has planted pollinator habitats in various locations around Roanoke and has posted signage alerting the public to its status as a Bee City. Photo by Megan Schnabel.

The city has planted pollinator habitats in various locations around Roanoke and has posted signage alerting the public to its status as a Bee City. Photo by Megan Schnabel.

“It’s important to protect and sustain pollinator habitats,” says Leigh Anne Weitzenfeld, the city’s sustainability coordinator.

The city is in the process of forming its Bee City committee, which will include city employees and members of area garden clubs.

One of the committee’s main goals will be to educate the public on the role that pollinators play in sustainability. The city also has put out a brochure explaining which native plants, flowers and trees should be planted in home gardens to attract pollinators.

In partnership with local garden clubs, the city has planted pollinator habitats in various locations across Roanoke. One garden club recently received a grant that will help pay for signage in those gardens and other areas where sustainability efforts are underway.

Weitzenfeld also says that Roanoke is creating an integrated pesticide management plan — also a requirement of the Xerces Society to be certified as a Bee City — to rein in the use of chemicals that are detrimental to the pollinator population.

In Washington Park, the city has created a riparian buffer that will provide beneficial vegetation and access to a water source for pollinators. In Vic Thomas Park, the city has created a natural meadow. A team led by Laura Riley, the city’s landscape management coordinator, has removed invasive species there and is in the process of planting native flowers that they hope will attract more pollinators.

Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke was named a Bee Campus in July. The school hosts an arboretum that highlights native plants. Photo by Megan Schnabel.

Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke was named a Bee Campus in July. The school hosts an arboretum that highlights native plants. Photo by Megan Schnabel.

Virginia Western Community College

Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke is one of the latest colleges to become a Bee Campus. Heather Butler, an assistant professor of biology, says that the school applied with the Xerces Society in June and on July 14 was certified as a Bee Campus.

This was a logical next step, as Virginia Western had already been doing many of the things required to become certified. The Bee Campus Committee is composed of faculty, staff (including the campus police) and students, demonstrating a campus-wide commitment to the cause. Butler says that it really is a community effort and everyone is enthusiastic and looking for ways to get involved. The school also maintains a website in an ongoing effort to educate the public on the importance of protecting pollinator habitats.

Across the campus, many native trees, flowers and plants dot the landscape. This is no more evident than in the school-maintained arboretum, just off Colonial Avenue. While the arboretum features a variety of species, it has a plot specially dedicated to native plants. Butler says that the school hopes  to expand and add more plots of native plants, important to pollinators.

Butler also says that Virginia Western has remained committed to taking care of the plants and trees around campus in a responsible way. The school has used only organic pesticides to fight off destructive insects that threaten the native plants and trees.

A butterfly in the Community Arboretum at Virginia Western. Photo by Megan Schnabel.

A butterfly in the Community Arboretum at Virginia Western. Photo by Megan Schnabel.

Although honey bees are not native to North America, Virginia Western’s horticulture department has established beehives behind the tennis courts, in conjunction with Chet Bhatta, an entomologist at Radford University. Both faculty and students contribute to the upkeep of the hives, Butler says, And the college wants to add native plants around the hives to aid the bees occupying them.

“We’re really excited to get this off the ground,” she says.


The city of Salem earlier this year received a grant of $1,000 from Keep Virginia Beautiful that it plans to use to convert some of the turf grass in Longwood Park into a native working prairie, according to Jeff Ceaser, the city’s horticulturist.

“Becoming a Bee City is certainly a possibility, but the problem is that this is a long-term project,” says Ceaser.

However, Salem had been working on projects both to beautify and preserve the natural surroundings, long before receiving the grant.

Ceaser says that his crews recently removed rotted trees to incorporate trees that bear fruit such as pears. These are beneficial to pollinators because they provide a source of food. The city has also experimented with test plots to see if native grasses will grow in certain places.

In other areas, the city is letting the grass grow. Ceaser says that the city has received calls about why certain areas aren’t being mowed; like Lynchburg, Salem has placed signs in those areas to educate the public about why the grass is being allowed to grow.

As in other cities, pesticide use has been a concern for Salem. Ceaser says that the city has focused not only on what it is spraying, but also how much is being sprayed.

To learn more about making a garden more pollinator-friendly and sustainable, visit

As climate change warms rivers, they are running out of breath

September 21, 2023 · 3 minute read
As climate change warms rivers, they are running out of breath

– and so could the plants and animals they harbor

As climate change warms rivers, they are losing dissolved oxygen from their water. This process, which is called deoxygenation, was already known to be occurring in large bodies of water, like oceans and lakes. A study that colleagues and I just published in Nature Climate Change shows that it is happening in rivers as well.

We documented this change using a type of artificial intelligence called a deep learning model – specifically, a long short-term memory model – to predict water temperature and oxygen levels. The data that we fed the model included past records of water temperature and oxygen concentrations in rivers, along with past weather data and the features of adjoining land – for example, whether it held cities, farms or forests.

The original water temperatures and oxygen data, however, were measured sparsely and often in different periods and with different frequency. This made it challenging before our study to compare across rivers and in different periods.

Using all of this information from 580 rivers in the U.S. and 216 rivers in central Europe, our AI program reconstructed day-to-day temperatures and oxygen levels in those rivers from 1981 to 2019. We also used future climate projections to predict future water temperature and oxygen levels. This enabled us to consistently compare past and future river water temperatures and oxygen levels across hundreds of rivers, which would not have been possible without using AI.

On average, we found, rivers were warming by 0.29 degrees Fahrenheit (0.16 degrees Celsius) per decade in the U.S. and 0.49 F (0.27 C) per decade in central Europe. Deoxygenation rates reached as high as 1% to 1.5% loss per decade. These rates are faster than deoxygenation rates occurring in oceans, and slower than those in lakes and coastal regions.

Urban rivers are warming up most rapidly, while rivers in agricultural areas are losing oxygen most rapidly. This could be partly due to nutrient pollution, which combines with warmer waters to fuel large blooms of algae. When the algae die and decompose, this process depletes dissolved oxygen in the water.

Why it matters

Oxygen is crucial for plants, animals, fish and aquatic insects that live in rivers. These organisms breathe dissolved oxygen from river water. If oxygen levels drop too low, river species will suffocate.

While scientists know that oceans and lakes have been losing oxygen in a warming climate, we have mainly thought that rivers were safe from this problem. Rivers are shallow, and fast-moving water can absorb oxygen directly from the air more rapidly than standing water. Rivers also harbor plants that make oxygen.

The health of rivers affects everything in and around them, from aquatic life to humans who rely on the rivers for water, food, transportation and recreation. Warming rivers with low oxygen could suffer fish die-offs and degraded water quality. Fisheries, tourism and even property values along rivers could decline, affecting livelihoods and economies.

As the air warms in a changing climate, rivers will also become warmer. As a liquid’s temperature increases, its capacity to hold gases declines. This means that climate change will further reduce dissolved oxygen in river water.

At extreme levels, this process can create dead zones where fish and other species cannot survive. Dead zones already form in coastal areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Erie. We found that some rivers, especially in warmer areas like Florida, may face more low-oxygen days in the future.

Low oxygen in rivers also can promote chemical and biological reactions that lead to the release of toxic metals from river sediments and increased emissions of greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide and methane.

River pollution was one factor that spurred the emergence of the modern environmental movement in the 1960s and 1970s. University of Michigan Library Digital Collections

River pollution was one factor that spurred the emergence of the modern environmental movement in the 1960s and 1970s. University of Michigan Library Digital Collections

What’s next

Most of our data on dissolved oxygen was collected during the day, when plants in rivers are actively making oxygen through photosynthesis, powered by sunlight. This means that our findings may underestimate the low-oxygen problem. At night, when plants aren’t producing oxygen, dissolved oxygen levels could be lower.

I see this research as a wake-up call for more study of how climate change is affecting river water quality worldwide. Better monitoring and more analysis can make the full scope of river deoxygenation clearer. Ultimately, I hope more research will lead to policy changes that promote responsible land use and water management and better stewardship of rivers, our planet’s veins.

Virginia forests might be a last hope for Hellbender salamanders

September 21, 2023 · 1 minute read
Virginia forests might be a last hope for Hellbender salamanders

Hellbender salamanders could be disappearing, and forests in southwest Virginia may be their best hope for survival.

“This is an animal that’s been around for millions and millions of years. And suddenly, it’s disappearing, and perhaps on the verge of extinction,” said Bill Hopkins, a professor of wildlife conservation at Virginia Tech who’s been studying these salamanders for nearly two decades. Hellbenders are unique for several reasons. They’re giant, up to two feet long. They also help care for their babies, and the dads guard the eggs.

“And then for the little hatchlings that come out of the eggs, for a total of eight months, which is pretty remarkable,” Hopkins said.

Hellbenders do best in swift-flowing, cooler water. When trees and shrubs beside the water are cut down, the temperature and chemistry of the water changes. Cutting foliage also causes more sediment and clay to build up, blocking cavities beneath boulders and small rocks, which young salamanders prefer.

Hellbender underwater in a stream in Virginia

Hellbender underwater in a stream in Virginia

Hellbenders have been in decline for decades. In Virginia, their numbers are actually pretty steady. But what worries Hopkins is that even here, young hellbenders are disappearing. His team recently published a 10-year study, where they observed something pretty startling: in areas where forests had been cut away, the fathers stopped caring for their young. In some cases, the dads actually ate the eggs.

Hopkins said this shift in their behavior may be a warning.

“If hellbenders are trying to tell us something, we need to listen and try to figure it out,” Hopkins said. “I personally think that we’re looking at an animal that’s sort of analogous to a canary in a coal mine. It’s telling us something about the environment. Something we’re doing to the environment.”

Hopkins said some of the best opportunities for hellbenders to thrive are in national forests, since the cool mountain streams are ideal for the salamanders to lay their eggs, and care for their young.

Study finds old pear trees make for surprisingly rich reef habitats

September 13, 2023 · 6 minute read
Study finds old pear trees make for surprisingly rich reef habitats

Riding his bike to work in the Netherlands’ Zeeland province, Tjeerd Bouma passed fields of pear and apple trees. His mind wandered. As a coastal ecologist at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), Bouma had been searching for a material with which to create artificial reefs in the Wadden Sea, a system of intertidal sand and mud flats that’s been heavily modified by humans over thousands of years. He realized that pear trees could be used for this very purpose.

“They have these nice branching structures and complexity, and they’re biodegradable,” Bouma told Mongabay. Moreover, Bouma knew that fruit trees in orchards had a limited life span. Once pear trees reach 25 to 35 years of age, they no longer produce enough fruit to be profitable, so farmers cull them, turning them into firewood or wood pellets or simply sending the trees to landfills. But maybe, Bouma thought, they could be repurposed to create reefs.

Bouma shared his idea with colleagues, including Jon Dickson, a researcher at NIOZ whose current work focuses on artificial reefs and marine environmental restoration. Dickson believed the idea had merit, since pear trees have the structural complexity needed for an artificial reef and because planting “tree reefs” would mimic a natural process.

“If we look at history … wood came down rivers all the time and got spit out at sea,” Dickson said. “Lots of it washed up, but lots of it sank, too. We have fossil records dating back to the Jurassic [period] about marine wood deposits and the animals that live on it, so we know that wood has been going out to sea for hundreds of millions of years.”

Researchers examine a raised tree reef in the Wadden Sea. Image by Erik Hoekendijk / NIOZ.

Researchers examine a raised tree reef in the Wadden Sea. Image by Erik Hoekendijk / NIOZ.

In many parts of the world, this natural flow of wood into the oceans has largely ceased since humans began modifying coastlines. In the Wadden Sea, for instance, wood and other naturally hard substrates were covered in sand or purposefully removed. This process was also hampered by upstream logging, the damming of estuaries, and even bottom trawling and dredging.

In a new paper published in Frontiers in Marine Science, for which Dickson was the lead author, researchers investigated the usefulness of pear trees as artificial reefs and their ability to attract marine biodiversity. They constructed 32 pyramid-shaped “tree reefs” of six interconnected short-stemmed pear trees. Then they transported the tree reefs to the open waters between two Dutch barrier islands, Texel and Vlieland, and settled them on the sandy bottom — about 3-4 meters (10-13 feet) deep — with concrete feet. After that, they waited.

Four months later, the researchers raised the tree reefs onto a ship to see what sessile organisms (those that can’t move on their own) were living on them. They found 15 species, including barnacles, bryozoans, anemones, tunicates and algae.

The researchers lowered the tree reefs back into the water, along with fish traps. When they raised the fish traps 24 hours later, they found crabs, shrimps, prawns, and several fish species, including fivebeard rockling (Ciliata mustela), shorthorn sculpin (Myoxocephalus scorpius) and pout whiting (Trisopterus luscus).

“We were surprised at the speed that it happened,” Dickson told Mongabay. “The amount of life we saw living on the trees after four months, we were expecting that after something like five years. It was incredible how fast the trees were just a profusion of life.”

The researchers found 15 species living on the tree reefs, including barnacles, bryozoans, anemones, tunicates and algae. Image by Erik Hoekendijk / NIOZ.

The researchers found 15 species living on the tree reefs, including barnacles, bryozoans, anemones, tunicates and algae. Image by Erik Hoekendijk / NIOZ.

The researchers also documented the presence of species at control sites and found that fish were consistently more abundant at the tree reef sites. However, the authors say the data don’t indicate “whether the tree-reefs are simply aggregating them or if they [are] also increasing the overall abundance of these fish in the area.”

Since the study’s publication, the researchers have pulled the tree reefs out of the water again, 16 months after their original planting, and found an even greater assortment of marine life.

“This year, we have cuttlefish laying eggs on the reef, which is really exciting to see,” Dickson said. “We found close to 2,000 eggs on a reef this year, and that’s just one reef. With that many cuttlefish in an area, perhaps the predation of crabs goes up. If there are less crabs in an area, maybe mussels can grow, and more things are going to continue changing.”

Dickson said he believes these pear tree reefs could last 15 to 20 years in the Wadden Sea — or, based on a more optimistic outlook, 50-75 years.

“Trees are relatively cheap, and hopefully we can kick-start the formation of natural reefs where there used to be some,” Dickson said. “And that can make a change because once the reef is there, it can keep growing on itself.”

He also said the idea of using felled trees to make reefs could be replicated in other parts of the world, especially temperate regions. Tree reefs could also work in the tropics, but Dickson said marine boring worms (family Teredinidae) would likely chew through the trees faster in these areas.

“The woodworm is very hungry and very angry in the tropics,” he said.

“Trees are relatively cheap, and hopefully we can kick-start the formation of natural reefs where there used to be some,” Dickson said. Image by Erik Hoekendijk / NIOZ.

“Trees are relatively cheap, and hopefully we can kick-start the formation of natural reefs where there used to be some,” Dickson said. Image by Erik Hoekendijk / NIOZ.

Currently, felled trees aren’t widely used as artificial reefs. However, there have been some small-scale initiatives in places like El Salvador, where local fishers sank dead mangrove wood, bicycle parts and concrete to attract marine biodiversity. It’s also typical for concrete blocks or retired ships to be used as artificial reefs. In the U.S., anglers use old Christmas trees to attract fish and increase their catches in lakes and reservoirs.

