Longleaf resilience and Espen on the ATV

Checking out my recently burned longleaf, I discovered that they are already starting to grow of the season, very early. The remarkable thing is that even “completely burned” branches are coming back, as you can see in the picture. My last picture is one of the shortleaf seedlings. They sometimes have a characteristic kink

I finished planting the shortleaf today. I am putting them in to some blank spaces in the 2012 longleaf for diversity sake. The snow melted away and so I could get at the ground.

Espen came to help, but I mostly “assigned” him to ride the new ATV. I wanted him to have some fun on the farms and not think of it just as work.

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Oak, shortleaf & snow

Snow. The weather man said that the moisture came all the way from the Sea of Cortez, like a river in the atmosphere and then some sort of kink in the jet stream. I did not understand exactly what they meant, but I think it is really interesting if my snow is from Sea of Cortez water.

We don’t get that much snow in Virginia, but it snowed today on my forests. The ground was still soft but the snow made my planting a different experience. the snow fell in big flakes and it made a pleasant sound as it fell through the trees. But it was also wet and chilly. As a Wisconsin native, I should be adapted to cold, but I was not dressed warmly enough.

I got 300 shortleaf, 50 white oak and 50 swamp white oak. They are all bare root, so I have to use my different tool, seen in the picture. I didn’t get much done. It was not teh snow; it was the rock. I had planned to plant in a rocky area. Unfortunately, it was too rocky. There were few places I could sink the dibble stick, but I had to pound on the ground with it to find them. I ended up planting only 50 oaks before I knocked off early because of the snow.

Anyway, I was tired. I drove about 6 hours to get here, since I had to go to Augusta to pick up the trees and then drive down to the farms. It was not a hard drive but just driving that far is draining.

Pictures show the conditions. The Russians have a word for the season before winter freezes the ground and then before spring dries it out. They call it “rasputitsa.” Dirt roads at that time are impassible. It really was rasputitsa and not the famous Russian winter that defeated the Nazis. They got mired in the mud. Virginia is luckier. We just have a couple days like that, not whole seasons.

My first picture is me and the bare root trees. Next is the bare root dibble stick, followed by my muddy road. Last two pictures show snowing in my woods. It is very light and will melt off by tomorrow. Good, I have more work to do.

Still a few more trees to plant.  I am getting 300 shortleaf pine, 50 white oak and 50 swamp white oak on Tuesday.

Gee, I got rocks

I picked out a good place for the oaks, a rocky place I found when trying to plant longleaf. I finally gave up when I determined that I could not get the density I needed, since I could not find enough places in rows where I could sink the dibble stick.

I think it will work wonderfully for the oaks. They will be planted irregularly, in the places I can dig. I think it will be aesthetically pleasing. The rocks will limit competition and mitigate the fires I will need to set. Oaks can survive fire and even thrive, but they are not as fire resistant as longleaf.

Oak pine savanna

I visited an oak-pitch pine savanna in Pennsylvania. It was rocky with shallow soils. I think I can make something like that but with the shortleaf and the few longleaf I managed before I gave up. Another pattern may be those oak openings near Baraboo, Wisconsin, a landscape I also love. Of course, I figure it will be a long time coming and – to use my concept – I will be compost before the trees are mature.

The site is a gentle slope facing northwest and leading into the stream management zone.

The Rodney Dangerfield of southern pines

Shortleaf pine usually grow mixed in hardwood forests, and so do not behave like other southern pine. This also makes them less obvious. Even though they are the most geographically widespread southern pine, they do not enjoy the following of the iconic longleaf or the wonderfully productive loblolly.  They get no respect, and have been declining.  We can bring back a few.

There is a shortleaf initiative. Webpage is linked.

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My Virginia

My Virginia

I am a Wisconsin guy by birth and a Virginian by choice. I have been in Virginia, with gaps for diplomatic duty, since 1984. Some people say that you cannot be a Virginia unless your family has been here for at least three or four generations. I don’t know about that, but I feel part and accepted in my adopted state. I have owned a home in Virginia since 1997 and forest land since 2005. All three of my kids graduated Virginia public universities: UVA, James Madison and George Mason, respectively.

A “disposition to preserve” combined with an “ability to improve.”

That is what I found in Virginia, what I treasure about Virginia. The deep history and heritage is remarkable. We can visit Washington one day, Jefferson, Madison & Madison the next. I know that people now sometime disparage our history.

