An Exciting Mass Timber Project in Charlottesville

During a sunny March morning, a team from the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) and the Virginia Department of Agricultural Consumer Services (VDACS) toured an exciting mass timber construction project in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. The building will eventually house the headquarters office of Apex Clean Energy – a locally-based wind and solar energy company – as well as headquarters for Hourigan Development and Riverbend Development.

Architects at William McDonough + Partners designed the building to be constructed using mass timber products – a catch-all term for engineered wood materials used in construction, such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels and glued-laminated (glulam) beams.

Learn more about mass timber construction from #forestproud.

Virginia State Forester Rob Farrell discusses mass timber construction with Eric Ross (William McDonough + Partners) at the Apex Clean Energy building in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Contemporary mass timber construction has become an increasingly desirable option for sustainability-focused clients. Eric Ross of William McDonough + Partners explained that his firm works with a number of clients – both in the United States and internationally – that choose mass timber construction for sustainability, function, safety, and aesthetics. 

Mass timber structures serve as sustainable carbon solutions throughout their entire lifecycle. Trees grown for mass timber products are a renewable resource; they will capture and store carbon until they are harvested, at which point new trees are planted to replace them. The resulting wood products, such as boards and beams, will continue to sequester carbon for decades beyond the harvest. 

The use of mass timber materials goes beyond the lifecycle as a building. Typically, when a building reaches the end of its use, it’s demolished and the debris is sent to a landfill. Wood materials in mass timber construction are prefabricated and assembled in ways that extend their usefulness – certain materials can be disassembled and reused in the wood industry. 

Concerns about fire protection once limited the use of timber in certain tiers of building codes – a legitimate concern (as wood is combustible) that mass timber manufacturers have taken seriously. Frequent fire rating studies have demonstrated that mass timber materials meet or exceed standards for fire safety in certain tiers of construction. Because the laminated beams are so thick, only the surface will char when against flames. The standard glue used in CLT and glulam products contains fire retardants to protect against longer burning fires. The manufacturers continue work to improve the efficacy and environmental impact of chemicals in the glue.

So, what’s it like working with CLT and glulam in construction? The Apex building project team agreed that cost and effort are comparable to using other materials (such as steel or concrete), and in some aspects easier or quicker. As projects become more common, everyone learns and the process improves, says Ross.

Because mass timber is rising in popularity, you need to lock in requests for prefabricated materials very early on in the process. The prefab nature of the materials inherently requires plenty of up-front design work and limits the ability to make changes during construction; but the structures can also be erected more quickly. The necessary collaboration and engagement among building owners, architects, designers, manufacturers, and construction crews ultimately results in superior project outcomes.

Depending on the region, crews with experience in mass timber construction may be readily available. But even working in areas where the workforce is new to mass timber construction has not presented notable obstacles for construction crews. As mass timber becomes more common, the project managers said they expect that sourcing skilled workers will only get easier.

The wood in the Apex building will largely remain exposed as a design feature – a notable benefit of working with CLT. Building owners of mass timber structures often decide to leave portions of the wood (such as structural beams and ceilings) exposed for aesthetic purposes. This saves both time and cost during the finishing process. 

The wood used in this structure is black spruce sourced from Canada. Both the VDOF team and the building crews believe that mass timber has a strong future in the southeastern United States, where native softwood species are comparable to black spruce. 

Given how much foresters love trees – and by extension, wood – it’s no surprise that the VDOF team was enthusiastic about seeing this distinctive project in person. “Quite simply, it’s really exciting to see such a large structure being built with wood in our state,” says Virginia’s State Forester Rob Farrell. At six stories and more than 130,000 square feet, the Apex building will be the tallest mass timber structure in Virginia. “I’m looking forward to seeing more of this construction in our region and for Virginia to serve as a leader for sustainable mass timber production,” says Farrell.

Read more about the Apex Energy building from William McDonough + Partners.

View a time-lapse of the building’s construction process.

