The Race to Save the Most Endangered Conifer in America

By Brian Kahn
TORREYA STATE PARK, FLORIDA—Religious scholars have long debated where Noah constructed his floating zoo made of “gopher wood” (Genesis 6:14) and what tree the ark’s gopher wood even came from. Some residents in the Florida Panhandle have an unlikely answer. The place in question is, well, there, and the tree in question is torreya taxifolia. Known locally as gopher wood (or, less Biblically, as stinking cedar for the astringent smell it releases when needles and stems are rolled between the fingers), local legend has it that the tree with its supple yellow wood was used to build the ark that Noah rode out 40 days of floods on, with the menagerie landing, eventually, on Mount Ararat in Turkey.

Now, thousands of years later, the tree faces a new era of ecological violence.

“If we don’t do anything, the trees will go extinct.”

Torreyas have been trapped by geography for millennia, only living in a few ravines that cut across the Apalachicola River Basin. That’s left them vulnerable to the outside disturbances that have come crashing into the Florida Panhandle and now threaten their very survival. Globalization delivered a fungus the tree had no defense against that has been slowly strangling torreyas to death for decades. Then last October, Hurricane Michael rapidly spun up into a Category 4 storm, plowing through Panama City and into the Panhandle. Its path was like a catastrophically precise ecological bomb with the strongest winds passing right over the Apalachicola Basin. The storm toppled canopy trees that either crushed the shaggy torreyas or exposed them to harsh sunlight, which can kill them. The already critically endangered tree is now on life support with just a few hundred individuals left in the wild.

Conservationists are in a race to save the trees that remain. Local volunteers and scientists from the Atlanta Botanical Garden are using a mix of mapping, genome sequencing, and conservation techniques to find trees hearty enough to survive in a world that’s become less hospitable since Biblical times. If successful, their efforts could yield a model for how to protect forests around the world from increasingly formidable threats of climate change and invasive pests.

Source: The Race to Save the Most Endangered Conifer in America – Gizmodo Earther, 2019-04-09

Light pollution hurts urban bats. Trees can help.

By Liz Langley
Green spaces within cities can lessen the impact of artificial light on bats, a new study says.

YOU’D THINK HALLOWEEN would be the battiest time of the year, but these winged mammals merit a second annual celebration.

In honor of National Bat Appreciation Day, we’re taking a look at urban bats and how they manage to live among us. (Get the truth behind six bat myths.)

Excessive artificial lighting, also called light pollution, can have a negative effect on many nocturnal animals, for instance by disorienting them or interfering with their reproduction.

But that hasn’t stopped bats from making their homes in cities. For instance, 18 of Germany’s 25 bat species live in Berlin, which is also made up of 20 percent forest.

“Trees provide a lot of benefits for bats,” including roosts, shelter from wind and predators, and better foraging opportunities, says Tanja M. Straka, a researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Source: Light pollution hurts urban bats. Trees can help. – National Geographic, 2019-04-17

Forest-Products Industry Sees Victory in Softwood Lumber Decision

By Molly Priddy
The U.S. timber industry scored a win on April 9 in the decades-long battle with Canada over softwood lumber, after the World Trade Organization ruled in its favor.

On April 9, the WTO decided that the United States Department of Commerce had done the correct calculations when it determined anti-dumping duties on Canadian softwood lumber.

“It’s a victory for the United States and the forest products industry,” said Chuck Roady, general manager of F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber, as well as the president of the Montana Wood Products Association. “It was great to see an excellent decision on our part, because the U.S. rarely prevails in the WTO.”

Softwood lumber has been the subject of an enduring trade dispute between the two countries, and the most recent Softwood Lumber Agreement (SLA) lapsed in 2016 after 10 years.

The roots of the dispute come down to two different forms of government having two different methods of lumber harvest. Canada’s provincial government owns the majority of timberlands that provide trees to Canadian producers, charging an administered fee. In the U.S., the timberlands are typically privately owned, and the market determines the price of those logs through public sales.

