The joy of being bullied

This week’s edition of “Story Worth”

Did you have any serious accidents as a child?

My regret about the many accidents I had as a kid was that the emergency hospital did not give out frequent flyer points, but I had only one accident serious enough to land me in the hospital for a long time. When I was eleven years old, I broke my leg. We were playing a silly game for bouncing a super ball against the house and then fighting over it. I fell on the ground with my leg propped up. Ricky Gebhardt fell on top of it and everybody else fell on top of him. It was a compound fracture on the upper leg. My father came out and thought I was faking. He told me to stand up. I tried. It didn’t work.

A broken leg alters destiny

They carried me into the house and laid me on the couch. A broken leg hurts in a kind of throbbing way, especially when there is vibration. My sister was watching “F-Troop”, one of her favorite shows and objected to my screaming. I was being kind of dramatic. My mother came home and called an ambulance. In those days, the cops ran a kind of station wagon. They came up, put a leather thing around my leg and carried me out. It was a big neighborhood event. The neighbors came to watch.

Six weeks in traction changes your perspective

I spent the next six weeks in traction at St Luke’s Hospital. My parents, relatives and friends took turns visiting, and that was nice. My cousin Ray & my father always came on Sundays to watch the Packer Game, killed two birds with one stone. Ray was always very funny, and I enjoyed all the attention, but it was still usually lonely and unpleasant immobilized in the hospital.

Funny the little things you recall. I broke my leg on the first week of school. On the first day, I got in trouble for fighting with my friend Andrew Oren. Don’t recall how it started, but it ended with us putting gum in each other’s hair. I had short hair, so I suffered less than my friend who had nice long hair.  Anyway, this was our introduction to our 6th grade teacher.  She was not amused.  She made some comment about boys being trouble. I suffered karma from the gum incident with my broken leg, since some of the gum still sticking in the hair on the back of my head created minor but persistent discomfort as I lay on the pillow.

Short-term pain = long-term gain

This injury improved my life in the long run, however, at the cost of temporary suffering. The immediate result of my forced inactivity was that I got weaker physically but stronger mentally. I could not get out of bed, so I read & read. My mother was great about bringing books from the library and I went through lots of them. Ironically, learned a lot that was useful for the future even as I fell behind in my actual 6th Grade school work.

Before the long-term gain, let me explain the short-term pain. As I just said above, I fell behind in my school work, and I was behind when I went back to Dover Street School. My teacher was not very understanding. She often said that boys were lazy, and she thought I was a typical example. I read mostly history and geography in the hospital and did well in those subjects, but even there I gave my teacher reason to dislike me. We had a “geography bee”. You got eliminated when you got one wrong. I survived to the final round along with one of the teacher’s favorite girls. I won. But the teacher said that she had to use up all the question. I had to answer three more, otherwise it would be a tie. I recall the last question was obscure – the capital of Sudan. I think she thought she got me on that one, but one of the books I read in hospital was Winston Churchill’s “River War” where he talked about Gordon of Khartoum. I think I still recall the look of surprise on the teacher’s face, but that might be a synthetic memory.

Not smart enough to learn foreign language

I wanted to study language in 7th Grade, specifically I wanted to study German, but I was judged not smart enough. I think the teacher’s recommendation made a difference and she told me I was lazy. I was streamed into the less challenging classes.

My subsequent education and career implies that I am reasonably competent at language learning, so I think I would have done okay, but that is past. On the other hand, I got to be relatively smarter in a less competitive environment.

The real good in the long-run came from the real short-term bad of physical weakness and bullying. The hospital time and long convalescence made me weak. Bullies can smell that, and they gave me a lot of crap. The funny one I recall now related to the then popular series “Gunsmoke.” Reruns featured a character who limped the way I did soon after I got back to school. Some of the kids called me “Chester” after that character. I didn’t know what they meant until somebody explained. We got bad TV reception and maybe we did not get those reruns.

The joy of being bullied

Being bullied was something I did not enjoy, so I resolved not to stay weak, and started to work out – pushups and pullups first. I never stopped. Anyway, flowing from the ostensible bad event of breaking a leg, getting weak, being put into the “dumb” group and being bullied, came my live-long habit of physical exercise, love of reading and generally proactive outlook. How terrible would it have been if some angle had prevented my injury, made my teacher more understanding or kept the bullies off me? You can’t always tell when you get good breaks, or bad ones.

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Why burn?

Why Burn?

People who know me know why we burn and what we are doing, but maybe some people who saw the post about our Brodnax burn don’t know me, so let me explain.

Fire is an important factor in southern pine ecology. Too often, we have excluded fire with negative effects. We are burning on our lands in Virginia to restore the balance. It will encourage the growth of understory plants, including habitat for pollinators and wildlife like quail and deer.

We have also thinned our forest, so that the trees are spaced widely enough to allow sunlight to hit the forest floor to allow that growth mentioned above.

You have seen pine forests that are so thick that almost nothing grows on the ground under the trees. This is an efficient way to grow pulp and timber, but produces a mono-culture that does not share the environment.This is not what we prefer.

