Forestry for Water Quality

The results are in, and the 2019 annual Silviculture Best Management Practices (BMP) Implementation Monitoring Report shows that the logging industry and timberland owners continue to excel at protecting Virginia’s water resources. Forests are essential to clean, healthy drinking water and watersheds, and sustainably-managed forests are the most effective land cover for protecting water quality.  Continue reading Forestry for Water Quality

Saving Pumpkin Ash

In late May, Lara Johnson and Meghan Mulroy-Goldman (VDOF urban & community forestry team), along with the Virginia Beach Urban Forestry Department, embarked on a scouting mission for the rare pumpkin ash in the bottomlands surrounding Stumpy Lake in Virginia Beach (based on information shared from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.)

After traveling through the swampy coastal forest, Lara, Meghan and the Virginia Beach Urban Forestry Staff located nine healthy trees that will be treated this summer to protect them from emerald ash borer.

Pumpkin ash is a rare species, named for its swollen, pumpkin-shaped buttress. VDOF is thankful to the City of Virginia Beach for helping to preserve this species. With the treatment of these pumpkin ash in Stumpy Lake, VDOF will have helped to conserve populations of species of native ash within the genus found across the state. Protecting biodiversity is important for Virginia’s forest landscapes.

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This story is shared as part of VDOF’s participation in the NASF Centennial Challenge, in which VDOF has agreed to treat at least 100 ash trees to protect them against the invasive emerald ash borer.

Recognizing Virginia Public Service Professionals, May 3– 9, 2020

from Hector Rivera, VDOF’s Director of Human Resources

For many, the beginning of May is a period of both anticipation and celebration – whether we’re counting down to summer break, celebrating high school or college graduation, or honoring the beautiful mothers in our lives.

And for more than three decades, the first week of May has also marked a time to officially recognize the dedicated professionals engaged in public service across the Commonwealth – during May 3 – 9, 2020 we are celebrating the Virginia Public Service Week. This year, more than ever, our committed workforce has endured unprecedented demands to serve, support and adapt in unfamiliar or continually-changing operating environments during the COVID-19 crisis.

Normally, we’d celebrate this week with an employee recognition day. These plans have been delayed until later this summer; but we don’t want to miss this opportunity to acknowledge the employees who have served the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF), some for several decades.

Beyond one and three years of service, we recognize employees in five-year increments. This year, we are joyful to celebrate more than 1,000 years of combined public service by our teammates attaining their respective service milestones (between one and 40 years) as of April 30, 2020.

Even in these unprecedented and challenging times, May continues to be a period of anticipation and celebration. We optimistically look forward to honoring our employees in-person later this summer, though the VDOF team will remain flexible and adaptable to whatever these next months bring our way.

We hope you’ll join us now in acknowledging the VDOF teammates who have served 25 years or more:

The 2020 Service Awards Recipients are:

40 Years
Fred Turck
Joseph Lehnen
Carl Belew
David Queen
James Blackwell
Warren Coburn
Junius Miles

35 Years
Daniel Fortune
Bernard Brooks
Charlene Bardon
David Tolliver
William Shumaker

30 Years
Stephen Morris
Brian Ledford
Tammy Ingle

25 Years
Pat Murphy
Steven Coleman
Jay Bassett
Michael Womack


(Header photo: Service awards for employees with 25+ years of service held in Richmond 05/09/2019.)

VDOF Pine Projects Continue Despite Unusual Circumstances

In late March, VDOF personnel completed a longleaf pine grafting project at the New Kent Forestry Center (NKFC). The longleaf pine seed orchard at NKFC has been developed in response to a need for consistent crop production to support restoration efforts for this diminished species.

Read more: From the Brink! The Effort to Restore Virginia’s Native Longleaf Pine, 2014 Status Report

This year during a three-day period, a crew collected and grafted 97 scion. Scion are approximately five- to eight-inch buds cut from older, established longleaf trees in the orchard.  By top-grafting the scion (explained below with photos) onto established three- to four-foot tall root stock, VDOF’s tree improvement team can achieve two things:

  • Create an orchard selection from a known parent – a successful graft will be an exact duplicate or clone of its parent.
  • Stimulate early flower production – grafted trees will produce cones and seed sooner than non-grafted trees.

