Fayette County, April, 2016
Westmoreland Woodlands Improvement Association
What’s eating my tree?
Towards the end of summer, we get a lot of calls at the Bureau of Forestry with tree owners worried that something is “killing” their trees. A lot of these turn out to be some of our native “late-season” defoliators that need to get a meal in before entering their next life stage and since the trees aren’t using their leaves for much longer anyway, it’s not too taxing on the tree.
On the flipside, the type of defoliators we are more concerned about are “early-season” defoliators.
These are insects that gobble up healthy foliage before the trees get a chance to photosynthesize to their
full potential and restore the great deal of energy the tree invested in creating its leaves and spring growth.
These “early-season” defoliators stress out the tree, but it doesn’t mean certain death. A lot of our native
pests will have outbreak years, but then go back to a lower population the following year to allow the trees
to recover. One example of a native insect that takes the trees’ need to recover very seriously is the 17 year
cicada which causes significant damage in the year they emerge, but then allows trees to recover without pressure for quite a bit of time. This leads to few cases of tree mortality aside from very young trees who haven’t built up enough energy stores yet and sickly trees that are right on the edge (2019 will be a cicada outbreak year for Westmoreland County).
To keep on top of any emerging outbreaks, Bureau of Forestry staff fly over most of the state every summer, mapping out any areas that show signs of pest damage and then assessing the mapped damage from the ground to identify what caused it.
Long story short, if you’re noticing leaf damage in the spring and early summer, give us a call. If it’s in the late summer, don’t stress over it and keep an eye on how healthy the tree seems the following spring.
Celine T. Colbert | Forester
PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Bureau of Foresty
Planning for Planting
Now that spring has finally sprung, the planting of tree seedlings may be on your things to do list.
Because of the cool wet conditions in the springtime, it is a good time to plant seedlings. Before
planting though, a little bit of planning and preparation is needed.
The first thing to do is to determine why you are planting. This may be reforest a field, supplement
natural regeneration, improve wildlife habitat, or restore a high-graded forest. The probability of
success of your planting project will improve with choosing the right species to meet your objectives and also that are compatible with site conditions.
Some things to consider in choosing the right species is soil type – is it wet, moist, or dry? Shade -intolerant species like black cherry, do not do well in shade. In that case, sugar maple might be a better choice. Aspect – the direction that a slope faces is aspect. A west aspect is going to be drier and generally windier facing slope than an east facing slope.
You can select species that will do well on your site and that also meet your objectives. For example, if attracting wildlife is your objective, consider benefits such as winter cover, fruit type and nesting sites. A species that may not be valuable for lumber may be great as a windbreak or riparian buffer species.
Try to stick with native species if possible. Although, a few non-natives such as Norway spruce can be a good conifer choice. But in general, native species that are relatively pest free are the better selection.
Some site preparation may be necessary. Herbicide treatment may be necessary if competition from grasses and invasive species are present. If planting to restore a forest where invasive shrubs are present, it is best to treat the invasives first and then plant to help natural regeneration get a head start.
After planting, some protection may be helpful. Mats to suppress competing vegetation around the seedling and tree shelters to protect from deer browse and rodent damage can give seedlings an advantage.
I have tried to give some general guidance here, but as you can see, there are many factors to consider. Consider seeking advice from a professional forester before choosing and ordering your seedlings. A good article called “Forest Landowners Guide to Tree Planting Success” can be found at:
You can also contact your DCNR Service Forester, Jessica Salter, or myself at the Westmoreland Conservation District. Happy planting!
Forester, Westmoreland Conservation District
Pennsylvania Has a Fire Season?
If you talk to any busy DCNR Bureau of Forestry employee in April, they’ll probably tell you it’s because it’s “fire season”. Wait – we have a fire season in Pennsylvania? That’s right! On average, 5,000 acres burn in Pennsylvania every year, mostly in the spring. As an agency, the Bureau of Forestry is responsible for protecting Pennsylvania’s public and private forests from damage by wildfire. We do this through prevention and suppression efforts, including educating forest landowners about mitigating wildland fires on their own property.