Trees are more than just wood and a forest is more than just trees. A more complex and complete ecology is a thing of sublime beauty, that has value beyond its “use” to us.

On our Freeman unit, we have thinned about 80 acres of 22-year-old loblolly to 50 basal area (trees are far apart). We are establishing pollinator habitat and restoring longleaf pine. Longleaf pine ecology is the most diverse in non-tropical North America. Of course that ecology includes more than just the trees, as discussed above. We also planted some bald cypress in the damp rills.

Our Diamond Grove unit is 178 acres, of which 110 acres are in loblolly pine planted in 2003. The balance is stream management zones, mostly hardwood – a lot of beech,maples & tulip trees. We will thin the pines in 2020. I think will go with 80 basal area, not so thin, but still with some light hitting the ground. I will clear 5 acres near Genito Creek and plant that with bald cypress.

This fire is on our Brodnax property. We are patch burning 45 acres: 15 +/- acres each year in rotation. This provides diverse wildlife habitat.

First picture shows the Brodnax burned section. The loblolly there are about 30 years old. Next is thinned Freeman. Those trees are 22 years old. We will burn in December or early next year. We are planting openings with longleaf. Picture #3 shows newly planted lobolly. There were planted in 2016. They are genetically better trees and have grown very fast. Last two are videos from Freeman. It is not so much what they show but the sounds of the peepers in the first and the running water in the second.

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Brodnax fire in February 2019

Great fire today. Seems the perfect fire. The rule is that black (char) is good. White (ash) is okay. Red (burned to the clay) is bad. My inspections found all black. And when I kicked under the duff, I found that the dirt under was still moist in most places. We had moderate winds &moderate temperatures, but the big factor was that we had damp and cool soil and dry grass and brush. Perfect. Of course, I will know that for sure only when I see what grows in the spring.

Adam Smith from DoF did the planning and honchoed the operation. I got the easy assignment of laying the fire lines along the roads, while the DoF guys did strips inside the forest. Alex Matel‘s friend Colin Michał came down and got to lay a fire line along the stream.

Pictures show Adam, Colin and me. Others are various fire photos.

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February 3, Sunday

Not feeling well. I have the end of a cold that has migrated to the lungs. Think I will soon be okay, however.  Have to go to work tomorrow at State Dept. Working on the Columbia River Treaty.  Not sure when or even if I will get paid. Life for WAE is uncertain these days.

Otherwise uneventful.

I wrote a quick note about a recently finished book. “Camelot’s End,” by Jon Ward

I voted in my first election in 1976 and was an enthusiastic Carter supporter. I changed my mind by 1980 and voted for Ronald Reagan. This book describes some of the events that changed my mind, and America’s. It both brings back memories and gives context I did not have at the time.

The 1970s were a not pleasant. We had a continuing energy crisis, inflation & stagnation at the same time (stagflation), our foreign policy was in turmoil and Americans were divided. It was like today in the last aspects, but today we have solved the energy crisis and the economy is robust, which makes it much less depressing. Carter took over at a hard time and things did not improve under his leadership. Presidents get too much credit or blame for things that happen on their watch, but processes that started under Carter helped strengthen the economic boom of the 1980s, such as starting deregulating transportation and airlines, the Staggers Act that resuscitated American freight rail and strong anti-inflation actions by the Fed. None of this much helped Carter at the time, however, and he sure had his share of boneheaded economic plans.

The author clearly implies that Kennedy’s challenge cost Carter the election. Not did it demand resources that Carter could have deployed in the general, but Kennedy also called attention to Carter’s shortcomings as a leader. Kennedy just looked better and with the name, the and the media behind him, Kennedy and many others thought he should replace Carter, who was seen as a kind of accidental president. There was certainly the snob appeal at work. Kennedy was rich and to the manor born, as much as anyone can be in America. Carter grew up poorer than machine almost anyone in America can these days. Although his father later became a successful peanut farmer, little Jimmy worked while Teddy played. This kind of hard scrabble rise did not impress Kennedys. Recall their open contempt for LBJ, or their dismissal of Nixon as “having no class.”

The book is not kind to either man. Kennedy is portrayed as a drunken lightweight. Carter is a man who thinks nothing is funny and is always sure he is right. According to the author, both improved after the 1980 defeat. The author speculates that Kennedy did not really want to be president but felt both pressures to do it and entitlement based on his family. After his defeat, he could apply himself to his Senate career. He remained a drunk and philander for years later, but it didn’t matter as much and, in the Senate, he became adept at passing legislation. Carter became perhaps the most active ex-president, working for a variety of causes, including almost eradicating Guinea worm. Carter was not well-liked by other presidents, including Democrats. He never quite overcame his self-righteousness and proclivity to interfere.

I learned a lot that I just didn’t know about Carter and some of what I didn’t know about Kennedy, although his life was better known. I felt some sympathy for Teddy. He was not groomed for the top-job and likely would have been happier farther from the spotlight. He was pushed beyond his abilities, but on the plus side, he responded reasonably well in later life. Carter was a drive man his entire life. He learned to hide his ruthless ambition behind a smile. His flaw, the one that caught up with him in the presidency, was his need to be in complete control.

