Planting helps restore longleaf pine forests in Florida, other coastal states

By Janet McConnaughey
When European settlers came to North America, fire-dependent savannas anchored by lofty pines with footlong needles covered much of what became the southern United States.

Yet by the 1990s, logging and clear-cutting for farms and development had all but eliminated longleaf pines and the grasslands beneath where hundreds of plant and animal species flourished.

Now, thanks to a pair of modern-day Johnny Appleseeds, landowners, government agencies and nonprofits are working to bring back pines named for the long needles prized by Native Americans for weaving baskets. The trees’ natural range spans the coastal plain, nine states from eastern Texas to southeast Virginia and extending into northern and central Florida.

Longleaf pines now cover as much as 7,300 square miles — and more than one-quarter of that has been planted since 2010.

“I like to say we rescued longleaf from the dustbin. I don’t think we had any idea how successful we’d be,” said Rhett Johnson, who founded The Longleaf Alliance in 1995 with another Auburn University forestry professor.

That’s not to say that the tall, straight and widely spaced pines will ever gain anything near their once vast extent. But their reach is, after centuries, expanding rather than contracting.

Scientists estimate that longleaf savannas once covered up to 143,750 square miles, an area bigger than Germany. By the 1990s, less than 3 percent remained in scattered patches. Most are in areas too wet or dry to farm.

Fire suppression played a critical role on the longleaf’s decline. Fires clear and fertilize ground that longleaf seeds must touch to sprout. Properly timed, they also spark seedlings’ first growth spurt. And, crucially for the entire ecosystem, they kill shrubs and hardwood trees that would otherwise block the sun from seedlings, grasses and wildflowers.

“The diversity of the longleaf pine system is below our knees,” sad Keith Coursey, silviculturist for about 70 percent of the 529,000-acre DeSoto National Forest in south Mississippi.

Of the 1,600 plant species found only in the Southeast, nearly 900 are only in longleaf forests, including species that trap bugs as well as fire-adapted grasses and wildflowers.

Source: Planting helps restore longleaf pine forests in Florida, other coastal states – Tampa Bay Times, 2020-12-30

Austria’s ‘close-to-nature’ forests may hold secrets to fire prevention

By Amanda Peacher
In a region of Austria known as the wood quarter, a logger used a chainsaw to slice through the base of a 100-foot tall spruce tree on a recent foggy morning.

Herbert Schmid, a forester, watched from a distance as the big spruce dropped to the forest floor. Schmid handpicked that particular tree to be cut today. He manages this forest according to “close-to-nature” practices, or Pro Silva standards.

It’s an ancient technique of astute observation, low-intervention forestry that allows trees to grow and age before harvest. Forestry experts say it’s a valuable model as European forests face climate change and potentially more fires.

Source: Austria’s ‘close-to-nature’ forests may hold secrets to fire prevention – The World from PRX, 2021-01-06

Charleston area lost more than 10,000 acres of tree cover since 1992, making floods worse

By Tony Barteleme
Turbocharged by a warming climate, rain bombs and rising seas swamped the South Carolina Lowcountry this year, sending murky floodwaters into streets, businesses and homes.

At the same time, developers continue to transform forests and wetlands into even more homes and shopping centers — destroying acres and acres of spongy land that could help sop up these rising waters.

A new analysis requested by The Post and Courier for the Rising Waters project shows how the Charleston area’s unprecedented building boom made us more vulnerable amid the accelerating forces of climate change.

Researchers at the College of Charleston’s Lowcountry Hazards Center used advanced satellite and aerial imagery to measure changes in the area’s tree canopy — a key measure of the land’s ability to naturally manage flooding rains.

What emerged is among the most nuanced looks yet at how our land has changed in recent decades, a powerful new tool for residents and planners alike.

Source: Charleston area lost more than 10,000 acres of tree cover since 1992, making floods worse – postandcourier.com, 20-12-12

Women’s voices in forestry

By Salome Kinkladze
Georgia’s forests have nourished the country’s women for generations and continue to do so. In the last several years a select few have also stepped forward as the forests’ protectors.

Marina Sujashvili, 67, was the first woman in Georgia to work as a forester. She is only one of seven women who currently work in the profession in the country.

Foresters in Georgia are ‘specialists in forest management, protection and use’ who not only protect a forest’s wildlife but take care of its entire ecosystem. They plant saplings and ensure the health of older trees, as well as keeping an eye on nearby agriculture and local woodland activity to ensure nothing falls out of balance.

For their important and varied role, they are more commonly known as ‘governors’ of the forest.

Sujashvili was inspired to take the job by her botanist mother who she had often accompanied on trips to the forest. She told OC Media that it is only natural that women work as foresters because, for many rural women, the forest is a way of life.

Source: In Pictures | Women’s voices in forestry – OC Media, 2020-08-28

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

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