Despite public perception, fire season in Pennsylvania is in the spring and fall when the relative humidity is low and the lush vegetation of the eastern US hasn’t “greened up”. Summers in the western US are prime for fires, but our eastern summers are typically too humid and the vegetation has too much moisture to carry fire through the woods.
98% of fires that impact the woods in Pennsylvania are caused by humans. Unlike the western US fires that we hear about on the news, very few Pennsylvania fires are started from a lightning strike. In most cases, someone burning debris on a warm, sunny spring day are at fault. Many people think that this could never happen to them, while others are simply unaware what type of weather indicates a “high fire danger” day in the eastern US. Is it a warm and sunn
spring day? Is there a nice, steady breeze? Is the humidity low? Is the ground fairly dry?
If so, there is a good chance that there is a moderate to high likelihood of wildfire.
Resist the urge or burn debris or have a campfire on this type of day.
If you own a home, cabin, or shed in a wooded area, no matter the size of the woods, there are
easy steps you can take to reduce its risk of being impacted by fire. Is there a lot of mountain
laurel, tall grass, or dead leaves touching your house? If so, make sure that there is a break
between those fuel sources and the woods. This break could be a strip of lawn, gravel, or leaf
litter-free soil, and can help to stop a wildfire that is approaching your building. Where do you
stack your firewood? If you stack it against your house or cabin, you now have a pocket of fuel that
could move a fire from the woods into your home. Reducing possible fuel sources from around your house is a simple step that can make a big difference if a wildfire is burning near your home.
Wildfires occur more often and closer to home than many Pennsylvanians realize. That being said, most wildland fires in Pennsylvania are preventable. Be conscious of the weather and implement wildfire preparedness around you home. You can learn more tips at http://www.dcnr.pa.gov/Communities/Wildfire/.
~Jessica Salter, DCNR Service Forester
Just because the snow is flying and you can’t go outside without seeing your breath doesn’t mean you have to stay trapped inside this winter. Winter is a great time for recreating in your woodlands. Not sure where to start?
Throw on some snow shoes or hiking boots and head for a walk. With the leaves long gone it’s a perfect time to sharpen your bark ID skills. Look for dark, flaky “burnt potato chip” bark and you’ll know you have black cherry on your land. See platy bark lighter than the trees around it? That’s white oak. Grab a field guide with colored bark photos like the The National Audubon Society’s. Snow on the ground also gives you the perfect opportunity to investigate what wildlife shares your land. Need help identifying the tracks? There’s an app for that, checkout the Nature Tracking iTrack apps, the “Lite” version is free.
If you’re looking for a workout to warm you up, try cross-country skiing. A map of trails, current conditions, and a list of rental locations is available on the Pennsylvania Cross Country Skiers Association Website.
For the avid fisherman, the wintry weather doesn’t have to stop you. Ice fishing our local lakes can yield enough crappies, yellow perch, and bluegill for a nice fish fry. To stay up-to-date on the current ice conditions, there are online forums such as IceShanty.com. When heading out on the ice, keep in mind that 4 inches are needed to hold a 200lb person. Once the ice melts off, head to the streams where a few layers under waders can keep you warm.
Though the winter weather is a good excuse to stay inside in front of the fire, there’s still a lot of fun to be had outdoors. If you’re interested in trying out something new, keep an eye out for organized events at our local State Parks and on the Forbes State Forest. Events are posted on the DCNR Events Calendar and often offer free equipment loans.
Celine T. Colbert | Forester
PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Cut Firewood to Improve Your Woodlot – and Stay Warm!
As cold as this winter has been so far, you may be wondering if your firewood pile will make it until spring! The past two winters may have us spoiled a bit as mild as they were. I burn a bit of wood to supplement my home heating, and I’m already through most of my wood pile with two months of winter left!
