Friday, April 24, 2015

Voices of the Future (2) - The Endangered Species Act, from a Human Perspective

by Matt Heffner
Forest Ecosystem Management major, graduating May, 2016
mjh5432@psu.edu

In 1876 the “Southern Herd” of bison was gone. By 1884, all the bison in the country were almost gone. Sad story, huh? Well… yeah it was absolutely because of man’s influence. But, at the low levels left when people stopped hunting them, would they have survived without our assistance? What could have happened if we had left them fail? Maybe natural vegetation throughout the land would have stabilized the soils for forestation or agricultural purposes. We will never know, but the point is… the same people that are saying “hands-off our endangered species” (i.e. WWF) are the same ones that are very “hands on”. Very few of the species we currently have are ones that were here a 10-20 thousand years ago. Heck, we weren’t even the only species of the Homo genus then. Stories of dragons, and beasts, and creatures only stories can capture have riddled our history with mystery. Without proper recording devices or systems, it’s heresay as to if these creatures may have been in existence just 2-3 thousand years ago. That may or may not be true but…1000 years from now, our creatures may be something of myth. Difference is, we have the ability to photograph things, mass produce books across a nation, and see a live bald eagle with the click of a button.

I would never disagree with helping animals that we really messed up, i.e. Bald Eagles with DDT , Passenger Pigeons with our shotguns and who-knows-what’s, you get the picture. These issues should have been addressed, as the Bald Eagle problem was, and they have made a remarkable recovery. The problem here is, these species on the endangered species list have been given special consideration in the making of decisions. There are actually laws in place to protect these animals, and provisions to be followed when encounters with said species occur. A big debate, at least in this class, was the increased concern over bats and white nose syndrome. There are two Pennsylvania species currently listed, the Indiana Bat (endangered), and the Northern Long-Eared Bat (threatened). Regulation (section 2.4.1.1) limits logging within a designated radius from any of the 18 known PA hibernacula, known maternity tree, male capture record, or female capture record. It limits when and where you can use your own land, and the assets within. You can be nowhere near a hibernaculum, but have record of 1 male bat flying by your land and captured within 2.5 miles of your land, and your land now becomes subject to regulation which includes limited cutting times on anything over 5” in diameter (12” is usually the cutoff for marketable trees). Oh and by the way, if any of those trees can be considered suitable for a roost, you have to leave them as well.  If you take a look at that species list at the bottom of that link, it bears a striking resemblance to a list of Allegheny hardwood forest species which dominates Pennsylvania forests.

This is of course very biased. I am without a doubt a leaner towards the human aspect, because I’m human. The way I see this issue… as of now only 6 bat species are known to be affected by the white nose syndrome. 6 out of 45 known species! You can’t tell me that with 39 other species left, they won’t expand their ranges in compensation and fill the niche these bats are leaving empty. It is evolution at its finest. I do see the human factor of us contributing to the spread and accelerating the process, but honestly a fungus killing its natural prey has no backing to place 100% blame on humans. Therefore, the blame is not on us, the species will be replaced in nature, and the effects will not have a significant impact on humans and certainly not on nature itself.

This now brings me to the incredible number of current endangered species. Just in the United States alone, we have a listed 490 animals and 728 plants. 490 animals that have gotten so low on numbers, that we have to presumably take action because they serve of some significance to their environments, food chain, or human resource. I however would like to challenge that. I will touch on just a few examples.

Example 1: Ivory-billed Woodpecker. This “holy grail” has been “gone” for over 100 years. In that time there has been no significant habitat changes. There has been no problematic effects that anyone has observed. The niche was easily filled, and life has continued. Yet still this bird is seen in such regard as to spend government funds researching if it may or may not still be in existence. This is not only a waste of time to research but a waste of time and resources to “protect” their natural habitats. This puts strain where strain is not due, for a species who has moved on in the order of the world.

Example 2: San Francisco Garter snake. Okay… why? Is this snake causing a huge loss of anything, or dangerous increase in population of some other species that will not be compensated for by another predator species? Honestly, I can’t tell you, because that is apparently not a criteria for being listed under the endangered species act.

Some are even kind of horror stories for the environment.

Example 3: Northern Spotted Owl. Who knows?! One of those subjects that is fairly evenly supported. So we either did something good, or bad. So, yes we could have done something bad. Learn from this, regardless of the answer we will never all agree on. If you can under-protect, you can also over-protect.

Through these examples I think we can come to the conclusion that we don’t know enough about all of these animals to create such huge leaps in policy to sustain their existence. The creators of the regulations in each of the species, really need to relax. They try to please the loudest voice. This applies to anything political. In this case you would hope science would prevail, unfortunately it remains the same. Wildlife has a louder voice. Not saying they lobby more, but people can relate more to a creature than a tree.

What happens is, people get sidetracked easily. The act should do it’s best to keep us on track. I believe you first should ask five questions about the species.
  1. Does this animal/plant have a significant effect on its environment?
  2. Is this animal/plant the main food source, or the main predator of another animal or plant?
  3. Can another species fill the niche of this species?
  4. Does this animal/plant contribute to the well-being of the human race?
  5. Can we sensibly claim fault for this?
If you answer yes to 1 and 2, see number 3. If there are no’s across the spectrum, we have to let it go. You have to pick your fights in life. If we would use that logic within that 1218 endangered species, we could save time, money, and manpower in both the policy making and enforcement of such policy. If you choose to disregard the questions and think that a species should still be placed on the list of endangered species, than you should be able to make one convincing claim as to why this species is so important.

Hopefully at this point you see my approach to a solution without the cloud of my anti-endangered species front. I care, but only about things that we either directly impacted, or the loss of would be problematic. I’m not completely heartless, I’m human. There are policy changes that should be made, because for humans to thrive, some species just won’t survive.

But with videos like this, who could ever want to allow for natural extinction?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Voices of the Future (1) - The Use of Prescribed Fires on Pennsylvania Private Lands

FIRE – Not Such a Bad Thing After All          

by Coby Salmon
Forest Science major, graduating May, 2016
cms6332@psu.edu

History

To best understand how our forests in Pennsylvania work, you must know and understand their history.

The mixed-oak forest type dominated the Pennsylvania forests through the middle of the 20th century. Burned often by the Native Americans and then the settlers, the forests of Pennsylvania favored fire adapted species. Heavily fire adapted mixed-oak forest types need fires to maintain their dominance. The anti-fire regime started around 1911 with the implementation of the Weeks Act that established state fire wardens. The Clarke-McNary Act further expanded the anti-fire regime by improving the federal-state partnership for fighting fires.  Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Program provided an ample amount of manpower to be used to fight fires which led to the 10 a.m. Policy to further suppress fires.  The Smokey Bear campaign worked fantastically to bring people’s awareness about forest fires and how to prevent them. 