Historical Landscape of James Monroe’s Highland

Property managers at James Monroe’s Highland recently conducted preservation work on the estate’s tree canopy using cost-share funding from the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF). With more than 100 ash trees on the property, Highland has not been insulated from the effects of the emerald ash borer (EAB)– an invasive pest that damages and eventually kills native ash species. To maintain the overall health of their tree canopy, they’ve removed several ash trees that were infested with EAB, trimmed trees damaged by pests or storms, and began a cycle of EAB treatment on select individual trees.

You may know the property as Ash Lawn-Highland – President James Monroe’s estate in Albemarle County, Virginia The property was originally known simply as Highland, with the “Ash Lawn” descriptor as a more contemporary addition from a subsequent owner, likely in honor of the many beautiful ash tree specimens on the property. In recent years, the property’s name has returned to its historic roots.

Still, the ash trees on the property are no less iconic. The driveway leading up to the estate is flanked by rows of ash trees and frequently serves as a backdrop for photographers, particularly for wedding parties. The Peacock Yard, another frequently photographed site, also features stunning ash trees. 

Driveway at Highland. Photo Credit: James Monroe’s Highland

Many of the trees on the property are white ash and are likely 80-100 years old. While these trees don’t date back to the origins of the estate, they do contribute to the beauty and function of the property. Trees, of course, don’t live forever. As they age, they may become weak or susceptible to disease, damage, or pests. 

The EAB infestation has been devastating to ash trees in many parts of the U.S., including Virginia. Treating healthy ash trees to prevent infestation is one option, but it can be costly. Cost-share programs like the one offered through VDOF are one way that property managers can mitigate the costs associated with tree care. 

Nancy Ocasio, Highland’s Business and Operations Manager, says that maintaining healthy trees on Highland is critical to preserving the overall aesthetic and use of the property, so treating the ash trees was ultimately a business decision – it may be costly, but they couldn’t afford the loss of the trees and their benefits.

But not all trees can be saved, and some may need to be removed for safety reasons – trees affected by EAB damage may become hazardous over time. VDOF’s EAB cost-share program gives landowners funding to remove ash trees and replace them with other native species. Nancy says they’re considering American elm or hackberry as replacement options for the trees they’ve had to remove; these species can have a similar branching pattern that will visually match the remaining ash trees.

Broken or pruned limbs from trees on the property are given to local craftspeople who create functional works of art displayed and sold at Highland. Woodworkers have created items such as pens and bowls from ash wood. Other items may be crafted from trees on the property that are significantly older than the ash, including limbs from a white oak and a hemlock that are each more than 300 years old.

During normal operations, Highland is open to the public. Photo Credit: James Monroe’s Highland

These historic trees demonstrate the property’s deep connection to our nation’s rich history. Nancy says that the estate is one of the most interesting places she could imagine working, in part because there’s always so much new to learn, even about events that happened long ago.

During Monroe’s time, and for several generations beyond, enslaved people lived on the Highland estate. The interpretive materials for Highland acknowledge the legacy of slavery inextricably tied to the property, the people who lived there, and the generations of descendants now dispersed throughout the country.

The Highland staff are collaborating with the Highland’s Council of Descendant Advisors to curate and reinterpret displays and exhibits on the estate that share a more comprehensive story. For example, while many displays in the Presidential Guest House have focused on the furniture, art, and use of different rooms, the updated displays will center more on sharing stories of the individuals associated with these spaces. The Highland webpage explaining the engagement with the Council states: “Our collaboration makes the stories more relevant to our community and more truthful.” [Read more about the Highland’s Council of Descendant Advisors.]

A rustic trail system weaves along the Highland property, installed by Boy Scout troops decades ago. Volunteers have performed extensive work and dedicated many hours to restoring the trail system. These trails, though not necessarily historic, allow visitors to appreciate and experience the property in a different way. Even the trails benefit from the full lifecycle of the removed ash trees on the property; when the cut trees are chipped, they are used for mulch along the paths.

Ultimately, giving ongoing care to the tree canopy at Highland bolsters the preservation of an historic space that holds the stories of many and diverse generations of Virginians. 

Learn more about James Monroe’s Highland.