It takes a smart man to be cynical but a wise man not to be.

My guess is that I know history better than most of those critics. They generally are intellectual adolescents, who have discovered flaws and are eager to signal their “insight” aggressively. They don’t yet know what they don’t know. Intellectual adults understand that all humans have significant faults and individuals who accomplish great things also often have bigger than average ones. The same energy that produces greatness enables and accentuates good can also empower flaws, or at least make them more salient. The same fire that makes our civilized lives possible can also burn and destroy.

Putting down deep roots

The Virginia I know best, however, are the Commonwealth’s forests. This was a big surprise for me. I didn’t think of Virginia as a forest state, but 62% of Virginia is covered in forests. Trees cover only about half of Wisconsin, and a lot of that is up north in national and state forests. Most of Virginia’s forest land is owned by non-industrial individuals and families, and I could get in on that.

What a hare-brained idea, an urban Yankee becoming a forest landowner in rural Virginia. I had a lot to learn. I knew next to nothing about forestry in Virginia and some of what I did know was wrong, but I got a lot of help. My new neighbors in Brunswick County were eager to give me good advice. They knew “my” land intimately, having hunted, hiked & sometime cut timber there for generations – literally generations. Loggers and other contractors were honest and easy to work with. The Virginia Dept of Forestry guys were so available. Virginia Tech and others provided free, or low-cost events to learn the business. The evidence of their friendliness and competence is that an unconnected novice like me could so quickly thrive.

I drive a lot around in Virginia and there is no part of Old Dominion that I have not visited, yet I am always finding something new and interesting. Change is inevitable. Virginia has changed remarkable in my time here and I expect it will continue. This fitting and proper and I welcome positive change, but I take offense at the implication that we should reject and even obliterate old Virginia.

I think we need the ability to improve, but with the disposition to preserve.

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Canadian Provinces

I attended “The Premiers’ Perspective: A Canada-U.S. Relations Outlook for the New Decade” at Wilson Center on February 7, 2020.  It was advertised as “a conversation with the Honourable Scott Moe, Premier of Saskatchewan and the Honourable Jason Kenney, Premier of Alberta. The Premiers will speak on how provincial interests play a role in Canada’s vision and presence on the global stage and how topics such as trade, energy, and innovation will shape Canada-U.S. relations in 2020 and beyond” and that was what it was.  “Politico” co-sponsored the event and so Luiza Savage Executive Director at “Politico” joined Jane Harman President & CEO, The Wilson Center in welcoming the guests and Lauren Gardner Reporter from “Politico Pro Canada” moderated the discussion. The program lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes.

Jane Harman introduced Chris Sands as the new director of the Canada Institute.

 Notes are below.

The funniest part of the “Premiers’ Perspective: A Canada-U.S. Relations Outlook for the New Decade” came when Scott Moe, Premier of Saskatchewan seemed to say he disagreed with everything Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney said, after they agreed on everything else up to that point.  What he had in fact that is that “I would JUST agree …”  Kenny asked right away, and Moe cleared it up on the spot.  Goes to show how misunderstandings happen.


Besides what would have been big news, but wasn’t, there was probably little that surprised people familiar with the two leaders, but there was a lot of useful insights and explanations.  Saskatchewan & Alberta are especially tightly integrated into the North American market, so it was no surprise that both premiers strongly endorse USMCA.  They foresaw no problems getting the agreement ratified by the Federal Parliament and reported that the premiers of all the provinces had come out strongly for the agreement. Jason Kenny said that it was especially important to get ensconced in the North American zone, as there are growing concerns about protectionism in the USA and around the world.

Both agreed that the new USMCA was an improvement over NAFTA, although they did not voice complaints about NAFTA.  When asked about concerns about specific products, they mentioned forestry, aluminum and dairy.  Softwood lumber exports are important in both provinces.  Detailed adjustments can be made within the treaty, so the sooner they get in the better to start the detailed work.

Defer to the Federal Government in international affairs

Both premiers made a point of emphasizing while they want to make the concerns of their own provinces well-known, it is the Federal Government that runs foreign policy and trade negotiations.  Jason Kenny added that this is especially important to recall now, given the challenge of China.  They don’t want to give the Chinese the impression that they can divide Canadians.

