Field Notes: Buffer Benefits for River and Trail

By Deya Ramsden, VDOF Middle James River Forest Watershed Project Coordinator

A newly expanded riparian forest buffer in Nelson County is not only protecting the Rockfish River, but also enhancing wildlife habitat and beautifying a local trail.

Last winter, Rockfish Valley Foundation President Peter Agelasto met with Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) staff to discuss improving the Rockfish Valley Trail. His idea was to expand the existing buffer, to better shade the river and protect it from sediment and pollutants, while also diversifying the plant species composition within the buffer. James River Buffer Program Coordinator Deya Ramsden, and area foresters Martha Warring and B.J. Butler, worked together to create a plan that included planting 570 native shrubs and trees, managing invasive species, and recommending future maintenance. The project was funded through the James River Buffer Program, with matching funds from the Virginia Trees for Clean Program.

Conservation Services Incorporated (CSI) was contracted to install and maintain the planting. On March 23, CSI planted seedlings, complete with tree shelters, in a 1 ¾-acre area along the trail. The shrub species were chosen for multiple reasons: flowers that attract pollinators, fruits or seeds for birds, ability to form colonies from the roots and thus discourage invasive species, and ability to thrive in the partial shade of a forest understory. The species planted were buttonbush, hazel-alder, red osier and silky dogwoods, false indigo and southern arrowwood. The tree species selected included persimmon, pawpaw, and red mulberry, which have fruits favored by wildlife (and people); sycamore, river birch, and yellow-poplar, which are fast growing pioneer species that frequently colonize streambanks; redbud, with early spring flowers valued by people and pollinators; and pin oak, a long-lived, slow grower that adapts well to wet conditions.

The shelters, or “tubes,” installed by CSI protect the one-year-old seedlings from trampling, deer browse, and vole damage, and they aid in maintenance. The shelters provide a favorable growing environment, free from wind and drastic temperature changes, giving the seedlings time to focus on getting tall. Shelters are removed once the tree extends three inches out of the top of the tube. VDOF recommends using bird netting to cover the top of tree tubes to prevent songbirds from entering and becoming trapped in the tubes. Tree planters should leave a quarter-sized opening in the net for the tree shoot to emerge and remove the nets when the tree begins emerging from the tube to prevent the stem from becoming entangled as it grows.

Tree shelters protect new seedlings.

CSI will return in late spring to apply herbicide, in order to reduce weed competition around the seedlings and target invasive species along the trail. The first three years is a crucial time period for young seedlings, and maintenance is required to allow seedlings to gain growth and outcompete the weeds. Not many people realize that fescue, the most common pasture grass, is a non-native, aggressive species that competes with seedlings for moisture and nutrients. If grass is not controlled around the seedlings, the buffer may not survive at a level that results in a future forest. During planting, a small area is scalped to remove the grass, but follow-up maintenance with herbicide, mowing or weed-whacking is needed to control grass as the seedlings get established. Foresters will inspect the buffer annually to assess its progress and adjust maintenance requirements over the next three years.

Future plans for the trail include addressing areas where compaction is causing concentrated flow of sediment to reach the river. Several best management practices (BMPs) can mitigate these conditions, including temporarily blocking some access points to give them time to “rest.” In the meantime, consider a visit to the lovely Rockfish Valley, where you can walk the trail and envision those young trees grown into a future forest.

About the James River Buffer Program

The James River Buffer Program began in 2019 and is funded through a grant from the Virginia Environmental Endowment. The program is carried out through partnering organizations, VDOF and the James River Association (JRA), who draw on their expertise and community connections to help landowners install buffers. The program is turn-key, not a cost-share, offering installation of seedlings, materials, and three years of follow-up maintenance and guidance at no cost. This flexible program is open to any landowner in need of a buffer. Through VDOF, rural, residential, commercial, and county or city owned lands are eligible for enrollment, while JRA focuses on rural lands with the highest priority of buffer need. The application process is simple. Learn more and request a consultation, or reach out to your local VDOF forester for more information.

