The curious case of the disappearing maple

By PASSANT RABIE
Bigleaf maple trees in Washington state are on the decline. Researchers are on the hunt for the cause, and climate change is turning into a lead suspect.

Daniel Omdal has driven past the same bigleaf maple tree for decades, often stopping his car to take pictures of its full, expansive crown. In the past few years, however, the tree has started to look more lopsided, with bare branches and patches in its crown with little to no growth.

To Omdal, a forest pathologist, it seemed like an obvious case of an insect infestation. If not, perhaps some kind of disease: a damaging fungus, wilt or a rogue bacterium. Whatever it was, it wasn’t isolated to one tree. The extent of sick bigleaf maples was alarming, and Omdal wasn’t the only one who was worried.

Omdal’s colleagues at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, where he has worked since 1997, had noticed the same symptoms in many other bigleaf maples. So had many residents of the region, who called the state to report their concerns. The issue had also been occurring nationwide, with reports of sharp declines of urban tree populations in different states, such as the oak tree in Southern California. In Washington, the problem was hard to miss: Bigleafs, also known as Oregon maples, are a staple of the Pacific Northwest landscape.

“These calls became more frequent, I couldn’t so easily dismiss the concerns,” Omdal says. In 2011, he became part of a state-led team investigating the bigleaf die-offs.

The group discovered that about 40 percent of bigleaf maple trees in Washington state are declining, says Jacob Betzen, a graduate student at the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, who has been working with the investigative team for the past two years.

The first suspect on their list was Armillaria, a fungus that causes the roots of the tree to rot. But when the team tested hundreds of trees for it, most of their results came back negative. Then, the researchers tested for another fungus called verticillium wilt. Also negative. Often, a few trees would be infected, but it was never widespread enough to be the primary cause of the species’ decline.

Omdal collected soil samples to test in the lab to look for other causes. Every time his team followed a new lead, it didn’t pan out. “We would come to a dead end,” Omdal says.

Patrick Tobin, Betzen’s advisor and a specialist in disturbance ecology, added, “It’s been puzzling, there’s no smoking gun here.”

Then Betzen noticed something curious about the die-offs. They are much more common in developed landscapes and areas that are warmer, drier and closer to roads. That led to a new suspect: climate change. “It seemed probably related to recent weather patterns, it’s getting hotter and drier in Washington in recent years,” Betzen says. The group’s results won’t be published until Betzen concludes his research at the end of the year, but Tobin is confident that the key driver causing bigleaf maple die-offs is, in fact, climate change.

Source: The curious case of the disappearing maple – Scienceline, 2018-12-05

India eyes farm forestry to reduce carbon footprint

By Jayashree Nandi
India plans to partner with the private sector in scaling up its agro-forestry efforts. This is, however, a controversial subject because environmental activists are against India allowing any private or corporate forestry projects on forest land.

Agro-forestry or farm forestry will be India’s key strategy to reduce its carbon footprint so as to meet its goals under the Paris climate agreement according to the submission the country plans to make at the COP 24 climate conference that’s being held in Poland.

The forest conservation division of the union environment ministry has readied a document which will be presented during COP 24 underway at Katowice in Poland, as part of India’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) strategy.

India plans to partner with the private sector in scaling up its agro-forestry efforts. This is, however, a controversial subject because environmental activists are against India allowing any private or corporate forestry projects on forest land.

India, through various forestry projects including agroforestry, aims to sequester about 2.5 to 3 billion tones of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 2030.

Source: India eyes farm forestry to reduce carbon footprint – Hindustan Times, 2018-12-03

Nova Scotia vows to reduce clear cutting, move toward ‘ecological forestry’

By Michael Gorman
Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin is promising “significant” changes to the province’s forestry sector as the government embraces more sustainable management. But critics say the government’s plan lacks important detail.

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin is promising a more sustainable forestry sector in Nova Scotia and less clear cutting as the province implements recommendations from the Lahey review of forestry practices, although how big that reduction will be remains to be seen.

