AMAZING CREATURES

A wide diversity of remarkable animals calls longleaf pine flatwoods and sandhills habitats home. Here, discover species special to naturalist Dirk Stevenson. He has spent much of his life in the Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States wading swamps and exploring pine landscapes in his field studies of imperiled and declining amphibians, reptiles and insects.

Here, Dirk authors accounts of the deep-digging gopher tortoise, a denizen of longleaf sandhills and a keystone species; and the gopher frog and the eastern indigo snake, which have developed intimate associations within the burrows of the tortoise. Discover the secretive frosted flatwoods salamander, an amphibian of mesic longleaf pine savannas, and take a closer look at the odd Say’s spiketail dragonfly. The nymphs of this predatory insect live in mucky springs while the adults hunt for wasps and bees in longleaf pine – turkey oak sandhills. And last is the industrious and comical southeastern pocket gopher, whose numerous mounds can be seen from space.

Source: AMAZING CREATURES – NRCS, 2019-11-05

The Trees and the Forest of New Towers

By Stephen Wallis
As engineered wood evolves as a construction material, the sky is becoming the limit for timber office and institutional buildings.

Michael Green has seen the future of the building industry, and that future is wood. Lots of wood. The Vancouver-based architect is among the most ardent proponents of what is known as mass timber, prefabricated structural wood components that can be used to construct buildings — even large-scale buildings — faster, with less waste and eventually with less money.

Most crucially, Mr. Green and others say, building with mass timber can ameliorate climate change because it produces less in greenhouse gas emissions than construction with concrete and steel. And wood has the benefit of storing the carbon dioxide trees absorb during their growth, keeping it out of the atmosphere indefinitely.

“Roughly 11 percent of the global carbon footprint is related to what buildings are made out of,” said Mr. Green, whose mass-timber projects include the T3 office building in Minneapolis (the name stands for timber, technology and transportation) and a pair of buildings for Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, including a research and development facility for the school’s TallWood Design Institute.

Over the next 40 years, he added, it is estimated that nearly 2.5 trillion square feet of new construction will be needed to support growth in the world’s increasingly dense urban areas, according to the 2017 Global Status Report issued by the United Nations Environment Program. “If we continue to build the way we are,” Mr. Green said, “we are absolutely not going to meet any kind of climate objective, and we’re going to change our children’s future forever in a pretty bad way.”

While cutting down trees to make buildings may not sound environmentally sensitive, mass timber supporters argue that wood could be harvested from sustainably managed forests.

Increasing numbers of architects, developers, governments, educational institutions and corporations are embracing wood. In Biel, Switzerland, Swatch Group just completed three buildings said to be among the largest timber construction projects in the world. Designed by Shigeru Ban, an architect admired for his innovative use of wood, the complex includes a serpentine company headquarters wrapped in a spectacular latticed timber facade.

Source: The Trees and the Forest of New Towers – New York Times, 2019-11-20

Research looks into 400 years of Pennsylvania’s forests, which have been ‘completely transformed’

By Marcus Schneck
Researchers at Penn State and other universities investigate historic influences on modern forests.

While forests of the northeastern U.S., from Pennsylvania north to Maine, may hold mostly the same tree species as they did 400 years ago, significant differences emerge under closer inspection.

“If you only looked at a tree species list, you’d have the impression that Northeast forests haven’t changed,” explained Jonathan Thompson, research associate at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. “But once you start mapping the trees, and counting them up, a different picture emerges. In some ways the forest is completely transformed.”

While forests of the northeastern U.S., from Pennsylvania north to Maine, may hold mostly the same tree species as they did 400 years ago, significant differences emerge under closer inspection.

“If you only looked at a tree species list, you’d have the impression that Northeast forests haven’t changed,” explained Jonathan Thompson, research associate at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. “But once you start mapping the trees, and counting them up, a different picture emerges. In some ways the forest is completely transformed.”

The researchers found that farming was the most significant factor in today’s composition of the forest. If more than half of a town was farmed, the local forests likely have changed considerably from their colonial-era selves.

But, even as the composition of the forests changes, the forest as a landscape type is resilient across the region and, short of significant human development, will return to that state, explained David Foster, director of the Harvard Forest.