Flaws of the Policies

Forest fire prevention and suppression caused an excess of fuels in the west and a decrease of fuels in the east.  Many ecosystems of the West require regular fires to keep the fuel loads low and reduce ladder fuels, thus preventing catastrophic crown fires.  Eastern ecosystems require fires to maintain the mixed-oak forest type and suppress fire-intolerant species.  Fire-intolerant species include maples, birch, and many other mesophytic hardwoods that thrive in the absence of fire because they have thin bark and epigeal germination.  Oaks thrive with fire because they have fire adaptive characteristics including thick bark and hypogeal germination.  Hypogeal germination means that the oaks put more effort into establishing roots than establishing a tall shoot.  The extensive root systems of oak saplings allow oaks to survive forest fires even though other regeneration dies.  This allows them to out-compete regeneration of fire-intolerant species that either died from the fire or lost most of their energy.  The absence of fire allows the mesophytic hardwoods to suppress oaks.  Furthermore, less flammable mesophytic leaves lay flat on the forest floor which traps moisture.  The more moisture in fuels, the less likely fires will spread; the less likely fires will spread, the more mesophytic hardwoods thrive.  The absence of fires not only allows fire-intolerant species to flourish, it changes the composition of the forests through this process called mesophication.  Oaks, on the other hand, produce leaves that curl when dropped which allows more air flow around them.  This allows for the leaves to dry out more quickly.  Drier fuels allow for fires to spread; the more fires spread, the more oaks out compete mesophytic hardwoods.

How it applies to Landowners

Working hard to use prescribed fires, the federal and state governments know and understand the legacies of the previous fire laws.  The management of fuel loads in the west and regeneration of oaks in the east have become the primary uses of prescribed fires.  In 2009, Governor Ed Rendell signed a law into effect that eliminated the possibility of criminal charges against prescribed burns that went awry.  This new law allowed land management agencies like the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation of Natural Resources (DCNR) to use prescribed fires for habitat management and forest regeneration projects.  

What about the private land owner?  The PGC and DCNR can only burn on their public lands.  Out of the 16.7 million acres of forestland in just Pennsylvania alone, private land owners possess 11,857,000 acres, an impressive 71% of the total forest land in Pennsylvania.  The DCNR’s Pennsylvania Prescribe Fire Standard briefly mentions private land owners.  Private landowners cannot prescribe burn their own property to regenerate their forests in the favor of oaks by themselves.  Private land owners need to have a state recognized prescribed burn manager (burn boss) to be able to manage their prescribed burns.   Burn bosses are hard to come by which means prescribed burns on private property are rare.

The Proposed Course of Action

1. Establish a multi-step program to educate private landowners on:
  • The benefits of prescribed fires.
  • How to apply prescribed fires to their own land.
2. Hire more service foresters for the sole purpose of aiding in the planning and application of private prescribed burns.

3. Establish strict guidelines, specific to forest landowners, for the planning and implementation of the prescribed burn.
  • They must provide the manpower that possess both the certifications and physical requirements for Type II Firefighter
  • If they cannot provide the manpower, they must pay for the use of State employees who meet the requirements. The cost will be subsidized so as not to over burden the landowner with costs.
4. Establish policies preventing insurance companies for penalizing landowners for properly conducting prescribed burns.

5. Budget more money for each district to purchase more firefighting equipment for the use on private lands.

6. Aid in the establishment of prescribed burn associations throughout the state.

Prescribed burns done by private landowners can and do work as long as the proper protocol is in place and followed.  Check out this video.




Why I Care

Blessed with 286 acres in a little valley near Chambersburg, PA, my family developed a love and passion for the outdoors and a desire to manage it properly.  My love of the outdoors inspired me to earn my Associate’s in Forest Technology and pursue my Bachelors of Science in Forest Science.  I know the benefits of prescribed burns in our forests and want desperately to manage my family’s property with fire.  In 2005 my father and uncle decided to implement a fifty-five timber stand improvement harvest.  The harvest ended up turning into a shelterwood harvest and produced an impressive amount of oak regeneration.  Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum), black birch (Betula lenta), red maple (Acer rubrum), blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis), and black raspberry (R. occidentalis) grow alongside the oak regeneration in the stand.  Aside from the blackberry and black raspberry, these species inhibit the ability for the oaks to thrive.  A prescribed burn will top kill tree regeneration including the oaks.  The oaks will be able to bounce back and flourish, suppressing the mesophytic hardwoods.  Unfortunately, I have yet to find a burn boss to be able to burn my land.  The course of action I proposed will not only allow me to burn my land but provide the 738,000 private landowners the opportunity to do the same with their lands.

Only you can change forest policy.  Call your representative today.




Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Voices of the Future

Tomorrow, I'm going to start a new feature on Go Wood. It will be called "Voices of the Future", and it will feature guest posts by young people involved in the world of wood- and natural resource-related issues.

The first posts in the series will be contributions from this year's class of Penn State students taking Forest Policy 480. The students were assigned a term project for a significant portion of their semester grade, with that project being a blog post related to a forest policy issue of their choosing. They have been given the opportunity to share their posts on Go Wood, or not, and most have opted in.

The posts will be very much their own thoughts, in their own words and style. We discussed a list of possible topics during the semester, and many were presented to them through the course content and by the several excellent guest lecturers* in the course this year. But they were on their own to choose one of those topics or any other of their own choosing. They were offered the option of having me doing a rough-draft review of their post, and if they choose to do so, I look them over and give them a few suggestions. However, I have not attempted in any way to influence their thoughts or policy proposals, nor to improve their grammar. I've only offered suggestions on presentation of ideas and of questions the typical reader might have on reading the post. In other words, what you'll be reading are the thoughts of students graduating from the modern university. And those are the thoughts that will be shaping tomorrow's future.

The series begins tomorrow, and will continue with only occasional interruptions from me until all the students posts have gone up. I think you'll enjoy the range of topics covered and diversity of opinions and policies offered. In return, they and I are hoping that you will comment on the posts, either publicly or to the return email address provided, so that they can experience "real world feedback" to their ideas.

Tune in tomorrow...





* Thank you, Andy Blazewicz, Mike Barton, Lara Fowler, and Jim Finley!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Vacationing with Wood People

You've done the cruise thing. Disney, Hawaii, Paris. Check, check, check. Nice weather, good food, bad water, big crowds. Sensory overload with a hefty price.

This year, you want to get away from all those places that promise to get you away from it all, and herd you in with everyone else seeking to get away from it all.

Well this year, I can promise you, there is a place you can do it. There will not be massive crowds...no jacked-up tourist prices...and the water is great.