The book was very entertaining, especially the first half. I listened to the audiobook while driving and it kept my attention.
I voted in my first election in 1976 and was an enthusiastic Carter supporter. I changed my mind by 1980 and voted for Ronald Reagan. This book describes some of the events that changed my mind, and America’s. It both brings back memories and gives context I did not have at the time.

The 1970s were a not pleasant. We had a continuing energy crisis, inflation & stagnation at the same time (stagflation), our foreign policy was in turmoil and Americans were divided. It was like today in the last aspects, but today we have solved the energy crisis and the economy is robust, which makes it much less depressing. Carter took over at a hard time and things did not improve under his leadership. Presidents get too much credit or blame for things that happen on their watch, but processes that started under Carter helped strengthen the economic boom of the 1980s, such as starting deregulating transportation and airlines, the Staggers Act that resuscitated American freight rail and strong anti-inflation actions by the Fed. None of this much helped Carter at the time, however, and he sure had his share of boneheaded economic plans.

The author clearly implies that Kennedy’s challenge cost Carter the election. Not did it demand resources that Carter could have deployed in the general, but Kennedy also called attention to Carter’s shortcomings as a leader. Kennedy just looked better and with the name, the and the media behind him, Kennedy and many others thought he should replace Carter, who was seen as a kind of accidental president. There was certainly the snob appeal at work. Kennedy was rich and to the manor born, as much as anyone can be in America. Carter grew up poorer than machine almost anyone in America can these days. Although his father later became a successful peanut farmer, little Jimmy worked while Teddy played. This kind of hard scrabble rise did not impress Kennedys. Recall their open contempt for LBJ, or their dismissal of Nixon as “having no class.”

The book is not kind to either man. Kennedy is portrayed as a drunken lightweight. Carter is a man who thinks nothing is funny and is always sure he is right. According to the author, both improved after the 1980 defeat. The author speculates that Kennedy did not really want to be president but felt both pressures to do it and entitlement based on his family. After his defeat, he could apply himself to his Senate career. He remained a drunk and philander for years later, but it didn’t matter as much and, in the Senate, he became adept at passing legislation. Carter became perhaps the most active ex-president, working for a variety of causes, including almost eradicating Guinea worm. Carter was not well-liked by other presidents, including Democrats. He never quite overcame his self-righteousness and proclivity to interfere.

I learned a lot that I just didn’t know about Carter and some of what I didn’t know about Kennedy, although his life was better known. I felt some sympathy for Teddy. He was not groomed for the top-job and likely would have been happier farther from the spotlight. He was pushed beyond his abilities, but on the plus side, he responded reasonably well in later life. Carter was a drive man his entire life. He learned to hide his ruthless ambition behind a smile. His flaw, the one that caught up with him in the presidency, was his need to be in complete control.

The book was very entertaining, especially the first half.

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Have you lost any possessions that you really cared about? What were they?

Another “Story Worth essay

Have you lost any possessions that you really cared about? What were they?

The short answer is “no”, but that would make a very short and not very interesting essay. Maybe the reason I cannot think of anything whose loss has greatly distressed me is because in today’s world you can replace most possessions. The irony is that things don’t much matter when you have lots of things.

Maybe some losses that were hard at the time, but funny now.

Pick pockets of Spain

I got pick pocketed in Spain back in 2002. I was upset at the time, but on reflection I admire the thieves’ skill. Chrissy and I were walking in Barcelona, when this old guy came up and told me there was dirt on my coat. He set about “helping” me brush it off. Soon another guy also came to help. I suspected these guys were dishonest, but I did not want to be rude. Crooks depend on that you don’t want to be rude. So, I kept my hand on my wallet and waited for them to go away. They did. I felt for my wallet and it was still there. I thought that maybe I was wrong about them. They were a couple of odd, but friendly guys. After all, I still had all my stuff and my coat did have a dirt stain on the back.

I was wrong. A while later we wanted to buy some pastries. I reached for my wallet. The wallet was still in my pocket, even the cash was still there, but the credit cards were gone. These guys were so skillful that they took my wallet – while I was aware of them – took out the credit cards and put the wallet back. It was a smart trick. Had they taken the wallet, I would have chased them, or at least immediately reported the cards stolen. At first, I thought that I maybe misplaced the cards, but when we called Visa, we learned that the cards had already been used to buy thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry.

Visa & Master Card were good about it. We suffered no losses, but it was hard, since we no longer could use the cards. Chrissy had her cards, but they were the same ones that I had and were compromised. Fortunately, we always build in some redundancy and we had a third unrelated card in the hotel safe. The lesson I learned was that you never should carry two credit cards with you. One suffices, although in our defense in those “old” days in Europe, some shops took Visa and others Master Card. Many did not take both.