Source: Research looks into 400 years of Pennsylvania’s forests, which have been ‘completely transformed’ – pennlive.com, 2019-11-21

Pennsylvanians hold the fate of the state’s woodlands in their hands

By Marylouise Sholly
Pennsylvanians hold the health of the state’s woodlands in their hands, literally.

Allyson Muth believes in educating people about the Commonwealth’s precious resource. Of the 60 percent of Pennsylvania woods that remain forested, 70% of them are privately owned.

“That is a tremendous number,” said Muth, director of Penn State University’s Center for Private Forests. “Our goal is to engage and educate people about their woodland.”

A key part of that education is learning how to be good stewards of the land. To ensure the continuing health of Pennsylvania’s forests, the Center focuses on outreach and education to agencies, landowners and the public.

A forest is defined as at least 1 acre of land that’s not maintained as lawn, with the primary vegetation being trees.

Privately owned forested land is owned by 738,000 landowners, according to the last survey, taken in 2010, Muth said. Interestingly, more than 60 percent of those landowners own less than 10 acres.

About one-fourth of the Commonwealth’s forests are owned by the state, including state parks and forests, state game lands and the Ft. Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania National Guard training facility.

Less than 5% is federally owned, including the Allegheny National Forest.

A recent survey conducted by the Center that asked folks what they liked about having their own forest brought some surprising answers, Muth said.

Using firewood or cutting timber was way down on the survey.

“We asked the owners what was important to them,” Muth said. ” The top two answers were ‘solitude’ and ‘enjoyment.’ We also had comments like, ‘it’s my little piece of paradise,’ and ‘it’s something I own that I can care for.’ ”

Source: Pennsylvanians hold the fate of the state’s woodlands in their hands – The Murcury, 2019-11-20

Is Florida the Answer to California’s Fire Problem?

By James Steinbauer
The secret to fewer fires may be having more people in the state who can start them.

Scientists and land managers almost universally agree that prescribed fire is the single best tool available to help mitigate wildfire risk. Landowners in the American Southeast use more prescribed fire than in any other part of the country. But across much of the American West—which has captured an outsize proportion of the public imagination around wildfire—scientists say land management agencies aren’t using fire nearly enough.

In 2017, federal and state forest managers, ranchers, and private property owners in Florida, which many fire scientists consider the prescribed fire capital of the country, burned more than 2 million acres, according to data compiled by the nonprofit Climate Central. That same year, California—which is twice the size of Florida and has six times more acres in public land—burned less than 50,000 acres. Oregon burned 48,000, Idaho 33,000, Montana 24,000, and Nevada 5,000.


Like in Florida, Native American cultures throughout the United States used fire to manage the land. But in the West, much of the land taken from Indigenous groups was redrawn as public “forest preserves.” In the absence of Native American land management, many of the places where they had previously used fire to clear the landscape became dense and overgrown. In 1910, a series of wildfires burned more than 3 million acres of forest in Montana, Idaho, and Washington. Known collectively as the Big Blowup, the blazes spooked the nascent US Forest Service into adopting a policy that demanded all fires be put out by 10 A.M. the day after they were reported. Because much of this land was publicly owned, federal land management agencies could efficiently enforce this policy of suppression.

In southeastern states, such as Florida, where most forestland is privately owned, people simply never stopped burning it. Even the US Forest Service in the Southeast dabbled with prescribed fire—the first-ever lit on federal land was in Osceola National Forest in 1943.

Source: Is Florida the Answer to California’s Fire Problem? – Sierra, 2019-11-16

Notable Trees: Florida’s Champion Trees

Florida’s position at the foot of the North America, its peninsula stretching languidly toward the tropics, results in diverse set of forest communities including about 465 species of native trees and shrubs. Add to that a wide array of introduced species and you have one of the longest lists of champion trees in the United States.

Florida has the nation’s largest recorded specimens for 94 different species. That’s out of 695 for the entire nation. A database maintained by the Florida Forest Service lists state champions for an additional 167 species. National champions are the largest specimens of their species in the state, but are not double counted as state champions.

Trees vying for the title of champion are scored by adding their circumference in inches, height in feet, and one-forth of the average crown spread in feet. The largest Florida tree of any species is a kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra) in Palm Beach County. It has a circumference of 899 inches (23.8 feet in diameter) and a height of 74 feet.