And the few, normal, well-adjusted folks that you'll be sharing the week with are...wood nuts.

That's because, this summer, Penn State, the International Wood Collector's Society, and the International Association of Wood Anatomists, are inviting you, the Go Wood reader, to an event so unusual, so laid-back, so educational, and so woody, that news outlets around the world are totally ignoring it.

That event is World of Wood 2015.

But please, don't tell anyone...we want to keep this thing quiet.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Pondering a Future without Wood...while Watching the Games

Some of my overzealous colleagues over in Engineering are predicting that future technologies such as 3D printing will eliminate the need for wood harvesting and production completely. As you can imagine, I'm a bit dubious of their claim...I've been unable to envision how that might happen.

Well, I'm still dubious...but now, at least, I can envision their concept.



I know, it looks a bit slow and expensive, but so were the first horseless carriages. Still, I wish he'd print a full-size bat and get Aroldis Chapman to fling a ball at him. That would be a thing to watch...if he could ever hit one.

Well, if they're not going to go back to wood for hockey sticks, maybe they could try this stuff. Those carbon-fiber sticks they're using these days break so often the players are learning how to fake out the goalies with "broken stick shots."



No need to break into cold sweats, yet, Wood Guys...just enjoy the games and Go Wood while you still can.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Why the Buildings of the Future will be Shaped by...You

Many of you have written to express your continuing interest in the wooden building series here on Go Wood. Today I have something a slightly bit different. In another of the thought-provoking TED-talk series, architect Marc Kushner provides us with a brief but interesting recent history of large building architecture, and shows how our cities were shaped in the past versus a completely different paradigm that is shaping our cities today. Coincidentally, it occurred to me as I watched his presentation that the social technology forces of which he is speaking are precisely the reason that wooden buildings are once again gaining traction.

Enjoy.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Great Designs in Wood (64) - Wooden Sunglasses

Occasionally, as part of my maintenance of this blog site, I have to visit the statistics page that the Blogger service provides me. On it, I can see things like how many times, total, any GoWood page has been "viewed" (514,359 times, so far), what sites are directing traffic to the blog, and basic information like what search terms are being used by people who find the site, and what country they are from. On that last point, no surprise that Americans are by far the biggest number of readers, and Canadians are a distant second. The rest of the list is somewhat surprising, though...


Who knew Go Wood had such a strong following in France? Merci beaucoup, vous tous, citoyens de la terre de liberté, d'égalité et de beaux bois!

One of the things that most web site managers do is try to figure out how to increase the amount of traffic that comes to their website. That's not really my forte...I just publish my posts and then let the internet do its thing. One of the things the statistics tell me is that some percentage of the readers find Go Wood via a Google search. Now how they do that is a deep, dark mystery by which Google controls the world. I can't figure it out, and if I did, they'd bump me off before I could share it with you.

All I know is that if I google "wood", I get 48 pages of results, and not a single one of the results is a Go Wood web page or blog post. I get lots of results of various wood companies, and several pages on how did Natalie Wood really die, and about half of the results are pages on which someone significant is named Wood. But a website that has 335 different wood-related articles? Google couldn't find it. Now if I pay them, now that would be a different story...Go Wood would probably appear at the top of the first page of results, and the page view numbers would soar. Fame does have a price, after all.

The way Google appears to direct folks to Go Wood is through more specific key search terms. So, for instance, readers have found us 109 times by typing "firewood" into their browser. And, amazingly, 86 folks have searched for "pallet art"...and wound up in the Go Wood community. But those search results don't really explain how people wind up on this site...the post entitled "Real Firewood Stacking" is the most popular post on Go Wood, and has been viewed over 18,000 times. And the post entitled "Sign of the Times - Pallet Art" has been viewed over 1,500 times. So, I assume that many, many folks are reading Go Wood posts because you, the loyal Go Wood reader, are sharing your favorite posts with your friends. So, thank you very much...or, merci beaucoup, Herzlichen Dank, Дуже дякую, Большое спасибо,  Bardzo dziękuję, 非常感謝.

Now, if a user happens to search for "go wood", then, what do you know, there we are, right at the top of the first page of results. At least it is on my computer...I don't know if you would get the same result on yours. More of that deep, dark computer-world mystery. But the problem is, how many folks, looking to browse some fine articles about the wonderful world of wood, would happen to search for "go wood"? Not many, I'm guessing.

But I did this morning, and that brings me, finally, to the subject of today's post. What do you know, there is another site out there called Go Wood! In fact, Go Wood is a Canadian company that sells wood-framed sunglasses.



Welcome to GoWood from Go Wood on Vimeo.

Now, I just have to get me some of those glasses before I hit the beach in Tahiti with a hot babe, a.k.a. "The Wife". Looks like they have a "Memphis oak" style that was inspired by Elvis. Perfect.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Kudzu in Paradise

I've been teaching a Forest Policy class this semester at Penn State, and the students and I have spent much of the semester looking not only at various policies, but the eventual, and sometimes unexpected, outcomes of those policies. One of those policies was the depression-era policy of recommending the kudzu plant, Puereria spp., to farmers for stopping the relentless soil erosion that led to the great dust bowl era of the 1930's. The kudzu is a fast-growing vine whose root systems stabilize the soil even while the numerous leaves shade the soil and slow desiccation that leads to erosion.

Well, it worked a little too well. And generations of folks in the US south have grown up used to the sight of kudzu monsters engulfing stands of pines and other species along the roadways where they were planted and continue to spread. And now, because of global warming, kudzu has spread as far north as southern Ontario, Canada.




Now, as a forestry student in East Texas, I learned intimately that kudzu was the enemy. Ever have to fight your way through a mountain of it on a timber cruise, and you'll think the same. But that last bit in the video above about goats and biofuels got me thinking that even to this scourge of the forest, there might be another side to the story.

And whaddya know...




Invasive species are rightly concerning. But I've come to consider the big picture that perhaps the native forests of today were just the invasive species of five hundred or a thousand years ago. Who knows...the filet mignon of tomorrow may very well come from a rotund, kudzu-fed goat with a kudzu jelly garnish...and you'll wash it down with a cold glass of kudzu-fed cow's milk.

And even more significantly, perhaps the Saharan desert will be reclaimed with kudzu or some other low-moisture invasive cousin. Never discount the value of the unexpected consequence.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Great Designs in Wood (63) - The Forest Sciences Centre at UBC

I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to travel out west to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. They had invited me out to participate in a review of their Wood Products Processing program, one of the degree programs available in their "Faculty of Forestry", as they call it. Based on the preliminary material I reviewed, I expected to see good things...but how good, I didn't even come close to imagining.