Reporting the incident to the police was a challenge. They did not have English speakers and we do not speak Spanish. Our old Portuguese worked more or less, mostly less, but all we really needed was the police report for the credit card companies and we got one. There was no chance of catching the crooks. I later learned that Barcelona was well-known for the skill of local pick pockets. In all my travels, this is the only time it has ever happened to me. I really suffered no loss, but it was a lot of paperwork to get it resolved. For months after, we got bills from tunnels and toll roads. Visa told us that this was one of the scams. They had a confederate working at the toll booth and they just ran the card over and over. We did not have to pay, but we did have to inform Visa each month. Master Card did not have that problem.

We were victims of crime on three other occasions: in Brazil, in Poland and right here in Washington.

Burglars in Brazil

Thieves broke into our house in Porto Alegre when we were traveling. They were stupid thieves. They broke down one door going in, and another one going out. I think they thought it was another room. Anyway, they stole only a couple bottles of Bourbon, some costume jewelry and my leather coat. A lot of trouble for not much gain. Our neighbors were also robbed in this petty way. They did not even know a robbery had taken place until our friend could not find a favorite suit. What he did find was a pair of old shorts with one of his belts attached. Evidently the thieves tried on the clothes until they found what they wanted and walked out better attired than when they walked in.

Car thieves in Poland (Russian mafia?)

We had a car stolen in Poland. Chrissy was driving in Warsaw, in an area w/o much parking, when she found a great spot. She was not gone long, but when she came back, the spot was open again, but our car was gone. The police figured that it was the Russian mafia, but they blamed the Russians for most things. They said that it was a sort of made to order robbery. The crooks would keep a parking place open until their colleague saw the type of car they wanted. I don’t know about that.

Stupid crooks in Washington

In Washington, a thief broke into our car and took a couple tapes and a glow stick, not much of a haul. The tapes were not of general interest. We were studying Norwegian at the time and one of the tapes was a Norwegian language lesson. The other tape was “Secrets of Power Negotiating,” so we searched for a Norwegian speaking negotiator in SW Washington, but never found him. Replacing the broken window was the big expense. Many of the cars in the lots were attacked. We figure that it was kids or druggies looking for a fast grab.

Shoeless John Matel

Anyway, besides these, maybe my most inconvenient loss was when I left my dress shoes on the train from Krakow to Warsaw. I had to go to meetings with my running shoes and nice suit. It turned out a good thing, an ice breaker.

No narrative of loss

I guess I don’t have a narrative of loss to share. I cannot think of many things I would feel really terrible about if I lost them, although I prefer not. I would be very sad if my house burned down and devastated if I “lost” my forest land, but I don’t think that was the sort of possession they meant. Possessions can be replaced or maybe you didn’t need them in the first place. Loss is not a problem but an expense.

My pictures are from our trip to Barcelona, a wonderful place to visit, pick pockets notwithstanding. The picture of Alex and Espen is outside our house in Warsaw. There was a mean dog there. They were afraid of him, but had to look.

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Forest Health Conference – day 2

Wild hogs are the worst

Wild pigs are the worst, or certainly among the worst invasive species. They can destroy a corn field in one night.  They are an especially savage enemies of longleaf pine and are a big factor in its decline in Virginia.  Longleaf pine roots are rich in starch.  In colonial times, “free range” or feral pigs rooted up and killed young longleaf.

Wild pigs are not present in most of Virginia, but they are serious problems where they are found and in other states.  The best way, the only effective way, to deal with wild pigs is to exterminate them.  Hunting does not control their numbers.  They breed rapidly and you need to kill 70% of the population every year to keep populations under control. The pig is one of our most efficient ways to produce protein and this same factor makes them efficient pests.

Jeffrey Rumbaugh, USDA-APHIS, talked about feral pig management.  The bottom line is that any are too many.  A challenge is that some people like to hunt them and so introduce them, and they soon get out of hand.  That is why we do not want to encourage a hunting culture to develop around them.  As it is now, wild pigs are nuisance animals and you can trap or shoot them anytime you see fit.  But that is easier said than done. They are cunning animals.  The methods and traps that work for a while will not work all the time.  Where there is enough open area, they can be shot from helicopters, otherwise it is much harder.

Herbicides safer than ever

Charlie Smyth, Nutrien Solutions talked about herbicides. Herbicides are getting much more precise and you need to use a lot less.  At one time, they dusted gallons of the stuff per acre.  Now it is down to a few ounces.  I dislike using herbicides on my land, but sometimes the alternatives are even less attractive or impossible.  Some invasive species just cannot be controlled w/o herbicides.  Herbicides may also be the way to help a beneficial ecology to establish or reestablish. An established ecology may then require little or no use of herbicides to maintain it, and that is a good goal for forestry.

It is NOT that herbicides are not safe if properly used. One of the purposes of the forest health conference is to certify pesticide and herbicide users.   There is currently a controversy around glyphosate, one of the world’s most widely used herbicides.  No evidence is found to think it is harmful. The Canadians recently did a meta study and determined – “No pesticide regulatory authority in the world currently considers glyphosate to be a cancer risk to humans at the levels at which humans are currently exposed. We continue to monitor for new information related to glyphosate, including regulatory actions from other governments, and will take appropriate action if risks of concern to human health or the environment are identified.”