The government’s long-awaited response to the report was released Monday and received positive reactions from critics and industry, though some said the province’s plan was short on detail.

“Forestry is a long-standing economic driver in Nova Scotia and it’s important we get it right,” Rankin said in a news release.

“We accept Prof. Lahey’s findings and will immediately begin work to put in place the tools to achieve ecological forestry in Nova Scotia. This will result in significant changes to the way forests will be managed, including less clear cutting on Crown land.”

Bill Lahey, the president of University of King’s College, presented his final report in August.

The predominant theme of the report was reducing clear cutting to 20 to 25 per cent of all harvesting on Crown land from 65 per cent.

The report recommended using a “triad model” that would see some areas used for intensive commercial forestry, some protected from all commercial activity, and some designated for less intensive forestry with little to no clear cutting.

Source: Nova Scotia vows to reduce clear cutting, move toward ‘ecological forestry’ – CBC News, 2018-12-03

First tree planted in ‘Northern Forest’

By Thomas Barrett
The first tree has been planted in a new ‘Northern Forest’ that will connect five community forests across the north of England.

Over the next 25 years, the Woodland Trust and Community Forest Trust are aiming to plant more than 50 million trees from Liverpool to Hull, connecting the Mersey Forest, Manchester City of Trees, South Yorkshire Community Forest, the Leeds White Rose Forest and the HEYwoods Project.

Spanning more than 120 miles, the Northern Forest will help boost habitats for woodland birds and bats and protect iconic species such as the red squirrel, alongside providing a tranquil space to be enjoyed by millions of people living in the area.

Forestry minister David Rutley joined the Woodland Trust, Community Forest Trust, government Tree Champion Sir William Worsley and students from St Andrew’s CE Primary School in Radcliffe, where they began the planting of 200 saplings as part of the government’s £5.7m investment.

Tree planting rates are dramatically low with tree planting in 2016 being only 700 hectares against the Government’s target of 5,000 hectares a year.

Woodland cover across the north is at just 7.6%, below the UK average of 13% and far below the EU average of 44%.

Forestry Minister David Rutley said: ‘It is a privilege to be here to see the Northern Forest take root, and to plant the first of many government-funded trees which will contribute to what will one day be a great forest.

Source: First tree planted in ‘Northern Forest’ – Environment Journal, 2018-12-05

A downtown parking lot is being repaved with nanomaterials. Here’s why.

By Andrew Moore
The tiny rod-like structures have been shown to improve the strength and durability of concrete structures and reduce the carbon footprint of manufacturing cement.

If you were to walk through downtown Greenville, you would likely notice several landmarks, including the Liberty Bridge and the old county courthouse.

While these iconic structures are unique in their own right, they share one commonality: They’re made of concrete. The coarse, gray material is the very foundation of modern infrastructure. It’s been used in the construction of everything from buildings and bridges to roads and sidewalks.

But despite all its benefits of strength and durability, there’s a major downside to using concrete.

The production of cement, which when mixed with water forms the binding agent in concrete, accounts for 5 to 10 percent of all human-caused carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. These emissions have been on the rise since the industrial revolution and remain the leading cause of global warming.

Over the past decade, though, researchers from across the country have been working together to create a cleaner version of the versatile building material. And now they plan to test the capabilities of their environmentally friendly alternative in Greenville.

The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, a Greenville-based environmental nonprofit, has partnered with the U.S. Forest Service, Oregon State University, and Purdue University to study a concrete mixture infused with cellulosic nanomaterials.

Cellulosic nanomaterials are produced by breaking down wood to its smallest, strongest components through mechanical and chemical processes similar to making paper. These tiny rodlike structures have diameters 20,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair and can be seen only using an electron microscope, yet they are as strong as steel with only one-fifth the weight.