As I entered the building, a world of stunning timber construction opened up...and I felt right at home.







The Centre was built in 1998, I believe, a decade or so before our modern era of the wooden-framed tall buildings, so much of its structural core is traditional steel and concrete. However, with its engineered wood roof members and wooden cladding throughout, I have to believe that the building was the inspiration for much of the wooden building progress that has been at the forefront in British Columbia since.

The visit was not without its unique cultural memories. I had a couple of hours on the first day to stroll down to the beach opposite the dormitory in which I was staying. The place was called "Wreck Beach", and I'm guessing that in earlier times, shipwrecks on the point on which the beach sits were common. These days, the bay encircled by the beach is stock full of rafts of logs, awaiting delivery to local sawmills.


These logs give the beach a really unique character of its own, as many of them break free of the rafts and end up strewn along the beach, giving it a rough and tumble character.







But the biggest surprise to me was the "Naturalist" tradition of the beach, which I discovered only on the way down to the beach.


We're not in Pennsylvania any more, Toto!
So, these peaceful and fun-loving folks found thick fog, icy waters, boulders, and logs battering the beach, and thought...Nude Beach! A hardy breed, these Canucks.

I can't end this post without sharing my thoughts on the UBC Wood Products Processing program. What a great program it is. You can check out its curriculum here. The program is designed as a broad exposure to the critical components of wood products manufacturing, and with its optional minor in Commerce, students are ideally prepared for managerial positions in the forest industry the world over. The best component of the program is its optional "Co-op" program, in which students can take advantage of up to five different co-op opportunities with different companies, all coordinated with and monitored by the department. I witnessed first-hand the result of this approach...in interviews of current graduating students, I met the most mature, well-prepared, soon-to-be college graduates I've ever met. One of the department faculty members told me that the Co-op is a win, win...the faculty members are continually pushed to keep current with the techniques and technology that the students are experiencing in their time with the companies.

And as for the onsite education...the college has its own Centre for Advanced Wood Processing, which is right next door to the Forest Sciences Centre and filled with the latest in wood processing equipment, donated from their many industry partners. And best of all, the Centre was filled with students actually working at the many machine centers, a positive sign that students are getting the perfect mix of hands-on experience to go with all the theory they're learning.










Finally, the professors I interviewed were all highly professional, courteous, and open to any new ideas they could glean. They reminded me, to a person, of the best engineering and management professors I've met in my career. They were intense, but in a comfortable, confident way that inspires the same confidence in their students.

I came away from the visit thinking...if any child or grandchild of mine is someday interested in forestry or wood products, the University of British Columbia is the place I'm sending them.


 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Great Designs in Wood (62) - The Violin...and the Secrets of Stradivari

A couple of years ago now we looked at the violin, and its magnificent design, in GDiW (39) and GDiW (43). In those posts, we naturally enough focused on the wood component of the violin, and how the species and wood specimens used impact the tone of the instrument.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of speaking at the annual Penn State Private Forest Landowners Conference, and my presentation topic was "The Wonderful World of Wood". In it, I skimmed very lightly some of the most popular wonders of wood from around the world, and one of those topics was the marvelous design of the great Italian violins. However, I was limited to only a few minutes on the topic, as always, and predictably, I could tell the audience would have liked to know much more about these great violins.

So, for those folks, and for the rest of you Go Wood readers who love the topic, I have found a lecture by violinist Rose Mary Harbison and Professor William Fry given in 2009 at the Boston Museum of Science. Professor Fry does an excellent job of describing the physics of the violin, and how they are achieved, in a way that we non-physicists can easily understand, sort of...and Mrs. Harbison illustrates the principles as Dr. Fry explains them on several great violins.

This video is about an hour and a half long...and it seems like half that. We learn that the selection of the wood was not the only key to the violins, and perhaps not even a significant one...but that the secrets lie in the scientific artistry of the construction techniques. So, for the rest of the story, watch...




Unfortunately, Dr. Fry left us in 2011, but his legacy as a great researcher and teacher is cemented in history in this video. And what a legacy he left. From his obituary...
"During World War II he was a commissioned naval officer, stationed at the Naval Research Laboratories in Washington, D.C., where he led the research on jamming devices for guided missiles. Then on to the White Sands, New Mexico rocket site, where he was in charge of researching German V-2 rockets. Dr. Fry was Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin from 1952 to 1998. He was an experimental high energy physicist at the University and pioneered the astrophysics program. He also established physics programs at the University of Padova and Milan University in Italy in 1957. He was a Guggenheim Scholar and Fulbright Lecturer and served as a consultant to the International Atomic Energy Commission. He spent over four decades in violin acoustical research, uncovering the secrets of Stradivarius. His accomplishments in violin research are recognized in books and film, and are detailed in a scientific video book he completed last year. Jack was an avid historian who collected Italian manuscripts from the 12th century through the Fascist period during his extensive travels in Italy. He donated over 40,000 books and documents to the University of Wisconsin library, making the largest collection of Italian Fascist-era documents available to scholars worldwide. He was a man with an astonishing range of interests and passionate curiosity, and his many accomplishments too numerous to mention here. Jack always remained modest to a fault, and was a dignified, generous, and fine friend to all who knew him."
Thank you, Mrs. Harbison, and to the Boston Museum of Science for introducing us to the wonderful work of Dr. William (Jack) Fry, and to the Secret of the Stradivarius.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Make Wood, Not War

Recently, I was granted permission by the Board of Directors of the International Wood Collectors Society to re-publish in a blog format the best articles from the pre-2000 issues of their Journal, World of Wood. In late January I started that blog with the minutes of the first meeting of the Society in 1947. It's a very interesting piece of history for everyone who has ever picked up an unusual piece of wood and taken it home, just for the sake of having it or using it in some wood-working project.

This week, I shared an interesting re-print of an article entitled "My Conception of an Ideal Wood Collection", by a member named Dr. Wolfgang Mautz. Coincidentally, the speech by Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to our U.S. congress this week gave me an interesting perspective on Dr. Mautz' contribution to the early Wood Collectors Society membership. Allow me to explain the connection in my mind of these two completely non-related events given sixty-five years apart.

Dr. Mautz' article was published, in 1949, in the newsletter of a fledgling organization that had one-hundred and seven members at the time, seventy-nine of whom were Americans, twelve British, with the small remainder from the rest of the world. Two were Dutch. None at the time were Germans or from any of the countries allied with Germany in World War II. And yet, the German Dr. Mautz was invited to share his passion for wood collecting with this group of folks who, in entirety, would have considered him "the enemy" only four short years before.