Featured Image: Ash in Peacock Yard. Photo Credit: James Monroe’s Highland

Native Ecosystem Restoration Expanded in Southeastern Virginia

The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) and the Meadowview Biological Research Station (MBRS) recently acquired land that expands an existing conservation easement on the Joseph Pines Preserve in Sussex County.  The 196-acre purchase by MBRS increases the preserve property to nearly 428 acres. The easement, donated to VDOF by MBRS, includes the entire preserve.

“This partnership exemplifies the positive impact of multiple agencies and nonprofit organizations working together with a shared vision,” said Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. “As a result of this conservation project we are seeing the restoration of a rare forest community with public access.”

The property, which is open to visitors for low-impact use, is managed to restore a native longleaf pine ecosystem. Longleaf pine’s native range once extended from southeast Virginia to east Texas. Although no natural longleaf pine forests remain in Sussex County, historical forest models indicate that longleaf would have likely been present on the Joseph Pines Preserve landscape. A joint research initiative with the USDA Forest Service in 2018 confirmed the assumption – an old log pulled from wetlands on the property was tested and identified as longleaf pine. 

“Five centuries ago, longleaf pine was arguably the most common tree species in upland southeast Virginia,” said Virginia State Forester Rob Farrell. “VDOF and many of our partners have long recognized the importance of longleaf restoration to environmental and economic health, and we are excited to strengthen our efforts through the expansion of this easement.”

VDOF has held an easement on the preserve’s original 232 acres since 2012. The recent purchase of the additional acreage was made possible by grant funding from the Virginia Land Conservation Fund, the Cameron Foundation, a third anonymous foundation, a loan guarantee from Atlantic Union Bank, and a loan from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund. MBRS’ goal is to expand the preserve to 2,000 acres in Sussex County, by adding property and amending the easement over time.

“Our mission is to put back parts of the system that were lost, to preserve the history, and restore this land as best we can to what we think it was,” said Dr. Phil Sheridan, Director of MBRS. 

With its collective land holdings, MBRS has one of the largest sources of native Virginia longleaf pine seed. MBRS has been a pioneer of longleaf conservation and research and plans to support their conservation efforts by working with VDOF to harvest an existing loblolly pine plantation on the property and convert it to native Virginia longleaf pine. MBRS and VDOF determined that the native longleaf pine genotype is superior for in-state planting because of greater survival, growth, water-use efficiency, and fecundity over other southern seed sources.

“Our organization is a part of the VDOF family. We have a long history of working together with the department, especially on activities to restore longleaf pine. Our work together ultimately culminated with acquiring land to meet our research and preservation goals,” said Dr. Sheridan

Longleaf Pine Ecosystems

Longleaf pine woods at Joseph Pines Preserve. Photo Credit: Meadowview Biological Research Station

Longleaf pine forests are fire-dependent, meaning fire is required for regeneration by preparing an open and clean seedbed. Longleaf ecosystems host a number of other rare species in Virginia, including red-cockaded woodpeckers and two species of pitcher plants. Intensive harvesting and a legacy of fire suppression in the Southeast caused significant decline of the longleaf forests and other fire-dependent species. Joseph Pines Preserve, for example, was likely fire-suppressed for over 100 years. Preserve managers have reintroduced fire to the landscape and will continue work to restore the native ecosystem through the reintroduction of at least 18 rare plant species and three rare animal species.

Some species found in the disappearing longleaf forests were not preserved in seedbanks and have been lost forever. Among them are two pitcher plant species, making them a primary focus for the MBRS. Joseph Pine Preserve hosts six rescued native populations of yellow pitcher plants, five of which have gone extinct in  Virginia. “Preserving this habitat means we’re preventing extinction and conserving biodiversity,” said Dr. Sheridan.

Importance for Forest Conservation

Restoring longleaf pine to the landscape is important for many reasons. In addition to supporting critical habitat, longleaf can be a commercially valuable tree. They contribute to Virginia’s overall forest health because they may be more resistant to pests (like southern pine beetle) than other species of pine, due to inherent characteristics of the tree and the use of fire in longleaf forest management. Longleaf pine forests can also be important sources of fresh water.