Timothy Baxter, a scientist at the University of Oxford who studies marine biodiversity in harbors and breakwaters but was not involved in the new study, said he was surprised by how quickly the pear trees were colonized by marine wildlife.

“The study presents an innovative technique for increasing biodiversity in marine environments where hard substrates have been depleted due to human activity,” Baxter told Mongabay in an email. “As the felled pear trees are used as an alternative to naturally occurring woody debris that has been depleted due to damming upstream, they represent a viable way of enhancing marine wildlife. Given that wood is a natural material that will degrade over time, the felled pear trees have the potential to be significantly more eco-friendly than other ‘ecological enhancement’ techniques that use concrete and other engineering materials. The low cost is also a benefit.”

Baxter said he thinks the next research stage should be to attempt a “scaled-up version of the study, both in terms of time and space.”

“It would be interesting to see the effects of felled pear trees over longer time scales and a greater spatial area,” he said. “In particular, it would be interesting to see whether, when scaled up, felled pear trees have any negative impact on biodiversity. This includes, for example, facilitating the spread of non-native or invasive types of marine organisms as has been shown for some wooden shipwrecks and other artificial structures in marine environments.”

In another recent study led by Baxter, researchers found that historic masonry, concrete and rocky cliff habitats in harbors also supported diverse communities of marine organisms.

“[I]n soft sediment environments, both [harbors and tree reefs] are likely to increase biodiversity compared to the surrounding environment,” Baxter said. “A combination of methods will be required to ensure marine ecosystems remain resilient to threats posed by increasing coastal development and climate change.”

Data and funds made available in Va. to improve tree cover in the Chesapeake Bay watershed

September 13, 2023 · 6 minute read
Data and funds made available in Va. to improve tree cover in the Chesapeake Bay watershed

A collaboration between researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, University of Vermont and Chesapeake Conservancy has determined the Chesapeake Bay watershed is rapidly losing tree cover to expanding urban and suburban development.

By analyzing high-resolution satellite imagery between 2013 and 2018, the Chesapeake Bay Program Land Use and Land Cover Data Project publicly tracked for the first time how the entire 64,000 square mile watershed is changing. The project was designed as a tool to improve local decision-making by communities across the watershed working to meet goals set in the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, a landmark pledge by the federal government, six states including Virginia, and Washington, D.C. to clean up the nation’s largest estuary. Its data has an anticipated accuracy of over 90%.

The watershed is losing trees to impervious surfaces, or those hard areas like parking lots that can’t absorb water, at “a surprising rate,” said Peter Claggett, a research geographer at the U.S. Geological Survey and a leader for the project.

“As areas get more urbanized, you’re going to see more land conversion there,” said Caitlin Verdu, the Virginia Department of Forestry’s watershed program manager.

In Virginia, the project revealed significant changes in the state’s Bay-side landscape.

“The main things that are happening in Virginia that make it unique is that it does have a lot of development compared to some other jurisdictions, and it has the most timber harvest,” said Claggett.

When trees are cut down and replaced by impervious surfaces due to development, the land conversion is considered permanent. According to the data, impervious surface cover throughout the watershed increased by about 50,000 acres, or just over 79 square miles, during the four-year period of the study.

 Impervious surface cover in Virginia’s Bay side is increasing, especially in rapidly developing urban areas. (Chesapeake Bay Program map)

Impervious surface cover in Virginia’s Bay side is increasing, especially in rapidly developing urban areas. (Chesapeake Bay Program map)

Impervious surfaces, such as roofs and parking lots, do not absorb water, and “that can cause problems downstream,” said Claggett.  “Not only does it bear those pollutants and toxins that it picks up from roads and parking lots, but this runoff also moves quicker over the landscape if it just runs off the surface and doesn’t soak in.”

Fast-moving runoff can erode stream channels and alter the water flow patterns that aquatic species have adjusted to over millions of years, said Claggett. Tree stands planted along streams, a feature called a riparian buffer, can help manage excess runoff. The buffers also “stabilize the banks, provide shade and cool the stream, and leaves fall off the trees that help provide for the whole ecosystem of the stream itself,” said Claggett.

The majority of change in tree canopy throughout the watershed and especially in Virginia was associated with timber harvesting, but these rotational harvests are not a permanent loss in tree canopy, according to foresters. Instead, they are seen as a transformation in the forest from late succession — an older period of growth — to early succession, said Claggett.

Although it can take seven years after a forest is harvested for “those trees to even be visible on the analysis,” said Lara Johnson, the Virginia Department of Forestry’s urban and community forestry program manager, “I think when they do the next analysis, it will show that these forests are growing and that these harvested operations are being replanted, and those trees are coming back.”

State and federal funding to improve urban tree cover

The Virginia Department of Forestry is making use of state and federal funds to plant more trees in communities throughout the commonwealth.

“Whether it’s on public or private land, we’re seeing these same radical opportunities to make a difference,” said Verdu. “We’re here to advocate for all the wonderful benefits of trees and to help folks who want trees to make them a part of their community.”

 Community tree plantings in acreage for each jurisdiction across the Chesapeake Bay watershed. (Chesapeake Bay Program)

Community tree plantings in acreage for each jurisdiction across the Chesapeake Bay watershed. (Chesapeake Bay Program)

The Virginia Trees for Clean Water Grant Program is offering $500,000 in grant funding to plant trees in community areas through the remainder of 2023. The program was established in 2013 and is supported primarily by the Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund, a special state fund created in 1997 to assist local governments, soil and water conservation districts, state agencies and others with reducing and controlling water pollution.

Recent budget surpluses have led to hundreds of millions of dollars being deposited in the fund, with over $644 million earmarked for deposit in a budget deal the General Assembly passed last week.

An estimated 150,000 trees have been planted as part of the program to date, and nearly 50,000 of those plantings happened last year, said Johnson.

In addition to state funds, the Virginia Department of Forestry received $6.6 million in federal funding this year from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service as part of the Inflation Reduction Act. The funds are intended to increase tree canopy and access to nature in disadvantaged communities.

Research has found links between historic racial inequities and tree cover, with formerly redlined communities tending to have fewer trees and more impervious surface. In Virginia, that trend has been seen in Richmond, Norfolk, Roanoke and Lynchburg.

“I think this historic funding will really help us to do more projects and support more work on the ground from an urban community forestry perspective,” said Johnson.

A tool for planting and planning

The Chesapeake Bay Program’s land use and land cover data can be used to help counties, cities and communities across the watershed identify areas that should be priorities for conservation, said Claggett.

A community can inventory the landscape around all of its streams or urban areas, for example, to figure out where trees are missing and then set goals. “There’s a laundry list of benefits provided by trees in urban areas, and the lack of them, particularly in underserved communities, is an issue that our data can highlight,” said Claggett.

Despite over 8,000 acres of trees that were planted across the watershed during the course of the study, communities lost over 25,000 acres of tree canopy, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program data and local government reports on tree planting. Virginia saw a loss of over 9,500 acres of canopy.

 Net change in tree canopy acreage for each state in the watershed over the course of the study. (Chesapeake Bay Program)

Net change in tree canopy acreage for each state in the watershed over the course of the study. (Chesapeake Bay Program)

Tree cover fact sheets crafted by the program provide “an idea of what the trends in tree cover are for every county and city, and also what are some of the ecosystem benefits that you gain in terms of flood control, reduced runoff and things like that,” said Claggett.

Researchers are working to update the data by next year to include new high-resolution imagery from 2021 and 2022 as well as lower-resolution imagery from USGS archives dating back to the 1980s. That will allow them to “look back through the record and look at all the images taken about once every two weeks and see how the landscape has changed through time,” said Claggett.

KC Filippino, a senior water resources planner for the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission said that information can then be shared with the public “so they can start seeing how their landscapes around them have actually been changing over the years in a more quantitative way.”

Once the data is updated to include 2021 and 2022 satellite imagery, researchers expect to see utility-scale solar fields emerging as a significant factor affecting land use and tree cover in Virginia.

Until then, Filippino said the focus is on getting “eyes on that data and making sure it’s accurate in the eyes of the people that actually live there.”

Extreme El Niño weather saw South America’s forest carbon sink switch off

September 5, 2023 · 4 minute read
Extreme El Niño weather saw South America’s forest carbon sink switch off

Tropical forests in South America lose their ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere when conditions become exceptionally hot and dry, according to new research.

For a long time, tropical forests have acted as a carbon sink, taking more carbon out of the air than they release into it, a process that has moderated the .

But research led by Dr. Amy Bennett, a Research Fellow at the University of Leeds, found that in 2015–2016, when an El Niño climate event resulted in drought and the hottest temperatures ever recorded, South American forests were unable to function as a carbon sink.

El Niño occurs when in the Pacific Ocean increase sharply, triggering a major shift in the world’s climate system. In 2015–2016, the result was exceptionally hot weather for South America. A similar event is underway now.

Dr. Bennett, from the School of Geography at Leeds, said, “Tropical forests in the Amazon have played a key role in slowing the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“Scientists have known that the trees in the Amazon are sensitive to changes in temperature and , but we do not know how individual forests could be changed by future climate change.

A researcher measuring a tree. Credit: Luis Gamez

A researcher measuring a tree. Credit: Luis Gamez

“Investigating what happened in the Amazon during this huge El Niño event gave us a window into the future by showing how unprecedented hot and impacts forests.”

The researchers reported their findings in the journal Nature Climate Change. The study united the RAINFOR and PPBio research networks, with more than 100 scientists measuring forests for decades across 123 experimental plots.

The plots span Amazon and Atlantic forests as well as drier forests in tropical South America.

These direct, tree-by-tree records showed that most forests had acted as a carbon sink for most of the last 30 years, with tree growth exceeding mortality. When the 2015–2016 El Niño hit, the sink shut down. This was because tree death increased with the heat and drought.

Professor Beatriz Marimon, of Brazil’s Mato Grosso State University, said, “Here in the southeastern Amazon on the edge of the rainforest, the trees may have now switched from storing carbon to emitting it. While tree growth rates resisted the higher temperatures, tree mortality jumped when this climate extreme hit.”

Tree canopy in the Western Plains, Venezuela. Credit: Credit: Emilo Vilan

Tree canopy in the Western Plains, Venezuela. Credit: Credit: Emilo Vilan

Study’s findings

Of the 123 plots studied, 119 of them experienced an average monthly temperature increase of 0.5° Celsius and 99 of the plots suffered water deficits. Where it was hotter, it was also drier.

Prior to El Niño, the researchers calculated that the plots were storing and sequestering around one third of a metric ton of carbon per hectare per year. This declined to zero with the hotter and drier El Niño conditions.

The change was due to biomass being lost through the death of trees.

Writing in the paper, the researchers noted that the greatest relative impact of the El Niño event were in forests where the long-term climate was already relatively dry.

The expectation was that wetter forests would be most vulnerable to the extreme drier weather, as they would be least adapted to such conditions. However, the opposite was the case. Instead, those forests more used to a drier climate at the dry periphery of the tropical forest biome turned out to be most vulnerable to drought.

Using boats to access some of the forest plots. Credit: Emilo Vilan

Using boats to access some of the forest plots. Credit: Emilo Vilan

This suggested some trees were already operating at the limits of tolerable conditions.

For Professor Oliver Phillips, an ecologist at the University of Leeds who supervised the research and leads the global ForestPlots initiative, the findings offered hope about the resilience of the South American tropical nature.

He added, “The full 30-year perspective that our diverse team provides shows that this El Niño had no worse effect on intact forests than earlier droughts. Yet this was the hottest drought ever.

“Where tree mortality increased was in the drier areas on the Amazon periphery where forests were already fragmented. Knowing these risks, conservationists and resource managers can take steps to protect them.

“Through the complex dynamics that happen in forest environments, land clearance makes the environment drier and hotter, further stressing the remaining trees.

“So, the big challenge is to keep forests standing in the first place. If we can do that, then our on-the-ground evidence shows they can continue to help lock up and slow climate change.”

Two reports are published in Nature Climate Change related to this research. The scientific paper, “Sensitivity of South American tropical forests to an extreme climate anomaly,” and a research brief titled “Impact of the 2015–2016 El Niño on South American .”

Some plants are more flammable than others. How gardeners can reduce the risks

September 5, 2023 · 2 minute read
Some plants are more flammable than others. How gardeners can reduce the risks

The deadly wildfires in Hawaii this month were fueled in part by plants, in particular invasive grasses that have taken over land once occupied by sugar and pineapple plantations.

Some plants are more flammable than others, says Michele Steinberg, wildfire division director at the National Fire Protection Association. But “there is no such thing as a fireproof plant,” she says—all plants can ignite under the right conditions.

Those conditions include improper pruning, insufficient watering, and poor sanitation practices that allow dry, dead plant parts to remain on the in high-risk areas.

If you live in a -risk zone (or an area where is increasing the fire risk) and are selecting plants for your garden, knowing which ones offer some fire resistance and which are more flammable will serve you well.

Quicker to catch fire

Plants that contain aromatic oils, resins, waxes or gummy sap are among the quickest to ignite, even if they’ve been well-watered and cared for. Those include acacia, bamboo, eucalyptus, Japanese honeysuckle, rosemary, Scotch broom and gas plant, which gets its name from the flammable vapor its flowers and leaves exude.

Trees with peeling, papery bark, like river birch, are generally more flammable than those without. And fine-needled evergreen shrubs and trees, like cedar, cypress, fir, juniper, pine and spruce, contain volatile saps and resins. Their dropped needles, left to dry on the ground—or the roof—further increase the fire risk. Redwoods, a notable exception, are considered fire-resistant due to the tannic acid in their bark.

Many grasses, such as the buffel, molasses and guinea types that fueled the Hawaii fires—as well as fountain and feather grasses—are considered highly flammable. Their ignitability increases when they are left to stand dry over winter or during periods of drought; excessive dry heat evaporates moisture from the soil and from them and many other kinds of plants, essentially turning them into kindling.

Native vs. non-native

As a group, ” aren’t necessarily less flammable” than introduced species, Steinberg said.

But nonnative, invasive plants often pose higher fire risks because they spread readily, typically are left undisturbed by wildlife, outcompete , and often tolerate heat, drought and heavy rains well. They can quickly cover fields, acres and even miles of land, where a spark, such as from lightning, can set them ablaze.

For the best fire resistance, select , like ash, crabapple, dogwood, locust, maple and oak, over fine-needled evergreens. Succulents with water-filled leaves, like ice and sedums, are slow burners, as are some groundcovers, like ajuga and creeping phlox.

What to look for in plants

The Washington State University Extension Service has published valuable guidelines identifying these general plant characteristics as fire-resistant:

  • High moisture content in leaves (these ignite and burn more slowly).
  • Little or no seasonal accumulation of dead vegetation.
  • Open branching habits (they provide for fires).
  • Fewer total branches and leaves (again, less fuel for fires).
  • Slow-growing, so less pruning is required (to keep open structure as noted above).
  • Non-resinous material on the plant (i.e., stems, leaves, or needles that are not resinous, oily or waxy).

Tiny Forests With Big Benefits

August 31, 2023 · 5 minute read
Tiny Forests With Big Benefits

Native plants crowded onto postage-stamp-size plots have been delivering environmental benefits around the world — and, increasingly, in the U.S.