The once and future king of eastern American forests – GMOs give hope

Good news for a future most of us will not live to see is the return of the American chestnut.  Nobody (almost nobody) alive today remembers a healthy chestnut forest in its native range, but the records and photographs indicate that it was magnificent.  The American chestnut was a keystone species in forests in North America.  Its wood provided timber for building our young nation.  Its nuts fed wildlife livestock and humans from Canada to Florida.  All this ended in just a few decades when an Asian blight swept through our American forests.  The blight probably arrived sometime in the last 19th Century, but it was first documented at the Bronx Zoo in 1904.

William Powell, Ph.D., SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, described his work and research.

The blight releases a toxin that kills ends up girdling the tree and killing it.  After all the chestnuts are killed, the blight persists in introduced chestnuts and in some oak species. It does not kill these trees, however.  But that means the blight is always present, ready to attack new chestnuts trees.  No American chestnuts have shown any immunity to the blight. Asia chestnuts are not much harmed by it, and there attempts to cross American and Asian chestnuts has been ongoing for nearly a century. The problem is that they are similar species but not the same.  The American chestnut is taller, straighter and just better.  Hybrids have been unable to survive well in the wild and they are not the same.

Transgenic research may help solve this problem.  The capacity to live with the toxin produced by the blight is common in nature.  It is possible – and has been done – to transfer the gene from another plant to chestnuts.  These trees are 100% American chestnut save for the addition of this one factor.

GMOs are heavily regulated, and USDA, FDA and EPA all have a piece of this.  The transgenic chestnuts are currently passing USDA tests.  So far, no differences between the improved chestnuts and other varieties have been found. They have tested the mycorrhizal environment, leaf litter, nuts, flower and nutrient intake, among other things.  They have looked for effects on animals like frogs and bees and found nothing. This IS an American chestnut tree.  The difference is that it is not killed by the blight.

It is important to note that it is not killed by the blight AND it also does not kill the blight.  The gene affect the danger of the toxin produced by the blight, makes it harmless to the tree. This is important because it will not set off the adaptive arms race, i.e. it will not cause the blight to develop resistance to the cure.  If the blight could articulate a goal, it is not to kill trees, but to survive. That it still does.

USDA tests will be done in about 18 months. FDA may take another year.  It is unknown how long EPA will take to approve.  There is even some doubt that EPA should be involved. They regulate pesticides and herbicides. This genetic improvement does not kill anything.

The next steps will not be to plant trees, but to distribute pollen.  Scientists want to use the resistant pollen to pollinate trees that came up from root sprouts or were planted by concerned landowners or other scientists.  The idea is to make sure there is a lot of genetic diversity.  The blight will kill many of the offspring of these crosses, but those that inherit the immunity will survive along with the genetic diversity present in their native home populations.   The chestnut range goes from Canada to Florida.  There are a lot of different environments in that large area and lots of local adaptations that are likely useful to keep in the gene pool.

So, lots of good news about chestnut trees, with the caveat that they will not become a major forest tree again for 50-100 years.  Those of us alive in 2119 can brag that we were present at the creation.  We are likely to see American chestnut trees in gardens and maybe along street with the next decade.  There are lots of “Chestnut Streets” in American towns. It will be nice if they can have the real things shading the eponymous streets.

Beautiful dark green hemlock groves: we may not soon see their like again

A very sad loss is the beautiful dark green hemlocks that used to shade coves & mountain streams. I still recall my first hike to Old Rag Mountain. The hike started in a hemlock grove.  Hemlock groves were dense and so quiet and dark.  It was an almost spiritual experience walking among them.  They are all gone now, killed by the hemlock wholly adelgid, that showed up from Asia around 1924 and it is eating its way through hemlocks in eastern North America.  Scientists think that extreme cold kills them, which may be the good news from Wisconsin and Minnesota.  No such salvation in Virginia or the Carolinas.

We have been fighting back with chemical, biological and silvicultural tools, but success is limited. Chemicals work just fine, but they are too expensive to be applied at the landscape level. Scientists have had some limited success with biological controls, but no great breakthroughs.

Genetics might be the best way to go.  Transgenic sciences are developing rapidly, and it may soon be possible to enhance hemlocks with using the new science.  The adelgid infests hemlocks in its native China but does not kill healthy trees.  Western hemlock species seem also to have resistance to the bugs. Our eastern species (eastern and Carolina hemlock) might could be equipped. The usual caveat is the time it takes to grow trees.  Eastern hemlocks are not a key forest industry tree, which means that it, unfortunately, may get less attention than a species more commercially valuable.  It is, however, extremely valuable as part of forest ecology.  It grows in very shady places and has a major role in keeping streams cold, which affects fish populations.

We had a special edition talk about the new disease affecting beech trees around Lake Eire. This is very frightening. They still do not know the cause.