Frequent prescribed burning means less thickets and dense foliage, making it easier to walk along the trails. Numerous coveys of native bobwhite quail (another diminished species in Virginia) may startle the unsuspecting hiker. Preserve managers have also heard calls from the rare Bachman’s sparrow on the property. The Preserve also hosts the only known publicly accessible yellow pitcher plant site. 

“Identifying forestland with significant conservation value is an essential part of VDOF’s land conservation programs,” said VDOF Forestland Conservation Specialist Amanda Scheps. “The Joseph Pines Preserve is an outstanding example of land that contains important habitat and supports important research to restore a diminished species.”

About MBRS and Joseph Pines Preserve

Meadowview Biological Research Station is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to preserving and restoring rare wetland plants, habitats, and associated ecosystems on the coastal plain of Maryland and Virginia.  Land acquisition and management is made possible through the generous support of donors, state, federal, and private foundations, and volunteers. To learn more about how you can help, visit: www.pitcherplant.org

The primary purpose of Joseph Pines Preserve is habitat restoration and conservation. Although the property is open to the public for low-impact permitted activities, visitors must submit an access and use permit prior to entering the property; the preserve is closed during deer hunting season. Examples of permitted activities are hiking and birdwatching, while ATV and horseback riding are prohibited to prevent damage or weed introduction that would negatively impact rare plant species, Plant collection is strictly forbidden.

About the Virginia Department of Forestry

The Virginia Department of Forestry protects and develops healthy, sustainable forest resources for Virginians.  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.  

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.

Contacts

Michelle Stoll, Virginia Department of Forestry, (434) 282-4014, michelle.stoll@dof.virginia.gov
Dr. Phil Sheridan, Meadowview Biological Research Station, (804) 633-4336, meadowview@pitcherplant.org

Featured Image: Native yellow pitcher plant at Joseph Pines Preserve, Photo Credit: Meadowview Biological Research Station

Restoring Canopy at Camp Kum-Ba-Yah

The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) helped Camp Kum-Ba-Yah give some much-needed care to their campground’s forest. The wooded property in Lynchburg, Virginia is owned and operated by the Lynchburg Covenant Fellowship. Camp Kum-Ba-Yah was founded in 1950 by Reverend Bev Cosby. Along with the camp, the property houses the Church of the Covenant, The Lodge of the Fishermen, Common Grounds Café, and Chrysalis Interfaith Retreat Center.

Ash trees on the campground had been impacted by an invasive pest, the emerald ash borer (EAB). The sick trees needed to be removed to restore the health of the camp’s forest canopy. However, the trees will soon be replaced by native tree plantings. Camp Kum-Ba-Yah received funding assistance from VDOF to remove and replace the infested ash trees through the EAB cost-share program.

On January 30, VDOF area forester Bill Perry and crew members from several local tree companies visited the campgrounds. The crews cut down eight ash trees that had been infested with EAB. 

VDOF area forester Bill Perry fells an ash tree at Camp Kum-Ba-Yah in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Though they’re sad to see their forest of ash diminished, the camp’s operations manager Amy Bonnette said they’re “making lemons into lemonade”; removed ash trees have been milled for use in future projects around the campgrounds.

Milled wood from trees removed from the Camp property.

Camp Kum-Ba-Yah has some historical significance in the Lynchburg area, dating back to the Civil Rights Movement. In 1961, when city pools were closed to the public rather than desegregated, the camp’s founder opened their integrated pools to Black families in the area. 

The Lodge of the Fisherman on the campgrounds .

The following year, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his way to speak at E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg, he ate at The Lodge of the Fisherman on the campgrounds – one of only two non-segregated dining options in the city. Reverend King would go on to give his well-known “American Dream” speech at E.C. Glass. Listen to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “American Dream” speech, or read the transcript.

The restaurant in the lodge, now called Common Grounds Café, is still in operation and stands as a small piece of American history. Read more about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to The Lodge of the Fisherman.

In Memory of Page Hutchinson

The Virginia Department of Forestry is mourning the loss of Page Hutchinson, Virginia’s Project Learning Tree Coordinator and member of the VDOF family, after she passed away unexpectedly this week.