The tiny forest lives atop an old landfill in the city of Cambridge, Mass. Though it is still a baby, it’s already acting quite a bit older than its actual age, which is just shy of 2.

Its aspens are growing at twice the speed normally expected, with fragrant sumac and tulip trees racing to catch up. It has absorbed storm water without washing out, suppressed many weeds and stayed lush throughout last year’s drought. The little forest managed all this because of its enriched soil and density, and despite its diminutive size: 1,400 native shrubs and saplings, thriving in an area roughly the size of a basketball court.

It is part of a sweeping movement that is transforming dusty highway shoulders, parking lots, schoolyards and junkyards worldwide. Tiny forests have been planted across Europe, in Africa, throughout Asia and in South America, Russia and the Middle East. India has hundreds, and Japan, where it all began, has thousands.

Now tiny forests are slowly but steadily appearing in the United States. In recent years, they’ve been planted alongside a corrections facility on the Yakama reservation in Washington, in Los Angeles’s Griffith Park and in Cambridge, where the forest is one of the first of its kind in the Northeast.

“It’s just phenomenal,” said Andrew Putnam, superintendent of urban forestry and landscapes for the city of Cambridge, on a recent visit to the forest, which was planted in the fall of 2021 in Danehy Park, a green space built atop the former city landfill. As dragonflies and white butterflies floated about, Mr. Putnam noted that within a few years, many of the now 14-foot saplings would be as tall as telephone poles and the forest would be self-sufficient.

Healthy woodlands absorb carbon dioxide, clean the air and provide for wildlife. But these tiny forests promise even more.

They can grow as quickly as ten times the speed of conventional tree plantations, enabling them to support more birds, animals and insects, and to sequester more carbon, while requiring no weeding or watering after the first three years, their creators said.

Andrew Putnam, superintendent of urban forestry for the city of Cambridge, Mass.Credit...Cassandra Klos for The New York Times

Andrew Putnam, superintendent of urban forestry for the city of Cambridge, Mass.Credit…Cassandra Klos for The New York Times

Flowers in the Miyawaki forest in Danehy Park, which includes 1,400 native shrubs and saplings, all thriving in an area roughly the size of a basketball court.Credit...Cassandra Klos for The New York Times

Flowers in the Miyawaki forest in Danehy Park, which includes 1,400 native shrubs and saplings, all thriving in an area roughly the size of a basketball court.Credit…Cassandra Klos for The New York Times

Perhaps more important for urban areas, tiny forests can help lower temperatures in places where pavement, buildings and concrete surfaces absorb and retain heat from the sun.

“This isn’t just a simple tree-planting method,” said Katherine Pakradouni, a native plant horticulturist who oversaw the forest planting in Los Angeles’s Griffith Park. “This is about a whole system of ecology that supports all manner of life, both above and below ground.”

The Griffith Park forest occupies 1,000 square feet, and has drawn all manner of insects, lizards, birds and ground squirrels, along with western toads that journeyed from the Los Angeles River, Ms. Pakradouni said. To get to the forest, the toads had to clamber up a concrete embankment, traverse a bike trail, venture down another dirt embankment and cross a horse trail.

“It has all the food they need to survive and reproduce, and the shelter they need as a refuge,” Ms. Pakradouni said. “We need habitat refuges, and even a tiny one can, in a year, be life or death for an entire species.”

Known variously as tiny forests, mini forests, pocket forests and, in the United Kingdom, “wee” forests, they trace their lineage to the Japanese botanist and plant ecologist Akira Miyawaki, who in 2006 won the Blue Planet Prize, considered the environmental equivalent of a Nobel award, for his method of creating fast-growing native forests.

Dr. Miyawaki, who died in 2021 at the age of 93, developed his technique in the 1970s, after observing that thickets of indigenous trees around Japan’s temples and shrines were healthier and more resilient than those in single-crop plantations or forests grown in the aftermath of logging. He wanted to protect old-growth forests and encourage the planting of native species, arguing that they provided vital resilience amid climate change, while also reconnecting people with nature.

“The forest is the root of all life; it is the womb that revives our biological instincts, that deepens our intelligence and increases our sensitivity as human beings,” he wrote.

Dr. Miyawaki’s prescription involves intense soil restoration and planting many native flora close together. Multiple layers are sown — from shrub to canopy — in a dense arrangement of about three to five plantings per square meter. The plants compete for resources as they race toward the sun, while underground bacteria and fungal communities thrive. Where a natural forest could take at least a century to mature, Miyawaki forests take just a few decades, proponents say.

A Miyawaki forest in New Delhi.Credit...Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times, via Getty Images

A Miyawaki forest in New Delhi.Credit…Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times, via Getty Images

Butterflies in the Miyawaki forest of Kalina Biodiversity Park at Mumbai University, which opened last year.Credit...Vijay Bate/Hindustan Times, via Getty Images

Butterflies in the Miyawaki forest of Kalina Biodiversity Park at Mumbai University, which opened last year.Credit…Vijay Bate/Hindustan Times, via Getty Images

Crucially, the method requires that local residents do the planting, in order to forge connections with young woodlands. In Cambridge, where a second tiny forest, less than half the size of the first one, was planted in late 2022, Mr. Putnam said residents had embraced the small forest with fervor. A third forest is in the works, he said, and all three were planned and organized in conjunction with the non-profit Biodiversity for a Livable Climate.

“This has by far and away gotten the most positive feedback from the public and residents than we’ve had for any project, and we do a lot,” Mr. Putnam said.

To read the full article, continue to the article site here.

Urban forestry project helps Hickman, boosts students’ tree awareness

August 31, 2023 · 3 minute read
Urban forestry project helps Hickman, boosts students’ tree awareness

Urban trees provide numerous benefits to a community. Among those pluses: pollution absorption, stormwater mitigation, atmospheric cooling, habitat enrichment and reduced energy use.

But for a community to get the most out of its trees, careful planning is imperative.

This spring, University of Nebraska–Lincoln students in the Regional and Community Forestry program helped the city of Hickman strengthen its efforts to get the most out of its trees.

Over the course of the semester, students in NRES 457, taught by Lord Ameyaw, assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources, developed an urban forestry management report for Hickman. The community can use that report as a guide to remove, replace and plant new trees going forward.

The collaboration with Hickman was the latest in a series of community-oriented urban forestry projects initiated by the university, beginning with a similar report done for Lincoln in 2020.

The report developed for Hickman has sections on pruning; planting; tree diversity; tree care training; city ordinance review; tree assessment protocol; emerald ash borer planning; and tree equity, a central principle for urban foresters. Community planners should be mindful that trees be distributed across a community’s neighborhoods rather than concentrated in only some of them.

“In the same way we have the same grade of infrastructure of roads, sewers and electricity, we need to be thinking about trees and their benefits as public green infrastructure,” said Graham Herbst, an Omaha-based community forester with the Nebraska Forest Service.

Through analysis of geographic imagery, students found that Hickman is home to 483 trees representing 39 species. Hickman’s southern, long-settled area has considerably more trees than the northern area.

 Students who developed an urban forestry plan for the city of Hickman through a School of Natural Resources course explained the analysis and recommendations in this presentation.

Students who developed an urban forestry plan for the city of Hickman through a School of Natural Resources course explained the analysis and recommendations in this presentation.

Tree diversity is another guiding principle in urban forestry. In addition to having a range of tree species, diversity goals include factors such as age, genetic composition and tree structure. Diversity in species and genetic makeup strengthen protection against disease and pest infestation.

Students said they benefited from learning how a community’s “gray infrastructure” — sidewalks, buildings, streets — interacts with the local “green infrastructure.”

Hickman has been recognized for prioritizing trees through its participation in the national Tree City USA program, and the new university document is intended to supplement the community’s efforts.

“They can develop a better long-term plan to strengthen their urban forestry abilities, from strategizing to policy,” said Jace Armstrong, who graduated in May with a degree in landscape architecture.

The urban forestry course, like SNR’s forestry program overall, helps students understand that forestry involves a broad range of disciplines, Ameyaw said. Students draw on concepts from community planning, landscape architecture, urban forestry, natural resources studies, horticulture and environmental policy.

“By end of the major here, we’re well rounded in many different subjects, such as plant health, forestry management and wildlife law,” said Zach Zimmerman, a senior majoring in community forestry with an emphasis on urban forestry. “I’ve taken so many courses on each campus at UNL” and talked with specialists from a range of fields. “It’s added to what I can offer to future employers.”

In working directly with communities, students also develop their communications skills, which Zimmerman said was particularly important when it came time to translate scientific or technical details of their work.

The experience “opened my eyes to what actually is involved in being an urban forester in the urban landscape. There’s a lot of hoops to jump through,” Zimmerman said. The experience, he said, “caused me to take a deep dive in some of those policies. It’s also opened my eyes to different programs you can utilize in the future as an urban forester.”

Virginia Trees for Clean Water Grant Program

August 23, 2023 · 2 minute read
Virginia Trees for Clean Water Grant Program

Note from the editor: neighborhood projects qualify for funding! If you and your neighbors are chatting about a project, apply!

The Virginia Trees for Clean Water Grant Program is established to encourage the creation of long-term, sustained canopy cover to improve water quality across the Commonwealth. This grant is used to fund tree-planting efforts that raise public awareness of the benefits of trees and impacts on water quality.


  • The recommended funding range is $1,000 – $50,000.
  • Some project match is expected and can include in-kind and volunteer hours.
  • Grant funds are distributed on a reimbursement basis. Under limited circumstances, DOF can directly pay costs for a project. Please reach out to the program contact for more information.
  • Applications must be submitted 30 days prior to the estimated planting date and an award must be issued prior to beginning the project or incurring project expenses.

Project Categories

Projects may include but are not limited to the following:

  • Riparian Buffers
  • Community or Street Tree Plantings
  • Neighborhood-wide Projects
  • Turf-to-Trees
  • Tree Giveaways

We do fund:

  • Fees charged by private contractors and/or consultants.
  • Purchase of essential supplies and materials.
  • Purchase and planting of trees (2 inches in caliper or less) and shrubs.
  • Maintenance expenses, including watering, are eligible for reimbursement during the grant period.
    • DOF cannot reimburse until after all deliverables and activities have been completed.
    • Maintenance costs will be ineligible if submitted outside of the approved grant period.
  • Costs associated with site preparation and soil amendments.

We don’t fund:

  • Purchase of machinery or equipment.
  • Construction of any kind (e.g., sidewalks or roads).
  • Purchase of food, snacks, or beverages.
  • Purchase of land or land charges.
  • Purchase of plant material classified as invasive species.
  • Purchase and planting of ash species (Fraxinus sp.) due to the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis).
  • Costs that are not incurred during the grant award period.
  • Costs not approved by the urban and community forestry program manager during the award phase or modification.
  • Purchase and planting of vines or non-woody plants.

Who is Eligible

Grants may be awarded to civic groups, communities, local government, non-profit organizations, neighborhood associations, public educational institutions, state agencies, tribal organizations, and volunteer groups.

To Apply

Applications are accepted via the Forestry Grants System Access Portal.

  • Use the help guide provided in the Resource Library below for registering for an account and submitting an application.
  • Local DOF staff must review the project prior to proposal submission. The local DOF forester should provide a letter of recommendation for the project directly to the U&CF program manager prior to proposal submission.
  • Projects must include community outreach and engagement components.

Old growth forests to visit in West Virginia

August 23, 2023 · 5 minute read
Old growth forests to visit in West Virginia

The New River Gorge National Park & Preserve celebrated the official induction of 12 acres into the old growth forest classification, but West Virginia actually has 11 other old growth forests.

Old-growth forests have never been cleared or harvested by people and are characterized by large, mature trees that are usually hundreds of years old. An executive order signed by President Joe Biden in 2022 called for the inventory of old growth forests in aims of protecting the ecosystems. The initial inventory on the Bureau of Land Management’s website said that there were zero acres of old growth forest in the eastern states.

According to NRGNPP, West Virginia was once covered with old growth forests, but most of it was destroyed by large scale commercial logging in the 1900s. Now, less than 1% of West Virginia’s forest is considered old growth. Although there is no giant forest of old growth like in California or Alaska, West Virginia has a handful of small pockets where old growth forests have survived, according to the Old-Growth Forest Network.

Some places have also become secondary old growth forests, meaning the forests were cut down at some point but have grown back with many of the characteristics of an old growth.

Cathedral State Park

Considered the largest old growth forest in West Virginia, Cathedral State Park is a view into what West Virginia would have looked like without logging. The hemlock forest has trees as large as 90 feet tall and 21 feet in circumference and covered 133 acres in Preston County.

Gaudineer Scenic Area - Monongahela National Forest

Gaudineer Scenic Area

Located in the Monongahela National Forest and the highlands of West Virginia, the 50-acre plot of forest has both old-growth and second growth red spruce, which is only found in higher elevations, as well as yellow birch, beech, red maple and sugar maple. Some of the trees are 40 inches in diameter and are estimated to be 300 years old. To see the area, use the Allegheny Trail #701 and the Gaudineer Interpretive Trail.

Twin Falls Resort State Park

Within a 777-acre area in Wyoming County, there is a major juxtaposition from the state park forest and the privately owned, timbered land around it that show a great example of the difference between old-growth and second growth forests. Three park trails, the Hemlock Trail, the Cliffside Trail and the Fall Trail, will give visitors access to the old growth.

Stone Cliff Old Growth - New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

New River Gorge National Park & Preserve

Burnwood Trail – These 12 acres in the Burnwood Day Use Area were added on Aug. 4, 2023. New River Gorge NP&P said in a release that numerous trees date back to before 1800 with some samples dating back to 1670.

Stone Cliff Old Growth – This 11-acre area got missed when most of the now preserve was logged in the past. At the end of the Stone Cliff Trail, you can find chinquapin oaks, northern red oaks, bitternut hickories, and buckeyes, some of which are two and three feet in diameter and estimated to be 100-200 years old.

Bethany College Parkinson Forest

Located in Brooke County, 60 acres of the 261-acre Parkinson Forest is considered old growth, with sugar maple, American beech, red oak, tulip trees, and white oak that are estimated to be almost 250 years old. The forest is accessible using the Bethany Trail System.

Pierson Hollow at Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park

On the rim of the Gauley River Canyon, there are 30 acres of old growth in Nicholas County. Near the bottom of the Pierson Hollow Trail, visitors can see hemlock, tulip poplar and northern red oak, which are between 250 and 400 years old.

Giant Tree Trail/Hollow at North Bend State Park

Approximately 15 acres along the trail have all the characteristics of an old growth forest, according to the Old Growth Forest Network. Four different tree species in that area hold height records for West Virginia, including

Wilderness Trail in Holly River State Park

Although the 8,101-acre area at Holly River State Park in Webster County is still being surveyed, there are several areas of old growth, including along the Wilderness Trail and Potato Knob Trail. Some northern red oaks and chestnut oaks are believed to be more than 200 years old, and there are also old tulip trees and black cherry trees.

Wilderness Area in Watoga State Park

The exact size of this old-growth area, which is along the Ann Bailey and Burnside Ridge trails in Pocahontas County, is still undetermined. According to the Old-Growth Forest Network, ancient species of many species have been found, including white oak, red oak, chestnut oak, black oak, yellow poplar, black gum, pitch pine, white pine, mockernut hickory, black birch, and cucumber tree. Some white oaks are estimated to be between 300 and 350 years old.