The longleaf pine project is an attempt to preserve the genetics of the very few (<200) remaining Virginia-native longleaf pines. Research has found that these trees are uniquely adapted to the climate and soil conditions here at the northern limit of their range. Because grafted trees are clones of their parents, this process allows VDOF to save as much of this genetic base as possible for future seed/seedling production.

Longleaf Pine Grafting Process in Photos

 

Bitoki
Ones Bitoki (tree improvement manager) has cut the terminal bud from the root stock and grafted a scion in its place.

 

Gaston
Dennis Gaston (eastern area state forests manager) has wrapped a grafted scion with rubber grafting bands which will hold everything in place until it begins to grow together.
Creighton
The new grafts are first wrapped with rubber grafting bands, which was noted in the previous photo.  Next they are wrapped with parafilm which helps to seal the graft and keep out insects or any elements which may harm the graft.  Finally, it is wrapped in aluminum foil, adding another layer of protection. In this photo, Jerre Creighton (research program manager) is wrapping a graft in foil.

 

Schroering
We tag each graft with the parent tree number and the grafting date for our records.  In this photo, Jim Schroering (southern pine beetle and longleaf pine coordinator) has tagged a completed graft.

 

Wrapped Graft
This photo shows a completed graft wrapped with the rubber bands and parafilm.

 

Successfull 2019 graft
This photo shows one of VDOF’s successful grafts that was done in 2019.

Another Pine Project at NKFC

Grafting wasn’t the only work that took place at NKFC during this time.  During March, Jeff Stout (tree improvement technician) removed trees from the third cycle loblolly pine orchard that have been cut or “rogued” from the orchard.

As the orchard matures, trees that rank lowest in productivity scoring are removed, which in turn increases the overall productivity of the remaining families due to open pollination of all the trees throughout the orchard.

This orchard is not managed like a pine plantation because the desired outcomes are different.  We reduce the area between trees as they grow to reduce competition so the orchard trees will grow outward rather than upward (which would be preferable in a pine plantation.) The wider the trees are, the more limbs they have and thus more cone production.

Stout
Jeff is removing one of the cut orchard trees using an articulated loader with clamp attachment.

AlterNATIVES

In Virginia, you know spring is just around the corner when you begin to see blooms on cherry, magnolia, pear, redbud and dogwood trees.

These same signs of spring can serve as a reminder that it’s a good time to assess the plants growing on your property and make a plan to get rid of the invasive species.

Non-native invasive plants usually have rapid reproductive rates, lack natural control agents and out-compete native species — that is, they can completely take over a landscape!

There are numerous invasive plant species in Virginia, ranging from grasses and vines, to shrubs and trees. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Natural, Heritage Division maintains a list of plant species that pose a threat to the Commonwealth’s forests, native grasslands, wetlands or waterways.

Four significant species that are common throughout the southeastern U.S. are tree-of-heaven, Japanese honeysuckle, Chinese privet and Callery (or Bradford) pear. You can read more about each species on these factsheets.

tree of heavenhoneysuckle
privet
bradford pear

Removing invasive plants often requires substantial effort and patience, but the reward is a natural area composed of diverse native plants. If you are successful in eradicating invasive plants on your property, congratulations! But what’s next? The work does not stop there. Now it’s time to replace the invasive species with native alternatives. Without planned replacement, those pesky invasive plants may just creep back onto your property.

Check out the AlterNATIVES factsheet for native alternatives that will keep your yard beautiful and the planet healthy!

alterNATIVES

These factsheets were created by the Southern Group of State Foresters, Forest Health Committee.

Agricultural-Forestral Districts in Louisa County

In Louisa County, Virginia, Agricultural-Forestral Districts (AFD) have recently played a crucial role in discussions about the conservation of working farms and forests. The county has demonstrated commitment to preserving the rural character, heritage and economic viability of the community; land conservation is a critical piece of the puzzle.

During a recent routine water quality inspection in Louisa County, VDOF forest specialist Dave Stone had an unexpected encounter with a landowner that was worth sharing; their chance meeting resulted in fruitful conversation about AFDs and land conservation in the county. It reminded Dave about the value of investing efforts in your community and highlighted how his role with VDOF has afforded him an opportunity to build trust with and better serve his community, both as a neighbor and a professional.