As I read Dr. Mautz' article, it brought back fond memories of another German wood scientist, one that had a profound impact on my career. I met Werner in my first year in the wood industry. He was the company's residing "technical expert" on all things wood, and I and my buddies in Temple-Inland's Product Development Center soaked up as much of Werner's expertise as we could. In addition, we got some great stories about his experiences serving first on the frozen Russian front of the war, and then later waiting on the French coast for the inevitable invasion of the Allies. He had been in university, studying wood science, when he was conscripted into the German army. He ended the war sitting in an American prisoner-of-war camp, which he said was the best thing that ever happened to him, considering the alternatives. Werner completed his studies after the war, and moved to America, to begin his wood industry experience at a fiberboard plant in International Falls, Minnesota, if I remember correctly. By the time I knew him, Werner had more knowledge about wood and wood products in his pinky finger than the rest of us put together. We knew it, and respected him for it.

I was re-publishing Dr. Mautz' article the day after Mr. Netanyahu's speech to Congress. Thanks to the miracle of the internet, I was able to watch the speech live in my office. If you're not familiar with the contents of the speech, it was primarily a warning to our government that the current nuclear negotiations we are having with the government of Iran were, to the best of his knowledge, not well considered, to put it mildly. The objective of his giving the speech was to let our leaders know that Israel considered the logical outcome of the negotiations to be a direct nuclear threat to the existence of the state of Israel...and he made a pretty strong case for that conclusion. The most memorable line in the speech was, that, "in the case of ISIS and Iran, the enemy of your enemy, is your enemy."

And in this case which he is so close to, Mr. Netanyahu is probably correct. Nevertheless, as I typed Mr. Mautz' article into the computer the next day, I found myself considering the concept of the enemy. Dr. Mautz had been an enemy of the other wood collectors in 1945; by 1949 he was taken as a colleague in wood. The love of wood, in a period of time shorter than President Obama has been in office, had overcome the hatred of war, and turned an enemy into a friend.

And here I was, re-creating a wood article from a German wood scientist in 1949 on the internet, that both my Israeli and Iranian wood science colleagues, as well as most everyone else in the world, can read in their own language, thanks to the Google Translate widget on the site. I've received emails relating to wood science questions from all three countries, and hope to receive many more in the future. And I suspect that none of these folks care any more about the political agenda of their leaders than Werner did when Herr Hitler drafted him to fight for Nazism's evil cause. I know I don't.

Thus my plea in the title of today's blog. Make wood, not war. Focus on the business of living, speak out against the rhetoric of violence and destruction, and actively resist those who would lead you into hating another enemy of their making. Making bombs and launching missiles is the easy path to conflict resolution, but not the best by far. For as Dr. Mautz and Werner both stood for, at our core, we're all really interested in the same thing...how to Go Wood, and get along.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Logging the Swamp, Now and Then

There's a TV show on discovery these days called "Swamp Loggers". Seems the populace just can't get enough of logging-related reality shows. I guess most folks can't believe how hard a few people in the world still work for a living.

Here's a sample...




The load of "pecky" cypress being loaded is a very unique specialty wood that people either love with a passion, or hate. I'm in the first boat...perhaps you can see why.

Source: http://heartsart.us/id1.html


But what our modern swamp loggers go through, with their powerful rigs and high-flotation tires, looks like child's play compared to the feats of amazing strength, dexterity, balance, and nerve the old-time swamp loggers performed. If you liked the other old logging videos, you'll love these. No sound, just sights that you won't believe.




Thursday, February 19, 2015

Paper Made Here: A Portrait on Paper

Pretty straightforward message here today.

North American wood and paper industries are among the most productive, most professional, and environmentally-conscientious companies in the world. Our environmentalist community can take a share of the credit for that last one. It's a great story of when people work together for the right things, good things happen.

So let's give credit where credit is due, and celebrate the results. Let's hope that our efforts influence others in areas of the world where industrial production is not as professional, nor conscientious. Communication, and collaborations are indirect ways to send that message.

But the best, most direct and effective way to share our industrial heritage is through the marketplace. "Buy American" is not, at its root, a dirty protectionist rallying cry for wealthy corporate shareholders or flag-waving crazies. It's a bit of wisdom for demonstrating through consumer purchases that healthy values mean something to us. Something that we care enough about to invest our hard-earned wages in.

When we lose that commitment, we lose a bit of ourselves.




Thanks to the folks at Domtar for the reminder.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Loggers Work While the Rest of Us Stay Inside

Well, the temperature was -8F this morning, which to the best of my memory is the coldest it's gotten here since I moved to Pennsylvania twelve and a half years ago. Feeding the stove last night, I found myself thinking about my timber buddies who would be getting up around 4 am to fire up their trucks and get back at it, after (if they were lucky) a Sunday off for rest.

Which reminded me of this video, which seems appropriate to share this frosty morning.




If the size of some of those loads raised your eyebrows a bit, they should...loggers are allowed to horse out as much as they can get on their truck while traveling private (usually company) roads, and well, you know, time is money. So stack 'em high and wide, and get out of my way.

Which is pretty much the attitude I was raised on, back in the day, when my dad was working hard and Johnny Cash was his favorite yodeler. I used to get into his albums, and on one, there was this great old song I remember word-for-word to this very day.



I especially loved the line...
"Well I learned this fact from a logger named Ray, you don't cut timber on a windy day...stay outta the woods when the moisture's low, or you ain't gonna live to collect your dough."
I always assumed Johnny was signing about my Papa, and that he and Johnny were old friends, which is why my dad had all his records. Anyway, not only did the lyrics impress me enough to avoid cutting timber on windy days, but the thought of not living to collect my dough was encouragement enough to study hard and get a desk job.

And to stay out of the woods when it's 8 below. But someone's got to do it, so thanks, guys. Stay warm if you can while you're Going Wood on the ground.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Is Wood Part of the Ecosystem?

Well, as this over-caffeinated young man explains so well in the following video, that depends on what ecosystem you are thinking about.


There has been some controversy in the "forestry" world because so many academic forestry programs have transformed themselves into "ecosystems" programs over the last decade or so. That includes your beloved Penn State School of Forest Resources, which is now the Penn State Department of Ecosystems Science and Management. The main complaint against this trend is that this new definition of "those who study the forest" is too broad for potential employers to evaluate. And the main argument for this trend is that this new definition of "those who study the forest" is broad enough to encompass all the areas of interest included in the video...and then some. So, you see, it really is a matter of perspective.

Also a matter of perspective is whether wood and wood science is part of ecosystems science, or not. Many scientists who are interested in the ecosystem energy flows as measured by the living, growing components of the system view wood as a simple product, or outflow, of the energy system. In particular, commercial lumber, engineered wood, and paper products are seen as by-products of tree harvest, and as net extractions from the ecosystem under study. In life-cycle analysis terms, these folks have framed their ecosystem "outside or before the gate", that is, the gate of the mill to which the logs are delivered.