The kapok is an introduced species, so the largest specimen of a native species is a bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) in Hamilton County. It has a circumference of 557 inches (14.8 feet in diameter) and a height of 84 feet.

Champion trees don’t have to be huge. The national champion corkwood (Leitneria floridana) in Leon County is only nine inches in circumference and 17 feet tall.

Miami-Dade County has the greatest number of champions with 23 national champions and 39 Florida champions. Alachua County, home of the University of Florida, is second with six national champions and 19 Florida champions. Monroe County which includes the Florida Keys has the highest number of national champions, 24, and four additional Florida champions.

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The Survivors: Sugar Pine Trees and the Future Forest

By Kat Kerlin
CCalifornia’s drought and bark-beetle infestation killed more than 129 million trees between 2012 and 2016 in the Sierra Nevada. But amid the devastation stood some survivors.

At the time, UC Davis biologist Patricia Maloney and a team of researchers entered the forest to collect seeds from 100 surviving sugar pine trees. Alongside other parched sugar pines etched with the tell-tale tunnel marks of bark beetles, were green, healthy trees. The researchers spent the past two years raising 10,000 seedlings from 100 surviving mother trees around the Lake Tahoe Basin. They were first cultivated at the USDA Forest Service’s Placerville Nursery and then moved to the UC Davis Tahoe City Field Station.

This week, between 4,000 and 5,000 of the seedlings are being planted around Lake Tahoe’s North Shore as part of a restoration project funded by the Tahoe Fund and the California Tahoe Conservancy. About 1,500 will be used to study and identify important adaptive traits, and the remainder will be given to private landowners to plant.

f the seedlings turn out to be as genetically resilient as Maloney thinks and hopes they will be, these trees could represent the future forest, one better able to withstand the threats of climate change, including more droughts and bark beetle outbreaks.

“These survivors matter,” said Maloney, a scientist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology and Tahoe Environmental Research Center. “Essentially, these are the offspring of drought survivors. This is hopefully the genetic stock of the future.”

Source: The Survivors: Sugar Pine Trees and the Future Forest – UC Davis, 2019-11-07

Sudden oak death spreading fast, California’s coastal forests facing devastation

By Peter Fimrite
It is the forgotten killer when compared to our increasingly frequent climate calamities, but the virulent pathogen known as sudden oak death remains active and is spreading death so fast it could destroy California’s coastal forest ecosystem, UC Berkeley scientists reported Thursday.

The deadly microbe has now established itself throughout the Bay Area and has spread along the coast from Monterey to Humboldt County, according to a study of 16,227 trees in 16 counties in Northern California.

Millions of coast live oak and tan oak trees have withered and died over the past quarter century, leaving acres of kindling for wildfires, but the outbreak this year was one of the worst. Oak trees have historically been abundant in California and southwestern Oregon, with hundreds of millions of them stretching all the way to Baja California.

The rate of trees infected almost doubled in 2019 — from 3.5% to 5.9% — and was 10 times higher in some places compared with the 2018 survey, said Matteo Garbelotto, the director of the UC Berkeley Forest Pathology and Mycology Laboratory, which tested leaf samples taken by 422 volunteers.

Infections were found in all the well-known hotbeds, like Marin and Sonoma counties, the East Bay, Big Sur and the Santa Cruz mountains. But the 12th annual survey detected more of the pathogen this year in virtually every location. That’s mainly because the disease spreads faster in the kind of wet weather that hit California last winter, Garbelotto said.

“There was a significant increase in infection rates over last year, but that’s not totally surprising because we had a lot more rainfall,” Garbelotto said. “But it was a surprise to see them all at once. It’s telling us we are entering a different phase of the disease, where the organism isn’t really establishing itself in new areas, but is showing itself more when weather conditions are favorable.”

Sudden oak death is an exotic disease that was discovered in Mill Valley in 1995. It now exists in forests and wildlands in 14 California counties and in Curry County, Ore., just across the state border.

It kills oak trees, including California’s signature tree — the live oak — and there are 107 susceptible host plants, including such common garden ornamentals as camellias and rhododendrons. Although some hosts are sickened, they do not always die from the fungus-like ailment. Instead, these plants, bushes and trees help spread the deadly spores.

