Field Notes: What’s in the Woods Today? July 26, 2018


by Forester Lisa Deaton

Many localities and organizations offer great opportunities for kids to enjoy the outdoors at summer camps and day camps.  The Virginia Department of Forestry, in cooperation with natural resource conservation agencies and organizations, offers Holiday Lake Forestry Camp for 13-16 year olds every summer at the Holiday Lake 4-H Center near Appomattox, Virginia.

Our local day-campers all learn about Smokey Bear and his fire prevention rules.  When we began discussing wildfire last week, one camper stole the show by enthusiastically sharing the three types of wildfire with us: ground fires, surface fires, and canopy fires.


Then we went outside to listen to the sounds of the outdoors while nestled in hammocks.


The campers drew sound maps of everything they heard.


We also listened to recordings of blue heron calls, fox calls, and the Smokey the Bear Song.

An older group of campers canoed across the lake and built survival shelters.

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It takes me about 30 minutes to hang up a dozen hammocks.  These three ducks patiently watched me hang hammocks this morning (below).



Field Notes: Shedding Light on the Situation

by Area Forester Sarah Long

If you were out in the Conway Robinson State Forest around the end of June, you might have wondered what those folks with chainsaws were doing to your state forest. As one of those folks with a chainsaw, I am here to tell you that tale.

Trees produce untold pounds and pounds of seed every year in the hope that just a few of them land in a place they can grow into seedlings. Of those seedlings, even fewer will make it to the canopy to replace their parents. Seedlings need three basic things to live; sunlight, nutrients, and water. Of these three, the one we are most able to influence in a forest setting is sunlight. Whether they make it the canopy or not largely depends on the availability of light during their early development. This is where the chainsaws come in.

In a mature forest, there will be canopy trees in the sky and seedlings on the ground. In between there is a layer of mid-story trees. Some of them are shade tolerant trees like flowering dogwood and redbud which will never grow into the canopy, but will spend their lives in the shade of taller trees. Others are the same species as the trees in the canopy, but due circumstances have been outgrown by their neighbors and so remain stunted in the mid-story. These trees often look small but are in fact as old as the larger trees, which is why you cannot guess how old a tree is based on size. Because they are old and stunted or simply not genetically predisposed, these mid-story trees will not be able to replace the canopy trees even if all the canopy trees are removed.

Conway Robinson State Forest before mid-story removal; very little sunlight is reaching the forest floor

There are many species of oak in the forest. The oak family makes up the backbone of our hardwood forests in Virginia now that we no longer have the American chestnut. Not only are they physically significant on the landscape, but they are also an important food source for our forest critters and an important pollen source for pollinators. However, they can be very difficult to regenerate. Regeneration is how the forest replaces itself with or without a harvest. That is also why we decided to perform a “mid-story removal” on patches of our forest. Mid-story removal is pre-commercial which means that we will not generate any income from this practice. But, what we hope we achieved is a little more sunlight getting to our seedlings, especially our oaks.

Some seedlings like full sunlight. These are species like black locust, eastern juniper, and most members of the pine family. These trees tend to grow quickly, but do not live as long as slower growing species. Oak seedlings play the long game by putting resources into their roots and growing slowly and steadily. They need filtered sunlight because it will disadvantage faster growing trees that would otherwise over-top them and smother them with shade.

Conway Robinson State Forest after mid-story removal; more sunlight is available to seedlings

Our goal in removing some mid-story trees, but no canopy trees is to give our crop of oak seedlings the filtered sunlight they need to grow to above head-height (6-10 feet tall). At this height they are above the browse line of deer and poised to move up in the world. If we achieve this we will have a forest that can regenerate the existing oak canopy.  This would ensure that the forest would still be oak dominant if we were to conduct a timber harvest or experience a natural disaster that wiped out our bigger trees. That is our long-term goal, but we’ll have to see what Mother Nature has to say about it. Stay tuned.