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Healthy forests – Virginia Association of Forest Health Professionals 27th Annual Conference

In praise of “non-essential” government employees

Coming so close to the end of the shutdown, I am reminded of all the good work that Federal workers do. It is work that is low profile. If they stop working, we do not immediately notice. We might not notice at all that they are gone, but we would notice that our forests were less healthy, that our water was not as clean and that we just were confusingly lost.

It is always a little depressing to attend these forest health conferences, with the solace that lots of smart people are working to protect our trees.

Many of the scientists that presented their research at the conference were Federal employees and everybody depended on Federal programs in some way. Could we get along w/o their work? Yeah, but our world would be a lot worse.

Anyway, before I go into the insights I took away from the first day of the Virginia Association of Forest Health Professionals 27th Annual Conference, I want to say thanks to all those “non-essential” government employees who do the essential work of keeping our forests safe and defending our country from pathogens and pests, or at least giving us the science to fight back.

The agenda is attached, and you can see the biographies of the speakers. I am not going to make a full report but rather talk about my own takeaways.

Spotted lanternfly, the current bad bug

Eric Day talked about our latest big threat, the spotted lanternfly. If we can control this pest, it will become not important. If it gets away, it will cost us billions of dollars. The spotted lanternfly is very fond of another pest from China – the ailanthus or tree of heaven. Mr. Day said that one way to control the fly would be to control the tree of heaven. He meant it ironically. We have been fighting the tree of heaven for more than 100 years. I have been going at it in my own corner of the forest going on fifteen years. The best we can do is fight it, knowing we will never win. Tina MacIntyre, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also talked about the fly. She emphasized the need for people who spend a lot of time in the woods to be vigilant. If you see something that looks like a lanternfly, get a sample to share with the extension and then kill as many as you can. These bugs have no place in the Old Dominion. Kill them first and ask questions after.

Remember the birds, bees and butterflies

I listened carefully to Anand Persad, Ph.D., Davey Institute, talking about pollinator habitat because I am working on pollinator habitat on my land. I am looking forward to March to plant more varieties of wildflowers. Most of what he said, I kind of knew already, but it was good to hear it again. You need a variety of plants that flower at different times, since pollinators need to eat all season long. One thing I just had not thought about was the need for tree flowers. Deciduous trees flower, although most forest trees are not showy. They flower earlier in the season, before the wildflowers even emerge. This tree pollen provides early food for pollinators, especially bumble bees. Bumble bees also need nesting places, often in fallen logs. An ecosystem is complex.

Early warning system

Most of the nasty pests that show up in America come from Asia. The big and obvious reason is that trade with Asia is so robust. There are lots of opportunities for the bugs to hitch a ride. Less easily seen but just as obvious when you look is that East Asia has many similar ecosystems. The forests there are similar to ours and their pests can easily adapt to our tree species. Back in Asia, many of these bugs are endemic, but not big problems. The ecosystems have developed balance and defense. When a foreign bug shows up in America, it does not bring along the full panoply of predators and counter measures. North American pests, BTW, can have the same disruptive effect in Chinese forests.

Dave Coyle, Ph.D., Clemson University talked about the above and suggested that we need for an early warning system. Take the example of the emerald ash borer, that is spreading across our ash forests like a deadly wave. Back home in China, it does not generally kill healthy ash trees. They have developed defenses. But a while back, the Chinese were reforesting their hills. Among the trees they chose for this were American imports – green and white ash. At first, they did wonderfully in their new environment, having left many of their old pests behind. But then the emerald ash borer found them.

The Chinese noticed this. They studied it and wrote about it. They even wrote about it in English, the international language of science, but nobody paid much attention inside or outside China. In retrospect, we could have seen this coming. What we could have done about it is another story, but it need not have been such a surprise.

Prevention is always better than cure, but it is hard to do. A pest now destroying laurel and bay trees throughout the South is a vascular fungus transmitted by the invasive redbay ambrosia beetle. This beetle is smaller than a sprinkle on a donut. Genetic testing indicates that ALL the beetles that have killed 500 million trees in the last decade originated from ONE bug that hitches a ride from China, probably to the Port of Savanna. These bugs can reproduce asexually, so one is all it takes. It is a tall task to keep out all these things. This bug is small enough to fit through a spaghetti strainer, and it takes only one.

Those of us who grow pines in Virginia are not overly fond of sweetgum that overrun our piney woods. Nevertheless, we can appreciate their place in the ecosystem. The Chinese like sweetgum for their nice form and beautiful fall colors, so there are lots in China. But they are now being attacked by a bug called the sweetgum inscriber. If this gets to America, it will devastate our forests. We should take the warning.

… And you need fire in pine ecosystems

Adam Coates, Ph.D., Virginia Tech, talked out the value of fire in the ecosystem. He was responding to studies that showed that wildfire destroys forest soils. These studies are true but off target. The hot and destructive wildfires destroy forest soils. Prescribed fires and the formerly common light fires do not. I have written about fire so often, that I will not go more here, except to note that Mr. Coates talked about a couple places I want to go in South Carolina: the Santee experimental forest near Cordesville and the Tom Yawkey forest near Georgetown, SC.