Source: Sudden oak death spreading fast, California’s coastal forests facing devastation – SFChronicle.com, 2019-11-07

Professor conducts research using trees in Mexico

By Krissy Waite
For the past nine years, Paula Turkon, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Ithaca College, has been working on creating a timeline that can be used to date environmental and cultural changes in Northwestern Mexico using trees.

“The work that we’re doing is still preliminary,” Turkon said. “We’re building what we call a master sequence, and that can then be used to interpret things, but the construction of it is slow work because we don’t have anything to compare it to.”

Turkon’s research, “Chronology, Climate, and Culture in Prehispanic Mesoamerica: Contribution of Tree-Ring Studies,” aims to understand climate events — like droughts and heavy rainfall periods — and cultural changes in Northwestern Mexico using dendrochronology, or the study of tree rings. She said she became interested in this region when she was invited by her graduate school adviser to work there. Once there, she said, she wondered how people lived and produced food in such a dry environment.

The research is funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation. Turkon also works through Cornell University’s Tree-Ring Laboratory. She also works closely with colleagues at the National Institute of Forestry, Agricultural and Livestock Research and the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico.

Turkon said her original research focused on understanding the degree to which people in this region were dependent on agriculture, which correlates with the amount of rainfall in the desert. She said she had trouble answering questions related to how agricultural and cultural changes happened because the data she had to reference were food remains, which are hard to put a date on. She said she also wondered if the variability of rainfall in the arid area was a factor in the past. She said she thought she could answer both questions using dendrochronology.

Dendrochronology is a technique in which the annual growth rings in trees, commonly known as tree rings, are studied to date events and environmental changes. Turkon said rainfall is the biggest factor that generally affects tree growth in the areas in Mexico where she takes samples. This means that a bigger, thicker tree ring could indicate a good rainfall year and a thinner tree ring could indicate a bad rainfall year. In Northern Mexico, it rains between 9.2 and 26.2 inches per year. Other factors, like the tree’s species, can also affect tree ring growth. Turkon said this technique has not been applied in this region of Mexico before.

Source: Professor conducts research using trees in Mexico – The Ithacan, 2019-11-06

Oaks instead of palm trees? Florida’s iconic palms don’t cut it with climate change

urban palm trees
Peter Graulich, palmbeachpost.com

They are iconic to Florida, but palm trees offer little shade to urban heat islands and capture very small amounts of carbon, a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming.

South Florida’s palm trees are postcard promises of sighing sea breezes and sandy beaches, but the icon of the tropics may be an impractical adornment in an era of climate change.

From the regal royal palm to the sometimes shabby cabbage, the perennial symbol of the Sunshine State offers little shade to baking urban heat islands and captures minimal amounts of carbon — a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming.

As city officials look for more ways to cool concrete jungles and balance carbon emissions, the priority for new plantings is often broadleaf hardwood trees, not the idyllic palm.

Live oaks can absorb and store 92 pounds of carbon a year with a mature tree’s canopy spanning more than 100 feet. That’s compared to less than one pound of carbon for a royal palm and its compact crown of 15 to 20 fronds.

“People coming from up north or other parts of the country are expecting to see palm trees, so I don’t see them disappearing entirely from the landscape,” said Charles Marcus, a certified arborist who wrote an urban tree management plan for West Palm Beach. “But it would benefit most communities if they increased the percentage of hardwoods and I think it’s something cities will have to consider.”

Palms aren’t even an option at City of West Palm Beach community tree giveaways, and a 2018 city ordinance puts an emphasis on using more shade trees in new construction, especially parking lots where 75 percent of the required trees must now be shade trees.

“We’re not trying to seek out and replace palm trees with canopy trees, but we are looking at if we have to do a replacement, would a canopy tree fit,” said Penni Redford, resilience and climate change manager for West Palm Beach.

Three years of studies in cities including Baltimore, Richmond, Va., and Washington by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that areas covered in concrete with few trees could be 17 degrees warmer than shaded areas.

The same study conducted in West Palm Beach this past August found a heat-index temperature of 122 degrees near downtown, compared to 92 degrees taken during the same time period near the wetlands area of Grassy Waters Preserve.

“These are samples taken in one time period and one day out of the year, but given the conditions, the difference is staggering,” said Michael Rittehouse, sustainability project coordinator for West Palm Beach.

Source: Oaks instead of palm trees? Florida’s iconic palms don’t cut it with climate change – Panama City News Heerald, 2019-11-10