Forestland Transfer Workshops Help Sustain Virginia’s Woodlands

Virginia’s forestland is a valuable asset to society, providing clean air and water, wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities and renewable wood resources for all Virginians.  Because almost two-thirds of Virginia’s woods are owned by private individuals, the decisions they make for their land can have far reaching impacts on the sustainability of Virginia’s forests.

One of the biggest challenges that Virginia’s landowners face is how to pass the family forest on to the next generation.  Landowners often want to preserve their family lands but don’t know how to get started, what their options are, or how to engage the future owners in ownership and management activities.  If these issues concern you, an upcoming workshop may be able to answer some of your questions.

“Focusing on Forest Land Transfer to Generation ‘NEXT’” is being offered at six locations throughout Virginia in July and August. Two 2-day workshops in Abingdon and Lynchburg and four half-day mini-workshops in Alberta, Halifax, Farmville and Surry are planned.  The workshops focus on intergenerational land transfer and will educate landowners on their options for keeping land intact, in forest and in the family. Speakers include legal and financial experts in estate planning, natural resource professionals and experienced landowners.  Attendees will learn about the estate planning process, effective planning tools and family communication strategies, and will be provided resources to help minimize tax burdens and ensure continued management of their land.

The upcoming programs are co-sponsored by Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Department of Forestry.  Registration information and contact information for the programs can be found at:

—- Calendar Listings —-

Two-Day Family Forestland Shortcourse:  Focusing on Land Transfer to Generation “NEXT.” July 19th from 12:30 P.M. to 5:30 P.M. and July 20th from 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.

Abingdon, VA (SW Virginia Higher Education Center)

Registration:  $50.00/individual or for 2 people from the same family; $25 for each additional family member. Contact: Jennifer Gagnon; 540-231-6391 or

Two-Day Family Forestland Shortcourse:  Focusing on Land Transfer to Generation “NEXT.” July 27th from 5:30 P.M. to 8:30 P.M. and July 28th from 8:30 A.M. to 3:30 P.M.

Lynchburg, VA (Liberty University Mountain Conference Center)

Registration:  $70.00/individual or for 2 people from the same family; $35 for each additional family member. Contact: Jason Fisher; 434-476-2147 x3389 or

Half-Day Family Forestland Mini-workshop:  Generation NEXT – Focusing on Families and their Woods, July 24th from 1:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M.  Alberta, VA (Southside VA Community College)

Registration:  $10.00/individual; $5 for each additional family member. Contact: Jennifer Gagnon; 540-231-6391 or

Half- Day Family Forestland Mini-workshop:  Generation NEXT – Focusing on Families and their Woods, August 2nd from 2:30 P.M. to 7:00 P.M.  Halifax, VA (Wedgwood Golf Course)

Registration:  $10.00/individual; $5 for each additional family member. Contact: Jennifer Gagnon; 540-231-6391 or

Half- Day Family Forestland Mini-workshop:  Generation NEXT – Focusing on Families and their Woods, August 9th from 1:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M.  Farmville, VA (Prince Edward Co. Extension Office)

Registration:  $10.00/individual; $5 for each additional family member. Contact: Jennifer Gagnon; 540-231-6391 or

Half-Day Family Forestland Mini-workshop:  Generation NEXT – Focusing on Families and their Woods, August 21st from 1:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. Surry, VA (Surry Co. Extension Office)

Registration:  $10.00/individual; $5 for each additional family member. Contact: Jennifer Gagnon; 540-231-6391 or


Virginia’s Forests and Forest Economy Continue to Grow

Virginia set a new record for the volume of timber harvested with slight increases in both hardwood and softwood volume compared to the previous year, according to the Virginia Department of Forestry’s (VDOF) analysis of the Virginia Forest Products Tax receipts from Fiscal Year 2017.

“The rate of forest harvest is still well below forest growth in Virginia each year,” explained State Forester Rob Farrell.