Eastern Watershed Tracts of Kanawha State Forest

Although most of the forest is considered secondary old growth, there are some old growth trees, including white oaks, chestnut oaks, northern red oaks, and yellow poplar that are more than 250 years old and white oaks that are likely more than 300 years old. This specific tract of the Kanawha Forest is also home to many types of animals and rare plants.

The 1812 Lost Trail Hollow Forest - Beech Fork State Park

The 1812 Lost Trail Hollow Forest at Beech Fork State Park

Because it has no roads or cattle trails and very few invasive species, officials assume the 40 acres of forest have avoided major human disturbance since the War of 1812. Although it is considered secondary old growth instead of true old growth, it still has trees that are as old as 150-250 years. To see this forest, use the Lost Trail and Mary Davis Trail, but as a warning, they are both considered pretty difficult.

Although not listed at old-growth forest, according to the West Virginia Encyclopedia (2012), the oldest table mountain pine which is more than 280 years old is on Pike Knob in Pendleton County, and white oaks that are small for their age but more than 400 years old can be found in the Murphy Tract in Ritchie County. The Virgin Hemlock Trail in Preston County near Coopers Rock State Forest also has a grove of hemlocks that are more than 300 years old.

Longleaf pine restoration efforts to expand

August 17, 2023 · 1 minute read
Longleaf pine restoration efforts to expand

Before the European colonists arrived, longleaf pine trees formed the backbone of the ancient landscape spanning many acres throughout southeast Virginia.

Today, at Dendron Swamp Natural Area Preserve in Sussex County, the only pine stands that remain in the uplands are loblolly pine trees planted by timber companies for harvesting.

Under a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant awarded recently to Old Dominion University and other partners, DCR plans to expand its longleaf pine restoration efforts and reintroduce the native species to the 635-acre preserve.

A longleaf pine tree at “bottlebrush” stage against the backdrop of an active prescribed fire at Chub Sandhill Natural Area Preserve, where young longleaf pine communities have been restored.

A longleaf pine tree at “bottlebrush” stage against the backdrop of an active prescribed fire at Chub Sandhill Natural Area Preserve, where young longleaf pine communities have been restored.

The preserve, along the southern side of the Blackwater River’s western reach, was protected primarily for the bald cypress-tupelo swamps and other natural heritage resources in the bottomland forests.

But Rebecca Wilson, longleaf pine restoration specialist for the Virginia Natural Heritage Program at DCR, said, “The deep sandy soils of the uplands are well suited to longleaf pine restoration efforts. We’re excited for this opportunity to expand an ecosystem that once spanned over a million acres in southeast Virginia.”

Since 2008, thousands of acres at other natural area preserves including Chub Sandhill, also in Sussex County, have been restored to young longleaf pine communities.

At Dendron Swamp, restoration efforts will include establishing longleaf pine seedlings and conducting frequent, low-intensity prescribed burns. The seedlings will be propagated from cones collected from native old-growth longleaf trees, found at South Quay Sandhills Natural Area Preserve. These old-growth longleaf trees are part of the last remaining longleaf pine ecosystem found in Virginia.

Wilson said, “Bringing fire back to this landscape will not only benefit natural resources but will create a more resilient forest for the future. We don’t know what things will look like in the future, but we do know that longleaf was a significant player in the past. The restoration work we do today will resonate well into the future.”

Lahaina’s 150-year-old banyan tree offers hope as it remains standing

August 17, 2023 · 3 minute read
Lahaina’s 150-year-old banyan tree offers hope as it remains standing

In the middle of Lahaina’s ash and rubble is a sign of hope for people in Maui: a famed, 150-year-old banyan tree that’s heavily charred — but still standing.

The tree is a sight to behold, still sprawling over downtown Lahaina’s courthouse square after a devastating blaze raged through the town just days ago, destroying thousands of structures and forcing residents to flee.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green told CBS News the tree is “still breathing” and is absorbing water and producing sap, just not as much as it usually does.

“It’s like a burn victim itself,” Green said. “Traumatized, much like the town.”

The Lahaina banyan tree was planted on April 24, 1873, when it was just 8 feet tall, as a gift from missionaries from India. Since then, it’s grown to be “extraordinary, almost surreal,” standing over 60 feet tall with a quarter-mile circumference, according to the Lahaina Restoration Foundation. It also has 46 “major trunks” aside from the original it was planted with, and is known for being “the largest banyan tree in the entire United States,” according to the organization.

The Lahaina banyan tree in 1908. Lahaina Restoration Foundation

The Lahaina banyan tree in 1908. Lahaina Restoration Foundation

On Saturday, Hawaiian Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono visited the tree, saying an arborists on the scene was doing “everything he can” to help save the famous banyan. With dozens of people dead from the fire that tore through the area, Hirono said she believes the tree is offering some optimism among despair.

“The iconic banyan tree on Front Street is deeply damaged, but still standing,” she posted on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter. “After speaking with the arborist working on the tree, I’m optimistic that it will bloom again — serving as a symbol of hope amid so much devastation.”

It already has served as a sign of hope.

Local business owner Javier Barberi went back to Lahaina – the former capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom – the day after the fire ripped through the area. The only way he was able to find his business in the city’s remains was by looking for the tree.

“I drove to Front Street. I was only able to find our restaurant based off of the banyan tree. I had to use the banyan tree as a reference because everything was decimated as far as the eye could see,” he said.

“The banyan tree is one of the most iconic things in Lahaina. It’s a landmark,” he said. “To me, it shows strength of the town, you know this incredible, resilient tree. And I hope to God we see green come out of it one day.

On Sunday, a local arborist told Gov. Green that the tree will attempt to “generate new growth and buds on branches.” That, he said, can happen even if there are dead branches on the tree.

It remains unclear what sparked the first flame that grew into the disastrous fire. But a series of environmental factors, exacerbated by climate change, played a large role. A hurricane that was passing the islands hundreds of miles away sent “unusually strong trade winds” to Mau, helping fuel the fire, as much of the island experienced drought.

As global temperatures increase, the likelihood of more intense hurricanes and drought also increases, creating an even bigger risk for more events like what Maui just experienced in the future.

“These kinds of climate change-related disasters are really beyond the scope of things that we’re used to dealing with,” Kelsey Copes-Gerbitz, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia’s faculty of forestry, said. “It’s these kind of multiple, interactive challenges that really lead to a disaster.”

“The most destructive fires usually occur during drought. If an area falls into drought quickly, that means there is a longer window of time for fires to occur,” said Jason Otkin, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “The risk for destructive fires could increase in the future if flash droughts become more common, as some studies have indicated.”

Study Reveals How a Tall Spruce Develops Defense Against Hungry Weevils

August 9, 2023 · 3 minute read
Study Reveals How a Tall Spruce Develops Defense Against Hungry Weevils

A study led by a North Carolina State University researcher identified genes involved in development of stone cells – rigid cells that can block a nibbling insect from eating budding branches of the Sitka spruce evergreen tree. The insect’s attack has stunted the growth of these forest giants.

The new findings could help researchers breed genetically improved Sitka spruce trees resistant to the spruce weevil (Pissodes strobi).

“We wanted to learn about the genetic basis for natural pest resistance that certain Sitka spruce trees have evolved to prevent insects from feeding on the plant,” said Justin Whitehill, assistant professor of Christmas tree genetics at NC State and first author of the study. Whitehill started the study as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia, where the laboratory experiments were completed.

“The trait we studied in Sitka spruce is a physical defense known as stone cells, which are found in almost all plant species,” said Whitehill. “They are responsible for the gritty texture you feel when eating a pear. Stone cell development is very complex, involving thousands of genes. We identified some of the genetics involved in the key early steps for these cells’ development.”

The Sitka spruce is a large conifer tree that grows on the West Coast from California to Alaska. While the tree has been replaced with other species for timber products in North America because of susceptibility to the weevil, it is still a prominent timber species in Europe. Many trees grown on the West Coast for forestry products were derived from a fast-growing population that grew on an island and were never exposed to the weevil, which left them extremely susceptible, Whitehill said.

However, a group of resistant Sitka spruce trees was discovered in Canada that develop stone cells, a rigid cell type that only grow in less than an inch of the top of budding branches – the same area where the weevil feeds.

“The stone cells slow down the progression of the insect and give time for the resin found in the trees’ bark to coat the insect and make it too sticky to feed more,” Whitehill said. “Stone cells block these insects as they try to eat through the plant and slow them down enough to prevent them from causing significant damage to the tree.”

In their recent study, researchers found nearly 1,300 genes that were expressed at higher levels in stone cells. They also identified a key gene that functions as a “master switch” and is responsible for activating thousands of other genes known to control the development of thick-walled cells in other plants.

Findings from a new study could help researchers breed Sitka spruce trees resistant to a nibbling insect. Credit: Justin Whitehill, NC State University.

“This paper lays out a roadmap of the genes involved in stone-cell development,” Whitehill said. “We’re showing it’s strongly controlled by genetics involved in secondary cell walls.”

Key to the researchers’ study was a microdissection tool that uses a laser to cut extremely tiny slices of tissue into thin sections. Researchers were able to cut tiny sections from the buds of actively growing Sitka spruce branches to study genes expressed specifically in stone cells during their formation.

Whitehill said he has received funding to bring an updated version of this technology to NC State. Now, researchers here are using laser microdissection to study genes in the Fraser fir tree – a leading Christmas tree in the United States grown in western North Carolina. They are using this technology to investigate important features that could boost the viability, fragrance and pest resilience of the Fraser fir, a tree with a genome size five times bigger than humans.

“We’re using this approach now to look for genes involved in resistance to pathogens and pests, and to understand complex ecological interactions at the genetic level,” Whitehill said.

The paper, “Transcriptome features of stone cell development in weevil-resistant and susceptible Sitka spruce,” was published online in New Phytologist. Co-authors included Macaire M.S. Yuen, Angela Chiang (current NC State Christmas Tree Genetics program lab manager and research associate), Carol E. Ritland and Jörg Bohlmann. The work was supported by funds from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grants Program, and from the Genome Canada, Genome British Columbia, and Genome Quebec SpruceUp Project (243FOR).

German drought prompts rethink for ancient palace park trees

August 9, 2023 · 3 minute read
German drought prompts rethink for ancient palace park trees

Climate change is taking a heavy toll on the ancient trees of Sanssouci, the sumptuous summer palace built in the 18th century as the Prussian answer to Versailles.

The sprawling grounds with their manicured gardens in Potsdam southwest of Berlin are surrounded by a park filled with soaring, centuries-old giants that are now feeling the bite of persistent droughts.

Forest manager Sven Hannemann, standing at the foot of an oak with a six-meter (20-foot) trunk circumference, gazed up at its canopy which once stretched over 500 square meters.

Now its sickly branches are only dotted with green. Hannemann gave the old giant another two years, “then it will be dead”.

In its 600 years, the tree had withstood storms, and two world wars, but the lack of rain in the last few years due to the climate crisis has sounded its death knell.

“In 2018 when it was very dry, it suffered a real shock like many here in the park,” Hannemann told AFP.

“And since then it’s actually been shrinking.”

Sanssouci Park stretching across 300 hectares (around 740 acres) has been part of Potsdam’s UNESCO World Heritage collection of stately homes and gardens since 1990.

Its palace draws more than 300,000 visitors each year.

The park, which counts some 26,000 trees, is now losing between 180 and 300 per year—at least three times the number that died annually before in 2017-18, a spokesman for the Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin foundation said.

Beyond the lack of moisture, voracious insects have been feasting on the trees.

Beyond the lack of moisture, voracious insects have been feasting on the trees.

Although 2023 has been less dry than previous years, rainfall has proved insufficient to counteract past drought damage and around half of the trees are showing signs of distress, he said.

Beyond the lack of moisture, voracious insects have been feasting on the trees.

‘Takes decades’

Hannemann knelt at the foot of the dying oak and let sawdust trickle through his hand—the work of capricorn and oak splendor beetles.

The insects have nibbled a veritable deluge of debris out of the growth layer between the sapwood and the bark, as evidenced by thumb-thick holes in the trunk.

“They eat the cambium and no tree can live without cambium,” referring to the cell layer under the bark that is responsible for secondary growth, Hannemann said.

The dying giant trees leave gaping holes in the forest, which harm other trees because their trunks and the forest floor are exposed to the sun’s radiation without protection.

Hannemann plucked a leaf from a beech shoot and demonstrated the protective reflex of deciduous trees.

“Then the beech leaf curls up—so far, so smart,” he said.

“What’s not so smart about it is that the sun gets through to the thick inner branches which weren’t used to it in the first place, and then the branches get a sunburn.”

Common fire bugs (Pyrrhocoris apterus) on an old tree in Sanssouci park.

Common fire bugs (Pyrrhocoris apterus) on an old tree in Sanssouci park.

It’s a vicious circle that Hannemann said impacts all .

Dead oaks or beech trees can then at best only serve as habitats for bats, insects or mushrooms.

But if the trunks and branches are too rotten and pose a safety risk to visitors, they must be felled.

Yet there is still hope for the gnarled inhabitants of historic parks such as Sanssouci, whose Rococo palace Prussian King Frederick the Great designed and built as a retreat during his reign from 1740 until 1786.

Gardeners at the historic sites are experimenting with heat-resistant tree species from the Mediterranean region with some promising results, Hannemann said.

His team in Potsdam is also relying on the power of evolution.

“We believe that native woody plants also adapt to some extent,” he said.

For example, acorns from trees that are obviously less affected by drought get planted in the .

However, the newer, more robust trees will need time to grow the thick protective canopies needed for the ecosystem.

“That takes decades,” Hannemann said.

2023 Tree of the Year at Blandy Experimental Farm

August 2, 2023 · 2 minute read
2023 Tree of the Year at Blandy Experimental Farm


Representatives from the State Arboretum of Virginia at Blandy Experimental Farm have named the Allegheny serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) as the 2023 Tree of the Year. The Arboretum’s 2023 Tree of the Year was selected after deliberation by Curator T’ai Roulston and Blandy arborists. Since 2019, the State Arboretum of Virginia has designated one extraordinary species of tree as its Tree of
the Year.

Representatives from the State Arboretum of Virginia at Blandy Experimental Farm

In honor of Arbor Day, “the nation’s tree planting holiday,” Blandy arborists and representatives from the Department of Forestry planted an Allegheny Serviceberry tree at the Arboretum on Friday, April 28. The tree was added to a tree and shrub collection that dates to the 1930s. “A vital part of our mission is to practice and promote tree education, science, and conservation,” said Roulston. “Through research and public programming, we want to share with everyone – of all ages – how important trees are to the environment.

2023 Tree of the year at Blandy Experimental Farm

Four-season Interest

The Allegheny serviceberry, found native in Virginia, was chosen for its four-season interest, according to Roulston. A small understory tree, it’s ideal for landscapes and grows to only 15-25 feet tall. The Allegheny serviceberry is one of the first trees at the arboretum to flower each spring when the delicate masses of white, fragrant flowers appear in mid-April. Small, dark purple berry-like fruit arrives in the summer. Also commonly known as juneberries, the edible berries attract pollinators and are a food source for native bees and more than 40 species of birds. The fall foliage of the Allegheny serviceberry, when the leaves turn an orange-red color, is outstanding as well. The tree’s attractive gray bark lends structure to the winter garden.