About Agricultural-Forestral Districts

In 1977, the Commonwealth of Virginia passed the Agricultural and Forestral Districts Act to support the conservation and improvement of working forests and farms throughout the state.  Localities have the authority to form Agricultural-Forestral Districts (AFD) which essentially puts a “pause” on development in the designated zones in their rural communities. For the established period of time, the AFD protects farmland and working forests, supports healthy waterways and contiguous wildlife habitat, and preserves rural character in the county.

In return for this commitment by landowners to the conservation of working lands, the Commonwealth and the locality offer certain incentives, including guaranteed land use taxation and certain protections from eminent domain.

It’s critical to note that entering a parcel into an AFD is entirely voluntary for landowners. Neighboring landowners in a given area may work together and decide to enter their land collectively into an AFD; however, not all landowners within a zone need to participate for a district to be approved by the local Board of Supervisors. (Find more details here about the process of creating an AFD in your Virginia county.)

A Story of Rural Preservation in Louisa County

loblolly

In the past year, Louisa County reassembled its AFD committee and tacked on an additional assignment by establishing a Rural Preservation Committee. Separate from the review of applications for AFD zoning, the committee is responsible for identifying ways to support and expand rural preservation within the county.

Dave Stone has spent more than two decades living and working in Louisa County. Last March, Dave was appointed the Vice Chair of the Agricultural-Forestral and Rural Preservation Committee and is encouraged by the residents’ response to the initiative and the county’s support. The county adopted Dave’s suggestions to waive the AFD application fee for two years to encourage participation and to erect AFD signs to raise awareness for the program and acknowledge landowner participation.

In January 2020, the committee hosted a dinner in conjunction with the Farm Bureau for land use participants and other interested landowners in the county to re-introduce residents to the AFD designation. The dinner was a great success – more than 90 landowners attended, with approximately 200 more on a waiting list for the next event!

davestone

During the dinner, Dave had a realization. “I knew nearly every landowner in the room because of my work and community involvement in Louisa County, and I was excited to see such tremendous turn out and potential support for forestland conservation.” Dave and the other committee members understand that the process of seeking designation may be time consuming or seem overwhelming, but clearly, the interest exists within the community. At the dinner, David offered support to any landowners who may need assistance in navigating the AFD process.

A Chance Encounter

Although the committee had an opportunity to meet with a great number of property owners at the dinner in mid-January, it was an encounter with an individual landowner that was most notable to Dave.

“One evening on my way home I stopped at a logging job site to perform a routine water quality inspection for VDOF, expecting the inspection to be relatively quick. On my way up the access road to the site, I ran into the farm owner and we struck up a conversation that lasted until well after it was dark.”

During the conversation, the farmer mentioned that he had heard about the AFD dinner recently hosted by the county and was curious about the program. At this point, Dave took off his proverbial “VDOF hat” to convey his perspective as the Vice Chair of the Louisa County Agricultural-Forestral and Rural Preservation Committee. After a long discussion, the landowner was convinced of the program’s value and decided to work with his neighbors to pursue districting.

“My job affords me the opportunity to really help people using my skills and knowledge as a forester. This chance encounter reminded me how valuable it is to support programs in which you truly believe, and how rewarding it can be to work with your community to preserve its character and economic viability,” Dave recalls.

Additional Resource:

What’s Happening at Whitney State Forest?: Part Two

On January 22, the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) successfully conducted a burn on the first of two units (“the Field”) at Whitney State Forest scheduled for prescribed fire in the spring of 2020. (Read What’s Happening at Whitney State Forest? Part One for additional background information.)

“A prescribed fire is like a wildfire that happens backwards – meaning, the fire practitioners are able to assess the site, plan for weather, install firebreaks and assemble the necessary crew and equipment, all in advance, before any fire is on the ground. Once the burn plan has been written and the equipment is ready, there is nothing to do except wait for the right weather.” said area forester Sarah Parmelee.

Weather is critical to prescribed fire because it effects how the fuels will burn and where the smoke from the fire will go. Weather that’s best for conducting a prescribed burn consists of moderate humidity and surface winds that will allow the fuels to burn without getting out of hand.