Cutting firewood is not only logical and practical, but it can also be beneficial to your woodlot. Trees are a renewable resource, they grow back - not like coal, oil and gas. So, we can periodically harvest trees without permanent loss to the environment. And, by harvesting trees for firewood, we can thin out the lower grade trees, or unacceptable growing stock, so the better quality acceptable growing stock trees can produce wood at a faster rate.
Many times I have been told by forest owners, “I only cut the dead trees”, thinking that it is better for their woodlots. In, actuality, it is often better to leave some dead standing trees in the woodlot for wildlife habitat, and harvest poorly formed live trees that compete with other better quality trees for nutrients and light. Especially, if the stand is overcrowded. Removing competing trees by thinning enables the stand to produce larger, higher quality trees in a reduced period of time.
The best time to start thinning is when the trees are “pole sized” about 6” – 10”. A very good method of thinning is by crop tree method. Crop trees are generally the best quality trees of the most valuable species. Your consulting forester or service forester can help you decide how many crop trees per to select as well as spacing. Cut competing trees around the crop trees to open up on at least 3 sides. This will give crop tree crowns room to expand.
Crop trees can also include nut trees such as hickory if your objective is to improve wildlife habitat and release mast producing trees. The same principles are acceptable in a sugar bush if maple syrup production is your goal.
So, cutting trees for firewood can be a win-win situation. The firewood will produce warmth for your home in the winter months, save money on heating costs if you get wood from your woodlot, and improve the quality and growth of your woods. Not to mention the exercise you get from cutting and splitting the wood. Remember though, always use property safety equipment when felling trees in the woods.
Now is the time to go out and cut trees for next year’s woodpile. Remember, the wood needs time to dry before burning in the fireplace or woodstove. Stay warm, be safe!
Winter Woody Decor
Browse through any home magazine this time of year and you’re sure to find carefully crafted displays of festive floral arrangements. Bright, red berries and green foliage are iconic images throughout the holiday season. Did you know that many of the most popular stems used in home décor could come from your own backyard or woodlot? Many of the looks we’ve come to admire in Martha Stewart may be right out your back door!
For attractive, red stems in winter look to red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) or silky dogwood (Cornus amomus). Both shrubby dogwood species have attractive branches in winter and don’t mind being cut back. As the name suggests, winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) has lovely red fruits that persist throughout the winter. The bright, red berries are popular in craft stores and many don’t realize they come from a native shrub found in Pennsylvania. American holly (Ilex opaca) is another holly that is always popular throughout the holidays. Witch-hazel’s (Hamamelis virginiana) unique yellow blooms often persist into winter, making for an interesting presentation. The identifiable male American pussy willow (Salix discolor) catkins are a wonderful late winter option to display in your home. Native shrubs provide many ecological benefits, including providing desirable food and cover for wildlife and insects. Of course, green foliage and cones from conifers are also a staple of December décor. Planting clusters of eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), white spruce (Picea glauca), or cedar (Thuja occidentalis or Juniperus virginiana, depending on soil type) provide thermal cover for wildlife and a source of decoration for your home.
Not all holiday décor from the outdoors is welcome. While scrolling on Pinterest or flipping through a magazine, you may very
well see a wreath or garland created out of oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). This difficult invasive vine is often spread
unknowingly by well-meaning homeowners hoping to add holiday color to their front door. If you already have oriental bittersweet
fruiting on your property, there’s little harm using the vine inside your home as long as you are sure to bag it and send the plant to
the landfill after the season.
If you don’t find what you’re looking for this winter, consider planting woody floral species around your home or in appropriate forested areas on your property. More information can be found by visiting DCNR’s Landscaping with Native Plants page at http://www.dcnr.pa.gov/Conservation/WildPlants/LandscapingwithNativePlants/Pages/default.aspx.
As we prepare for this holiday season, consider exploring the woods for decorative inspiration. There are countless ways to bring the outdoors in with items found on a walk in the woods. Take your family, enjoy the outdoors, and always be a responsible collector.