Page was a leader in the environmental education community. Beyond the work she did to build Virginia’s PLT program, Page worked with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Master Naturalists, and the Virginia Association for Environmental Educators. In 2020, she was awarded the VAEE Outstanding Educator award. 

Page receiving the VAEE 2020 Outstanding Educator Award. Pictured with Dan Cohen, VAEE Chair.

Page believed in getting kids outdoors to learn about the environment in creative, hands-on ways. She gave educators the tools and support they needed to feel empowered to lead outdoor education. She wasn’t afraid to be silly, get messy, or try something in a new way. Her intrepid, vibrant spirit and enthusiasm for nature undoubtedly inspired the next generation. 

It’s impossible to say how many lives Page touched with her work – many generations of young people will benefit from the lasting impression she’s made in the environmental education community. It is a testament to her success as a human and an educator to see the many posts, photos, and stories shared by friends and colleagues this week.

We will miss Page’s creative and joyful presence. Please keep her family in your thoughts during this difficult time. If you can, get outside and enjoy nature to honor Page’s legacy.

Memories of Page

The VAEE created a page where people can share photos and memories of Page.

In this 2019 Field Notes post, Page talks about taking a “poke” around the woods with her friend.

This past year, Page created digital resources to make it easier for families to do environmental education at home.

A Christmas Present for Stony Creek

The walking track in Sussex County’s Stony Creek Park is a well-used community resource. Citizens use it for exercise, and for years, the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) has used it for firefighter pack tests.

Walking the open track in the summer heat gave Zach Dowling, Senior Area Forester for VDOF’s Waverly work area, an idea. Last summer, Zach mentioned to town council member Mike Moody that shade trees would be a great addition to the park. In addition, planting trees in the park would be the first step in establishing a riparian buffer along Stony Creek, which flows into the Nottoway River.

The town didn’t have the money for trees, but VDOF’s Urban & Community Forestry (U&CF) program offered Water Quality Impact Assessment (WQIA) funds to support the planting project. Zach presented the idea at a town council meeting in August, and the members unanimously approved it.

Lara Johnson, VDOF Urban & Community Forestry Program Manager, came up with a plan for spacing trees through the park surrounding the track. Species were chosen for site suitability, shade potential, and seasonal color. They included willow oak, baldcypress, downy serviceberry, Eastern redbud, sweetbay magnolia, river birch, eastern hophornbeam, and black gum. The grant not only paid for the trees, mulch, stakes, and cages, but also allowed for a contractor to pre-dig the planting holes.

VDOF planters at work

On December 2, a team of local VDOF staff planted 25 balled and burlapped trees purchased from a Richmond nursery. The planting crew consisted of Zach Dowling, Travis Tindell and Austin Babb (Area Foresters), Jim Blackwell and Jay Bassett (Forest Technicians), Lara Johnson, Molly O’Liddy (U&CF Partnership Coordinator), Brian Lacy (Pine Resource Specialist), Jim Schroering (Southern Pine Beetle/Longleaf Pine Coordinator), and Bryant Bays (Eastern Regional Forester).

A cage helps protect a newly planted tree from deer and mowers.

The group planted, mulched, staked, and caged all 25 trees in three hours, creating an early Christmas gift for residents of Stony Creek to appreciate for years to come. Future VDOF pack testers will also breathe a little easier in their shade!

Holiday Special Delivery

By Ellen Powell, VDOF Conservation Education Coordinator

Early Tuesday morning, a team of foresters gathered at Claybrooke Farm near Mineral to collect a special gift – the 2020 State Capitol Christmas tree.

The approximately 25-foot Norway spruce donated by the Carroll family will be displayed outside on the Capitol portico. This year’s tree lighting ceremony was closed to the public due to COVID concerns, but you can view the tree from a distance throughout the holiday season.

The Capitol tree is lowered into place.

VDOF’s Jefferson work team members Michael Downey, Jonah Fielding, and David Powell, along with State Forester Rob Farrell, assisted with felling, loading, and transporting the tree to Richmond.