Huawei dispute hurts

Western Canada has been hurt by the Huawei extradition dispute.  When the USA and China have disputes, Canada suffers collateral damage.  Scott Moe mentioned harm done to potash exports from his province, as well as general agricultural products.  Beef and pork restrictions have also hurt, but the thorniest problem might be the canola ban.  They did not explain.

Speaking about China tensions, Jason Kenny said that there was more than two Canadians (Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor) imprisoned related to diplomatic dispute surrounding the Huawei extradition.  He made special mention of Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen and former Uighur activist who has been imprisoned in China for 13 years.


Both provinces are producers of raw materials and especially energy and this is the biggest bone of contention between these provincial and the Federal authorities.  Some of it has to do with the provinces thinking that they pay too much to the Federal Government, but more of it is related to policies that restrict, or at least do not encourage, energy exploration and transportation.

Pipelines and transporting energy

Scott Moe characterized their concerns “the three Ts”: taxes, trade and transportation.  Jason Kenny said that he must assume that the Trudeau government is in favor of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, since the Canada Development Investment Corporation (CDIC), accountable to the Canadian Parliament, acquired the responsibly in 2018.  He explained that Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal cleared the way by ruling against challenges from First Nations groups concerned about the environmental impacts of the project.  [The Trans Mountain expansion would add more than 600 miles to the pipeline and increase its capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000.]  The government has a duty to consult indigenous people, but this does not imply their power to veto a project.

Kenny regretted the Obama decision to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and implicated the new (at the time) Trudeau government.  He suspected the there was at least a tacit agreement by Trudeau not to kick up a fuss.  Kenny believed that the veto violated the spirit if not the letter of NAFTA.

Scott Moe went on to explain the importance of pipelines.  No form of energy exploration or transport is risk-free but moving oil by pipeline is by far the safest, compared with alternatives such as rail and trucks.  Beyond that, moving oil by rail gets in the way of other commodities, such as potash, timber and other agricultural products.


The Keystone XL pipeline is beneficial for international interests, Jason Kenny added.  It will produce billions in revenues, create jobs and enhance closer relationships between the USA in Canada.  It also creates jobs in the USA as far away as the Gulf Coast, where refiners are tooled to refine heavy crude, no longer so easily available from Venezuela.

North American energy

Scott Moe pointed out that North American energy is important for geopolitical as well as straight economic reasons.  We are transitioning from oil to renewable or other non-fossil forms of energy. This transition will take some time, but when it happens much of the world’s oil will become a stranded resource.  It is better if the last useful barrels of oil come from North America and that if the resource is stranded, better it be stranded elsewhere.  Until then, current demand will be satisfied from somewhere. North American energy is more secure and extracted in more ecologically friendly ways than in places where environmental protection is viewed with somewhat less enthusiasm.

Science-based regulation

Both premiers advocated a science-based regulation process.  Kenny pointed to his province’s $30/ton tax on industrial carbon tax as part of his government’s commitment weaning the world off fossil fuels. [The tax went into effect on January 1, 2020 and is the centerpiece of Premier Jason Kenney’s climate strategy. The tax could increase in future years to keep pace with the federal government’s climate plan for industry. Alberta’s oil sands are included in the tax.]

Don’t mock the people: the rise of populism

In response to questions, the premiers talked about the rise of populism. This factor in all advanced Western countries. Kenny thought that Canada was less affect by this malady (my word) and he credited Canada’s better immigration policies as well as the Canadian energy industry.  Canada’s skill-based immigration system matches potential immigrants with Canada’s needs.  They integrate much easier into society and are more easily welcomed by Canadians, since they provide useful skills.  The other factor, the energy industry, is less direct, but Kenny explained that semi-skilled workers in downsizing industries could move into the booming energy industries, and their related functions.  Many have moved some distance from declining eastern areas to the booming prairie provinces.

Kenny recommended former Prime Minister Stephen Harpers 2018 book, “Right Here, Right Now,” that addressed the root causes of populism.  When political elites dismiss the concerns of ordinary people or even mock them, they react with populism.


Addressing the “Wexit” issue, calls for Alberta to leave the Federation, Kenny said that concerns are genuine and serious, and he would not want it to develop further, but it is mostly talk. Still, polls show that 25-30% of the Alberta population supports Wexit, but that 75-80% understand the concerns.