--Jessica Salter, DCNR Service Forester
Protect Pennsylvania's forests
Congress should make sure the tax code supports family-owned woodlands
RAUL CHIESA AND JANET SREDY
NOV 14, 2017 (as seen in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
House and Senate Republicans have announced their tax bills and the debate is on.
Many of us in Pennsylvania would be glad to see a simpler, more streamlined tax code. But as this overhaul is negotiated, I hope our representative and our senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey, will consider how taxes affect a key constituency of rural Pennsylvania: family forest owners.
Across America, one in four rural Americans is a family forest owner. In Pennsylvania, more than half our forests are owned by families and individuals.
Just as important as the amount of forest land in private hands is the impact of privately owned forests on everyone in the commonwealth. Family owners’ efforts to care for forest land provide wildlife habitat and support Pennsylvania’s intricate web of rivers and streams. The forest industry generates more than $5.5 billion in economic activity and makes up more than 10 percent of the state’s manufacturing workforce.
We know this firsthand because we are two of those forest owners. We own a 110-acre tract of land in a rugged part of Forward Township in Allegheny County. Prior to assuming control of the land in 2007, soil erosion from poor agriculture practices in the early 1900s, illegal dumping and other damaging activities created challenges requiring active intervention to address the health of our woods.
To restore the land and maintain its health, we must make investments each year, in addition to working hard to build sweat equity. We are middle-class Americans, and for us to continue to create wildlife habitat and protect clean water, our land must pay for itself. That’s why we operate a tree farm as a small business.
The tax code has been crucial to our ability to care for our land.
As our senators and representatives work out a tax package, they should keep in mind that the tax structure needs to promote the management of family-owned woodlands so that we and other forest owners can continue to care for the environment and contribute to the economy. Accordingly ...
First, Congress should continue to allow landowners to deduct forest management and restoration expenses. Most landowners, like us, fall in the middle-income tax bracket, making less than $100,000 annually. Without these deductions, most forest owners could not afford vital investments in things such as creating firebreaks and installing culverts for streams that keep our forests healthy. In a new survey from the American Forest Foundation, 89 percent of landowners surveyed need these deductions to maintain good management practices.
Second, Congress should continue to allow landowners to treat timber income as a capital gain. Most landowners harvest trees only once in a generation, yet they have annual expenses and take on the risk of tornadoes, insects and wildfires during the 20 to 50 years it takes to grow a tree. Because of this, Congress should continue to treat timber income as the long-term investment it is.
Third, Congress should simplify the code by clarifying that forest owners managing their land long-term, even if they don’t receive regular income, can be treated as businesses and therefore be eligible for business tax deductions. Caring for forestland requires investments much like farming or agribusiness. Landowners need a forest-management plan, a forester and equipment to assist in caring for the land. While they might not receive income annually, they contribute to the economy annually like other small businesses.
Fourth, Congress should allow landowners to deduct more of the losses they suffer when natural disasters strike. While those of us managing forests in Pennsylvania may not be in the hurricane belt, we still experience wind and storms that can devastate our trees. The American Forest Foundation has found that more than 62 percent of landowners struck by disasters have been unable to deduct their losses.
Finally, it is important that landowners can pass on their land to future generations. Therefore, Congress should work to eliminate the estate tax burden on forest owners and continue to allow them to adjust the value of their estates for their heirs so as to reduce capital-gains taxes.
If our senators and representatives are serious about supporting rural America, then they must put in place tax policies that support rural forest owners.
Thankful for the Trees November, 2017
With Thanksgiving ahead, it seems appropriate to think about what we’re thankful for. Friends, family, health are some
common answers, but where do trees fall on your list? I, for one, am very thankful for trees and perhaps I can convince
you to be to.