Sarah said, “You need a certain atmosphere to support a safe, effective prescribed burn. During the day, weather should allow smoke to rise and dissipate. A cool, humid ‘recovery’ period during the night will reduce the risk of the fire rekindling. Days in late winter or early spring are typically ideal for prescribed burns because the days can be relatively warm and dry with favorable winds and atmosphere, while the nights are still quite cool and moist.”

Whitney SF_Field Burn_2020_2
The Field the morning before the fire.

On January 22, VDOF staff determined that the weather was favorable to burn the Field but not the Shortleaf (pine) unit. Because the Field is composed largely of native warm season grasses, it could be burned on a day with higher relative humidity, lower winds and cooler temperatures than the Shortleaf stand, which has some grasses but more woody and brushy materials.

“VDOF has many prescribed burns planned this spring on private and state owned land, so even though the weather on the 22 was not appropriate for both units, the decision was made to burn the Field and return to burn the Shortleaf at a later date.” said Sarah.

The morning of the fire, the burn crew gathered at the Warrenton office to assemble materials, such as drip torch fuel (a mixture of diesel and gasoline), drip torches, flappers (a suppression tool that is like a mudflap on a mop handle), leaf blowers and water.

Two brush trucks with water and off-road capabilities would be on site during the fire, but due to the near-freezing temperatures, water was not the preferred method of control and suppression. The VDOF bulldozer was also prepared for the fire; the bulldozer is not always necessary to have on standby for prescribed fires, but there were several snags (dead standing trees) both in and adjacent to the Field that might catch fire and need to be pushed over. Because the bulldozer would be on site, the operator could also contain any escaped fire if the cold temperature did prevent the use of the water resources.

Once the preparations were made, the crew convoyed to the Whitney State Forest. The suppression equipment was staged where it could be readily used, but not at risk of being in the way of other equipment or the fire. Warrenton Fire Department provided an attack engine (a brush truck with additional equipment and water) to standby on scene. At 11:00 AM the weather was predicted to be ideal for the fire, so at 10:45, the crew gathered for a final briefing covering safety, weather, assignments and methods for conducting the fire. Per VDOF policy, all fire practitioners were wearing the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This includes nomex clothes, helmets, gloves, goggles or safety glasses and, most importantly, a fire shelter to use only in extreme emergencies.

Whitney SF_Field Burn_2020_3
Lighters ignite the small test fire area at the start of the burn.

A small test fire was lit to see how the fuels (i.e. the grasses) would burn and help determine the strategy of the Ignitions Crew for the burn. The Ignitions Crew would be responsible for lighting the fire while the Holding Crew would be responsible for keeping the fire within the unit. The Incident Commander (IC – the person in charge of the whole operation) would float between the two teams and act as a lookout.

Whitney SF_Field Burn_2020_4
Blacking out the downwind fire break.

The cooler weather meant that the ignitions boss could use three lighters (people with driptorches putting fire on the ground) at once in order to build enough heat for the fuels to burn. The ignitions boss and IC had determined that “strip-head fire” would be the appropriate ignitions pattern. Head fire is when fire runs with the wind and can be very hot, fast and difficult to control. In a strip-head patter, lighters light strips of head fire parallel to each other so that no one head fire can travel very far before reaching “the black” – a burnt area where the fuels have been consumed. The black is an important tool for fire practitioners because it acts as an additional fire break.

The crew started at the downwind side of the Field so that as they burned, they “blacked out” the most vulnerable (downwind) fire break, making it more secure. They were then able to strip fire back through the Field until all the fuels had been consumed.

The burn progressed without escape and was completed in roughly an hour. While the ignitions crew was lighting, the holding crew patrolled the fire breaks to make sure that the fire was not in danger of escaping. After ignitions were complete, the holding crew and IC patrolled the fire breaks and extinguished any smoking debris with dirt.

Whitney SF_Field Burn_2020_5
The Field after the fire.

Following the burn, Sarah reported, “Even though fuel consumption was spotty in places, the overall effect of the fire was satisfactory. It is worth noting that some patchiness in fuel consumption is not bad and increases the diversity of the site. Patchiness in winter burns also provides habitat for wildlife until the grasses in the field grow back in the spring.”

Whitney SF_Field Burn_2020_6
A bird’s eye view of the Field, post fire.

The Whitney State Forest remained closed for the rest of the afternoon and the Field was patrolled the next morning for any hotspots, of which there were none.