About the Virginia Trees for Clean Water Program (VTCW)

VDOF’s Virginia Trees for Clean Water (VTCW) program is funded by the USDA Forest Service Chesapeake Bay Watershed Forestry Program, Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund, and Department of Environmental Quality’s Chesapeake Bay Regulatory and Accountability Program. VTCW is designed to improve water quality across the Commonwealth through on-the-ground efforts to plant trees where they are needed most. Goals are to expand tree canopy, positively impact water quality, increase energy conservation practices, advance community health, and grow recreation and educational opportunities. VTCW provides matching funds to the James River Buffer Program for projects that meet the program criteria. In a typical year, the program awards grants of up to $14,000 per proposal, with an aim of a 50/50 match for the project. Contact Lara Johnson for more information.

Field Notes: Restoration Planting at the Mariners’ Museum and Park

By Meghan Mulroy-Goldman, VDOF Community Forester

Photography by Amanda Shields, The Mariners’ Museum and Park

Right in the heart of Newport News, you will soon be able to see a shortleaf pine forest. On a perfectly sunny March day, 700 shortleaf seedlings from the Virginia Department of Forestry’s (VDOF) nursery found a new home at the Mariners’ Museum and Park.

Volunteers planting shortleaf seedlings

With an historic range covering parts of twenty-two states and 282 million acres, shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) is one of four pine species that were once prevalent in the Hampton Roads area. The species was found in a variety of forest types including pure stands, loblolly-shortleaf, and shortleaf pine-oak. However, thanks to fire suppression, land use changes, and a preference for the faster growing loblolly pine, shortleaf is now found in just a fraction of its original range. It is now considered a diminished species throughout much of the Southeast.

The planting project was the result of a partnership developed between VDOF and the Mariners’ Museum and Park that began last year. The park approached VDOF to create an updated management plan for their approximately 300 acres of forested land—a beloved escape from the urban setting of Newport News. While completing the plan, I noted that the park contained stands of pine, mixed pine and hardwood, and mixed hardwood. Interestingly, all four of the native pines – loblolly, shortleaf, Virginia and some young planted longleaf pines – were present. I also found several areas where invasive species had overtaken the native vegetation, as is common in urban parks. One such area had also been damaged during Hurricane Isabelle in 2003 and had a sparse overstory. My advice was to clear the invasive species and do a restoration planting in these areas.

Given the decline of shortleaf pine in Virginia, the park staff chose it as the species to plant. The sparse overstory made the species a good choice for the site. The park received a Virginia Trees for Clean Water Grant to assist with the planting. To prepare the site beforehand, Dave Kennedy and Graham King from the Mariners’ Museum and Park set to work with volunteers, clearing out the Callery pear, Japanese privet, English ivy, and other invasive species.

Invasives were cleared from the understory before planting day

On the day of the planting, volunteers from the Peninsula Master Gardeners and Newport News Master Gardeners, led by Dave Kennedy, Graham King, and Erica Deale from the Mariners’ Museum and Park, worked diligently to get the bareroot seedlings into the ground. VDOF staff Scott Bachman, Kendall Topping, Stephen Jasenak and I all came out to assist with the planting as well.

Who are those masked crusaders? The planting crew, of course!

The VDOF Blackwater team looks forward to seeing the seedlings grow and continuing to build this partnership with the Mariners’ Museum and Park.

Field Notes: Atlantic White-cedar Makes a Comeback?

By Scott Bachman, VDOF Senior Area Forester, Blackwater Work Area

A number of years back, a hurricane made landfall on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and forced her way through the southeastern coastal area of Virginia on the way to dumping flooding rains on the remainder of the Commonwealth. That storm was Isabel. In her wake, she left 32 people dead and more than 1.85 billion dollars in damage.

Directly in the path of the storm were Chesapeake and Suffolk.  In addition to homes and businesses, the forests in these cities were significantly impacted. The forests of the Great Dismal Swamp, historically the last refuge of native Atlantic white-cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) in Virginia, were not spared. 

You can imagine what happens when very soft swamp soils with little mineral content, tall mature timber, and high winds meet. Large swaths of timber were toppled by the force of Isabel’s winds. This “blown down” timber was eventually salvage logged by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the caretakers of the swamp.  In a happy accident, this disturbance resulted in a flush of Atlantic white- cedar regeneration arising from buried seed in the organic soil. 