Asian longhorn beetles, dangerous but big and stupid

The Asian longhorn beetle has the capacity to be one of the biggest forest pest in the history of forest pests. It can kill almost everything in its way. Fortunately, after it is detected it can be controlled and eradicated. Eternal vigilance is the price of this, explained Joe Boggs, Ohio State University. By the time they are discovered, they usually have been there for a while, but they are not very mobile; they can fly but usually prefer not to and they are big. The infestations can be traced to single introductions from Asia and then their spread. They tend to move where people move them. Don’t move firewood.

Pine beetles, bad but manageable

Dave Coyle came back to talk about the southern pine beetle. This bug was the plague of southern pine forests, but it now mostly under control in the south. There are lots of possible reasons, none of which tell the whole story. The biggest factor is management. Pine beetles depend on over thick forests. If you thin your trees on time, the beetles have trouble getting hold. A forest with 120+ basal area is “beetle bait.” BTW – my forests are thinned to 50 BA.

Beetle outbreaks have not been a problem in Virginia for more than 20 years. Beetles are a problem still in Mississippi and Alabama. Reasons for this are not completely clear, but one reason may be lack of thinning in National Forests. You can see an almost perfect correlation between poorly managed USG lands and beetle spots. Mr. Coyle showed us an aerial photo of a beetle outbreak that stopped exactly on the properly line between an private and thinned forests and an essentially unmanaged government property.

The pine beetle is a manageable problem in the South, where we are used to it, but the bug is moving north, affecting loblolly and pitch pine in New Jersey and as far as Massachusetts. If the bugs can keep moving north, they may eat their way into white & red pine. This could be a disaster. These trees do not have the same sort of open ecology as southern pines, with their regular burning regimes. I grew up around white pines and I simply love them. The idea that they could be so endangered is heartbreaking. Let’s hope those smart guys working to find solutions will find one in time.

The heartbreak of the ash apocalypse

Speaking of heartbreaking tree death, Kathleen Knight, Ph.D., U.S. Forest Service talked about her research into ash mortality and the emerald ash borer. She has been monitoring ash in Ohio for more than ten years. The bad news is that mortality is nearly 100%, nearly – more on that later. The less bad news is that ecosystems can adapt. As the ash die back, other trees take their places, especially silver maples, elms & basswoods, that are present in the forest and in the understory. The dead ash are very brittle and they tend to fall down rapidly, presenting a danger to people walking in the woods, but making way for new trees. The good news and the bad news is that in a few years it will be hard to tell that the ash tree were ever there.

Ms. Knight also discovered some good news after returning to one of her sites, showing the value of follow up. She and her team saw a perfectly healthy ash tree among the many dead stems. Closer inspection of the site turned up 106 more. This was only around 1% of the total, but they are hope. Ash trees can be easily grown from cuttings. There may be hope for resistant trees in a short time. Studies show that the resistant ash can kill the borers. This is an adaptation of the Asian ash trees. The resistant American ash trees are not quite as good at this, but it is the first generation.

The other good news about ash trees is that they can be saved chemically. This is not cheap and cannot reasonably be done in forests, but valuable ash trees near homes or shading streets can be preserved. This is because of how the emerald ash borer interacts with the trees. The borers are phloem feeders, i.e. they are shallow. The phloem easily carries insecticide to kill the bugs and their larva. The question is if there can be “herd immunity”. If a sufficient number of ash trees are treated and the bug that invest them are killed, will the populations be cut enough to save unprotected trees?

The pathogen attacking the pest

Last presentation of the day was about a pathogen that is attacking tree of heaven. Rachel Brooks, Virginia Tech, presented her research. Tree of heaven, ailanthus, is a serious pest from China so it seems almost poetic justice that a new pathogen from Asia might help free us from this trouble. So far, it looks like attacks only tree of heaven and spreads via root graphs. Biocontrol is good but I am always a little leery of it. What can kill one species today, might turn on another later.

I didn’t stick around for the pesticide safety presentation, since I don’t handle pesticides myself. Those who do get continuing education credit for these things. I do not. I will be back tomorrow for more.

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January tree planting

I planted more than 400 tree today: 50+ bald cypress & 350 longleaf pine. I understand the professionals are much faster, but it is a lot of me. I also planted in smaller batches and with more thought. For example, I plant the bald cypress in sunny but wet places, not just in straight lines, and I am planting the longleaf in patches.

It was a nice day, sunny & around 50 degrees. It is nice to be out and doing something. I like to imagine what the trees will look like when they candle this spring and maybe decades from now.

I was listening to relevant audio programs. I finished one on evolution and one on dynamism in nature, which is some of the same thing.

The audio book was called “Inheritors of the Earth.” I actually listened to it about a year ago, but I wanted to revisit. The theme is that nature is dynamic. The author talks about deep time. When you look at it this way, being native doesn’t matter. Very few things are where they developed.

Longleaf have their own “native” story. It is likely that something like the longleaf ecology has been around for tens of thousands of years, however it was not where it is now. Longleaf ecosystems, or maybe proto-longleaf ecosystems, likely developed on the coastal plain of Norht America, but at a time of much lower sea levels. So the longleaf coastal plain is now underwater, the continental shelf.