Another type of scientist who focuses on the wood as raw material to a manufacturing process, may frame his or her system "inside the gate", as engineers usually do. This is the reason that most of our "wood products" faculty opted to move to the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering once the School of Forest Resources label was changed. Because of their training, they prefer to work with the wood from a process perspective, not an ecosystem perspective.

Although I was trained as a forester, I spent the majority of my career in this latter camp, working happily away inside the gate where wood is good and efficiency and quality are king and queen. As the time for a career decision neared, however, I found my interests turning back to my roots outside the gate. For over the years, I had perceived that most who spend their time and interest in the woods have little interest in what goes on inside the gate, and therefore discount wood's role in a larger ecosystem we could call human life.

And so I work to reverse that trend. Because not only is wood vitally important in the forest as a support for those carbon-dioxide consuming and oxygen producing things called leaves, and feeds the detritivores mentioned in the video who feed off all the remnant biological energy that finds its way to the forest floor...it feeds a lot of omnivores called humans competing for resources in the global ecosystem.  And the question of how much wood is good in the forest versus in our living rooms is a question that folks will be discussing for a long, long time...and that is as it should be.

So, Go Wood in your ecosystem, and feel good about it.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Another One in the Books

Well, here we are again...another year in the books.

We got 2014 started slowly, very slowly, with a wooden snow roller...

Said goodbye to old friends...

Listened to a tree tell us its sad story...

And watched a groundhog nearly leap to its death.

But things began to pick up on a trip down memory lane with Allison Logging in the 1930's, the most popular Go Wood post of the year...

And we surveyed the real value of wood in modern home construction.

We paid homage to some of the greatest of all wood designs...one of the simplest, and one of the most complex.

We kept a wary eye on that crazy world through the looking glass...and another on the tinsel-town world in which productive folks are nearly always the bad guys.

We learned how man conquered the world with wood...and then contemplated the functional beauty of wooden boat that got him there.

We experienced the thrill of victory...and rebounded with wood when Earth tried to deal our Italian friends the agony of defeat.

We (meaning I) nearly killed some little fish friends, but the experience brought us some great knowledge of European and American bow-woods.

And we experienced the joy of youth, both in going up the ladder, and going down a hill.

2014 brought a couple of little tweaks to Go Wood which you probably didn't notice, but one in particular should have significant impact on our ranks.  If you look at the top right-hand corner of this panel, you'll see a little box titled "Translate." Go ahead, try it. Click the little down-arrow and then pick your favorite foreign language. Amazing, huh? Now people can Go Wood in nearly one hundred different languages.

And by the end of this year, nearly half a million folks will have done just that. Thanks to all of you that make Go Wood what it is...just a simple source of woody inspiration.  Keep it coming in, and I'll try to keep it going out. More folks need to know about the miracle of wood, so keep tuning in and sharing with your friends.

Because what the world needs now, is wood, sweet wood.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Wood as a Fewel, According to Adam Smith

Everyone heating with wood, or thinking of heating with wood, soon or later gets around to considering the cost of doing so. Since heating with wood has been around since man discovered the benefits of fire, you might call this a problem for the ages.

It certainly was back in 1776, when our American forefathers were declaring their independence from our English cousins. Soon to experience dearly the value of wood as a source of heat in a tiny encampment called Valley Forge, George Washington and his men knew first-hand the value of firewood when one is cold.

Staying by the fire, even when Generals Washington and Lafayette rode by, was the better part of valor in the encampment at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valley_Forge
Less noticed than the beginning of the War of Independence, an elderly Scottish professor published a book in that year of 1776 that was to become, over the ages, the most well-known and respected classic in the field of economics. Adam Smith's treatise, originally published under the scholary title An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, was later shortened into the now-famous The Wealth of Nations, and scholars still refer to its wisdom.

What? You've never read it? You've never lingered over one of the hundreds of delicious passages found in its 1,100+ pages? Then you may be surprised to know that professor Smith considered the cost of wood with respect to its competitor of the time, coal...and even displayed his knowledge of air quality, animal husbandry and forestry in the same passages. Enjoy.

"Coals are a less agreeable fewel than wood: they are said too to be less wholesome. The expence of coals, therefore, at the place where they are consumed, must generally be somewhat less than that of wood.
The price of wood again varies with the state of agriculture, nearly in the same manner, and exactly for the same reason, as the price of cattle. In its rude beginnings the greater part of every country is covered with wood, which is then a mere incumbrance of no value to the landlord, who would gladly give it to any body for the cutting. As agriculture advances, the woods are partly cleared by the progress of tillage, and partly go to decay in consequence of the increased number of cattle. These, though they do not increase in the same proportion as corn, which is altogether the acquisition of human industry, yet multiply under the care and protection of men; who store up in the season of plenty what may maintain them in that of scarcity, who through the whole year furnish them with a greater quantity of food than uncultivated nature provides for them, and who by destroying and extirpating their enemies, secure them in the free enjoyment of all that she provides. Numerous herds of cattle, when allowed to wander through the woods, though they do not destroy the old trees, hinder any young ones from coming up, so that in the course of a century or two the whole forest goes to ruin. The scarcity of wood then raises its price. It affords a good rent, and the landlord sometimes finds that he can scarce employ his best lands more advantageously than in growing barren timber, of which the greatness of the profit often compensates the lateness of the returns. This seems in the present times to be nearly the state of things in several parts of Great Britain, where the profit of planting is found to be equal to that of either corn or pasture. The advantage which the landlord derives from planting, can nowhere exceed, at least for any considerable time, the rent which these could afford him; and in an inland country which is highly cultivated, it will frequently not fall much short of this rent. Upon the sea-coast of a well-improved country, indeed, if coals can conveniently be had for fewel, it may sometimes be cheaper to bring barren timber for building from less cultivated foreign countries, than to raise it at home. In the new town of Edinburgh, built within these few years, there is not, perhaps, a single stick of Scotch timber.
Whatever may be the price of wood, if that of coals is such that the expence of a coal-fire is nearly equal to that of a wood one, we may be assured, that at that place, and in these circumstances, the price of coals is as high as it can be. It seems to be so in some of the inland ports of England, particularly in Oxfordshire, where it is usual, even in the fires of the common people, to mix coals and wood together, and where the difference in the expence of those two sorts of fewel cannot, therefore, be very great."
And he goes on from there to explain the reason coal and all other such commodities are limited by transportation and labor costs relative to their competitors.