“Juneberries” Serves as Food Source for Wildlife, Humans

Native Americans would dry juneberries, similar in size and taste to blueberries, and mix them with meat to create a high-energy snack called pemmican. Recipes for juneberry pies and jams are easy to find. If you want to eat the berries, though, you’d better be fast. Birds, squirrels, and other wildlife also enjoy the fruit.

How the Allegheny Serviceberry Gets Its Name

For settlers in the colder climates of North America, the blooming of the serviceberry was a sign that the ground was thawing. Graves could now be dug for loved ones who had died during the cold winter months and burial “services” could commence. In some areas, the serviceberry is called shadbush or shadblow. The tree got this name because it blooms around the same time that shad return to their spawning grounds in freshwater rivers and streams. Common names also include smooth shadbush, juneberry and shadberry.

Gloomy Scale

August 2, 2023 · 3 minute read
Gloomy Scale

Melanaspis tenebricosa (Comstock), Hemiptera: Diaspididae

Identification and Damage

Gloomy scale is primarily a pest of red maples but has been observed feeding on other tree species including sugar maple, elm, tulip poplar, hackberry, boxelder, buckthorn, sweet gum, gallberry, mulberry, native hollies, and soapberry. Gloomy scale is found throughout the southeastern United States as far north as Maryland, south to Florida, and west to Texas. They are more abundant on trees in cities than in natural areas. Adult female covers, called tests, are up to 2 millimeters wide with a central pale ring. The test is convex and can be grey to brown and blends in with the bark. Beneath the test the soft-bodied scale insect is pink, legless, and wingless. Males are smaller, have an oval shaped armored covering, and develop legs and wings as an adult. The nymphs, called crawlers, are less than 1mm and orange. The young female nymphs resemble adults but have significantly smaller bodies and armor.

Gloomy scales use their piercing-sucking mouthparts to penetrate the tree bark and feed on parenchyma cells, which synthesize and store organic products within the tree. This damages the tree by robbing it of nutrients and energy necessary to grow. Damage may also be caused by toxins in saliva that are injected while feeding. Heavily infested trees will exhibit twig and branch dieback, thinning canopy, and eventual death. The bark of heavily infested trees will darken and have a bumpy texture due to scale insect covers.

Gloomy scale adult female with test removed.  Adam Dale

Gloomy scale adult female with test removed.
Adam Dale


Cultural Control

Prevent gloomy scale infestations and long-term management by selecting correct planting sites for red maples. Trees planted near large amounts of impervious surfaces are more prone to gloomy scale infestation and subsequent damage. Impervious surfaces reduce water availability and increase soil and air temperatures. Gloomy scale becomes more abundant as tree canopy temperature and drought stress increase. When planting red maples, be conscious of the surrounding landscape and avoid planting in areas with greater than 60% impervious surface. Research has shown that reducing plant stress by proper planting and watering can reduce susceptibility to infestation and damage by gloomy scale. Equipment such as Tree Gator® slow-release watering bags can reduce drought stress. However, excessive nitrogen fertilizer may increase scale abundance by making the tree more nutritious to scales and reducing the trees natural defenses.

Biological Control

The most common parasitoid wasps known to attack gloomy scale are in the genera Signiphora, Encarsia, and Ablerus. Other natural enemies such as lacewings, lady beetles, and predacious midges may also provide supplemental control of gloomy scale populations. However, natural enemy control is minimal in urban landscapes either due to warmer temperatures, lack of alternative resources, or lack of vegetation refuges. To maximize potential biological control, provide habitat for natural enemies and reduce temperatures by increasing vegetation cover and complexity around trees.

Twice-stabbed lady beetle. Adam Dale

Twice-stabbed lady beetle.
Adam Dale

Mechanical Control

Although there have not been any reported trials with gloomy scale, light to medium infestations of scale insects may be effectively treated with pressure wash applications. High-pressure water sprays can wash scales and scale covers off bark and reduce populations without the need for chemical controls. Make applications when trees are dormant for the winter and make sure the water pressure is not damaging tree bark.

Chemical Control

Chemical control of gloomy scale can take several years to see results and is often expensive. When trees are very heavily infested, consider costs and benefits of treatment compared to tree replacement with another species.

Foliar insecticide applications should coincide with crawler emergence for best control. This is challenging for gloomy scale because crawlers gradually emerge over 6-8 weeks. Therefore, broad-spectrum contact insecticides such as pyrethroids may not be effective and can contribute to the problem by killing natural enemies.

Horticultural oils and dormant oils kill insects by smothering them and breaking down cell membranes. Horticultural oils can also penetrate waxing scale covers. They can be applied during crawler emergence or when trees are dormant to kill overwintering adults. These may be more practical when treating trees that are smaller in size. There is additional information on horticultural oils in Horticultural Oils for Ornmental Plants.

Trunk sprays or soil drenches of systemic insecticides such as dinotefuran and acephate may provide effective, season-long control of many armored scale insects. Acetamiprid is a systemic insecticide that can be applied to foliage. Insect growth regulators such as pyriproxyfen and buprofezin can also provide effective control and are applied to foliage. See current product availability for armored scale management in the North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual.

Slow-release watering bags. Adam Dale

Slow-release watering bags.
Adam Dale


For the full article, please visit the original site here.

Tourists Are Trampling Over Fragile ‘Tree of Life’

July 27, 2023 · 0 minute read
Tourists Are Trampling Over Fragile ‘Tree of Life’

The Tree of Life in Washington’s Olympic National Park is revered for its ability to withstand erosion and exposed roots. Now, tourists could be the latest threat to the tree after they were spotted climbing over its roots and branches.

Watch the video on The Weather Channel here.

Bring Me a Shrubbery!

July 27, 2023 · 3 minute read
Bring Me a Shrubbery!

By Steve Living/DWR

Photos by Steve Living/DWR

Shrubs have been on my mind lately… perhaps the result of watching too much Monty Python in my youth. More so because the importance of this part of the habitat puzzle has been obvious over the last couple of weeks around my house.

I have some mature native trees, including oaks, pine, black cherry and American holly. These are important and provide food for many native insects (which are the main food for baby birds!). I’ve been removing invasive shrubs like privet, nandina, and white mulberry and planting native species like wax myrtle, silky dogwood and arrowwood viburnum. I’m also letting other native species like winged sumac and devils walking stick establish on their own.

There are also some exotic species that are not invasive that I’m keeping around because they add some color and are large enough to provide important habitat benefits for wildlife while I wait for my native shrubs to get big enough to add habitat structure.

Just how important are shrubs and small trees to nesting birds? Let’s take a look at who’s been nesting on my little half-acre. We often think about nest boxes to help breeding birds. Well-designed and placed boxes can be a great resource in your yard, but are only used by a relatively small number of species.

Eastern bluebird fledglings in a nest box

These eastern bluebirds fledged the day after this picture was taken.

An image of a cardinal nest in a rose bush

The hybrid roses along the fence don’t offer much nectar or pollen at all but provide great cover for nesting. This nest fledged four northern cardinals.

I have some camellia in the front and backyard. As Evergreens they provide good year-round cover. They are also a source of nectar and pollen for early/or late-season insects like this monarch butterfly that showed up last November!

As much as I love monarchs (I mean, who doesn’t?), even more exciting for me is that for at least two years in a row, I have had brown thrasher and gray catbirds nesting in these shrubs. These are species of greatest Conservation Need in Virginia and they’re breeding in my little slice of suburbia!

An image of a grey catbird nest hidden in a bush

Check out the beautiful deep blue eggs of the gray catbird. The nest is well hidden, and it is rare to actually see the adults flying into it.

A brown thasher incubating eggs.

A brown thrasher incubating eggs.

This American robin is nesting in a small saucer magnolia tree (a hybrid Asian variety) over the walkway.

This American robin is nesting in a small saucer magnolia tree (a hybrid Asian variety) over the walkway.

Considering these non-native shrubs and trees as a productive part of a wildlife habitat may seem counter-intuitive given how much we emphasize using native plants to help create wildlife habitat. This general priority still holds true—the more native plants you establish, the greater your habitat’s ability to support biodiversity. In fact, research shows that native plant cover of at least 70 percent may be needed to support some bird species. The success that these birds had in my space is in part due to a significant (and ever-increasing) amount of native plants.

A future native evergreen hedge of native wax myrtle.

A future native evergreen hedge of native wax myrtle.

You also need to work with what you have, and it may take some time for native plantings to catch up and provide the habitat values that mature shrubs and small trees provide. In the meantime, there is room for a few exotic (but NOT invasive) specimens to fill some roles in your habitat while you keep adding beautiful native species to your space.

Learn more in DWR’s Habitat at Home booklet.

Find what plants are native to your region of Virginia. And find where to purchase native plants.

Stephen Living, the DWR habitat education coordinator, is a biologist and naturalist with a lifelong love of wildlife and nature that began in the woods and streams of his childhood.

Gene variation makes apple trees ‘weep,’ improving orchards

July 21, 2023 · 2 minute read
Gene variation makes apple trees ‘weep,’ improving orchards
Kenong Xu, associate professor of horticulture, measures a weeping apple branch in an orchard at Cornell AgriTech. Credit: Erin Rodger/Provided

Plant geneticists have identified a mutation in a gene that causes the “weeping” architecture—branches growing downwards—in apple trees, a finding that could improve orchard fruit production.

For more than a century, growers have tied down apple branches when trees are young, in order to improve crop productivity. More research is needed to understand the mechanism for why branch bending improves yields, but studies have shown that the practice helps  allocate more resources such as carbon and other nutrients toward reproductive growth (flowering and fruiting) than toward vegetative growth (branches and leaves).

In rare cases, trees are known to naturally grow downwards.

The new study, published early release on July 3 in the journal Plant Physiology, identified a variation, or allele, of MdLAZY1A—a gene that largely controls weeping growth in apple.

“The findings presented in this paper could be used to make existing apple cultivars grow somewhat downwards and/or with more spreading branches, so they can be more productive, and it can save on labor costs of tying branches down,” said senior author Kenong Xu, associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science Horticulture Section at Cornell AgriTech in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The mutation is rare, occurring in less than 1% of trees.

Now that the mutation—a single nucleotide substitution to the MdLAZY1A gene—has been identified,  might use CRISPR/Cas-9 gene editing technology to develop cultivars with weeping-like growth, Xu said.

“We confirmed it through multiple transgenic studies,” Xu said. “We put that allele in a standard royal gala  cultivar and the tree grew downward.”

To identify the gene, the researchers used a “forward genetics” approach, where they looked at the observable traits in more than 1,000 offspring of weeping cultivars, and separated those that exhibited weeping vs. normal growth. They then used advanced genetic sequencing techniques to compare the two populations to locate the genetic determinant.

Laura Dougherty, Ph.D. ’19, a former postdoctoral researcher at Cornell and currently a research geneticist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, is the paper’s first author. Co-authors include Susan Brown, professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS) Horticulture Section at Cornell AgriTech, and Miguel Piñeros, adjunct associate professor in SIPS’ Plant Biology Section.

More information: Laura Dougherty et al, A single amino acid substitution in MdLAZY1A dominantly impairs shoot gravitropism in Malus, Plant Physiology (2023). DOI: 10.1093/plphys/kiad373

Provided by Cornell University

Unraveling the tangled evolution of figs

July 20, 2023 · 2 minute read
Unraveling the tangled evolution of figs

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Containing more than 850 species, fig trees are one of the most diverse groups of plants in the world.

To unravel how this plant genus (Ficus in the Moraceae family) evolved to become such a diverse group, an international team of researchers, including a Northwestern University plant biologist, examined 1,858 genes from 520 species of figs. The study was published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Although previous researchers have hypothesized that fig diversity arose from widespread gene sharing across fig species, the new study instead suggests that gene sharing only modestly contributed to figs’ evolution. The new analysis paints a picture of stable evolution within lineages, punctuated by only occasional instances of cross-species gene sharing.

“When most people think of figs, a sweet, chewy treat comes to mind. But that tasty treat represents just one species,” said Nyree Zerega, a Northwestern botanist who co-authored the study. “Figs are one of the most diverse groups of plants and ecological keystones in a variety of habitats around the world. Their  and how they become so diverse has been difficult to unravel.”

Zerega is the director of the Program in Plant Biology and Conservation, a partnership between Northwestern and the Chicago Botanic Garden. The study was led by Elliot M. Gardner, who received his Ph.D. at Northwestern and is now an assistant professor at Case Western University.

When trying to explain fig trees’ diversity, previous researchers have looked to introgression—a process in which  pass from one species to a  through hybridization—as a major driver of fig diversity. This hypothesis emerged partly due to the way figs are pollinated. Each fig species is thought to have a unique fig wasp species that pollinates it, so pollinator switching could lead to hybridization driving diversity.

But the new study suggests fig trees’ evolution was steadier than that.

Fig evolution instead followed a stable, tree-like pattern with hybridization only occasionally leading to introgression across lineages, the researchers found. Few instances of introgressions among major fig lineages occurred.

The new analysis also examined fig trees’ relationship to the fig wasp pollinators of the Agaonidae family, which are specialized to pollinate . The researchers found that the ability to hybridize locally does not always lead to cross-lineage introgression in plants, especially when obligate plant–pollinator relationships exist.

“This study illuminates the complementary role of hybridization between fig  along with the role of co-diversification with their obligate fig wasp pollinators in the  and amazing diversification of this important group,” said Zerega, a conservation scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Negaunee Institute for Plant Conservation Science and Action. “But just as importantly, it provides a much-needed evolutionary road map that will be a game changer in informing future studies of this important group.”

More information: Elliot M. Gardner et al, Echoes of ancient introgression punctuate stable genomic lineages in the evolution of figs, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2222035120

Virginia DOF Woodland Owner Retreats

July 12, 2023 · 0 minute read
Virginia DOF Woodland Owner Retreats

During the last woodland owner retreat in May, participants toured Mathews State Forest to learn about pine management from a DOF forester, gained hands-on experience with tree identification, and even inoculated their own shiitake mushroom logs to bring home. 🪵 🍄

Beginning Woodland Owner Retreats:

  • are hosted by the Virginia Department of Forestry and Virginia Cooperative Extension
  • are geared toward landowners who are new to forest management
  • provide information on both hardwood and pine forest management
  • offer chances for interaction with natural resource professionals from various agencies in Virginia, as well as with other landowners
  • provide information on estate planning, management planning, and certification
  • provide hands-on experience with tree identification, forestry equipment, and more…
The next retreat is Sept. 8 – 9 in New Kent. Register online ➡️

Which Settled First: the Oak or the Acorn?

July 12, 2023 · 6 minute read
Which Settled First: the Oak or the Acorn?

By Dean Cumbia, Director of Forest Management —

As the site of the first permanent English settlement and a hotbed of activity during the American Revolution and Civil War, Virginia has a rich history.  All throughout that history, trees have played a role.  Have you ever wondered whether some of the first trees settlers saw when they arrived are still standing? DOF recently tried to find out.

Last December, DOF staff visited Jamestown to meet with staff from Preservation Virginia, the organization that manages Historic Jamestowne in partnership with the National Park Service. The goal was to examine a mature willow oak tree on the historic site to estimate its age and determine if it may descend from oak trees there when English settlers arrived in 1607.