“Both systems work until you sell the lumber in the United States,” Roady said.

In November 2017, the U.S. Commerce Department determined that Canadian exporters had sold lumber in the U.S. for 3.2 percent to 8.9 percent under fair market value, and that Canada is subsidizing softwood lumber producers at rates of 3.34 percent to 18.19 percent. The department determined that Canadian lumber producers should then pay a combined tariff of 20.83 percent.

In its mixed ruling on April 9, the WTO determined that the U.S. use of “zeroing” to calculate the anti-dumping duties is not prohibited. In the past, the organization had ruled against the methodology.

The ruling also determined that the U.S. had violated international trade rules when it calculated the tariffs on softwood lumber imports, which Canada applauded.

Source: Forest-Products Industry Sees Victory in Softwood Lumber Decision – Flathead Beacon, 2019-04-15

Plants bounce light to forest floor


Recent research has shown that plants help themselves grow by releasing volatile organic compounds. These chemicals form a mist of aerosols above the vegetation that blocks some of the direct light but enhances diffuse light. This boosts the solar radiation reaching the forest understory and increases growth.

Alexandru Rap from the University of Leeds, UK, and colleagues assessed the impact of plant volatiles on primary productivity by using atmospheric and vegetation models along with measurements of aerosols and plant productivity. Their findings, published in Nature Geoscience, show that globally plant volatiles boost vegetation productivity by around 1.23 Pg of carbon per year — equivalent to around 10% of the world’s fossil fuel carbon emissions.

“Amazingly we found that by emitting volatile gases, forests are altering the Earth’s atmosphere in a way which benefits the forests themselves,” says Rap. “While emitting volatile gases costs a great deal of energy, we found that the forests get back more than twice as much benefit through the effect the increased diffuse light has on their photosynthesis.”

Source: Plants bounce light to forest floor – Physics World, 2019-04-01

Transparent wood can store and release heat

Wood may seem more at home in log cabins than modern architecture, but a specially treated type of timber could be tomorrow’s trendy building material. Today, scientists report a new kind of transparent wood that not only transmits light, but also absorbs and releases heat, potentially saving on energy costs. The material can bear heavy loads and is biodegradable, opening the door for its eventual use in eco-friendly homes and other buildings.

“Back in 2016, we showed that transparent wood has excellent thermal-insulating properties compared with glass, combined with high optical transmittance,” says Céline Montanari, a Ph.D. student who is presenting the research at the meeting. “In this work, we tried to reduce the building energy consumption even more by incorporating a material that can absorb, store and release heat.”

As economic development progresses worldwide, energy consumption has soared. Much of this energy is used to light, heat and cool homes, offices and other buildings. Glass windows can transmit light, helping to brighten and heat homes, but they don’t store energy for use when the sun goes down.

Three years ago, lead investigator Lars Berglund, Ph.D., and colleagues at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, reported an optically transparent wood in the ACS journal Biomacromolecules. The researchers made the material by removing a light-absorbing component called lignin from the cell walls of balsa wood. To reduce light scattering, they incorporated acrylic into the porous wood scaffold. The team could see through the material, yet it was hazy enough to provide privacy if used as a major building material. The transparent wood also had favorable mechanical properties, enabling it to bear heavy loads.

Building on this work, Montanari and Berglund added a polymer called polyethylene glycol (PEG) to the de-lignified wood. “We chose PEG because of its ability to store heat, but also because of its high affinity for wood,” Montanari says. “In Stockholm, there’s a really old ship called Vasa, and the scientists used PEG to stabilize the wood. So we knew that PEG can go really deep into the wood cells.”

Known as a “phase-change material,” PEG is a solid that melts at a temperature of 80 F, storing energy in the process. The melting temperature can be adjusted by using different types of PEGs. “During a sunny day, the material will absorb heat before it reaches the indoor space, and the indoors will be cooler than outside,” Montanari explains. “And at night, the reverse occurs — the PEG becomes solid and releases heat indoors so that you can maintain a constant temperature in the house.”

