Independence Day is just around the corner, and that means travel season is officially here! This year, AAA estimates that almost 47 million Americans will be travelling more than 50 miles to celebrate America’s independence. Many of these travelers will be enjoying the great outdoors by camping, and no camping trip is complete without a campfire! However, one of America’s favorite pastimes can also contribute to the unintentional movement of invasive insects, diseases and plants through firewood.
Many of the invasive species we are battling here in Virginia most likely arrived through the movement of wood material. For example, the emerald ash borer (EAB), an insect currently attacking all species of ash in Virginia, has small larvae that bore under the bark of trees and often goes undetected due to its cryptic lifestyle. If someone were to cut an infested ash tree down and then take that wood to a campsite in a state where there is no EAB, the larvae could potentially hatch out and spread. These insects, diseases and plants do not have the means to disperse themselves long distances, but when aided by human movement they are able to travel very far and to new locations.
So how do you enjoy your holiday camping trip without aiding and abetting potentially harmful invasive species? A simple slogan, “Buy it where you burn it!” says it all! Buying heat-treated or local firewood once you get to your destination ensures that these invasive pests don’t move to new locations. While it can sometimes be difficult to find stores in remote locations, a website called Firewood Scout has been created to show stores that sell this type of fire wood in locations across 10 states (including Virginia!). This website also includes links to rules from National and State Parks and information about key invasive threats in each state. If you are interested in learning more about how firewood can be a vehicle for invasive species, please visit https://www.dontmovefirewood.org/
Once a year, area foresters have the opportunity to fly over VDOF work areas to check for forest health issues and evaluate herbicide work from the previous summer. We meet planes and pilots from the Virginia Department of Aviation at local airports, provide them with a flying route and then take off down the runway.
The hour-long flight covers several counties, so we take a lot of photos to review back at the office.
These flights are called “Green Streak Flights” because we are making sure tracts that were aerially sprayed with herbicide received the coverage guaranteed by the contractor.
On the Middle Peninsula, the warm, rainy climate and long growing season help clearcut harvests “overpopulate” the land with natural pine and hardwood seedlings, as well as grasses, forbs, and vines. In order to maximize pine growth, research has pointed towards several site preparation options. One option is to spray the tract after its first full growing season with herbicide to control the natural vegetation before planting pines.
Basically, spraying a tract and planting genetically improved pine seedlings provides faster growth than would occur if the naturally seeded trees competed with each other for several years to see which ones would win the contest for enough sunshine, water, nutrients and space to survive. We plant loblolly pine seedlings at 484 trees per acre; nature sometimes seeds in clearcuts with 2000 seedlings per acre. It is a lot like planting a garden; you need to prepare the planting site first by removing the weeds, then planting your vegetables.
Prior to herbicide treatment, VDOF foresters map all of the tracts that will be treated and provides the aerial spray contractor with a map and Shapefile. The VDOF foresters may also flag hard to see spray boundaries on the ground with white plastic trash bags and colored ribbon.
Aerial and ground broadcast spray application performed under VDOF contracts is not allowed within 50 feet of interstates and primary highways; within 50 feet of flowing streams or drainage ditches, or 100 feet of impoundments, except public water supply lakes where no treatment shall be allowed within 500 feet, and trout streams where no treatment shall be allowed within 200 feet; within 300 feet of any residence, store, or other building normally housing people or within 500 feet of any school, hospital, or other public gathering place unless written permission has been obtained. These treatments are also only done during calm days when the wind is less than five miles per hour.
The View from Above
In the photo below, some “green streaks” of vegetation that were not sprayed are outlined in red. The aerial spray contractor sent a ground crew with backpack sprayers to cover the areas missed by the helicopter.
Here (below) is what a “green streak” looks like on the ground.
The next photo shows an active southern pine beetle spot with some dead pines and red-topped dying pines. In this case, we can contact the landowners about harvesting the beetle infestation before it spreads.
Our area had received several inches of rain in the weeks prior to our flight on June 6. So, it was no surprise to see standing water in cutovers on flat terrain. Hopefully, the puddles in the photo below will last long enough to provide water to recently planted loblolly pine seedlings without drowning their roots.
The photo below shows an area of Dragon Run State Forest that was prescribed burned to prepare the site for planting trees the following spring. From the air, we can see a few small green patches in the cutover that did not burn so well.
Burning as a site preparation method provides a quick return of nutrients to the soil and is a less expensive means of removing competing vegetation than herbicide. Burning also provides a mineral seed bed for many grasses and forbs that benefit wildlife.
The Green Streaks flights are quick, but provide us with a great deal of information to help us protect and develop healthy, sustainable forest resources for Virginians.
by Fred Turck Prevention – Program Manager- Emergency Response Branch
The Virginia Wildland Fire Academy 2018 is now just a memory for more than 320 folks. Students, instructors and staff put in many hours of work in the classroom and field to better prepare themselves and those they were instructing to be safer and more effective emergency responders.
Smokey Bear knows all too well that we cannot prevent every wildfire nor can we eliminate natural disasters. When they do occur, it is people like those who attended the academy that are called upon to help those in need. Million dollar aircraft and bulldozers and engines worth thousands of dollars all play an important role in fighting wildland fires; but if it were not for the men and women who dedicate their lives to emergency response, the fires would keep on burning.
It is the training in the classrooms and in the field that, when combined with the enthusiasm, energy and dedication of the people, produce the “winning combination” of emergency response.
There are wildfires currently occurring in Colorado, Wyoming and other western states that are stretching local resources and it’s still is very early in the western summer wildfire season. The likelihood is high that of some of those who attended the academy will get an opportunity to apply the skills and safety practices they learned at Fire Academy in a western wildfire assignment this summer.
The work these folks are asked to do is very strenuous and dangerous; already this year there have been fatalities in the line-of-duty. The most recent occurring June 10 on a wildfire in TX. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the firefighter’s family, co-workers and friends who are dealing with the tragic loss.
Smokey’s rules of fire safety and the saying, “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires,” is most significant when it comes to saving lives. Being prepared for to fight wildland fires is essential; but preventing the fires altogether greatly reduces the opportunities for loss of life and property.