Health and Safety Alert: Emerald Ash Borer

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Since 2002, we have watched the progressive spread of the invasive insect, the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), from the first discovery of the beetle in Michigan, to the recent discovery of the insect in New Jersey, in the spring of 2014.  Today, EAB is present throughout the Gracie & Harrigan service area.

Recently, the New Jersey EAB situation took a dangerous turn as the first known injury by an EAB-infested tree occured at Monmouth Battlefield State Park.  Ash trees are known to become abnormally brittle shortly after their death.  EAB infestations begin in the top of the tree, and ash trees have normally been infested for 3 years before symptoms become noticeable to people on the ground.  So, when a chainsaw sends vibrations up the tree as it is being cut down, it is not uncommon for limbs and branches to break off and fall down upon or near the cutter.

The risk to landowners and arborists is real.  We have been told that at least two New Jersey tree services are refusing to cut down dead ash trees, out of concern for their workers' safety.

We urge clients with white ash trees within striking distance of their homes, utility lines, outbuildings, playgrounds, etc. to address the ash trees before they begin showing symptoms.  (Ash trees out in the woodlot that are not within striking distance of commonly used hiking trails could be left for woodpecker and other wildlife habitat.)

It is estimated that 95 to >99% mortality will occur among our native white ash population. There is no known treatment within the forest, however, individual specimen trees in yards and along roadways can be treated with an insecticide  that is watered into the roots of the tree on a yearly or biannual basis by a homeowner or a tree service, or through bark or root injection by a qualified professional.  Now is the time to begin treatment of specimen trees.

What can be done in your woodlot now?  For areas of the forest with a high concentration of ash trees, consideration should be given toward how you want your forest to be post-EAB.  Plans should begin for invasive species control, to prevent unwanted proliferation of invasives following EAB mortality.  Planting and protecting native tree seedlings will help to establish new tree growth, which will help to transition the forest following ash mortality.

Why Do We Do That? Forest stand improvement explained

IMG 0917 SmallForest stand improvement is a very common recommendation under forest management plans that we write, but what is their ecological basis?  Forest stand improvement thinnings can take many forms. Most commonly they are either thinning from below or crop tree management.

By thinning from below foresters are seeking to mimic low- to moderate-intensity wildfires.  Such wildfires were common  hundreds of years ago and helped shape the forest that we know today. By favoring thick-barked species such as oaks and pine, such fires helped develop native wildlife and plant communities and were an important ecological process.  Of course your insurance company would likely not be happy if you started flicking matches into the forest. But by cutting thin-barked species, especially those with smaller diameters, we can get the same outcome using a slightly different process.

Crop tree management is slightly different in that we specifically identify high-quality and or high wildlife value trees that we wish to retain on the property.  Next we identify lower-value trees (either economic value or ecological value) that are competing with the trees designated to remain. Some of those trees that are directly competing with residual trees are designated to be cut.

Both systems are designed to increase the health and vitality of the residual forest as well as the individual trees designated to remain.  Since many of the residual trees are oaks and other thick-barked species, these methods correspond well to the outcomes of light- and medium-intensity wildfires. When such thinning is combined with competing understory vegetation control, we also have the added benefit of improving groundcover quality and improving the chances for developing new seedlings and saplings that should become the next generation of trees as the older trees die off.

As once-far-away disease problems become resident in northern and central New Jersey -- such as emerald ash borer and bacterial leaf scorch -- we are further reminded that our forests are dynamic, disturbance-dependent ecosystems. They will change whether we like it or not.  By following the ecological processes that developed these forests in the first place we have our best chance for keeping them healthy in the long term.

Farmland Assessment Forms Amended: Add'l Info Needed

farm tax formsStarting with this filing season, some important changes have arrived on some of your farm tax forms.  The Woodland Data Form (WD-1) is the form on which we report your agricultural and stewardship activities.  Starting this year, we must report the last time that we were on-site and could verify that the activities reported on your Farmland Assessment forms actually occured.

We believe that this information will be used to prioritize Farmland Assessment compliance inspections by the DEP State Forestry Service and, possibly, by municipal tax assessors.  We believe that reporting a last inspection date of more than two years from the date we certify the current form could serve as something of an "audit flag," and may place your property on a more expedited compliance inspection schedule.

This is why we have been working with clients this winter to minimize the number of properties that we have not been present on in more than two years.  Please understand that it is important that we verify that reported activities have actually occured at least every two years.

Forest Management for Biodiversity

A Baltimore oriole using young forest habitat in Sussex County.  photo courtesy John Parke, NJ AudubonIn 2012, Gracie & Harrigan discussed the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service's Working Lands For Wildlife (WLFW) program with several of our clients. In our area, WLFW funds projects to improve habitat for either golden-winged warbler or bog turtle on private lands.  Three client properties (two of which are leased by the Hudson Farm Club) accepted proposals to conduct habitat work to benefit golden-winged warbler and "other species sensitive to canopy closure."  In 2013, the first modified seed tree harvest was conducted on the Hudson Farm Club properties, followed by harvests at Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco (owned and operated by the Northern NJ Council, BSA) and elsewhere on the Hudson Farm Club properties in 2014.

In May and June of 2016, the sites were surveyed for bird species by the DEP Division of Fish & Wildlife's Endangered and Nongame Species Program.  The 2013 harvest area on the Hudson Farm contained 34 different bird species, of which 19 (yes, nineteen!) are species of special concern, regional concern, or uncommon.  The 2014 harvest area on Hudson Farm contained 38 different bird species, of which 17 are species of special concern, regional concern, or uncommon.  At Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco, 32 different bird species were identified, of which 18 (not a typo!) are species of special concern, regional concern, or uncommon, including cerulean warbler.

Two items of note.  (1) These sites are remarkable because they were not supposed to be attractive to species that require young forest until about 5 years after harvest.  To see species -- especially forest ground-nesting birds such as black-and-white warbler -- using sites that are barely 2 years post-harvest hopefully means that we are doing something right.  (2) Given golden-winged warbler's preference for young forest within a larger forested matrix, there was some concern regarding these harvests and avoidance of the harvest areas by forest interior birds.  Interestingly enough, one of the few species that was observed at all three harvest areas was scarlet tanager, a forest interior bird.

Gracie & Harrigan thanks the Hudson Farm Club and the Northern NJ Council, BSA for participating in this program.

Over the years, we have received an increasing number of requests from clients to specifically include projects to benefit certain imperiled wildlife and plant species in Forest Management Plans.  If there is a particular species or suite of species that you would like to specifically encourage on your property, let us know.  We maintain a list of willing partners in the wildlife and botany fields that we can collaborate with to meet your needs.

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Benefits

Practicing sustainable forestry  works to:

  • Protect water quality
  • Increase water yield
  • Promote forest health
  • Restore damaged forest ecosystems
  • Promote wildlife through the creation of habitat
  • Yield renewable forest products