Atlantic white-cedar seedling (Photo credit: Jen Wright, USFWS)

Atlantic white-cedar to the casual observer (myself included) appears identical to eastern redcedar, a common Virginia native tree. Their forms and shapes are similar, as is their scale-like evergreen foliage. How might you tell them apart, you ask? Their preferred growing sites are anything but similar. Atlantic white-cedar is found naturally on organic soils, which form in places with a high water table, where organic debris like leaves, needles, branches, logs, and even the occasional dead deer do not fully decompose. In a dry upland site, this organic material is mixed with the mineral soil through the action of animals and weathering. In the swamp, however, this “unincorporated” material becomes essentially compost, or peat. It is a productive but very wet soil type, at least during normal times. 

Years after Isabel led to regeneration of white-cedar in the swamp, a drought settled in over southeastern Virginia. Eventually, a thunderstorm brewed over the Great Dismal, and a lightning bolt flashed in a cloud-to-ground strike, hitting the now dry organic soil. It was likely several days before a visible plume of smoke could be seen over the swamp, and a “peat fire” was underway. 

Unfortunately, organic soil is made of carbon, just like coal (which, if given enough time and the proper conditions, this “peat soil” might become). This means that if it catches on fire, like it did during the thunderstorm, it can burn for a very long time. In fact, it tends to burn until most of the organic soil, which may be several feet deep, is consumed. This makes peat fires extremely hard to extinguish. Fire crews from all over the country came to the swamp to battle the fire, but by the time they were able to moisten the organic soil by blocking ditches and pumping water, much of the newly regenerated Atlantic white-cedar had been destroyed. 

Today there are acres of shallow waters and, in some cases, invasive wetland plants like Phragmites australis where the regenerating white-cedar forest once was. Most of the organic soil was destroyed, but in some areas there is enough left to support an Atlantic white-cedar forest. Without a seed source, however, the forest needed the help of scientists and foresters to get started.

Jen Wright, a biologist at the Great Dismal Swamp, and Josh Bennicoff, the Garland Gray Nursery manager, entered into a partnership early in 2020 to grow Atlantic white-cedar seedlings in the VDOF containerized nursery. This was test, as VDOF had not attempted to grow this species before. After securing “pelletized” seeds from the North Carolina Forest Service nursery, Josh was able to plant the very tiny seeds using our pine seed equipment. Had they not been pelletized, Josh would have had to plant thousands of poppy-seed sized seeds by hand! By midsummer this group of test seedlings were well on their way to being ready for planting in their new home. At the end of the growing season, the year-old seedlings were packaged and transported — destined for planting in the burn-scarred area. 

Atlantic white-cedar seedlings bejeweled in dew Photo credit: Scott Bachman

In early December of 2020, volunteers gathered at the Dismal Swamp office on a Saturday morning to take the two thousand or so seedlings out to the planting sites. This wasn’t just any planting though; to get to the sites, the volunteers often had to canoe! The seedlings, though small, will hopefully find the swamp a great home and enhance the efforts to reforest the burned area with Atlantic white-cedar. 

If the plantings are successful and become established, hopefully this partnership between the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and the Virginia Department of Forestry’s Garland Gray Forestry Center will grow and positively improve other habitats on the Refuge. We look forward to following the growth of these seedlings into the future!   


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

Fourth Edition of the Virginia Tree Steward Manual Now Available

The Virginia Department of Forestry, Virginia Tech, and Trees Virginia are excited to announce the release of the newest edition of the Virginia Tree Steward Manual! The manual is available to view and download on the Trees Virginia website: https://treesvirginia.org/outreach/tree-stewards

This manual serves as the main resource for Tree Steward groups working across the state. It was last updated in 2009, and a lot of the materials were outdated. The group needed a new, updated resource for training volunteers to care for their community forests. Updates includes high-quality images and graphics, additional sections, and featured stories from Tree Stewards across the state.

Lara Johnson has been looking forward to an updated manual since she first took her position as VDOF’s urban & community forestry program manager two years ago. She is especially excited to share this new resource to support the volunteers who perform critical community forestry work throughout Virginia.

Funding for the revision was provided by Trees Virginia, Virginia Department of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program.