I like to think that we are restoring longleaf in Virginia, but what does that mean? They were “native” to our state in 1607, but so what? We often take first European settlement as the base-line for “natural” America, but is was no more natural then than it is now. We really are not restoring as building an ecosystem with the natural principle of the longleaf ecology.

Anyway, I have confidence that it is good.

My picture is the end of the day. I just barely got the last trees in the ground before dark. Days are short this time of year.


Spent the day planting bald cypress in some wet spots on the farm. I listened to the Great Courses while at it. It seemed appropriate to hear about evolution when in nature.

Evolution explains lots of things, but it I can see why some folks don’t like it. Of course, the reason often given is religion, but I don’t think that is a real issue. You can still have faith in transcendence even if you recognize the mechanism of evolution. I think the greater reason why people dislike the idea is that they dislike the idea of emergence.

Emergence takes away not only the idea of a plan that we can figure out, but it also removes heroes and villains, and people like to have heroes and villains.

The audio program is what Darwin didn’t know, as you see in the attached. Mostly they are talking about advances in genetics. Darwin postulated the idea of evolution, but he had no idea of the mechanism. Mendel and genetics were still in the future.

What Darwin actually got wrong is that he thought that evolution always went very slowly and that everything was gradual. In fact, evolution sometimes moves very quickly.

Nature is resilient. I say that often. And nature is resilient because of the process of evolution. Everything changes and adapts to changing circumstances.

 

 

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Last day in San Diego – Stay Classy

Notice the difference in the photo, not beer but ice cream. The others are more of the usual.

We had lunch at a place called Union in San Diego’s Gaslight district. Food was good, but we wanted the ambiance of the outdoor seating.

San Diego is very pleasant. It is fairly green in the winter, since the Mediterranean climate here features warm and dry summers and rainy winters. A local friend, Dana P. Eyre told me that this winter was indeed rainy, but not outside the normal. although there have been droughty winters in the last few years.

We go back on Tuesday, not sorry to have missed the snowy weather back home.

We also visited the San Diego Botanical Garden, as you can see in picture #4. Last is the entrance to the gaslight district, the San Diego old town.

Despite California car culture, San Diego is a very walkable city. It has a good troll line. We dropped off the car a day early, since we didn’t figure to need it here for the last day.

Link from my first visit to the Botanical Garden.

  

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Salton Sea, Borrego Springs, California

We had a beer-less lunch today in a little village called Borrego Springs. We drove from Palm Desert to Temecula in a very round about way, first going south the Salton City and then west through Borrego Desert Park.

The Salton Sea was created by accident in 1905 when water from the Colorado River broke through dikes and flooded the flat land below sea level now the Salton Sea. This “lake creation” has happened periodically in history. Water fills the basin and then evaporates. In the deep historical past, this was part of the ocean, the Sea of Cortez reached farther inland during warmer periods. In the much cooler times of the last ice age, it was part of a big freshwater lake. When California became part of the United States, there was no water. It was called the Salton Sink and was like a smaller version of Death Valley.

This incarnation of the Salton Sea is living longer because it is fed by irrigation runoff from the Imperial Valley. For some years, levels were actually rising, but more efficient irrigation has produced less runoff. The Salton Sea is now evaporating faster than it is being filled. It will become an ecological problem, as the salty dust exposed by evaporation becomes dust in the wind.

Salton City is odd. It was platted out in the 1960s as a resort community. The streets are laid out in a grid patter and have names like “Harbor,” “Marina” or “Coastal Breeze”. None of those things apply to today’s Salton City. It is mostly empty. I was surprised to learn that the city is actually growing. New houses are going up. Why not? They already have the grid. It is a depressing place, however, like visiting a Twilight Zone city.

We drove along the Salton Sea and saw parts of the Imperial Valley, the most productive agricultural area in the world. But it is not really pretty. It is like an agro-industrial place, very flat and productive.

As you leave Salton City, you go through some depressing piles of dirt, but these are full of campers. Evidently it is a good place for off-the-road. Borrego Springs is a pleasant little place. I imagine it is pretty hot in the summer.

First two pictures are us at Borrego Springs. Next is CJ driving the convertible. It was a bit too cold, but since we paid the big bucks, we wanted to use it. You can see a lot more from the open car and the mountains past Borrego Springs were attractive. Picture #4 is Salton City. That is the middle of two, really. Lots of lots available. Last is Borrego Springs.

Okay. A day w/o beer is like a day w/o sunshine. We had the Diet Coke for lunch, we we walked over to place called Karl Strauss not far from our hotel

Had some great beer. I did the flight first and the winner was one called X Rye Zeeb. The X is just for show. The rhy is for one of the big ingredients and the Zeeb is the name of the brew master. It was a very smooth IPA. It would not meet the German purity law (Reinheitsgebot) since includes rye, but it was good beer. Chrissy had an Irish red.

Our pictures show the event. In picture #4 I am looking serious. I have been told that I smile too much so people do not take me seriously What do you think of my serious look?

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