The first step was to determine the tree’s age. Willow oak is in the red oak group and native to eastern Virginia. The average willow oak lifespan is 100 years, but there are willow oaks in Virginia that have exceeded 200 and even 300 years of age.

Several methods can be used to age live trees, with the most common method being through the use of an increment borer. This tool bores a small hole into the center of the tree and a pencil-sized core sample is removed, allowing the counting of annual rings. This method is generally reliable, but if the tree is rotten or hollow (not uncommon with older trees), a complete sample cannot be gathered. The small hole created in the tree, while in most cases insignificant, could allow a path for decay or staining of the wood. Due to the significance of the oak, the decision was made to use another method to determine its age.

A tree’s size sometimes relates to age, however, there are many variables that affect size and growth rate including soil, moisture and sunlight. Trees that grow in open conditions typically grow faster, are larger in diameter and develop wider crowns.

Jamestown Willow Oak

DOF staff measured the Jamestown willow oak and determined it was 36.4 inches in diameter. Among other trees in a forest, willow oaks grow between 0.26 to 0.40 inches in diameter each year. At these rates of growth, a tree of this size could be between 90 and 140 years old.

However, given the oak’s persistent lower limbs and wide-spread, open branches, it’s likely that the tree grew in the open for most of its life. DOF sampling of open grown willow oaks showed a growth rate of 0.80 inches per year, double that of forest oaks. At this growth rate, a 36-inch willow oak could be as little as 45 years old. On the other hand, the Jamestown willow oak is showing some signs of decline, which has likely resulted in a slowed growth rate. These varying factors make it difficult to determine the age of the tree from size alone.


Yet another way of aging and learning more about the life of a tree is through examining historic and photographic evidence. Since the original settlement, Jamestown has more or less been in continuous use by various peoples. Trees were cleared from the island for agriculture, fuel and construction of the colonial fort and other structures. Jamestown was also the site of activity during the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. The willow oak of interest is within the perimeter of the earthen fortifications of the Civil War-era fort.

The search started with photographs of Jamestown. Preservation Virginia provided a number of historic photographs, including some aerial photographs from the 1920s that show most of Jamestown was open land, in pasture or some other agricultural use. However, a patch of trees is evident where Fort Pocahontas and the old church are. Rare photos from around 1901, when the seawall on the river was built, are about the oldest that were located. These pictures show small-to-medium trees in the area.

In order to look further back, our investigation turned to historical accounts, as to date, there are no known photographs or newspaper illustrations of Jamestown during the Civil War. In the book, Embattled Shrine: Jamestown During the Civil War, author David Riggs provides details of the Jamestown Island area during Civil War activity. The book includes an account from young Civil War Second Lieutenant Emmett M. Morrison, who was assigned to Fort Pocahontas to train enlistees.

Riggs and Morrison describe the Jamestown Island area: “its flat, barren appearance which is described by Morrison as ‘a perfect desert.’ The soil was sandy and the landscape was devoid of trees. Only as one looked southeastward did a third feature, the Ambler house, rise into view. The house was situated on about an acre of beautiful grass, the only greenery in the area.”

With the degree of construction, war activity, and the military need for unobstructed lines of sight, it’s very unlikely there were any trees within Fort Pocahontas while it was occupied. This means trees in the area are unlikely to pre-date the Civil War activity. But this look into historical accounts allows us to establish the upper maximum age. When the fort was abandoned in 1865, the trees were able to regenerate (as seen in the photos from the 1900s), making the oldest potential age of a present-day tree in the area of the fort 157 years old.

As to how the trees regenerated…chances are, they had some help from birds. Just as squirrels move and transplant acorns with their caching tendencies, birds will carry or eat seeds then later drop or excrete them. Blue jays in particular carry acorns long distances and often successfully establish oaks far from parent trees. This is the likely how present-day trees like the willow oak were able to make a comeback.

Origin of the Jamestown Willow Oak 

So far, our investigation has indicated that it is very unlikely the present-day willow oak was alive at the time of the original settlement in 1607. However, if it can be determined that willow oaks were historically present on Jamestown Island, we may learn whether the present-day tree hails from original trees in the area. That’s where the archeologists from Preservation Virginia come in.

In and around Fort Pocahontas are several old wells. The colonial settlement was plagued by lack of a good water supply. Wells were dug, served for a time, then became unusable. After they were abandoned, they became a place to discard refuse and trash. The wells filled naturally with mud, preserving their contents by removing any oxygen and preventing decomposition. This process turned the wells into “muddy time capsules” containing many artifacts from which archeologists have made some great discoveries.

Leah Stricker is an archeologist and curator with Preservation Virginia at Jamestown, specializing in archaeobotany, the study of ancient plant remains. Excavation of the wells yielded various plant parts and materials from approximately 1611-1616. This included walnut shells, hickory nuts, squash, pumpkin rinds, grape seeds and yes… acorns! This indicates that all of these plants occurred during this time period.

DOF staff joined Stricker in examining a number of oak acorns in the collection. These acorns were compared with those collected from the willow oak tree in 2022 and seemed to be a match. Additionally, a leaf from the well collection was positively identified as a willow oak. So, willow oaks were present on Jamestown Island in the early 1600s!

The conclusion

While we cannot definitively identify the present-day Jamestown willow oak in historic photographs, research suggests it may have grown shortly after Civil War activity in Jamestown concluded, meaning it could be up to 157 years old. Our investigation also concluded that since willow oaks were present at the time of settlement, this tree is very likely the descendant of a willow oak growing when settlers first landed in Jamestown in 1607.

This project would not have been possible without support from Preservation Virginia, Jamestowne Rediscovery at Historic Jamestowne, Voorhees Archaearium Museum and the Library of Virginia. DOF welcomes continued conversations around both historical and contemporary trees.

James River goes live:

July 5, 2023 · 3 minute read
James River goes live:

New streaming camera captures stunning waterside views of Richmond

River Rats… rejoice! A new camera is now live streaming straight from the middle of the James River in downtown Richmond, giving river lovers a spectacular live look at the water — from the epicenter of the action.

8News partnered with Friends of the James River Park, with assistance from Riverside Outfitters and Terrain360, to install the camera beneath the T. Tyler Potterfield Bridge — which connects Brown’s Island to the RVA Free Climbing Wall on the Southside Richmond shoreline — to relay a live feed straight back to the 8News “James River Watch Cam” web page.

Josh Stutz, executive director of Richmond-based nonprofit Friends of the James River Park, says the biggest motivation for installing the camera was to spread river safety awareness and elevate the concept that rivers can be unpredictable — and dangerous.

“It’s not the same river every day,” Stutz explained. “I think that’s really the key to it — is that it changes. The levels go up and down, the water temperature changes. And those all mean different things for different types of recreation.”

View from the James River Cam in Richmond, Virginia

View from the James River Cam in Richmond, Virginia

The camera’s installation comes just under a year after two women died on the James on Memorial Day when their group of 12 floating down the river found themselves swept over a historically dangerous feature just before the James E. Willey Memorial Bridge, the so-called “drowning machine” — Bosher’s Dam.

Whether you’re planning to float on tubes, kayak, canoe, paddleboard, raft, or just go hang out — Stutz hopes the new camera and the river information given alongside it will help people to be more informed, so they can better plan their trip to ensure they have fun while staying safe.

“The number of accidents on the dams is extremely high,” Stutz said. “I would say that part of that is folks just not knowing the hazards, or not fully understanding what they’re up against out there. This is for the average person who doesn’t know much but sees people out there and wants to join in on that good time, but who doesn’t have the experience to just look out there and tell [if it is safe].”

Alongside daily outdoor activities, with the camera’s positioning, Stutz says viewers will be able to see how the river dramatically changes across different water levels.

“Water could even get close to that camera at some point depending on how bad the river floods,” Stutz said. “From that camera, you’ll see all sorts of activity on Belle Isle, you’ll see folks crossing the bridge. And then, right where that sits, there are actually rafters and kayakers that come right under the bridge right there.”

Stutz said the camera is part of an effort to build a “broader culture of awareness” around safety on the James, and compared the river report now included on the 8News weather segment — to the morning surf report given in beachside communities. Included, are the river temperature and level, as well as any potential safety information for the day.

A basic guide for those interested in going out on the water is that for most activities, a river level below five feet is considered less hazardous. Stutz explained that when the water rises above five feet, the rapids pick up and the current begins to move faster. According to the Friends of James River Park safety rules, anyone on the water when it is above five feet must be wearing a life jacket.

James River Safety Checklist

  • Check the river level — River levels fluctuate. At five feet and below, it is safe to tube. Above five feet requires a life jacket or flotation device.
  • Check the weather — High winds and heavy rains can make boating and swimming dangerous. Be sure to know before you go.
  • Check the water temperature — The temperature of the river can play a large role in determining what gear you need, and more.
  • Know where your put-in and take-out points are — Check your map for dams and other hazards, and have a backup plan if you miss your take-out.

You can find more rules and safety tips, alongside a wealth of James River exploration and activity information, online at

DelDOT and DDA Tree Planting In Support Of Forest Initiative Fund

July 5, 2023 · 2 minute read
DelDOT and DDA Tree Planting In Support Of Forest Initiative Fund

The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) is partnering with the Delaware Department of Agriculture’s Delaware Forest Service (DFS) to plant over 12,100 trees in support of the Forest Initiative Fund (FIF). FIF was created by the DFS to help address water quality, air quality, and overall life for all of Delawareans in the simplest way, through the planting of trees. This program is designed to enhance both rural and urban forests throughout Delaware, as well as ease to landowners and communities, while at the same time providing the key benefits we all need. Pictured here are just two examples of what programs the DFS provides.

The trees are being planted in the state right-of-way, along the POW-MIA Parkway, west of Charles Polk Road in Dover and along Route 1, south of Johnson Road in Lincoln. The trees will be a variety of sizes and native species, ranging from small seedlings to larger balled and burlapped trees. In addition, some flowering species to support pollinators for beautification will be included.

“These recent plantings are a great representation of state agencies working together to promote sustainable forestry efforts for future generations. The development of the Forest Initiative Fund (FIF) created an opportunity for DelDOT to partner with the Delaware Department of Agriculture’s Delaware Forest Service to create new forests and reduce maintenance costs for the Agency. It has been a pleasure working with DelDOT to find innovative ways to implement tree plantings alongside of our roadways which will help with stormwater filtration, air quality, and aesthetics for our local residents and visitors,” said Delaware State Forester Kyle Hoyd.

“In addition to the many environmental benefits trees provide, these afforestation projects will also reduce approximately 20 acres of mowing for [DelDOT] and we are continuing to look at other areas across the State, where we can do additional plantings,” added Secretary of Transportation Nicole Majeski.

This partnership helps promote sustainable forestry practices by two State agencies in order to ensure forests for future Delawareans. With DelDOT as a State agency owning a large portion of Delaware land, this partnership will provide multiple future opportunities to collaborate as we strive to meet the goal of appropriate usage of open space. Even though the Forest Initiative Fund is in its first year, and the latest program since the Delaware Forest Service’s implementation in 1927, the FIF has resulted in the planting of 77,000 trees with private and public landowners. More information on the DFS forest stewardship program: More information on the DFS landowner assistance program:

A giant sequoia tree is thriving in a surprising place: Northern Michigan

June 28, 2023 · 1 minute read
A giant sequoia tree is thriving in a surprising place: Northern Michigan

There’s a surprisingly large tree thriving Up North near the shore of Lake Michigan: A 75-year-old giant sequoia.

The tree, planted in 1948 in Manistee Township, is 116 feet tall and 5 feet in diameter, said Jim Cowan, president of the nonprofit Lake Bluff Farms, 2890 Lakeshore Road in Manistee Township. Its 75th birthday party will be held 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday-Tuesday, June 29-July 4, as part of the Manistee National Forest Festival.

The Michigan Champion giant sequoia is an anomaly.

Scientists are baffled as to how it has flourished so far from its home range – the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains – in an area that’s much colder than what sequoias normally withstand, Cowan said.

And it’s not the only one. There are two other giant sequoias – each approaching 100 feet tall – that survived the 1948 planting by the Gray family. The Grays planted 80 species of trees in their arboretum on the property.

The family donated the property in 1983

Today, the arboretum includes the three thriving giant sequoias, a 30-foot-tall baby sequoia and a dawn redwood, Cowan said. Over the past two years, the nonprofit planted 15 giant sequoia clones donated by Archangel Ancient Tree Archive in Copemish.

One is a clone of the 116-foot Michigan tree. Another is a clone of the Amos Alonzo Stagg Tree, which is located in the Alder Creek Grove at Giant Sequoia National Monument in California; it is the fifth largest tree in the world. There are also several clones of the Waterfall tree, which had the biggest trunk of any sequoia; it was lost in a wildfire.

While Manistee’s giant sequoia is considered large, it’s smaller than its Californian counterparts, which have grown to an average 250 to 275 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet in diameter. They generally reach 100 to 150 feet tall by the time they’re 50 years old.

Still, it’s the largest giant sequoia east of the Rocky Mountains and it could be very important, Cowan said. Sequoias are known as big-time users of carbon dioxide, removing up to 10 times more from the atmosphere compared to other trees. Clones of the Manistee tree could allow sequoias to be planted around the world, he said.

You can see the phenomenon for yourself by visiting Lake Bluff Farms, 2890 Lakeshore Road in Manistee Township. It is open daily from dawn to dusk. There’s no admission fee, but the organization does ask for donations.

Forest Carbon Offset Project In Canada Damaged By Raging Wildfires

June 28, 2023 · 1 minute read
Forest Carbon Offset Project In Canada Damaged By Raging Wildfires

The Canadian BigCoast Forest Climate Initiative carbon project was affected by a blaze of raging wildfires that engulfed parts of the country at the beginning of June 2023. The project, run by Mosaic Forest Management Corporation, has yet to calculate the size of the impact on their base.

Focused on sustainable forest management, the BigCoast Forest Climate Initiative aims to preserve woodlands and generate positive social and economic benefits for the communities involved. It began work in 2022, when it committed to not harvesting trees on over 40,000 hectares of Mosaic’s private land throughout Coastal British Columbia for a minimum of 25 years.

The project also offers carbon credits to companies looking for emissions compensation. This is made possible through the initiative’s carbon storage and avoidance services, which rely on independent verification before issuing credits and making them available for purchase.

Relevant: Mast Reforestation Secures $15 Million From Carbon Streaming

The managing company stated that about 100 hectares of their 40.000 hectares of forest were affected by the fire, or in other words, 0.25% of the entire project. This leaves uncertainties about the extent of damage to their CO2 removal capacity as well as the amount of carbon released during the fire.

Scientists have expressed concern that using a temporary carbon storage solution such as trees, hides a lot of risks, as the emission compensation provided by this method can’t compete with the harmful effect of burning fossil fuels, which remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Forest fires are another threat that will require significant assessment in the future.

After the fire was suppressed, Mosaic classified the volume of affected property as “negligible”. The company will take some time to calculate emissions and apply them to future carbon accounting while alertly facing the rest of the Canadian fire season along with other carbon offset providers.