I think you can see why The Wealth of Nations is such a classic. It's great reading, especially if you're a history buff...and the principles explained by Professor Smith still hold fundamentally true today. Consider these points in his passages above:

  • Coal was recognized as less "wholesome" than wood. (Although, coal's energy density is much greater than wood, making it more wholesome that the good professor probably understood, providing it can be burned cleanly. But cities of the times were shrouded with noxious clouds from the primitive coal stoves of the day, and indoor air quality was certainly one major source of  the health problems that prevailed.)
  • As a more abundant and concentrated commodity (in those places that had coal deposits), the price of coal (per unit of volume, we presume) would never exceed that of wood, since wood can be gathered and traded by individuals when coal becomes too dear. In today's context, we could say the same about all primary and alternative fuels...when they exceed the price of wood heating, people who have access to wood begin burning it. Which, by the way, is also why wood is and will always be a fuel of last resort, not of first resort...unless you're the owner of a productive woodlot.
  • Since wood is usually more expensive in more-developed countries, it will be common for wood to be imported for building purposes from less-developed countries. Back then, it was America...these days, it is New Zealand, Chile, and Canada. Like his amusing anecdote of "not a single stick of Scotch timber" in Edinburgh, it is today equally likely that there is not a single stick of Connecticut timber in New York City.
So, if you're heating with wood, consider yourself blessed. You're burning the most precious fuel in the world, in terms of fundamental economics. And you get to enjoy that crackle.

And if you're not...well, enjoy this for a while. I swear, I can feel the heat coming off the screen.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Vision of Christmas Past

Christmas is a great time to feel sentimental. I'd just like to thank all you folks who've been kind enough to read Go Wood, and even more so to those of you who've written to add to the pieces with your own comments, or who have passed along more material.

And in the spirit of Christmas sentimentality, I like to share a short video I shot of two of the Ray clan seven years ago this season. The boys are a lot bigger now, and not nearly so cute...but the memory of them sliding down this hill in our yard on Christmas Eve is literally, for me, a vision of Christmas Past.

Here's to your own memories of Christmas Past, and blessings to you this Christmas 2014.



Peace on Earth, Go Wood toward man.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Things are Heating Up

Well, sorry to you wood burners out there, who are complaining that I haven't done more wood energy posts recently. Yes, I still love my wood stove...but my gas boiler and upstairs stove are so cozy, inexpensive, and easy, that, I admit it, I haven't yet starting burning wood. After Christmas I'll share more wood-energy stories with you.

Speaking of gas, I'll bet you've been a little befuddled by the controversy surrounding natural-gas production via hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The issue, like so many others these days, revolves around different tellings of the story about the same process.

The telling that seems to get the most press is similar to the one told by The Sierra Club...



Hmmm...sounds bad. But there's another way to tell the story, and that is from a perspective from those who actually perform the production process. For instance, Marathon Oil Company shares this video which looks amazingly like the Sierra Club video, but with a few different details. See what you think.



I think the videos illustrate the concept that the more familiar you become with a product or process, the less (or more) you tend to fear it, depending on whether the thing is an honest attempt to improve life on this planet, or an inherently evil deception of the public trust.

Since I'm a believer in the general concept of "the more energy, the better", I tend to lend a higher level of credibility to the producers, whether they be oil companies, wind turbine companies, or loggers. My experience is that all are working to improve their production and delivery processes in order to enable more and cheaper production. Sure, they're in it to make money, but their profits in the long run depend on their being able to provide a sustainable, safe product.

A great case in point was the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a few years ago. The company (or its sub-contractors) were apparently pushing the limits of safety and procedures, and a bad thing happened. There was an immediate outcry for more government regulation to ensure that it didn't happen again.

But my limited experience in the oil patch (and my more extensive experience in the timber industry) helped me understand that the incident would be studied intensively by BP and every other oil company in the world, because it cost the company billions of dollars. That alone is a far greater assurance of better, safer processes in the future. No company ever wants the environmental and public relations disaster that BP endured in the aftermath of that incident. Necessity naturally drives the invention of better production processes, at least in a competitive marketplace.

I understand that there is a general fear of the unknown, especially in these days when so much seems to be happening so quickly. But the solution to fear is education, so that the "fearful things" can be recognized and avoided. The opposing viewpoints represented in these two videos are both helpful in the educational process... and it should be our continuing resolution to ferret out the fears from the facts, and move forward when the safe, productive way forward is revealed.

After all, abundant, affordable, and clean energy is good for everyone. Everyone. Everyone.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wood Science 101 (19) - The North American Bow-Wood

Last week we reveled in the properties and history of a great European tree, the yew, with specific focus on the legendary long-bows wielded by the British archers of a thousand years ago. But did you know that there is an American equivalent, a tree with wood of unique properties that has been utilized for many, varied uses, including wood for the bows of Native Americans?

Well, there is...and I stumbled across one yesterday in Winchester, Virginia. If you're a country folk, you'll recognize it by its unmistakable fruit.



The Osage-orange, or bois d'arc tree (Maclura pomifera), bears this somewhat unearthly-looking fruit pod. Slightly larger and heavier than a softball, many a young lad has had horse-apple fights with their buddies that ended up with in a sticky mess in someone's hair.

Birds seem to love the Osage-orange, and have contributed to the spread of the tree across the land.  As I stumbled around a stack of roof trusses in front of the tree, several dozen doves that were roosting under the tree scurried away in a whistle of wings.That greenish fruit is actually a conglomeration of around three-hundred seeds in a fibrous, gelatinous casing. They smell faintly like a honeydew melon, and larger animals somehow find them tasty...hence, the moniker horse-apple. Unlike the deadly yew, though, these trees are only a threat to insects, and the horse-apples were used in olden times as insect repellents in fruit and vegetable cabinets.


Nothing straight on a bois d'arc tree. Click on the picture and you will see the horse apples still hanging.

I was glad to see another old bois d'arc (pronounced bo-dark in East Texan)...they're not too common in Pennsylvania and this one in Virginia was the first one I had seen in a long time. Running across it the week of Thanksgiving brought back some old memories of my youth in Texas, where it seemed every fence line contained at least one bois d'arc mixed in with the cedars, yaupon, and cottonwood. With those big old green apples, bois d'arc command your attention, and they fascinated me...but those apples are just part of this great tree's story.