Photo: Arlington/Alexandra Tree Stewards

Field Notes: Covey Call in the Big Woods

By Scott Bachman, Senior Area Forester, Blackwater Region

In the pre-dawn hours, Venus and Mars were the brightest objects in the dark sky, save for the crescent moon that, as the old timers might say, was holding water. The occasional satellite could be seen in its telltale unblinking arc streaking across the inky blackness of space. Suddenly, a shooting star blazed west to east before fading out. 

Stephen Jasenak and I were not out in the Big Wood State Forest for a star-gazing morning; no, we were here for a much more terrestrial reason. The State Forest, along with the Big Woods Wildlife Management area and the Nature Conservancy’s Piney Grove Preserve, are in aggregate one of two focus areas of the Quail Recovery Initiative in Virginia. Since the 1960’s, Virginia’s quail population has declined by an estimated 70 percent. Much of the reason is that modern farming and land-use practices create unfavorable habitat for quail. Forest management is one tool for bringing back these birds across their native range. You can get more information about bobwhites in Virginia here.

Male Northern bobwhite, Colinus virginianus (Photo courtesy of Birdfreak)

Beginning in mid-October and extending into November is the time to arrive in the forest well before dawn to listen for bobwhite covey calls.  The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (formerly Department of Game and Inland Fisheries) leads this effort in hopes of determining how forest management activities are impacting the recovery of quail populations in the focus area. Each ownership is managed in a slightly different way. This may give quail managers a better understanding of the tool sets to implement on client lands in the Commonwealth.

Marc Puckett, a biologist for the Department of Wildlife Resources and a leader in quail conservation, explained to me that in early mornings throughout the fall birds are trying to join together after being separate “families” during the breeding and rearing seasons. During the winter, quail from multiple families group together, or covey up, in order to conserve warmth as well as better avoid predators. Later in the fall, once the covey has been formed, calling will be reduced. If a covey is broken up by a predator in the night they will call back together in the morning, but if the covey is undisturbed they may be silent for the morning. 

Conducting a Covey Call Survey is a pretty simple process. Surveyors should arrive at the sample point at least one hour before official sunrise, as the “listening period” begins 45 minutes before sunrise. 

For this visit to the forest, 6:30 was the time to begin listening for the distinctive covey call. Twenty minutes later, “Koi-lee” rang out to my west! Moments later another call sounded just south of the first call. Quickly I jotted down the bearing of the calls and the approximate distance from the sample point, along with the time of day, on the data collection map. We strained to hear the next call, but none came before the sun rose above the horizon. At the end of the 45 minute period, we played an electronic recorded call in all four cardinal directions to see if it would stimulate any reluctant birds to answer. Unfortunately, we had no luck that day with the artificial call.  Then it was time to head off for breakfast and the rest of the “real” work for the day. 

This was an excellent result for our first morning out. Like a turkey hunter anticipating that first gobble of the morning, there is an elation from hearing a covey call in your habitat. If you are interested in bobwhite quail numbers on your property, you too can conduct a covey count. On a clear morning with little or no wind, head out to your habitat and listen intently. The call is hard to mistake, especially at that time of the morning in autumn, when most birds aren’t singing, or even awake. When you hear a call, you at least know for certain that quail are using your land. How many are there … well, I’m not sure even Marc can tell you that!

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.

IMG_1409
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!

Field Notes: In This Together, Apart

by Sarah Parmelee, Area Forester

Despite a spring shrouded in uncertainty, VDOF forester Sarah Parmalee found hope and normalcy in a very simple forestry task – planting trees with her community, together but apart. Tree planting projects were very different during the 2020 spring planting season, but forestry work must continue to keep our forests, waterways and communities healthy and hopeful. Sarah is thankful for the people and organizations that made sure critical tree planting projects, like riparian buffers, were still completed despite the obstacles we’re collectively facing.

 I have never appreciated how special tree planting was until this spring. As a forester, you have to like planting trees, it just goes without saying. But in a normal year, you’re rushing to help with a planting after visiting a landowner who needs a plan … hoping that it rained enough that you don’t get a fire when the winds pick up in the afternoon … and knowing that you still have to prepare for an outreach event on the weekend. Tree planting becomes one more thing piled on an already-full plate in spring.