Source: Transparent wood can store and release heat – ScienceDaily, 2019-04-03

Study suggests green infrastructure may solve city problems

One way to improve Jacksonville’s problems with stormwater flooding, crime, air pollution, job creation and mental health is simple – plant more trees, said Karen Firehock. As executive director of Green Infrastructure Center, a nonprofit based in Charlottesville, Virginia, Firehock and her team have been conducting a federally-funded independent review of Jacksonville’s urban canopy and its effect on stormwater and water quality.

During the second of three public meetings, which was sponsored by the San Marco Preservation Society and held in Preservation Hall February 28, Firehock explained how her organization is helping the City of Jacksonville map, evaluate and restore its urban forest while focusing on stormwater management. Jacksonville is one of 12 southern cities to be part of the study, which is funded by the United States Forest Service.

Study suggests green infrastructure may solve city problems
POSTED ON APRIL 1, 2019BY EDITORARTICLES, BROOKLYN, DOWNTOWN, SPRINGFIELD, NEIGHBORHOOD NEWS, RIVERSIDE, AVONDALE, ORTEGA, MURRAY HILL, SAN JOSE, SAN MARCO, ST. NICHOLAS, TOP STORIES

Study suggests green infrastructure may solve city problems
One way to improve Jacksonville’s problems with stormwater flooding, crime, air pollution, job creation and mental health is simple – plant more trees, said Karen Firehock.

As executive director of Green Infrastructure Center, a nonprofit based in Charlottesville, Virginia, Firehock and her team have been conducting a federally-funded independent review of Jacksonville’s urban canopy and its effect on stormwater and water quality.

LeAnna Cumber, District 5 City Councilwoman-elect with Karen Firehock of the Green Infrastructure Center
During the second of three public meetings, which was sponsored by the San Marco Preservation Society and held in Preservation Hall February 28, Firehock explained how her organization is helping the City of Jacksonville map, evaluate and restore its urban forest while focusing on stormwater management. Jacksonville is one of 12 southern cities to be part of the study, which is funded by the United States Forest Service.

During the meeting, which was sparsely attended, Firehock discussed specific ways the City can beef up its green infrastructure. At the end of the study, the nonprofit will provide the City with an online casebook, which Jacksonville residents can access with its recommendations and findings. The Green Infrastructure Center held its third and final meeting March 28 in Springfield.

“We want cities to understand that trees, wetlands, streams, and rivers are part of the cities’ infrastructure, and we need to manage them just like we manage our built assets,” she said, noting that “gray” infrastructure is comprised of sidewalks, roadways, pipes, and buildings. Jacksonville Urban Forester Richard Leon agreed. “We are looking at how urban trees affect our city’s water quality, and how we can incorporate trees, so they are looked at as infrastructure and not just as a commodity,” he said before the meeting.

Forty-two percent of Duval County is covered with trees, although they are not evenly distributed. Having a healthy urban tree canopy is very beneficial. Not only do trees soak up stormwater – a single tree, depending on species and size, can soak up between 760 and 4,000 gallons of water per year – they provide “access to fitness,” clean the air, improve mental health, reduce crime, lower residential vacancy rates, encourage people to shop more, and attract small companies to cities,” Firehock said.

“Trees pick up particulate matter and clean the air. If you have a well-treed neighborhood, you are going to have better air quality than one that doesn’t have many trees. Trees improve mental health. We heal better when we see green. Less crime occurs in neighborhoods with lots of trees. Statistically, it is proven the more treed the area, the lower the crime rate,” she said, also adding that people shop longer and pay more per item with they visit tree-lined shopping districts. “It makes sense to spend money on trees and plant them right. You’ll get it back in property taxes and sales taxes. The trees will pay the city back.”