Canadians first

Both Kenny & Moe emphasized that they thought it important to be Canadians first.  They emphasized that it was important that the Federal government run foreign policy and trade negotiations.  They singled out Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland for special praise two separate times and praised the work of Canadian diplomats in Washington.  They also referenced section 92 of the Canadian 1867 Constitution that gives significant power to provinces to develop and manage natural resources.  Good balance.

Moe and Kenny agreed on most things, in fact it seemed on all things discussed at the Wilson Center meeting, so much so that there was little need to differentiate.  Besides getting along very well, they gave the impression of being practical and competent leaders.

A complete video of the program is attached.

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Planting more trees and my new ATV

Chrissy told me not to get any more trees, but someone cancelled a longleaf order and I got two more boxes, 668 trees, native Virginians from Garland Grey. There was no other choice.

So back to work filling in places we missed.

I have improved mobility now. You can see my new Yamaha Kodiak 450. I can get a disc harrow and middle buster to pull behind. They make them for four-wheelers like mine. I would like to plant wild flowers more successfully, especially on the landing areas. It makes me sad & frustrated that dirt gets so compressed at these places that it makes it hard for plants to grow. The buster and the discs can help.

Of course, it is fun to ride around on the new machine. It can go almost anywhere. I tested it. You rarely even need to engage the 4 wheel drive.

My challenge is to do actual work and not just ride around “inspecting”.

My first picture is my new tool. Next is me getting ready to plant the next tranche of longleaf. Last is my 4 wheeler at work. It does make the job a lot easier. It is hard to carry boxes of trees and I can just get there fastest with the mostest.

We get about an hour more daylight than we did in December. That helped get the trees in the ground. I got about 500 longleaf planted today, and it was still light when I finished. Professionals can plant more than 1000 trees in a day. I am good for less than half that number and that is hard for me.

My planting method is different, however. The professionals use hoedads I have never mastered that. I also like to do each by hand, as you can see in my first photo today. Planting trees is not just a task. I will not say it is a joy while I am doing it under time pressure, but it is a great experience to recall, being in the woods and putting up the next tree generation.

Next photo is the last of my trees planted. I put it into a place where our recent fire had burned hot. I wonder if the biochar will help it grow. Picture #3 are rocks on the farm. There was maybe a half acre of rock. I could not plant, but I figure that nature will plant some for me. The penultimate picture is Shell Gas station in Petersburg. The Exxon in the background did not show on the picture, but it was only $1.99, breaking the $2 barrier for the first time in a long time. Last is my unfortunate tan line. I wear a hat when I am out on the farms, so I get tan on my face, but not the top of my head. I noticed as I walked by the mirror. Just another bald guy problem.

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Lexington Virginia

When I saw the statue I thought it might be Robert E Lee and I would have to feign outrage. This was Washington and Lee University after all. Closer inspection revealed it was Cyrus McCormick. All those old guys with beards look alike.

McCormick was a local boy and he gave money to Washington and Lee, but he moved to Chicago at an early age. He developed the McCormick Reaper that allowed for much more efficient harvests and revolutionized life for grain farmers, especially on the great plains, which were just on the verge of settlement when the reaper was developed.

Buckminster Fuller coined the phrase “energy slaves” to denote how much of our work is done by energy. This is what makes us so rich today. Add machines to that. McCormick reapers were still pulled by horses. There is the saying that BTUs do the work so you don’t have to. Of course that same goes for most tech. In the end, productivity is the only things that makes us better off materially.

I was driving up I-81 through the Shenandoah Valley. It was and is a major agricultural region. Relatively less important, as other regions have come online, than it was when McCormick lived there but still productive. In McCormick’s time, the Shenandoah Valley was a big grain producer. Today, it is more pasture.

During the Civil War, Union troops sought to destroy the productive capacity of the valley to starve the Confederacy. General Phil Sheridan was put in charge. His troops burned barns, killed livestock and made a desert of this once verdant and productive region, such that “A carrion crow in his flight across must either carry his rations or starve.”

It is a lesson in how war becomes more and more terrible as it progresses to its conclusion. It becomes a war against people when people feed armies.