‘It’s a carbon bomb’: Exploring Sweden’s foresting industry

June 21, 2023 · 3 minute read
‘It’s a carbon bomb’: Exploring Sweden’s foresting industry

Sweden is one of the world’s biggest exporters of wood-based materials. We meet the foresters trying to promote more sustainable practices for the industry.

Europe is blessed with magnificent forests. They are vital to us: they clean our air and even help combat climate change. But they are also highly in demand.

We cut down trees to make our homes, our furniture, our paper. We have destroyed, replanted, and exploited forests. In Europe, the number of forests is increasing, but their health is declining.

So how can we restore them sustainably?

In Sweden, forests cover two-thirds of Sweden and many people rely on them for their livelihood. It’s the most forested country in the European Union.

Although known for its pro-environment ethos, Sweden’s ancient forests have disappeared, and been replaced by monoculture tree crops.

Per Jiborn, a board member of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation knows a thing or two about the subject. He agreed to show me the results of a technique often used in Sweden looks like. It’s called clearcutting.

What is clearcutting?

Clearcutting is a logging technique where trees are cut down uniformly one by one in quick succession. It is favoured by some foresters as it is the quickest way to make a profit off cut-down trees.

However, as Jiborn shows, the impact it can leave on a block of land is devastating.

“10 years ago, all this was a forest. Now you have sun all day. All this will dry out. The insects have a totally different world in this area,” Jibborn says.

Forested land in Sweden - Euronews

Forested land in Sweden – Euronews

On top of insects having no soil to feed off, the once-forested land can’t retain carbon. More forests mean more carbon absorption – which in turn means less carbon hurting our environment.

“When the organic material is decomposing, it leaks carbon in the atmosphere. But a forest also has activities of storing carbon. On a clearcut, there is pretty much only the decomposition going on. And this means that here in Sweden it takes around at least seven years until the forest is only a carbon source,” explains a chief forester of Plockhugget and forest defender to Jiborn.

“A clearcut is a climate bomb. If you exclude the clear cut from the forestry, you exclude that ‘bomb’ part!” Steer adds.

The Swedish timber industry disputes this. It says it replants more trees than it cuts down and it claims it has a positive impact on climate.

More sustainable practices

Steer works with landowners who want to manage their forests more sustainably – like Peter Johnson.

On Johnson’s land, there is no clearcutting. Instead, the trees to be cut are selected. Those that have a high environmental value are left standing. And there are lots of them, with different varieties such as Spruce, pine, birch, oak, aspen, and ash.

The diversity in tree type helps plants and insects in the forest keep nourished. Johnson’s forests are managed using the ‘continuous cover forestry’ technique. It means fewer costs for preparing the soil and planting.

“Now we have only the cost of taking down one tree that generates good profit. And we have the forest that is still here. Many costs we used to have for cutting small trees, they are gone,” Johnson says.

Forests then fully play their role as carbon sinks. This is one of the objectives of a major Nature Restoration Law currently negotiated at EU level.

What is the Nature Restoration Law?

The European Union wants to improve the condition of ecosystems well beyond natural parks, with the aim of restoring the ecosystems by 2050. But there is work to be done in the forests.

Almost half of them are in poor condition, according to Virginijus Sinkevičius, the European Commissioner for the Environment.

“Forests are multi-taskers. They clear our air, they give us shade and mitigate the temperatures, but they are also a great carbon sink. And if we lose this carbon sink, then we lose one of the most important values that forests bring us,” Sinkevičius tells Euronews.

Virginijus Sinkevičius (left) speaking with Euronews journalist Cyril Fourneris (right) - Euronews

Virginijus Sinkevičius (left) speaking with Euronews journalist Cyril Fourneris (right) – Euronews

The Nature Restoration law does not just tie itself to the forestry economy either. Instead the EU seeks to increase green spaces in urban spaces, restore marine ecosystems and reverse the decline in pollination insects.

Can a future European law on nature restoration change the landscape of Sweden?

“I think it’s a possibility (opportunity). Because we can use more forest for recreation, nature-based tourism, and we could make more money and generate more jobs,” Jiborn concludes.

Scary New Insights into Ghost Forests

June 21, 2023 · 3 minute read
Scary New Insights into Ghost Forests

Ghost Forests Don’t Have Ghosts

Let’s start with the good news. There are no ghosts in ghost forests, even though the large tracts of land with lots of dead trees do give off a kind of eerie feeling.

Now for the bad news. Ghost forests are the remains of once-thriving green woodlands that stored vast amounts of carbon. And as the forests transform, that carbon is being released back into the atmosphere, making the challenge of slowing climate change even worse.

Those are the findings of new research into ghost forests conducted by researchers at NC State, who analyzed wood buried in the soil of a forested wetland in eastern North Carolina.

“These freshwater forested wetlands have been storing carbon for millennia,” said John King, professor of forestry and environmental resources at NC State and one of the authors of the study. “But now the leaves, wood and roots that have been storing carbon for thousands of years are in an area that is rapidly changing.”

Ghost Forests Are Really Old

Carbon dating revealed the coast site in the study was a forest almost 1,800 years ago.

“The deepest piece of wood we found was from a root system of an upland forest about 1,800 years ago, according to radioactive carbon isotope dating,” said King, “And while we found pieces of wood distributed throughout the upper layer of soil, the carbon dating also showed the accumulation of new soil slowed the closer we got to modern times.”

And that’s the key. The old forest is dying, and the ecosystem that is replacing it isn’t keeping up with what is being lost.

In the study (published in the journal Land), NC State researchers reported that pond pine forests of the region are experiencing suppressed growth and high mortality, leading to the formation of ghost forests.

And the transition is happening faster than they imagined.

The Forest Is Transforming Faster than Expected

“We collected our data in 2014 and 2015 in what we considered a healthy forest, and if you go down there now, it has almost completely transitioned to a ghost forest,” added King.

“At the time of our measurements, about 60% of the trees in the ghost forest were dead or dying,” said Maricar Aguilos, postdoctoral research scholar at NC State and the lead author of the study. “As of February 2022, we’re seeing that level of mortality in what we considered a healthy forest in 2015. Flooding and saltwater are invading the freshwater inland, and the ghost forest formation is an indicator of the impact.”

Researchers sampled the soil to try to quantify how much carbon was stored in the soil and to see how it has changed over time. And while the data showed a forest covered the area long ago, they also found the rate of soil accumulation can’t keep up with the pace of sea-level rise. Essentially, the soil is being submerged.

“That means all of the carbon in the dead trees will decompose and return to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide,” said King. “In addition, some of the carbon in the organic soil will likely decompose and return to the atmosphere as methane. That’s where we talk about wetlands being big sources of carbon to the atmosphere.”

The researchers say their findings suggest sea levels are rising faster than the forest can build up new soil. The trees are dying, and the forest is changing into a shrub ecosystem. However, they believe even that will change once the soil becomes too wet for shrubs and the area eventually turns into a marsh.

It’s estimated wetlands contain about 21% of terrestrial carbon. As sea levels rise, what will happen to the carbon stored there?

Trees as old as time: Using tree resin to reconstruct million-year old ecosystems

June 14, 2023 · 3 minute read
Trees as old as time: Using tree resin to reconstruct million-year old ecosystems

Fossil tree resins open a window into the deep past as their organic compounds, termed biomarkers, can be used to identify the botanical provenance of these ancient trees, as well as the paleoenvironmental conditions in which they grew. Amber, one such resin, is a prized gemstone, but can also preserve plants and insects living on the tree at the time of resin exudation in immaculate detail.

Due to this exceptional preservation, resins have been given a special name to signify their paleontological and geological importance—Konservat Lagerstätten. Resins have a practical purpose for trees as they have antifungal and antibacterial properties, and they deter invasions of hostile organisms, such as insects, which ultimately are themselves preserved. They can additionally attract pollinators to aid in reproduction.

Sedimentary rocks yield fossil resins at the scale of several centimeters down to a few millimeters and are often transported to coastal and nearshore environments, but may even extend to the deep sea. It is these sediments that scientists sample to obtain resins for chemical analyses to understand environmental and ecological changes through time.

Each of the preserved biomarkers in these sediments have a distinct chemical pattern, which matures over time as the resin is buried under more sediment, forming a bioterpenoid. Researchers have used cutting-edge technology to study these bioterpenoids in order to identify tree families from millions of years ago.

These methods include gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, whereby small samples of the resin are crushed and react with chemicals while heating and evaporating, causing the to separate. The mass spectrometer equipment then displays a visual image of these compounds, known as a chromatogram, which can be analyzed. This allows the fossil resin to be categorized into one of five major classes that are known to be associated with particular tree families, therefore aiding in the reconstruction of past botanical communities.

At the largest scale, the resin can be identified as belonging to either a gymnosperm (plants that reproduce via exposed seeds and tend to be evergreen, such as pines, cedars and ginko) or angiosperm (flowering and fruiting plants and trees that usually lose their leaves in autumn, such as oaks and maples).

Summary research by scientists at AGH University of Science and Technology, Poland, newly published in Earth-Science Reviews identifies 25 key biomarkers in gymnosperms and 15 in angiosperms that can be associated with particular environmental conditions, collating a wealth of previous studies of ambers from different global locations and ages.

Interestingly, the reason that the resin was extruded impacts which biomarkers are present, as lead researcher Jan Pańezak explains. “The occurrence of some compounds can be indicative of paleoenvironment, but not all compounds can provide direct information, for example, due to the reasons of resin exudation, such as if this specific resin exudated because of herbivore or microbial attack.”

These biomarkers include monoterpenes, which occur in all resins initially, but transform over time and thus are generally only found in more geologically recent tree resins, such as those from the Late Pliocene and Early Pleistocene (3.6 to 0.77 million years ago) found within ambers from East Himalaya. Today, they form part of the essential oils in plants that attract pollinators.

Sesquiterpenes are another group of early biomarker that matures, possessing antimicrobial and defensive properties in modern plants and trees. Examples include bicadinanes, which are indicative of warm and humid climates, known from tropical zones of South-East Asia during the Cenozoic (66 million years ago to the present day), while rosane suggests an environment with high oxygen levels.

Conversely, more complex biomarkers that fall under the categories of diterpenes and triterpenes include sulfurized forms that indicate the presence of reducing bacteria that thrive in oxygen-deficient conditions. Through the process of identifying the conditions in which a particular biomarker forms, scientists have been able to locate specific regions in which the trees would have originated and determined which tree families were thriving under particular climatic conditions.

Furthermore, the paleoclimate at the time of resin expulsion can be determined by the isotopic composition of oxygen, carbon and hydrogen, as these remain fixed through time and can be important proxies for paleotemperature, therefore highlighting climate change events. Given that these still occur in extant plants and trees, looking to the past is an important key to understanding how modern plant communities may also fare during current and future climate change.

Forest Service to spray spongy moth control from aircraft over Southwest Virginia

June 14, 2023 · 1 minute read
Forest Service to spray spongy moth control from aircraft over Southwest Virginia

Federal and state wildlife officials will spray treatments over parts of Southwest Virginia to control the spread of spongy moths, formerly known as gypsy moths.

A release from the U.S. Forest Service states the service and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service plan to spray the “reproduction disrupting pheromone” in parts of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. The affected areas will “include 3,219 acres at Konnarock in Grayson County and 6,884 acres at Whitetop Mountain in Smyth County.”

According to the forest service, the spray affects the spongy moths only and poses a “very low risk” to people and other wildlife.

In order to disperse the treatment, aircraft will fly at low elevations during acceptable weather conditions. The forest service stated that if the weather remains favorable, all treatments could be completed during the week of June 12.

The areas are being sprayed as part of a national program entitled “Slow the Spread,” which aims to benefit the country’s oak-dominated forests. Spongy moths are considered a threat to forests due to their intense hunger as caterpillars.

Spongy moth caterpillars can quickly consume the foliage of a tree, substantially weakening or even killing it. Oak forests are especially susceptible to spongy moth threats since oak leaves are a favorite food of the caterpillars.

The George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, which houses the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, is an oak-dominated forest.

Similar measures were taken in Johnson County, Tennessee in March by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

The oldest tree in the world (and the 7 runner-ups)

June 7, 2023 · 5 minute read
The oldest tree in the world (and the 7 runner-ups)

From Prometheus and Methuselah to trees in remote forests of China, these are the most ancient known trees on Earth.

The world’s oldest trees were growing when the Great Pyramid of Giza was being built and were already thousands of years old when Julius Caesar came to power.

To determine a tree’s age, scientists collect a core sample from the plant’s base and then count its rings. This dating of tree rings is called dendrochronology and it can be a valuable tool for measuring tree age and studying environmental changes over time.

However, due to rotting and the thickness of a tree’s trunk, it’s not always possible to get complete cores. Often tree ages are determined after it has died, but it is possible to get a core without killing it with a specialist tool that can extract a very narrow sample.

In addition, an infinitesimal percentage of old trees have been cored in the first place — according to a study published in Nature in 2015, Earth is home to over 3 trillion trees.

Here are the longest-lived trees ever to be discovered on Earth.

1.  Prometheus (at least 4,900 years old when it was cut down)

Donald Currey on a limb of Prometheus, which was estimated to be 4,900 years old when it was cut down. (Image credit: San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images)

Donald Currey on a limb of Prometheus, which was estimated to be 4,900 years old when it was cut down. (Image credit: San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images)

Prometheus, a Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) in Wheeler Peak, Nevada, lived close to 5,000 years before it was cut down in 1964. It remains the longest-lived tree definitively documented.

Prometheus met its end when geographer Donald R. Currey, who was studying ice age glaciology and had been granted permission to take core samples from pines in the park, cut it down (also with permission). Currey counted 4,862 rings and estimated the tree was more than 4,900-years-old.The stump Currey used to count the rings was not taken from the very bottom of the tree, so the tree was certainly older than 4,862 years.

There are competing accounts as to why the tree was felled, according to the National Park Service. The most popular version is that Currey’s coring tool got stuck and he cut down the tree as a result. Others suggest he cut down the tree to get a better count of its rings. Today, a piece of the tree can be viewed at the Great Basin Visitor Center in Nevada at the Great Basin National Park.

2.  Methuselah (at least 4,600 years old)

The location of Methuselah in California's White Mountains is a secret. (Image credit: hlsnow/Getty Images)

The location of Methuselah in California’s White Mountains is a secret. (Image credit: hlsnow/Getty Images)

Since 1957, this bristlecone pine has held the title of the world’s oldest living tree. Methuselah was discovered by famed tree researcher Edmund Schulman, a scientist at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona. He found Methuselah’s age after taking cores from many bristlecones in the area and counting the rings.

To protect Methuselah from tourists, who might damage the tree by touching it or walking near its roots, the U.S. Forest Service has long kept Methuselah’s exact location a secret and does not release photographs of it. The tree is somewhere along the 4.5-mile (7.2 kilometers) Methuselah Trail in the White Mountains of Inyo National Forest in California.

3.  Mystery tree (4,000 to 4,900 years old)

The mystery tree (not pictured) is thought to have been identified from a core sample was also a bristlecone pine. (Image credit: Piriya Photography/Getty Images)

The mystery tree (not pictured) is thought to have been identified from a core sample was also a bristlecone pine. (Image credit: Piriya Photography/Getty Images)

In the 2010s, rumors began to circulate that Schulman and his research team had unwittingly collected core samples from a tree older than Methuselah. Before his death in 2013, Tom Harlan, a scientist who worked with Schulman, said he found a core sample from another bristlecone pine tree that was at least 4,800 years old in the archives of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.

