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

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.

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.

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.

NASF Centennial Challenge

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The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) is excited to participate in the Centennial Challenge put forth by the National Association of State Foresters (NASF) in 2020. Below is the campaign announcement from NASF:

“The National Association of State Foresters is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2020 with a Centennial Challenge campaign, honoring both the work of the association in providing a unified voice for state and private forestry in the United States since 1920, as well as the tremendous social, environmental, and economic contributions state forestry agencies have made nationwide for over a century’s time.

NASF will be spotlighting state forestry agencies and their work to complete 100-themed challenges regularly throughout the year-long campaign. Keep an eye out for your state’s Centennial Challenge celebration on social media with the hashtags #CentennialChallenge and #NASF100​ or by following the handle @stateforesters on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Come January 2020, you’ll start to see the nation’s 59 state and territorial forestry agencies’ challenges appearing on a Centennial Challenge interactive map online. In the meantime, for more information about state foresters and their work to conserve, protect, and enhance America’s forests, visit www.stateforesters.org.​”

For the challenge, VDOF has committed to treating 100 ash trees to protect them against emerald ash borer (EAB) — an invasive wood-boring beetle that’s pushing most native species of ash (Fraxinus) trees in Virginia to the brink of extinction. Learn more about EAB in these Storymaps.

VDOF’s EAB coordinator Meredith Bean says, “Treating ash trees to protect them from EAB is not always easy, particularly because they tend to grow naturally in wet environments. Our preferred method of chemical treatment is trunk injection of a systemic insecticide product with emamectin benzoate as the active ingredient. Direct injections into the trunk avoids effects on non-target species, unlike bark spray or soil drench treatments with neonicotinoid products. We will continue to treat high-value ash on an individual-tree basis and support landowners and organizations treating on private property through our cost-share program, with the goal to sustain the environmental, economic, and social benefits these trees provide.”

In 2020, we’ll share updates (on social media and here on the blog) about our progress toward our goal of treating 100 ash trees, and we’ll highlight several ash tree stories from across the state. Be sure to follow @stateforesters and @ForestryVA on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and check out #CentennialChallenge and #NASF100​ throughout the year to see how other agencies are responding to the challenge!

 

Pretty is as Pretty Does: The Tale of an Emerald Insect Eating its Way Across Virginia

 

“They look so pretty!” That’s what I said the first time I saw an adult emerald ash borer (EAB). But I soon learned from our VDOF Forest Health team that this green insect’s destruction is anything but pretty.

EAB came to the United States from Asia, was first discovered in Northern Virginia in 2008 and is boring its way through ash trees from Michigan to Virginia. “Adult ash borers are metallic green beetles that can be seen flying around the tops of ash trees in late spring and early summer,” VDOF Forest Health Manager Lori Chamberlin said. “These beetles lay eggs on ash bark, and the larvae that hatch tunnel into the tree and feed under the bark. This disrupts the flow of water and nutrients within the tree – effectively choking it to death.”

No ash tree native to Virginia is resistant to EAB, according to Chamberlin. And, unless they are treated before or very early in the infestation, all ash trees that are infested will eventually die.

Hope for Landowners

But there is an arsenal to push these invasive insects back.  “We recommend either a stem injection or a soil drench,” said Chamberlin. “But the time to do this is now, because once an ash tree has lost more than 30 percent of its canopy, it’s too late to save the tree.”

Chamberlin recommends that landowners contact a certified arborist to discuss the treatment options, their costs and the timing of these treatments.

Chemical treatment is effective and most appropriate for high-value landscape trees. Unfortunately, treatment is not normally effective in a forest setting. According to forest survey data, ash makes up approximately two percent of Virginia’s forests. However, it can comprise a significant portion of individual forest stands, especially in riparian and mountainous areas. If you own forestland with a large component of commercially valuable ash, the VDOF recommends discussing your forest management options with a professional forester. Options may range from conducting a silvicultural harvest to doing nothing and leaving the dying/dead trees as wildlife habitat. Check out additional information about professional consulting foresters working in the Commonwealth.

Cutting Edge Push Back

I went out this summer with Lori Chamberlin, VDOF Forest Health Specialist Katlin Mooneyham and University of Virginia Forest Health Intern Kendra Counts  to try out an EAB management method in Cumberland State Forest (check out the video up top).  It was hot; there were mosquitoes and waist-deep poison ivy. But the work this team accomplished will go a long way towards learning how best to fight back against EAB.

As we waved off mosquitoes and navigated the underbrush, Chamberlin and Mooneyham explained that biological control is the most effective effort that we can use in controlling these beetles as they move through forested settings where other control options are not viable. The only other real shot we have at controlling EAB is use of insecticides, but in forests that is difficult because of the amount of ash present and the expense of treatment for that many trees.

“Biological control is a key tool in the integrated pest management toolbox for controlling invasive species,” said Mooneyham. “When we’re faced with a widespread attack, such as we are currently experiencing in Virginia with EAB, we need all the help we can get.”

I like to refer to this summer’s experience as “releasing the hounds,” but we actually released parasitoid wasps. Two releases occurred this summer, one in Whitney State Forest in Warrenton and one in Cumberland State Forest in Cumberland. At Whitney 600 Oobius agrilus (a species that attacks EAB eggs) and 855 Tetrastichus plannipennis (a species that attacks EAB larvae) were released. At Cumberland 400 Oobius agrilus and 403 Tetrastichus plannipennis were released. These wasps pose no threat to humans –– they don’t sting and in fact they are very tiny (really…check them out in the video!).  Tetrastichus plannipennis is only 3-4 mm in size and Oobius agrilus is similarly very small.

And don’t worry; they’re safe (unless you’re an EAB), legal and extensively tested. VDOF received approval to release thIMG_0813ese wasps from USDA APHIS since testing in quarantine showed that they were not a threat to other native insects or animals. This also means that since the wasps are so species-specific for their prey that their population rises and falls along with changes in EAB populations!

 

 

 

 

The VDOF Forest Health staff continues to monitor the establishment of these predators over the next few years at these two sites and hopefully more releases on other state lands will follow. Ultimately, the release of these parasitoids is one of the efforts VDOF is pursuing to protect ash throughout Virginia and gives hope that EAB’s march through our state can be slowed. F

Click here to learn more about EAB or these parasitoids.