“Researchers are testing these cellulosic nanomaterials in a wide range of applications from substrate for computer chips, they don’t warp under heat like plastics do, to car and airplane bodies, lighter and stronger than steel,” said Dr. Alan Rudie, a chemist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory in Wisconsin, in a news release. “Our team expects that concrete will be among the first commercial applications.”

Source: A downtown parking lot is being repaved with nanomaterials. Here’s why. – Greenville Journal, 2018-12-05

Could the Reintroduction of Wolves Help Save Japan’s Forests?

By Dan Zukowski

A large chunk of the country’s forests were harmed in 2015 by wildlife—77 percent due to deer. Bringing back an apex predator could help staunch the bleeding.

From the peak of Mt. Rausu, a clear view of the Shiretoko Peninsula opens from the Okhotsk Sea on the west to the Pacific Ocean on the east. Below, a dense green boreal forest of conifers, maples, and birch hides hundreds of brown bears and 590,000 sika deer. Japanese wolves once roamed this wilderness but their primeval howls fell silent here, and throughout Japan, more than a hundred years ago.

Narumi Nambu is working to bring wolves back to Japan.

“An apex predator is essential for sustainability of an ecosystem, and in Japan it was a wolf,” she writes in an email. Nambu volunteers for the Japan Wolf Association. Her work earned her the “Who Speaks for Wolf” award at the International Wolf Symposium in Minnesota, where she recently spoke.

She explained that, without the presence of natural predators like wolves, two-thirds of Japan’s 30 national parks are showing signs of deer-induced injury.

Shiretoko National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has a deer problem, as does much of Japan. According to the most recent annual report by the Japan Forestry Agency, 8,000 hectares of the country’s forest were harmed in 2015 by wildlife—77 percent of it due to deer. All told, deer were responsible for $53 million in damage.

Source: Could the Reintroduction of Wolves Help Save Japan’s Forests? – Pacific Standard, 2018-11-20

Hidden giants in forest soils

Only a fraction of the microbes residing in, on and around soils have been identified through efforts to understand their contributions to global nutrient cycles. Soils are also home to countless viruses that can infect microbes, impacting their ability to regulate these global cycles. In Nature Communications, giant virus genomes have been discovered for the first time in a forest soil ecosystem by researchers from the DOE Joint Genome Institute and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Characterizing the diversity of microbial cells in a handful of soil is so complex it was considered impossible. To date, only a small fraction of the microbes residing in, on and around soils have been identified as part of efforts to understand their contributions to the global carbon cycle, and to other nutrient cycles. Soils are also home to countless viruses that can infect microbes, impacting their ability to regulate these global cycles.

Reported November 19, 2018, in Nature Communications, giant virus genomes have been discovered for the first time in a forest soil ecosystem by researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Joint Genome Institute (JGI), a DOE Office of Science User Facility, and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (UMass Amherst). As the name implies, giant viruses are characterized by disproportionately large genomes and virions that house the viruses’ genetic material. They have been frequently found within protists and algae, and thus they are believed to have a significant impact on their hosts’ population dynamics and the planet’s biogeochemical cycles.

Source: Hidden giants in forest soils – EurekAlert, 2018-11-19

The architect transforming cities into ‘vertical forests’

By Oscar Holland
Stefano Boeri’s tree-covered towers in Milan won critical acclaim. Now he’s taking his urban forests global.

Architect Stefano Boeri has always been obsessed with trees. The Italian traces his fascination back to a novel he read as a child, “Il Barone Rampante” (“The Baron in the Trees”), in which a young boy climbs up into a world of trees and vows to never to return.
“I think trees are individuals,” Boeri said in a phone interview. “Each has its own evolution, its own biography, its own shape.”

Unsurprisingly, there is child-like wonder to the architect’s best-known building, Il Bosco Verticale, or the Vertical Forest. Built in his home city of Milan, the celebrated complex teems with greenery, its facades transformed into living, breathing organisms.