My first picture is Cyrus McCormick at Washington and Lee. Next is the less PC but more memorably monikered Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson at VMI, where he was an instructor. VMI and Washington and Lee are right next to each other, but with very different architecture, as you can see in the buildings behind the statues. Picture # 3 is Main Street in Lexington and the penultimate picture is a little restaurant where I had breakfast. People in Lexington were extraordinarily friendly and cheerful. At least a half dozen people greeted me on the street, and unlike the case sometimes around DC, they did not want anything from me. As semi-introvert sometimes lost in my thoughts, such amity is not always welcome, but I know it comes from good intentions. Last picture is from McCormick’s family farm. It is right of I-81 about 16 miles north of Lexington. Worth seeing, but maybe not worth going to see, but since it is so close …

I -81 is an unpleasant highway. Lots of truck moving at speeds that seem a little too fast, so you cannot enjoy the beauty of the Shenandoah as much as you otherwise might. There are lots of long vistas. It is very different from 95 and especially 85 that are surrounded by thick forests for large stretches.

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George C Marshall

George C Marshall did not write memoirs. He was dedicated to his country & his duty. He gave credit to others, even for things he mostly did. He did not promote himself, never acted for political motives did not even vote. He went where his duty took him and did his best work when he got there. He was as close to the ideal of an American public man as ever lived. We never had many like him and I am afraid that we produce even fewer these days. Never complain, never explain and never apologize type guys, the ones that control their emotions and keep their private lives private, are out of style.

He might even have had trouble getting started. George C Marshall was an indifferent student in high school and showed no genius in college at VMI. He showed leadership skills early on, including superb organizational skills and extraordinary ability to judge people, put them in the right jobs and then let them do their jobs.

Marshall used to say that it was important to ask what a man COULD do, not what he could not. This was absolutely the right way to think and it certainly contributed to the Allied victory in the World War, and to American success in the very uncertain post-war world, where the most talented players had serious flaws, i.e. were human. (This would not fly today, in our days of zero tolerance and looking harder for flaws than achievement. I hope that we get past this and become adults again.)

I was in Lexington to give a talk on Aldo Leopold at Washington & Lee. I arrived when it was already getting dark, so I wanted to stay a little longer the next day so I could see a little. Lexington is not a big city. It took me 19 minutes to get from the hotel to VMI Marshall Museum, not counting a stop for breakfast. I was still too early. The museum did not open until 11am. So, I walked back to the hotel to get my car. I had left it, since I feared it would be too hard to park. There is ample parking around VMI. I got a place right in front of the Marshall Museum, reserved for visitors and giving two hours to visit.

It is worth seeing. I talked to a couple of the people there. They were dedicated to the job and to keeping the memory of George C Marshall alive. This is made more difficult by Marshall’s virtue of not promoting himself.

Americans are generally forgetting their history, more precisely not learning it. Marshall’s job as the organizer of victory just makes a less compelling narrative than being on the front lines. His avoidance of politics made his voice very powerful in getting things done, but it made him less famous. He was not a physically imposing man, not a gifted speaker. More’s the pity. He is the kind of man we should revere as a leader – a quiet man who does his duty, does it well, does not brag or complain and leaves when his work is done, knowing in his bones that service to his country was reward enough.

The museum asks to tag posts. That is what is below.

#MarshallMuseum #GeorgeMarshall #jeepwilly

The first picture is Marshall’s statue at VMI. He is the University’s most illustrious graduate. Next is the library, classy. Picture #3 is Marshall’s desk, followed by a special book that has all the Marshall documents. Finally is a map at the center that shows the progress of the war. They say it lasts more than a 1/2 hour. I got as far as you can see, about the middle of 1940. Spoiler warning – I knew how it ended.

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2020 Brodnax fire

I “identify” as a good looking 24-year-old man. Unfortunately, intolerant and un-PC nature will not forgive those four decades and insists on treating me like I was 64.

I am getting old and this is the end of a long day and I am tired. I got up just before 5am to head down to Brodnax to participate in a patch burn with Adam Smith. We were doing about 20 acres, so this one was easier than the one we did on Freeman. I am not very worried about most of the trees, but I am concerned that my little longleaf got too burned. I think they are okay, but I don’t know and will not know until April. It will be a long couple of months.

I had to leave a little early and let Adam and his crew finish off. I was off to Lexington, VA to do a talk about Aldo Leopold at Washington & Lee University, about a three hour drive from Brodnax.

I enjoy doing talks on almost any subject. It is one of the things I miss most since leaving my old job. Talking about Aldo Leopold was especially interesting for me.

Aldo Leopold. I feel a special relationship with him, or at least with his outlook. When I talk about him, I feel like I am going home, or at least back to my conservation roots in Wisconsin.