However, Matthew Salzer, a research scientist at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, has not been able to find that core. Salzer and a colleague used old notes to find the tree they believed Harlan was talking about, but they did not get a good enough sample to verify its age, according to the Washington Post. However, based on their imperfect core, they said the tree could be older than Methuselah but probably not as old as Prometheus. This tree is also in the White Mountains of California, but its location beyond that is secret.

4. Alerce Milenario (2,400 to 5,400 years old)

Alerce Milenario in Chile is thought to be over 5,000 years old. (Image credit: Martin Bernetti/Getty Images)

Alerce Milenario in Chile is thought to be over 5,000 years old. (Image credit: Martin Bernetti/Getty Images)

The Alerce Milenario or Gran Abuelo (great-grandfather), in Chile’s Alerce Costero National Park, made headlines in 2022 when researchers used computer modeling to estimate its age at 5,484 years.

The trunk of the alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides), also called a Patagonian cypress, is over 13 feet (4.3 meters) — so big that researchers could get only a partial core. On that core, they counted 2,400 tree rings and estimated the additional age using modeling. According to Science magazine, the tree was estimated to be 5,484 years old.

This type of modeling is not yet fully accepted by the scientific community, but the core alone makes this tree indisputably one of Earth’s oldest. Alerce Milenario’s location is not a secret, and tourists regularly visit and walk around its root system. Jonathan Barichivich, an environmental scientist who led the recent research into the tree, hoped the publicity this research generated would lead to more efforts to protect the tree.

5. Giant sequoias (over 3,000 years old)

General Sherman in California's Sequoia National Park is thought to be over 3,000 years old. (Image credit: NPS)

General Sherman in California’s Sequoia National Park is thought to be over 3,000 years old. (Image credit: NPS)

Like alerces, California’s giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) are so large that tree coring tools generally can’t adequately measure their age while the trees are alive. The most accurate estimates of old sequoia trees often come primarily from trees that have been cut down or fell due to natural causes, Peter Brown, founder of Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research, which maintains a list of the world’s oldest scientifically verified trees, told Live Science in an email.

Four giant sequoias over 3,000 years old have been discovered, though none are still standing. The President, in California’s Sequoia National Park, is estimated to be over 3,200 years old.

The world’s largest tree, General Sherman — also located in Sequoia National Park — is estimated to be about 2,200 years old.


For the full list, visit the full article here. Two more trees on this list exist in North America!

Study suggests long-lived tree species play greater role in generating genetic diversity

June 7, 2023 · 3 minute read
Study suggests long-lived tree species play greater role in generating genetic diversity

A study of the relationship between the growth rate of tropical trees and the frequency of genetic mutations they accumulate suggests that older, long-lived trees play a greater role in generating and maintaining genetic diversity than short-lived trees.

The study, published today as a Reviewed Preprint in eLife, provides what the editors describe as compelling evidence that acquire at a similar yearly rate, independent of cell division and regardless of their .

The findings may be used to inform ecosystem conservation strategies, particularly in the tropical forests of southeast Asia, which are under threat from climate change and deforestation.

“Biodiversity ultimately results from mutations that provide genetic variation for organisms to adapt to their environment,” explains co-lead author Akiko Satake, a Professor in the Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Kyushu University, Japan. “However, how and when these mutations occur in is poorly understood.”

Somatic mutations are spontaneous changes in an organism’s DNA that occur during its lifespan. They can arise due to external factors such as ultraviolet radiation, or internal factors such as DNA replication errors. It is not clear which of these factors causes mutations more frequently, particularly in tropical ecosystems and trees, which are not as well characterized as their more temperate counterparts.

To understand this better, Satake and colleagues examined the rates and patterns of somatic mutations in two species of tropical trees native to central Borneo, Indonesia: the slow-growing Shorea laevis (S. laevis), and the fast-growing S. leprosula. The species S. leprosula grows more than three times faster than S. laevis.

Comparing the somatic mutations of the two tree species allowed the team to gain insights into the impact of growth rate on the accumulation of these mutations, and its potential role in driving evolution and species diversity.

They collected seven DNA samples from the leaves at the highest level of the tree branches, as well as samples from the trunk of each tree, totaling 32 samples. The length and diameter of the trees at breast height was used to determine the average age of each species in the sampling area. S. laevis trees were on average 256 years old, whereas S. leprosula trees were on average 66 years old.

To identify the mutations present, the team constructed a reference genetic dataset for each tree species, using the DNA collected from the leaves. The was determined using a technique called long-read PacBio RS II and short-read Illumina sequencing. The team extracted DNA twice from each sample, allowing them to pinpoint single nucleotide variants (SNVs) within the same individual by identifying those that were identical between the two samples.

The majority of mutations were found to be present within a single tree branch. However, some mutations were found across multiple branches, implying that they had been transmitted between branches at some point during the tree’s growth.

In both species, the team noticed a linear increase in the number of mutations with physical distance between branches. The rate of mutations per meter was on average 3.7 times greater in the slow-growing S. leavis than in the fast-growing S. leprosula, suggesting that slow-growing trees accumulate more somatic mutations.

However, when accounting for the differences in growth rates, and calculating the rate of mutations per year, the two species had equal rates. This finding suggests that somatic mutations accumulate in a clock-like manner as a tree ages, independent of DNA replication and growth rate.

“We also found that somatic mutations are neutral within an individual—that is, they are neither beneficial nor detrimental to survival. However, those mutations transmitted to the next generation are subject to strong natural selection during and growth,” says co-lead author Ryosuke Imai, Post-doctoral Fellow in the Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Kyushu University.

“This suggests that somatic mutations accumulate with time, and older trees contribute more towards generating genetic variation and adaptation to their environment, thereby increasing the chances of their species’ survival.”

Imai and colleagues encourage further research into this area. In particular, they say that mathematical modeling would be required to consider the asymmetric division of cells during elongation and branching in order to further validate the findings.

“In trees, can be transmitted to seeds, resulting in rich genetic variations within subsequent generations,” states one of the author Masahiro Kasahara, Associate Professor in the department of computational biology and medical sciences, the University of Tokyo, Japan. “As the tropical rainforests of southeast Asia face the threats of and deforestation, our study suggests that long-lived trees may play a crucial role in maintaining and increasing the of these tropical systems.”

Drones, native seed stock, hard work revitalizing scorched Montana forest

May 31, 2023 · 5 minute read
Drones, native seed stock, hard work revitalizing scorched Montana forest

As the flame front crested the ridgeline flanking Sawmill Creek it was racing south as fast as a man could run. Although the winds were light that July day, the temperature was in the low 90s and it hadn’t rained in weeks. Balls of flame were crowning in the treetops, jumping from tree to tree driven by winds the fire was creating on its own. Firefighters estimate the temperature on the forest floor was close to 2,000 degrees.

It wasn’t the worst Montana wildfire during the summer of 2021, but for those who lived through it the Harris Mountain Fire was devastating. In the two weeks it took to bring it under control the Harris Mountain Fire burned close to 32,000 acres of private, state and federal timberland, much of it prime wildlife habitat, home to herds of Rocky Mountain elk, Mule deer, black bear and mountain lion.

One of the private property owners most deeply impacted by the Harris Mountain Fire is Don Harland. Within two days after the fire started on July 23, Harland and his family lost 12 structures on their Sheep Creek Ranch, including the family lodge and hunting camp. In addition, most of the nearly 4,600 acres of timberland Harland owns was critically damaged.

“This area we’re looking at right now was just black,” Harland said taking in the view from a promontory overlooking the Sheep Creek drainage basin. Everything was washing down into the creeks. It was a disaster.”

“I guess when you own land like this you find that you’re in love with it,” Harland said of his grief at the loss of his forest. “You’re the steward of this land. You want to take care of it just like you would your children or your family, and you want to leave it better than when you found it or at least as good.”

Don Harland looks with satisfaction at the progress his property has made two years following the Harris Mountain Fire | David Murray

Don Harland looks with satisfaction at the progress his property has made two years following the Harris Mountain Fire | David Murray

The landscape Harland was referring to looked verdant in new spring growth. Its valleys and hillsides are covered in a lush carpet of green grass, with eye-popping displays of wildflowers seemingly around ever corner. Mother Nature had already replaced much of the ground cover on the mountain slopes; yet the landscape was haunted by an expanse of blackened trees stretching as far as the eye can see.

A hotter, drier world

The Harris Mountain Fire burning near Don Harland's hunting camp on July 23, 2021. InciWeb

The Harris Mountain Fire burning near Don Harland’s hunting camp on July 23, 2021. InciWeb

A new carpet of spring growth now covers the damage done at the Sheep Creek Ranch by the Harris Mountain Fire in 2021. David Murray

A new carpet of spring growth now covers the damage done at the Sheep Creek Ranch by the Harris Mountain Fire in 2021. David Murray

Wildfire is, of course, a natural part of the life of a forest. Low intensity fires are actually beneficial to a forest, clearing away dead and congested undergrowth, releasing nitrogen into the soil, and opening up areas to new growth and regeneration. However, when a fire burns at too great an intensity it damages the soil, destroying seed stocks, micro-organisms and nutrients needed by trees to begin the natural reforestation process. This is what happened on the Sheep Creek Ranch.

“When you take a step back in time and you look at the role fire played historically … we’re looking at an 80-year regrowth cycle,” said Zach Bashoor, a forest resource manager and founder of Montana Forest Consultants Inc. “That’s in a perfect world. Now we are seeing hotter and drier summer seasons with fires that burn at a much higher intensity.  there’s no guarantee that the forests will return at all. We’re watching forests burn and become grassland and brushland, with no reforestation happening at all.”

Bashoor was one of the first people Harland contacted as he set about seeing what he could do to restore his land. Harland and Bashoor had collaborated in the past developing a plan for the sustainable harvest of timber from the Sheep Creek Ranch.

He represents a new generation of foresters taking a more intensive approach to forest management that includes developing new techniques in response to the increased frequency of devastating forest fires. Those techniques include a deep analysis of terrain, soil, vegetation, climate, and wildlife down to individual sections of land.

“We’ve got a very deep and intimate connection with Montana ecosystems,” he explained of his consulting services. “We can provide input on what trees are supposed to be and where, taking the landowners objectives into account with our prescriptions. That way we know what’s going out here is going to stand the best chance of surviving.”

The general concept is that as the forests of the western United States are exposed hotter, longer, and more destructive wildland fire seasons they need to be managed more intensely. The goal is to use every tool available through the ever-expanding understanding of biological processes to develop forests that regenerate faster and are less susceptible to catastrophic fire.

New innovations in forestry

MAST Reforestation vice-president Arnoud de Villegas (left) and forestry consultant Zach Bashoor explain the reforestation project now underway at the Sheep Creek Ranch. David Murray

MAST Reforestation vice-president Arnoud de Villegas (left) and forestry consultant Zach Bashoor explain the reforestation project now underway at the Sheep Creek Ranch. David Murray

Bashoor referred Harland to MAST Reforestation, a company Bashoor had not worked with before but was developing a reputation for using drones, nurseries, and carbon offsets to revitalize land after wildfires, often at minimal cost to the property owner.

Up until that time MAST Reforestation was primarily dedicated to reforestation projects in California and Washington state, but was eager to expand its operations into Montana. After developing a working relationship with Bashoor and Harland, MAST, which draws its name from the botanical term for the fruits of forest trees and shrubs, accepted Sheep Creek Ranch reforestation project as its pilot project in the state.

“We’re a technology forward company managed by foresters, which is unique … all in support in helping landowners recover as quickly as possible,” Arnoud de Villegas, Vice-president of Development for MAST Reforestation, said. “The innovation we bring is in seed sourcing and processing, and then in developing new stock types and growing shorter rotation seedlings much faster to get that reforestation back in the ground as quickly as possible.”

“There really wasn’t anything for us until we met with MAST,” Harland said of his reforestation prospects immediately following the Harris Mountain Fire. “We’re the pilot project for them and it’s scary as hell. There’s a lot at risk for us and MAST, but it’s coming together. My dream burnt up, but we just keep moving forward and doing the best that we can.”

“The process began with an extensive mapping project,” explained de Villegas. “With that we were able to develop a sophisticated reforestation plan that took into consideration slope, aspect, soils, the availability of native seeded.”


To continue reading this article, please go here.

Forestry expert explains the big problem with replanting chopped-down trees:

May 31, 2023 · 2 minute read
Forestry expert explains the big problem with replanting chopped-down trees:

‘Different species live in different heights’

In much of the world, old-growth forests have been cleared away for lumber and replaced with second-growth plantations of trees.

While replanting does restore or even increase the number of trees in an area, many other forest features are lost whenever humans destroy old-growth forests.

A recent TikTok by the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance (@endangeredecosystems) breaks down the differences between old-growth and second-growth forests in British Columbia and worldwide.

What are old-growth forests and second-growth plantations?

An old-growth forest is an ecosystem “distinguished by old trees and related structural attributes,” according to the USDA’s Forest Service. It is a forest that has grown over a long period without significant damage or interference from humans. It includes trees, plants, and wildlife adapted to that ecosystem.

A second-growth plantation is similar to an old-growth forest in that it has many trees in one place. However, the similarities don’t go much further.

As the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance video explains, second-growth plantations may be planted by humans and often harvested again within a few decades, which changes many critical features of the ecosystem.

What are the main differences?

The Endangered Ecosystems Alliance identifies four main differences between old-growth forests and second-growth plantations in the video.

First, second-growth plantations have closed canopies. “The trees grow together, blocking out the sunlight,” explains the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance. Old-growth forests have gaps in the canopy where trees have fallen.

Second, because little sunlight reaches the ground in a second-growth plantation, there are few small plants between the larger trees, according to the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance. In an old-growth forest, many gaps between the trees allow for lush undergrowth that provides food and shelter for wildlife.

Third, in an old-growth forest, the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance points out that there are trees of many different ages. Young saplings are mixed with mature trees and ancient giants.

Since each is a different height, the tree canopy forms multiple layers. “Different species live in different heights in the canopy,” the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance explains. In a second-growth plantation, the trees are all planted simultaneously, so they’re at similar heights and stages of growth.

Fourth, the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance says that old-growth forests have many more dead trees and branches. Some dead wood is on the ground, and some stay upright, caught on other trees in what is called a “snag.”

According to the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance, these snags become “wildlife trees.” “There’s a lot of wildlife habitat in the dead wood,” adds the video presenter. By contrast, second-growth plantations have far less of this dead wood.

Why do these differences matter?

While replanting after removing old-growth forests can replace the trees, it doesn’t replace the other wildlife or recreate the environment that has been destroyed. “Old-growth logging is not a sustainable activity,” the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance asserts in the video.

The impact of that loss is felt in many areas, both in the economy and the environment. According to the description for the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance video, “Old-growth forests are vital to support unique endangered species, the climate, tourism, clean water, wild salmon, and First Nations cultures whose unceded territories these are.”

So by protecting these old-growth forests, we are also helping the environment sequester more carbon pollution and support more life, alongside various other benefits.

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.