Early American pioneers discovered that the Osage nation of native Americans, which were roughly centered at the time of the American migration of the mid-nineteeth century at the convergence of Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, had especially fine wooden implements, including their most feared tool, the bow. Bois d'arc (literally, wooden bow in French) became the moniker to the tree from applied by the early French explorers of the area, while to the English-speaking settlers, the tree was named Osage-orange by those who observed the Indians tanning their hides with the orange-colored tannins of the wood.
"Osage orange bow blanks and finished bows were prime items of barter among the tribes. One early report said a well balanced bow was worth a "comely young squaw" in trade. Another said that in the early 1800s the price of a good Osage orange bow was a horse and a blanket. Tribal wars were fought for possession of lands generously supplied with Osage orange trees.
So sought after was the Osage orange bow, it was used by Shawnee and Wyandotte Indians in Ohio and the Blackfoot Indians in Montana. The bows must have been traded over a distance of 2,000 miles.
Early French explorers came to associate the strong powerful bows with the Osage Indians and called the trees "bois d'arc" which means "wood of the bow." This French name was eventually pronounced "bodark," a name that continues to be used for Osage orange in some regions.
Indians had other uses for Osage orange. The stout wood was well suited for war clubs and tomahawk handles. The ridged and scaly bark of the trunk provided both a fiber for rope and tannin for making leather. Root tea was used to wash sore eyes. The roots and inner bark were used to make a light orange dye. Early pioneers adopted this dye for their homespun cloth and later it was used commercially to color the American forces' olive drab uniforms during World War I.
Pioneers found more uses. The wood's hardness and low shrinkage made it valuable for wagon wheel hubs and rims. Supposedly, the first chuck wagon ever built was made of Osage orange to withstand the terrible bumping of the Texas panhandle. Cattle yokes were fashioned from the many angled limbs.
Railroad ties, bridge pilings, insulator pins, telephone poles, treenails, street paving blocks, mine timber, house blocks (used instead of masonry foundations) and tool handles were all uses eventually added to the list. No doubt, some of the first telegraph messages sent west pulsed across parts of the Midwest on wires held aloft on Osage orange poles.
As early as 1806 President Thomas Jefferson referred to the Osage orange in a message to Congress. He had heard from British explorers of the Arkansas country about the tree's potential as a hedge plant, a potential soon to be realized."
- Jim W. Grace, The Enduring Osage-Orange, Missouri Department of Conservation 
You see, as useful as the tree was to our native populations and pioneers, the Osage-orange was soon to become the most-widely planted tree in American history for another, now-forgotten reason.
"It seems remarkable that a tree that produces no pulpwood, saw timber or utility poles has been planted more than any other species in North America. But in the 1800s, on the expansive prairies of a fertile new continent, before the invention of barbed wire, settlers needed fence. And Osage orange makes a great fence.
A single row of hedge trees planted a foot apart would yield a fence that was "horse high, bull-strong, and hog-tight" in 4 years. Some farmers would weave the already twisted and intertwined limbs of the young trees tightly together, a technique known as "plashing," for a more impenetrable barrier. Use of the Osage orange tree as hedge was so common throughout most of its introduced range that "hedge" became the tree's common name.
Few records exist about the extent of Osage orange hedge plantings in Missouri. In nearby Kansas, however, between 1865 and 1939, nearly 40,000 miles of Osage orange hedgerows were planted by private landowners. Prairie settlers in other states, including Missouri, also were planting thousands of miles of Osage orange hedge at this time.
Hedge nurseries sprang up to meet the burgeoning need for seeds and seedlings. Osage orange fruits, commonly called hedge balls or hedge apples, were covered with dirt and straw in the fall. In the spring, the seeds were easily separated from the rotten flesh of the fruit.
One hedge apple would yield about 300 seeds. One bushel of hedge apples in the fall - about 80 apples - would yield 24,000 seeds the following spring. The seeds were then direct-seeded into a prepared seedbed on the farm or planted at the nursery and sold as seedlings. Planting contractors were available to establish hedge rows for 37.5 cents per rod ($120 dollars per mile).
In the 1860s, the Osage orange market went wild. Prices jumped from $8 a bushel to $50 a bushel. In one year alone, 18,000 bushels of seeds were shipped to the northwest United States - enough seed to plant over 100,000 miles of Osage orange hedge! "Hedge mania," as one newspaper called it, was rampant.
A few scattered records give a glimpse of the intense planting period in Missouri: 1844 - Osage orange had been planted in Greene County; 1851 - the first Osage orange were planted in Holt County; 1852 - Osage orange hedges planted in Cass County proved successful; 1853 - Caldwell County: "In May 1853, Mr. Terrill had the hedge fence set out on the east side of his place. The seed for this hedge was brought. . . on horseback from Texas."
By 1879 Monroe County in northeast Missouri and Nodaway County in northwest Missouri each had over 2,000 miles of hedge rows, " . . . more than any other county in Kansas, Nebraska, or Iowa."
But in 1874, Osage orange met its match. A new invention, barbed wire, was now cheaper to use for fencing. Although the Osage orange planting storm had passed, the tree had been planted in all 48 contiguous states."
 - Jim W. Grace, The Enduring Osage-Orange, Missouri Department of Conservation 
Hedge rows, or early-American natural fencing. Interesting that a tree famous for it's bow-wood would be valuable as a hedge...another eerie similarity to its European bow tree, the yew.

There's another interesting story involving the Osage-orange, this time involving our fiery American patriot Patrick Henry. Henry, famous for this oratorical masterpiece...
"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Liberty, or give me Death!"
...retired to a planter's life at his Red Hill, Virginia plantation and reached the end of his life on June 6, 1799. Upon his death, his attending physician was recorded to have rushed from the house and wept bitterly under a tree in front of the plantation house. This same tree is now recorded as being the largest Osage-orange in the country.

The U.S. largest Osage-orange is at Red Hill Plantation, Virginia.


Finally, though, we should touch on the really unique properties of the wood of Maclura pomifera. It is a heavy, durable wood, running about 54 pounds per dried cubic foot of wood at a specific gravity of 0.86. What makes it a great bow-wood is that the high modulus of rupture (MOR) with a relatively low modulus of elasticity (MOE). Which means, in laymen's terms, that it is pliable, not stiff, but very strong.

Now, Osage-orange is about 20% heavier than the yew, but it's ratio of MOR to MOE is nearly identical to yew. In an interesting article by Eric Meier of WoodDatabase.com, yew and Osage-orange have "bow indices" of 11.52 and 11.51, respectively, and this rating is exceeded by only the rosewoods (Dalbergia spp.) and muninga (Pterocarpus angolensis) of common trees in the world. So it's no wonder that yew and Osage-orange were the preferred bow-woods of their day on their respective continents.

And, like another of our popular interesting woods, the black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), it is extremely durable, and was used for fence posts that could stand fifty or more years in the ground.

So, that's an introduction to the Osage-orange, or bois d'arc tree and its wood. We'll leave this post, fittingly, with a picture of another seasonal use of the hedge apples...for Thanksgiving centerpieces.




There you go. Something to do while the turkey cooks, make yourself a horse-apple centerpiece.

And have a wonderful Thanksgiving while you're doing it. Go Wood.