The group was mostly students, although it was open to the general public and there were a few old people. I think the students had to come as part of their coursework. I was a little surprised how much the audience knew about Aldo Leopold and it was gratifying to see how much his ideas resonate still.

I talked about what I like most about Leopold and what I think is the meta-message he advocates. My favorite among Leopold’s writing is his essay “Axe in Hand.” I think about that whenever I am cutting, burning or planting on my land. Leopold says that we put our signature on the land and that is how we develop our land ethic. It is the interactions that count. And that leads me to the other thing I like. Leopold does not have a dogma. He points in the general direction, but leaves to each person on the land the responsibility to develop a morality, a land ethic. It is not something that can be written once and for all.

I deployed two of the short idea that I very much believe. The first sometimes sound depressing but I think is very uplifting. “Yesterday’s solution is today’s problem.” Why is it uplifting? Because it implies choice and for me it also implies success. We make plans and we make progress, even if it created an opportunity for people of the future to make plans and make progress. Life is an eternal unfolding and that is beautiful. The other truth (with hat tip to Heraclitus) “You cannot step twice into the same forest.”

My pictures are from our fire this morning. Fire pictures are always sort of the same. I chose the middle picture because it was pretty. No big issues. I got stuck in some green briar for a few seconds and felt the momentary fear that I would get burned, but that was never realistic.

You can see from the pictures that all you need do is step over the fire to be safely in the black.

There is a story from the Mann Gulch tragedy in 1949 that killed 13 young fire fighters. Of course, this was a lot bigger and hotter fire than ours.) The leader of the group was a guy called Wag Dodge. He saved his life by lighting an escape fire. The fire was coming up a hill faster than a man could run. Wag Dodge understood he could not get away, so he lit a fire of his own and then hunkered down in the black, like what you can see in picture #2. The fire passed over him and he survived. Of course, an escape fire works only with fine fuel, like grass. If you tried that in thick timber, you would likely get slow roasted.

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Forest health conference

I have to get a new battery. My car would not start this morning and I had to call USAA to get a jump start.  That made me late for the forest heath conference.  I don’t regret that too much.   I missed sessions on pesticide safety, a technical presentation for certification I am not seeking, on aquatic invasive that I do not deal with and on the progress of the spotted lanternfly in Pennsylvania.  The last would be interesting for historical reasons, but since I arrived in time for the presentation on the spotted lanternfly in Virginia, I figured it was okay.  Also, one of the big reasons I attend these conferences is to see forestry friends and meet new ones, and this I did.


Spotted lanternfly in Virginia

 Spotted Lanternfly in Virginia – David Gianino, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

The spotted lanternfly is a showy insect that showed up in Pennsylvania from China in 2014. It made it to Virginia in 2018, Fredrick County and Winchester.  It probably arrived on a load of rocks. A big danger of the lanternfly is that it can stick egg masses on almost any flat surface, and to the untrained eye the egg masses look a lot like a mud splash.

The lanternfly feeds on ailanthus and tends to follow that tree.  If it limited itself to ailanthus, most of us would welcome the help. Unfortunately, they also preferentially go after magnolia, silver maples and zelkova, and will attack a variety of other trees and agricultural crops opportunistically.

Mr. Gianino described efforts to quarantine and eradicate lanternflies in Fredrick County and Winchester.  Unfortunately, it has been more a holding action than a victory.  The egg masses can stick to car and rail cars, so the efforts are aimed at rail and road networks.  You can imagine the challenge.  Winchester is a rail center and served by Interstate 81, which is why it is necessary to get the infestation under control there and probably how the lanternflies arrived in the first place.

If you see a lanternfly, report it and then kill it and any of its eggs or kin you find nearby.  They even have an app to help and give a kind of contest feel.  People can compete to find and kill the most of the pests.  SQUISHR is available at the Apps Store.

Globalization of soils

Can Soil Microbes Be Used as a Metric to Assess Urban Soil Health? – Stephanie Yarwood, University of Maryland

The next discussion concerned urban soils worldwide. We notice that lots of urban animals & plants have been globalized.  Rats, pigeons, starlings, sparrows, dandelions, turfgrass & various sorts of ornamental trees and bushes are so common in cities worldwide that most city dwellers probably think that they are native to their home cities.   What about soils?  Is there a convergence of soils and soil microbes?