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State Forester Rob Farrell

Across Virginia in 2015, the ratio of annual forest growth compared to harvest volume was more than 2.2-to-1 for softwood species and 2.4-to-1 for hardwood species.  “This amounts to an annual surplus of 9.4 million tons of softwood and 15.5 million tons of hardwood statewide on commercial timberland,” said Farrell.29339701_10213914607132706_8088509070136311808_n

“Virginia forests provide an overall economic output of more than $21 billion annually, making forestry the third leading industry in the Commonwealth and employing more than 108,000 Virginians in forestry, forest products and related industries,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. Increasing harvest volume demonstrates growing demand for Virginia forest products locally and abroad.

B-Ringofficial portrait
Secretary of Agriculture & Forestry Bettina Ring

“Consumer demand for sustainably-sourced products is great and because forests in Virginia are managed sustainably with an eye to the future, our forest industry benefits from those market expectations,” said Ring.

Much of the increase in overall harvest volume is attributed to the addition of biomass (mixed species wood chips), which was first included in the forest products tax two years ago.  Over the last several years, forest residue harvests have increased significantly.

Along with the record harvest volume last year, there was also a record forest products tax collection of more than $2,578,000, much of which will go back to landowners through the Reforestation of Timberlands cost-share program. The Virginia Forest Products Tax was established in 1970 with support from the forest products industry to provide funding for forest protection and reforestation.

The estimated price paid to Virginia landowners for standing trees, also called stumpage value, increased to more than $339,225,000 last year due to increased demand for hardwood sawtimber.  Stumpage values for other classes of timber declined slightly last year.young forest

Brunswick County continued to display the highest harvest volume followed by Southampton, Halifax, Charlotte, Pittsylvania, Buckingham, Dinwiddie, Mecklenburg, Campbell and Nottoway counties in the top ten.

Brunswick County also had the largest stumpage harvest value followed by Charlotte, Southampton, Louisa, Buckingham, Pittsylvania, Halifax, Nottoway, Dinwiddie and Mecklenburg counties in the top ten.


The Virginia Department of Forestry protects and develops healthy, sustainable forest resources for Virginians.  Headquartered in Charlottesville, the Agency has forestry staff members assigned to every county to provide citizen service and public safety protection across the Commonwealth, which it’s been doing now for more than 100 years.  VDOF is an equal opportunity provider.

With nearly 16 million acres of forestland and more than 108,000 Virginians employed in forestry, forest products and related industries, Virginia forests provide an overall economic output of more than $21 billion annually.

Field Notes: What’s in the Woods Today? July 10, 2018


by Area Forester Lisa Deaton

Why do turtles cross the road?

turtle crossing road

The answer turns out to be the same as the famous chicken riddle:  to get to the other side.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service provides information on how to safely assist turtles in the direction they are traveling here: .

Driving with your full attention on the road in front of you is always a good way to avoid hitting turtles, deer, rabbits, wild turkey, squirrels and other wildlife.   If you happen to hit a vulture that has just been feeding on carrion, you could end up with a windshield covered in buzzard barf.  A woman once told me that her daughter’s car had been hit by a deer.  The deer probably felt that it was the other way around.

Summertime is a busy time for turtles, and the Virginia Herpetological Society provides a website that can help you identify them.   Their website also offers a Box Turtle Reporting Form for entering Eastern box turtle (Terrapene Carolina Carolina) sitings.

In addition to seeing lots of “Sliders” sunning themselves on logs in ponds, I have been running into box turtles every time I walk through the woods lately.

They vary in coloring and markings, but they all have that classic high-domed shell.  Box turtles are territorial; the effects of on box turtle populations from forest fragmentation and roadways raises concerns.  It is important to leave them where you find them, because there is no place like home, especially for wildlife.

Perhaps it is fitting to end with another riddle.  You know that you are a forester when…

tick on wall w pointer


you have ticks crawling up your bedroom walls.  I blame this one on our dog.