VDOF anticipates burning the Shortleaf unit in late winter or early spring, during which the Whitney State Forest will again be closed for the day until it is safe for the public to return.

Foresters on Bear Den Duty

VDOF foresters are lending a hand to locate foster moms for orphaned bear cubs in Virginia. 

VDOF’s sister agency Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) recently reached out with a request for help identifying black bear dens on forestland throughout the state.

DGIF biologists have received a number of calls about bear cubs that have been separated from their mother— “well beyond what we normally see at this time,” says DGIF black bear project leader Stephanie Simek.

Female black bears in Virginia will typically give birth to cubs between January and mid-February while still in their winter dens. The newborn cubs are very small and fully reliant on the sow (mother bear). At this time of year, sows with cubs may occasionally be disturbed by humans, which can result in orphaned cubs, Stephanie explains.

Black Bear cub_20-0064
Photo courtesy of the Wildlife Center of Virginia. Pictured is black bear cub #20-0064

So far this year, several orphaned cubs who could not be reunited with their mothers were transferred to the Wildlife Center of Virginia (WCV) — a non-profit wildlife hospital — to receive care until a suitable surrogate sow in the wild could be found.

Sows with newborn cubs of their own may accept the cubs placed near their den entrance. DGIF biologists have identified a few radio-collared female bears that may act as fosters; however, the department would like to expand their options and are reaching out to partners for assistance.

This is where VDOF forestry staff can help the DGIF team; because our foresters and technicians spend significant time in the field, they are ideal candidates to lend assistance in locating bear dens, which may include hollow trees or brush piles.

Although VDOF staff won’t be in the field looking specifically for dens, if there is a known den on a landowner’s property, or if the foresters encounter an active den while conducting their normal duties, they can communicate this information to the DGIF team.

By providing information about active den sites, VDOF foresters can help DGIF biologists connect healthy cubs with a new, wild family.

Featured photo at top of page is courtesy of DGIF.

For questions regarding black bears in Virginia:
Stephanie L Simek, Ph.D.
Black Bear Project Leader
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
stephanie.simek@dgif.virginia.gov

What’s Happening at Whitney State Forest?: Part One

Edited from a December 2019 notice from Whitney State Forest.

You may have noticed that the trail along the Shortleaf stand (see map) has been reopened and the trail around the Meadow (see map) has been widened.

Capture

This is in preparation for prescribed fire that the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) hopes to accomplish this winter or early spring.  (Note: The first portion of the prescribed burn took place on January 22, 2020.) Please use caution on these trails because they are not yet packed and the footing may be loose.

IMG_6432

If a piece of open land in Virginia is left undisturbed, the vegetation will naturally transition from grasses to shrubs to trees, eventually resulting in a closed-canopy forest. Mature forest is very important habitat, but native grasslands and meadows are equally important and have been in serious decline for decades. When land stewards apply prescribed fire to young forests and open spaces, we set back that natural transition towards closed-canopy forest; this is to the benefit of many insects, plants, birds and other animals.

Shortleaf pine is a diminished native species that has been established at Whitney State Forest with the goal of creating a pine savannah ecosystem. A pine savannah will provide structure from widely spaced trees, as well as grasses and herbaceous plants for native wildlife. Our goal in burning the Shortleaf stand is to encourage native grasses and reduce briars, invasive species and some deciduous tree encroachment. Shortleaf pine is fire adapted, meaning that the prescribed fire will not be harmful to most of the trees.

When the Meadow at Whitney State Forest was burned in 2017, we saw an explosion of growth from native warm season grasses and a decrease in invasive presence. We hope to continue that trend with the reapplication of fire this spring. Native grasslands adjacent to mature forest are particularly beneficial because of the diversity they offer to the landscape.

VDOF is dedicated to the safe and effective application of prescribed fire and will take all necessary precautions for safety during the event. The forest will be closed on the days the prescribed burns take place and the fire will be lit in such a way that it will not escape to other properties. The first portion of the prescribed burn has been completed, and a second parcel will be burned in late winter. An effective fire administered with this timing will allow for grasses and herbaceous plants to regrow for the nesting season of native bird species.

VDOF plans to share follow-up information as the burns are completed.

For more information, please contact VDOF’s Warrenton Office at 540-347-6358.