Yarwood and her colleagues studied soils in Baltimore, Helsinki, Budapest and Potchefstroom in South Africa.  These cities were chosen for opportunistic reasons.  The teams studied less altered soils from the nearby countryside and soils in various states of disturbance.  They found that the soils were indeed converging.

Yarwood also talked about mycorrhizae.  These are the symbiotic fungi that help plants get nutrients, protect the plants from toxins and pathogens, influence soil structure and the community of plants.  Mycorrhizae functions are still imperfectly understood.  What we do know is that they greatly enhance plant growth and sterile soils w/o them is not much use, not matter how rich.  There are two major types. Ectomycorrhiza tend to work outside the roots systems.  They are less common than endomycorrhiza or arbuscular mycorrhiza, that work more within the roots, but are common on lots of the trees we most value, such as pine, oak, hickory & beech.

Mycorrhiza networks are disturbed when soils are disturbed, so frequently disturbed urban soils might share characteristics with other disturbed urban soils.


Pollinators – James Wilson, Ph.D., Virginia Tech – what’s with the bees?

What can forest managers do that will most help bees?  Mr. Wilson said, “T&B” thin and burn. The best thing you can do is provide a wide variety of flowering plants.  Most of the plants we eat do NOT require bee pollination, since most of our food comes from grains, which are not bee pollinated.

Bees eat pollen, however.  That is why they hang around corn fields. They are not pollinating, but they are gathering pollen. This is where bees are sometimes harmed by pesticides not aimed at them.  Ironically, fewer bees are killed when in fields of GMO corn, where pesticides are less necessary.

There are around 4,500 types of bees in the USA, 536 in Virginia.  Most are not honeybees.  The honeybees we mostly know live in hives and are not native to North America.  Not all bees are social, although most live in communities, few are as large as honeybee communities and some bees are solitary.   The more social the bees, the more generalists they are.  Solitary bees often specialize on a particular plant or plant type.

There was a lot of talk about bees disappearing and there are lots of reasons. When they talk about bee decline, they are usually talking about honeybees. A problem with honeybees is concentration and that is often in California.   73% of all portable hives in the USA are in California.  This is based on the value.  Beekeepers in Virginia can rent out a hive for about $40 a day.  In California they can make $175.  Hives are literally stacked up in California. The bees are often too close, facilitating the spread of disease and they sometimes just stressing the bees from all the moving.

A practical thing I learned from the talk was that lots of bees, especially the solitary bubble bees, use old stems as nests.  Wilson cautioned that we should not cut down old standing stems. Don’t mow any more than you must.  I also learned a trivial fact.  Bubble bees sometimes shake down pollen by buzzing and vibrating.  That is why they seem to be hanging around w/o flying.

Emerald ash borer update

Establishment & Early Impact of Spathius galinae on EAB in the NE US – Jian Duan, Ph.D., USDA Agricultural Research

Eradication of emerald ash borer has failed.  That was clear more than a decade ago.  That means that the ash will never again be as widespread as it was once.  There is some hope against the implacable emerald ash borer, however.  Some ash trees are evidently resistant to the ash borer. Ash trees in China and the Russian Far East, home of the emerald ash borer, are fairly resistant.  American woodpeckers are starting to eat them, and some local wasps are attacking them.  Mr. Duan also talked about varying success of Asian wasps introduced to parasitoid on the larvae of the borers.  I learned the parasitoid is different from parasite, in that it always kills the host. Good for ash borers.

All this means that some ash trees will survive and maybe expand their range again, even if they do not become so common as they used to be.

Oak decline

Oak Decline; A Fight Against the Inevitable

This was mostly a talk about individual oak trees and often in urban or suburban environments, interesting but maybe not as useful on the landscape level.

Planning for climate change

Climate atlas

Adaptation Planning and Climate Change – Leslie Grant and Patricia Leopold, United States Forest Service

Virginia is getting warmer and wetter.  Trees take a long time to mature and forest ecosystem take longer than individual trees to develop.  That means we need to plant today for the expected climate tomorrow.  Scientist have estimated which trees and ecosystems will prosper and which will be challenged.

Loblolly, for example, will expand its range and be even more appropriate in Virginia.  Poplar range is likely to shrink in the commonwealth.  Fairfax County is thinking about the future and changing its tree planting plans and recommendations.