Spring is arguably the busiest and often most stressful time of year for foresters in Virginia; it combines prescribed burning season with wildfire season, planting season and Arbor Day. February through April we are hopping, working odd hours (including weekends) and we’re literally (and figuratively) putting out fires.

This year, nothing was normal due to the COVID-19 crisis. With events cancelled and stay-at-home orders in place, our spring schedules looked different.  At first, it was actually nice to miss those pesky meetings we didn’t really want to sit through, but then we started going weeks without seeing our coworkers or being able to meet with forest landowners like we were used to. One of the normal activities that changed dramatically was our riparian buffer planting season.

Saraha Parmalee_Riparian Buffer Planting_Huge Persimmon SeedlngsRiparian buffers are some of the most important forest in our state. “Riparian” evolved from the Latin word “ripa” meaning streambank, so these are trees planted alongside streams. Unlike the hundreds of acres of pine in Southside Virginia, these narrow forests will likely never be harvested; their value is not in board feet but in the water quality and wildlife habitat they protect and provide. As the riparian buffer trees, grow they will intercept ground pollutants (such as fertilizer and nutrients from manure from adjacent fields or residential areas) before they reach the stream and will use them to grow. They will help to stabilize the soil with their roots – minimizing erosion, absorbing runoff and reducing flooding downstream. In addition, the trees and shrubs planted alongside streams provide habitat for many kinds of wildlife including important pollinator species that rely on native plants for their whole life cycle.

All these “ecosystem services” provided by forested buffers are incredibly important, not only for Virginia but also, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and West Virginia because we are all part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, meaning that the rivers from these states collectively feed into the Bay and have the ability to impact the delicate ecology and economies associated with that incredible body of water.

Most of these plantings in my work areas are organized by Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) or nonprofit organizations. The actual planting is carried out by staff with the help of volunteers, such as local school kids and Master Naturalists. These planting initiatives provide opportunities to get folks involved in their local watershed and to help get trees in the ground.

However, again, because of COVID-19 this usual approach went out the window in the first few weeks of March and we had to adjust.

Video Credit: Friends of the Rappahannock

Calling off a forest management practice until next year is not uncommon; things come up. However, the tree seedlings for this year’s plantings had already been purchased from the nurseries and were sitting in our tree coolers. They would only sit so long without rotting. These projects couldn’t wait. So, our natural resources community decided to do what we do best; pull together to get stuff done.

In Fauquier County, John Marshall SWCD set up a sign-up sheet to ensure only a small group of folks was at each planting. We traveled separately and stayed out of each other’s space; fortunately, we were planting the trees 10-12 feet apart so it was easy to socially distance. Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR) and Friends of Goose Creek contributed muscle and morale. Thanks to the efforts of these folks, not a single planting in the John Marshall SWCD area was canceled. Additional tree plantings happened in Rappahannock, Culpeper and Madison counties, orchestrated by the go-getters at FOR. Over in Highland County, VDOF forester Clint Folks and the Mountain Valley Work area helped with similar plantings.

I was able to participate with most of the plantings in my work area. It is very different when you’re used to planting with large groups of teenagers who have boundless amounts of energy to burn. An acre feels a lot bigger when you only have six people to scalp, plant and install protective tubes on 300 trees.

Sarah Parmelee_Riparian Buffer Planting_2020

But It was arguably some of the most fun that a lot of us had in weeks. The spring was shrouded in uncertainty — every trip to the grocery store was like “Mad Max” meets an episode of “Chopped” and there was no end in sight. Planting season this year was different, but it was special. It meant a lot to the folks involved. It was comforting to see that we could still do our jobs; put trees in the ground, make the world better. Because of the folks who came together to make planting season happen, one day there will be a forest where once there was none.

There is an old saying that “the best time to plant a tree if twenty years ago or today”. Trees are hope for the future. We get our seedlings as little brown sticks and we stick them in the ground and hope that when we come back they will be alive. Some of them will be and some of them will not –  that is why we plant more than one. Planting trees is investing the future, whatever future it may be. Whatever happens, the rains will come, roots will grow and leaves will unfurl in the spring.

Thanks for believing in trees. Let’s do it again next year.