Field Notes: Riparian Buffers and the Sargasso Sea…What’s the Connection?

by VDOF Senior Area Forester Scott Bachman

An SMZ or streamside management zone, also known as a riparian buffer, is an area along a stream or creek (or a river if you have one in your back yard!).  In forestry this SMZ is commonly wooded (grass buffers can be very important in agriculture areas).  During a timber harvest the VDOF encourages all landowners to retain at minimum 50 percent of the trees in these edges for at least 50 feet back from the water’s edge.

Retaining these trees will help to keep water temperatures cooler, reduce the amount of sediments that may enter the water and absorb nutrients that may drain toward the water.  These retained forests also are used by wildlife for nesting, roosting, travel and resting to name but a few uses.

Trees and shrubs provide a buffer along the Nottoway River (Photo credit: Robby Batte)
Trees and shrubs provide a buffer along the Nottoway River (Photo credit: Robby Batte)

SMZs are one of the Best Management Practices (BMP) used in forestry to protect the soil and water resources on properties.  In non-Chesapeake Bay localities, BMP’s like SMZs are put in place voluntarily by the landowner.  In counties that are in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, BMPs are required to comply with the Chesapeake Bay Act.  Talk to your VDOF forester or consultant forester to plan your BMP implementation prior to harvest.

To the right of the fence you can see young trees that have been planted as part of a riparian buffer on a cattle farm in Augusta County. (Photo: VDOF)

I was out this spring GPS measuring an SMZ for a potential Riparian Buffer Tax Credit in my work unit.  The water flowing in the channel that had been buffered during a timber harvest was flowing fast and crystal clear.  That got me thinking of all the “ecosystem services” that SMZs and forests provide.

You may know that forests and SMZs protect water quality by filtering sediments and nutrients that might flow overland and through the soil and into larger rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay.  In many places in Virginia these waters flow into reservoirs that provide drinking water to our small and large communities.  That in itself would make SMZs some of the most valuable forest land in Virginia.

Juvenile shad
Juvenile shad (Photo credit: Eric Brittle, Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries)

It was nearly April and in our work area that means it is time for shad and herring to begin their “run” upstream. I happened to run into Eric Brittle, a Department of Game and Inland Fisheries fish biologist, at the recent Chowan Soil and Water Conservation District Farm Day in Southampton County.  I asked him if these spawning fish would have lived in the stream that had been protected during harvest.

American Shad
American shad (Photo credit: Eric Brittle, Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries)

He explained that shad and herring spend most of their lives in the salty waters of the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.  In the spring of the year, adult fish return to fresh water streams to mate and lay their eggs.  Shad and herring are not as common as they once were in Virginia’s waterways.  Eric said that where I was in the Blackwater River watershed was probably too far upstream for them to reach.

Hickory Shad
Hickory shad (Photo Credit: Eric Brittle, Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries)

He went on to tell me that we have another fish that most certainly does make it all the way from the Sargasso Sea in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean!  American eels are spawned in the Sargasso Sea and eventually make their way back to the freshwater streams that feed the Chesapeake Bay. (An interesting side note: The Sargasso Sea is the only sea without a land boundary).

American eel (photo credit: Troy Tuckey/Virginia Institute of Marine Science)

In these freshwater streams they mature and live until they return to the Sargasso Sea to spawn.  An even more fantastic story is that if your watershed is connected to the Chesapeake Bay (any place east of the western edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains), it is very possible that it supports these long-range travelers.

side view
A young eel in the “glass” stage (Photo credit: Troy Tuckey/Virginia Institute of Marine Science)

It was not that long ago that many people that lived in Virginia could expect to perhaps never leave the Old Dominion in their lifetime.  But these aquatic Virginia natives could not have survived without making journeys of thousands of miles.   The next time you see a strip of trees in the middle of a harvest area, know that the landowner has contributed to the life cycle of the American eel, and perhaps even shad and herring.

Note: Featured image at top is an American eel. Photo taken by Troy Tuckey, Virginia Institute of Marine Science