How do trees benefit us? Clean air, clean water, and wildlife habitat are the basics. All essential to our survival, but it’s the lesser known, more subtle benefits I’d like to share. For instance, trees can have a positive effect on our health. In one of my favorite studies, environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich found that gallbladder removal patients with a view of trees healed faster and with less pain medication then those that had a view of a brick wall. Additional studies have correlated spending time in nature to reduced symptoms in children with ADHD and reduced stress across age groups.
The healing power of forests is well known in Japan where shinrin yoku translated to “forest bathing” is a common part of preventative care. The practice involves spending meditative time in the forest, engaging multiple senses to “experience” nature. No need to travel to Japan to garner the benefits, guided forest bathing is becoming a trendy addition to spas around our country, or you can take a slow walk in the wood smelling twigs and feeling leaves (just avoid the poison ivy!).
You may also have trees to thank for your happiness. Recent research out of Berlin, Germany found that urban dwellers who lived closer to forests were better able to manage stress, anxiety, and depression than those who did not live near forests. Interestingly, living near green spaces did not have the same effect as forests (not enough trees, I suppose).
So, while the turkey’s in the oven, or after the dishes are cleared take your family on a walk in the woods and perhaps you’ll feel a little happier, healthier, and thankful.
Celine T. Colbert | Forester
PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Bureau of Forestry
P.O. Box 519 | Laughlintown, PA 15655
Phone: 724.238.1200 | Cell: 724.825.3330
Snags, Bats, and Other Scary Things
With Halloween coming up in a couple of weeks, I thought it might be appropriate to discuss some things that most people think of as creepy, or scary, but in reality are quite beneficial to the environment.
As we approach Halloween, we often see silhouettes of bats hanging from people’s porches and yard trees to “scare” passersby. And, of course we all know that vampires can turn into bats at night! But, actually, bats have a multitude of environment al benefits including consuming vast quantities of insects, pollinating plants, and providing fertilizer from their droppings.
Recently, I developed a forest management plan specifically for bat habitat. Endangered species like the Indiana bat need places for foraging and roosting in order to survive and successfully reproduce. Species like shagbark and other hickories, oaks, and maples are especially important to manage for.
Dead standing trees called “snags” are also depicted in pictures with full moons in the background, and pumpkins in the
foreground along with spiders and bats hanging from them at Halloween time. Snags also are quite beneficial. Snags
harbor insects that are food for many small mammal and bird species. Habitat for nests, roosting, and food storage are
provided by snags. Snags are beneficial to bats as well. When thinning the forest make sure to retain at least 2 – 3
good snags per acre, especially those with cavities and loose bark.
So as we all have fun at this scary time of year, remember that some of those things that may be considered creepy
by some are valuable to the ecosystem. Do your part to conserve habitat for bats and other wildlife.
Westmoreland Conservation District Forester
Unpredictable, Loyal Colors of Fall
There are few months with such a distinct air of change as September. The lazy days of summer are winding down and we start thinking about pumpkins and football. For foresters and others who spend time in the woods, the beginning of autumn also signals a shift in the trees. You will often find us looking up, watching the trees and trying to predict the color changes that are upon us.
We get asked about the upcoming fall foliage quite frequently; from young kids to seasoned leaf peepers. And although we do our best and say things like “the wet summer should make for a beautiful display!” and “hope for sunny days and cool nights!”, mother nature is faithfully unpredictable.
What is predicable is that although the intensity changes, you can always find beautiful places in our state and region to watch autumn’s display. This is because Pennsylvania is uniquely positioned to experience diverse and interesting fall foliage. With our various forest types and elevations, even within Westmoreland County, mother nature always has something interesting up her sleeve. If the oaks are having a dim year, head east to see if the sugar maples on parts of the Laurel Ridge and Allegheny Front have a more striking display.
Even if we can’t forecast exactly how the colors will emerge over the upcoming weeks, we will sure enjoy standing in the woods, looking up at the trees, trying..
Jessica Salter | Service Forester
PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Bureau of Forestry | Forbes State Forest