Locating and delivering the Capitol tree is an annual event for VDOF. About this time of year, many of us who work in the forestry field hear the question, “Isn’t it wasteful to cut down a tree just for Christmas?” The short answer is, “No!” The longer answer highlights the advantages of using real trees.

Detail of the spruce

Christmas trees are a crop, just like corn or soybeans. Christmas tree growers simply harvest their crop less often – every 7 years, on average. While the trees are growing, they are sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, and they store that carbon until they biodegrade – a nice benefit for a warming planet.

Christmas trees are a renewable resource. Tree farmers plant new trees to replace those that are cut – 2 to 3 trees for every one harvested, according to the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association.

Christmas trees are also recyclable. Many localities chip the trees into mulch, to use in city landscaping or give away to citizens. Trees can be used to start brush piles for wildlife, or sunk in ponds to provide fish habitat. In some areas, recycled Christmas trees have stabilized stream banks or provided a foundation for new sand dunes along the coast.

By buying a locally grown tree, you support Virginia agriculture and your local economy. To help you find one, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services maintains a list of Virginia Christmas tree growers. Another option for a real tree is to use all or part of an evergreen from your yard that needs to come down. Planning ahead may even allow you to donate your tree to a local organization or municipality.

CBS19 shared a story about the tree harvest and the lighting ceremony that took place on December 2. Be sure to check out the Capitol tree if you’re in Richmond this month — and, check out one of Virginia’s farms for a tree of your own!

Abigail the Green Ash in Alexandria

On July 22, VDOF’s urban & community forestry (U&CF) manager Lara Johnson traveled to Alexandria, Virginia to visit a well-known green ash tree. This ash, located in a courtyard between two apartment buildings, is likely hundreds of years old and is one of largest ash trees in the nation.

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Abigail’s trunks (right and left) each had a circumference of 12’ 9” and 11’ 6” respectively. The tree’s base measured 21’.

Abigail (so named by property managers Mike and Olivia) is the current Virginia State Champion and was once the National Big Tree Champion in the ash category (dethroned only because of qualification adjustments for multi-stemmed trees).

During this visit, Lara was able to remeasure the tree with the assistance of Andrew Benjamin, an arborist with the City of Alexandria. Abigail’s trunks (right and left, as in the photo) each had a circumference of 12’ 9” and 11’ 6” respectively. The tree’s base measured 21’. Lara will report these measurements, along with the tree’s height (78’ 6”) and crown spread, to the Big Tree program.

Protecting Ash
But remeasuring Abigail was not the primary reason for the visit. Lara was there to support the tree’s on-going treatment against emerald ash borer (EAB) – an invasive pest threatening ash trees across the state and beyond. Insecticidal treatment can protect individual trees from the damage and eventual death caused by EAB.

The City of Alexandria had been providing treatment for the tree, but in recent years VDOF was able to offer financial support toward trunk injection treatment of this tree through a grant program developed to protect ash. Using this funding, Lara and Fairfax County staff first treated the Champion tree in 2018. But such funding is limited, and the chemicals and labor required to perform treatment can be costly for landowners, particularly for large trees like this ash.

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Abigail the green ash tree & the 2018 EAB treatment team.

Fortunately, plant health company Arborjet offered to take over treatment of this historic ash tree. Through their “Saving America’s Iconic Trees” program, Arborjet donates treatment against pests and disease for high-profile, iconic trees, like this ash, across the country. Community leaders and homeowners can nominate iconic trees for potential inclusion in the program. These treatments with an Arborjet technician serve as educational opportunities and are open for other professionals to observe.

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A panoramic view of Abigail. To the right in the photo is local arborist Mike Cochran, on-site to observe the application of the injection system and chemical for potential use in his own operation.

Arborjet’s Eastern Technical Manager and International Society of Arboriculture-certified arborist Trent Dicks was on-site to perform the treatment with Lara’s support. Treatment began early in the morning to increase effectiveness. Both Lara and Trent agreed that the high temperatures that Virginia has recently experienced could make treatment challenging because it relies on transpiration – the tree drawing up water (and the chemicals) through the roots into the phloem.