Source: Study suggests green infrastructure may solve city problems – The Resident Community News Group, Inc., 2019-04-01

Wood-based technology creates electricity from heat

A University of Maryland-led team of researchers has created a heat-to-electricity device that runs on ions and which could someday harness the body’s heat to provide energy.

A University of Maryland-led team of researchers has created a heat-to-electricity device that runs on ions and which could someday harness the body’s heat to provide energy.

Source: Wood-based technology creates electricity from heat – Phys.org, 2019-03-25

On Public Lands, Visitors Surge While Federal Management Funds Decline

By Kirk Siegler
Western towns surrounded by and dependent upon public lands are forced to get creative as federal recreation budgets continue a slow decline. They are boosting local efforts to maintain public access.

It’s the boom times in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., which is wrapping up a winter of record snowfall. Eager to take advantage of it, Donovan Sliman and his two young daughters are lumbering up a snowy trail on the outskirts of town, where the condos give way to National Forest.

“I like to get away from everybody else,” says Donovan. “I like to hear the sound of the wind and the snow through the trees.” “We’re also going to go sledding,” adds Grace, one of his daughters.

Mammoth is completely surrounded by protected federal wilderness or U.S. Forest Service land. Its destination ski resort operates on public land via a federal lease.

The Slimans try to visit the Mammoth Lakes area from their home in Orange County at least a half dozen times a year.

They’re not alone.

Every year, more than 2 million people descend on California’s eastern Sierra region to camp, hike, fish, hunt and ski. This region, often dubbed “the wild side” of the state, only has about 50,000 residents across two sprawling counties roughly the size of Massachusetts.

Across the western U.S., towns surrounded by public lands are facing an increasing bind: They’re seeing a huge surge in visitors coming to play in the forests and mountains surrounding them, which is leading to an economic boom. But, at the same time, federal funding to manage these lands has been drying up.

Source: On Public Lands, Visitors Surge While Federal Management Funds Decline – NPR, 2019-03-31

Inventors of bullet-proof wood create fire-proof wood

By Ian Randall
A fire-retardant structural material can be made by chemically softening and compressing wood to remove the spaces between cell walls. When burnt, the resulting material forms a protective char layer on its outside which helps preserve its internal strength.

The use of wood in structural applications is limited by both its inherent flammability and susceptibility to rapid collapse on burning. Wood can be made more fire-proof by chemical treatments – such as through injections of halogenated flame retardants, or coatings of inorganic nanoparticles – but these approaches are typically either prohibitively expensive, fail environmental and health standards, or result in insufficient structural strength.

Liangbing Hu and colleagues of the University of Maryland in the US show that their process to create bullet-proof wood through densification also confers fire-resistant properties without recourse to potentially toxic or environmentally-unfriendly materials.

The densified material – which Hu dubs ‘super wood’ – is created by first chemically treating timber with sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfite to partially remove its lignin, the organic polymer which makes cell walls rigid. Subsequent hot pressing creates a dense, laminated material free of lumina – the tiny channels that create a porous structure, supplying oxygen and increasing flammability.

Source: Inventors of bullet-proof wood create fire-proof wood – Chemistry World, 2019-03-06

Nitrogen-fixing red alder trees tap rock-derived nutrients

By Steven S. Perakis and Julie C. Pett-Ridge

Tree species that form symbioses with nitrogen-fixing bacteria can naturally fertilize forests by converting atmospheric nitrogen gas into plant-available forms. However, other mineral nutrients that plants require for growth are largely locked in bedrock, and are released only slowly into soil. We used strontium isotopes to trace nutrient sources for six common tree species in a temperate rainforest, including one species from a globally widespread genus known for high rates of biological nitrogen fixation. We found that trees capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen gas were also best able to directly access mineral nutrients from bedrock. This gives nitrogen-fixing trees the unique ability to provide the full suite of essential nutrients required to fuel growth and carbon uptake in forest ecosystems.

Source: Nitrogen-fixing red alder trees tap rock-derived nutrients – PNAS, 2019-01-19