The project’s two residential towers — measuring 80 meters (262 feet) and 112 meters (367 feet) respectively — play host to around 20,000 trees, shrubs and plants. They spill out from irregularly placed balconies and crawl up the structures’ sides. By Boeri’s estimates, there are two trees, eight shrubs, and 40 plants for each human inhabitant.

The purported benefits of this garden architecture transcend aesthetics. Greenery, supposedly, provides shade to apartments, psychological benefits to residents and a home to wildlife. (There are, Boeri said, “hundreds of birds, more than 15 different species” nesting on the towers’ various floors.)
But the architect’s proudest claim is that the buildings absorb 30 tons of carbon dioxide and produce 19 tons of oxygen a year, according to his research, with a volume of trees equivalent to more than 215,000 square feet of forestland…

In September, Vertical Forest was named among four finalists for the RIBA International Prize, a biennial award honoring the world’s best new buildings. Amid the plaudits, Boeri claims the project’s real success is that it serves as a prototype.
The architect has far more ambitious designs. His firm has already unveiled plans for new Vertical Forest buildings in European cities including Treviso in Italy, Lausanne in Switzerland and Utrecht in the Netherlands.

In the Chinese city of Liuzhou, Guangxi province, he has masterminded an entire “Forest City,” scheduled for completion in 2020, which comprises tree-covered houses, hospitals, schools and office blocks over a sprawling 15-million-square-foot site. (Boeri said that he’s also been approached about producing similar “cities” in Egypt and Mexico.)

Source: The architect transforming cities into ‘vertical forests’ – CNN, 2018-11-18

Former West Virginia Coal Mines Turned into Carbon-sucking Forests

By Steve Baragona
ELKINS, WEST VIRGINIA —
Mist rises from the ripped-up and muddy earth as moist soil meets chilly morning air. This field deep within in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest looks more like a Game of Thrones battleground than a woodlands restoration project.

This is how Chris Barton is bringing forests back to Appalachia’s old strip mines: with a bulldozer tearing up the soil with meter-long metal teeth.

“We’ve had a lot of people kind of look at us twice,” he laughed.

Barton is a forest scientist at the University of Kentucky. On these former mines, he’s found that before he can plant a forest, he has to ravage a field.

“The really interesting thing is, after we do it, there’s no question that that was the right thing to do,” he said.

More on that later. First, Barton’s work lies at a crossroads for Appalachia, and for much of the world.

Not rocket science

Coal mines have stripped away roughly 400,000 hectares of Appalachian forests.

Burning coal for energy is adding more and more planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. As the planet heats up, experts warn that simply cutting greenhouse gas emissions won’t be enough to prevent potentially catastrophic levels of global warming. CO2 must also be removed from the atmosphere.

Currently, experimental machines that pull CO2 directly from the air are too expensive to be practical.

However, a new report from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine says effective carbon-removal technology already exists.

It’s not rocket science. It’s forests.

The report says planting trees and managing forests, along with carbon-absorbing farming and ranching practices, are among the most cost-effective strategies that are ready for large-scale use today.

Taking advantage of these natural systems could take care of more than a third of the greenhouse gas reductions needed to prevent devastating climate change, according to another recent study.

Source: Former West Virginia Coal Mines Turned into Carbon-sucking Forests – Voice of America, 2018-11-13

Tree disease leaving ‘zombie forest’ in its wake, expert warns

A forester from Bancroft, Ont., says the province could be doing much more to deal with an insidious disease that’s killing beech trees across Ontario.

Svetlana Zeran called in to CBC’s Ontario Today Monday to say beech bark disease is a major concern on the nearly 400,000 hectares of forest her company manages.

“We have been dealing with beech bark disease for about a decade,” Zeran said. “Now that it is here on the [Canadian] Shield, it is moving very rapidly and we are seeing the disease come in and infect the trees and they are dead within two to five years.”

The disease begins when an insect bores holes in the bark, allowing a red fungus to invade the tree and slowly weaken it from the inside out.

Source: Tree disease leaving ‘zombie forest’ in its wake, expert warns – CBC News, 2018-11-14