Trent first measured the tree to determine how much chemical was needed for treatment. Then, a series of 34 holes were drilled into the tree’s base as close to the root flare as possible. This presented a challenge, as the tree is below grade and surrounded by a small retaining wall and has very thick “alligator bark” which can be difficult to penetrate.

A plug was placed in each hole, into which a needle would be inserted and pressurized tubes pump insecticide into the tree. The plugs remain in place and a healthy tree readily heals over them.

The duo finished the work quickly as temperatures rose. After less than two hours, treatment and measurements were complete and the small crowd that had formed to observe had dispersed.


Historic Trees
While almost any ash tree in the landscape has potential to be a good candidate, it is the large, historic and rare ash specimens that are often prioritized for on-going treatment because costs can be high.

Did you know?: Green ash trees are a riparian species, and this historic tree is indicative of the relic wetland landscape that once covered northern Virginia.

Abigail is a beloved tree on a “charming, historic property” says property manager Olivia. In the 1940s, the buildings were essentially built around the tree, which serves as a centerpiece in the courtyard and provides shade for residents enjoying time on the patio. “It’s remarkable that this tree survived construction of the buildings. Normally that activity would damage a tree’s root system, but this tree was obviously well-established and the roots were able to recover,” says Lara.

Olivia and Mike explained that they frequently have to clean out the gutters because Abigail’s canopy extends over the roof, and although a bit “high maintenance”, the ash tree is well worth the effort.

Abigail receives other care (such as pruning) from arborists during the year, and although there were historically some signs of EAB impacts (i.e. dead wood), the tree has healed nicely since the 2018 treatment. Thanks to treatment and continued care from certified arborists, there’s hope this tree will stand tall in the neighborhood for many years to come!

On the Wings of a Tiny Wasp

The fate of Virginia’s stately ash trees might rest on the wings of a tiny wasp.

For more than a decade, ash trees (Fraxinus genushave been under threat from an invasive insect pest, the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) – EAB, for short. The larvae of this beetle feed on the phloem of ash trees, disrupting nutrient transfer. Native ash trees didn’t evolve with EAB, and its natural enemies aren’t here to control it. As a result, EAB has steadily decimated ash trees across much of the state, and an estimated 99% of our ash trees will die without some intervention.

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Efforts to protect individual valuable ash trees often involve treating them with systemic insecticides. But a landscape-scale approach is needed to protect forest trees. Enter the wasps – specifically, the tiny parasitic wasps that keep EAB in check in its native range – also known as “parasitoids”. There’s no need to worry about stings from these wasps. They use their ovipositors to lay eggs in or on EAB eggs or larvae – not to sting. Plus, they’re tiny. In fact, you might mistake them for gnats!

Three species of parasitoids have been intensively researched by USDA and approved for release in Virginia. They attack only EAB, so the hope is that they will establish populations here and keep the EAB population in check, allowing ash seedlings to survive and the ash population to regenerate in the future.

Release of parasitoids is a form of biological control, also known as “biocontrol.” In Cumberland and Whitney State Forests, VDOF has released thousands of wasps: Oobius agriliSpathius agrili and Tetrastichus planipennisi. So far, a survey of felled and debarked trees from Cumberland State Forest has revealed that some Spathius wasps have parasitized EAB larvae. (Incidentally, nearly a third of the EAB larval tunnels studied had been terminated by woodpecker feeding – an unintentional form of biocontrol!)

In addition to efforts in Cumberland State Forest, VDOF worked with land managers in Grayson Highlands State Park and James Madison’s Montpelier to release parasitoids (Oobius agrili and Tetrastichus planipennisi). The parasitoid biocontrol efforts support VDOF’s “100-themed” goal of protecting 100 ash trees across the state – part of the National Association of State Foresters’ Centennial Challenge. Although the 100 trees in the Challenge are being directly protected by insecticides, biocontrol has the potential to protect many more generations of ash trees.

It will take time to verify how well the wasps are controlling EAB populations. At Cumberland State Forest, they have made a start, and VDOF will assist land managers at Grayson Highlands State Park and Montpelier to monitor the impact on their properties.

Note: The parasitoids were produced and supplied by the USDA EAB Parasitoid Rearing Facility in Brighton, MI.