I have been adapting on my own land.  The longleaf pine we are planting are at the northern edge of their natural range and genetically they come from farther south.  I am also planting bald cypress in some of the damper places.  The “Virginia” loblolly available from many private firms tends to be genetically from Georgia or South Carolina.  In effect, southern genotypes have been moving north for generations.  We can also expect, or at least hope for, epigenetic adaptation.

Fire in the forest & communicating about forestry

The last two presentations of the day, on prescribed fire and on communications, were very much the sort of things I find interesting.  The problem was that I have found these subjects interesting for many years and there was not much I had not heard many times.  While I was glad to have confirmation, I don’t have much to add.

Tomorrow is another session.  Looking forward.





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Busy couple of days

Lots of variety. Thursday I was planting trees. Yesterday, I did some WAE work for State and watched Espen Matel band play. Today, I am writing up. Most of it is just personal, but I need to write up notes for State from the seminar I attended yesterday on “The US-Canada Permanent Joint Board on Defense at 80,” actual work.

Tree planting

Got the last tree in the ground and there was even daylight left. I planted the last box today, 334 trees.

Well, not the last forever. I will fill in a few more longleaf if I can get a few more boxes.

In a couple weeks, I also am getting 50 white oak, 50 swamp white oak and 300 shortleaf. This is mostly an experiment. I want to have some oak because I like oak. The shortleaf can grow with oaks or longleaf.

Shortleaf are the most widespread of southern pines, but tends to be in mixed forests. Shortleaf can survive fires, but it is not like longleaf. Shortleaf can burn to the ground and re sprout. This is very uncommon for pines. They also can produce lateral sprout branches. In fact, that is one way to identify them. But shortleaf get no respect. They are not cool like longleaf nor as practical as loblolly. But I think it will be good to have at least a few hundred.

Of course, I have natural regeneration of oaks and shortleaf on the property already, but it is nice to plant some new ones.

My first picture is a selfie with the last of the longleaf. Next is the day’s end coming out of the woods. Last is a frog. I almost stepped on him. He is well camouflaged.

Still (sometimes) working at State Department

I like to keep a few fingers in my old profession and I enjoyed listening to speakers and “networking.” I am not going to post the extensive notes. Suffice to say that Canada is heating up, both physically and metaphorically. The high north is heating up faster than the rest of the world and this is taking the Arctic out of the deep freeze. It could soon become an arena of great power conflict. The Russians are obviously playing up there, but the Chinese are probably more aggressive in the long run. Unfortunately, the homeland of North America will be less secure in future than it has been.

FDR originated The US-Canada Permanent Joint Board on Defense in 1940. He did it on his initiative, inviting then Canadian PM Mackenzie King to meet him on his train, where they hashed out a semi-alliance. This was pre-Nato days and even before the U.S. was in World War II, so was a bold move. Lots of people in those days thought that the Nazis would win the Battle of Britain and that Canada would be next on the Hitler’s list. The invasion probably would have come through Newfoundland or Labrador. These were really dark days. Roosevelt had essentially committed the USA to the defense of North America, as I wrote, it was a bold move even if it seems nature today.

The 80th anniversary of the agreement is coming up, so they had a nice birthday cake.

I went over to the Congressional Research Service after that. CRS is the gold standard of political research. Their task is to inform Congress on key events and issues. The reports are generally available to the public I got to go along with State colleagues to meet a couple of the researchers who cover Canada.

Beer belongs

I caught the Silver Line to meet Chrissy at Gordon Biersch at Tyson. That used to be a regular event for us when Chrissy worked nearby, but now is a rarer pleasure.

Espen sings

The big event of the night was Espen Matel playing with his band. I admit my bias, but I think they did very well. It was melodious music and not too loud (The band just before them produced a jaw-clenching cacophony.) Chrissy and I enjoyed watching Espen and his friends making music.

Unfortunately, I could not understand the lyrics, as the lead singer sings in Persian. I think they did well. The band is called Afarinesh. They just released their first album.

So, it was a busy day. As an old retired guy, I am unaccustomed to going through a whole day w/o a nap, but I made it from early to late.

Pictures are in reverse chronological order. First is Espen and his band. Next are Chrissy & I at Gordon Biersch. You see the Library of Congress in the middle picture. CRS is housed in LOC, although in the less impressive looking Madison Building across the street. The picture after that is cutting the birthday cake and the cake, and last is one of the panels at the Johns Hopkins Canada event.

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