Thursday, July 9, 2015

Great Designs in Wood (65) - The Wooden Mosque of Choubin

In this Great Designs series, we've seen wooden temples in China and the great stave churches of Scandinavia. Here's another great example of how wood seems to be a universal medium for expression of spiritual fervor...the wooden mosque of Neishabour, Iran.




The narrator in the video tells us that the builder was...
"using the wood because it is nature. There is something in it, it is not made by a human being; it's made by nature....The trees are producing oxygen, as well as fruit, and of course wood."
Just another confirmation that people all over the world recognize wood as "the world's most environmentally-friendly raw material."

So, Go Wood.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Butternut Lumber on the Way

Yesterday, when I went home for lunch, I found my drive blocked by a familiar truck. Sure enough, I found my friend, professional logger and tree climber Martin Melville, shimmied up a small butternut (Juglans cinerea) tree in my front yard, just about to crank up the saw. So, with another interesting thing to video, and knowing how nifty Martin is in a tree, I fired up the trusty smartphone and watched him take it down...in about 30 minutes. Amazing.


In the video I say that the tree was killed by the walnut canker disease, which is misleading on my part, because that could be confused with the Thousand Cankers Disease which is wiping out black walnut (Juglans nigra) across the country. The butternut, or white walnut, has been under attack from a different enemy, the butternut canker, and it is that disease to which my tree has succumbed. It suffered the classic symptoms: dieback of lower branches, followed by a canker at the base and then a few others climbing the trunk a few feet apart. This process has been going on for four years now, and it looked like the tree only had this summer, and possibly next, to go.

Martin comments around the 20:00 minute mark about the extent of the disease in the forest, and makes an apt comparison to the chestnut blight. Both are so pervasive now that mature trees of either species are few and far between.

From Wikipedia:
"The most serious disease of Juglans cinerea is butternut decline or butternut canker. In the past the causal organism of this disease was thought to be a fungus, Melanconis juglandis. Now this fungus has been associated with secondary infections and the primary causal organism of the disease has been identified as another species of fungus, Sirococcus clavigignenti-juglandacearum. The fungus is spread by wide-ranging vectors, so isolation of a tree offers no protection. 
Symptoms of the disease include dying branches and stems. Initially, cankers develop on branches in the lower crown. Spores developing on these dying branches are spread by rainwater to tree stems. Stem cankers develop 1 to 3 years after branches die. Tree tops killed by stem-girdling cankers do not re-sprout. Diseased trees usually die within several years. Completely free-standing trees seem better able to withstand the fungus than those growing in dense stands or forest. In some areas, 90% of the butternut trees have been killed. The disease is reported to have eliminated butternut from North and South Carolina. The disease is also reported to be spreading rapidly in Wisconsin. By contrast, black walnut seems to be resistant to the disease."

I hated to see one of my favorite trees taken down, but with the World of Wood 2015 conference coming up next month, this was a good time to say my goodbyes and call Martin.  Mike Powell here at Penn State is going to saw this and several other neat logs up as a sawing demonstration at the conference, and the lumber will be auctioned off.  It will be nice to see my tree sawn and watch the beautiful lumber appear. I'll have Mike saw at least one one-inch board so I can make specimen samples for our Penn State wood collection, complete with vouchers, leaves, and nuts. That's the real beauty of nature - death of one organism provides bounty for another.

So, if you're a wood worker who has been looking for some nice butternut boards, you know where you can get some the third week of July. Hope to see you here.

P.S. Today is the last day that our conference hotels are holding room blocks. You'll still be able to reserve at the discounted rate after today, if rooms are available, but the hotels aren't guaranteeing availability after today. So, get your room while they're still there!



Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Stand Up for Forestry

A funny thing happened this week. I picked up a copy of The Forestry Source, which is an official monthly publication of the Society of American Foresters. Since I haven't been an SAF member since my college days, I thought it would be interesting to see how much forestry issues have changed in that time of several decades.

As I thumbed through the issue, I thought to myself..."a lot."

Then, the funny thing happened. Not two hours later, I received an email from my old friend and former Ibberson Chair professor at Penn State, Harry Wiant. Harry retired from here about seven or eight years ago, I guess, and went out to live with his family in Seattle. I occasionally still get a nice email from him, and it's either another one of his country music recordings, or something related to forestry. This time, he was making a direct reference to the very issue I had just been reading...and he had some thoughts to share, including a speech he used to regularly give. Many foresters loved this speech, but near the end of his career Harry found his point of view in the minority, at least among policy makers and educators. Times were changing, and 21st-century forestry is not what 20th-century forestry was. Much of what Harry warned against in this speech have now come to be.

Whether you agree with his viewpoint or not, I think you'll agree that his speech gives us a frame of reference for what professional forestry values once were. With Harry's permission, I reprint it here for posterity.

*****************************************************

The Forestry Source this month is a painful obituary of a once proud profession.  Many of us saw this coming years ago.  National forests are a non-productive disaster, forestry schools have little forestry left, even in the names, and the nightmare sought by the Greenies is reality.  I am thankful I was in the profession when it was a profession.  Goodbye forestry!

Here is my talk in case you have lost it; I fear the last couple sentences was a dream.

STAND UP FOR FORESTRY

Harry V. Wiant, Jr.
1997 President, Society of American Foresters

This speech, with minor variations, has been presented over two dozen times at SAF and other forestry meetings. I always provide a disclaimer, indicating that the opinions I convey are my own and not necessarily those of SAF.

WHY I RAN

The Society of American Foresters has been a major part of my professional life, but I had never considered running for a national office.

Actually, I was becoming very discouraged . It appeared to me that many foresters were giving up in the struggle for meaningful forest management and were accepting politically correct but scientifically dubious management philosophies. I decided it was time to retire. A call from a well-known leader in our profession, asking me to run for Vice President, changed my life.

While visiting my daughter and son-in-law, both attorneys in Seattle, I wrote my campaign statement expressing forthrightly my concerns and agenda. "Dad, you can't win with a statement like that," my daughter exclaimed. Many were surprised when I did win in one of the largest voter turnouts (52%) in our history.

PHILOSOPHICAL SUMMARY

The philosophy I espouse, and the one that I'm convinced is shared by a majority of foresters in SAF is, briefly:

1. We love the forest but do not worship the forest. There is a world of difference.
2. We believe management of nature is not just an option but a necessity for human survival.
3. We believe biodiversity is a good thing but does not always over-ride other considerations. That's why we use hoes in our vegetable gardens.
4. We believe large segments of the environmental community have moved from legitimate concerns for clean air and water to eco-nonsense which threatens our economic prosperity and basic freedoms.
5. We believe forest management must be science based, and, like medicine, incrementally improved as new facts are learned.
6. We believe the biocentric philosophy undergirding much of the environmental movement today depreciates human beings and could have devastating consequences to our society.

I will expand discussion of some of these "tenants" in later sections.

REMEMBERING OUR ROOTS

Foresters generally have a broad education, but their unique knowledge is that relating to growing trees for timber production on a sustained yield basis. Warren Dolittle, a Past President of SAF, wrote in 1966:

"...as professional foresters, timber production is the one use of the land which is our undisputed responsibility. We manage forest lands for other uses too, but other groups and scientists usually claim primary responsibility for the disciplines representing these uses. So, let us take good care of our responsibility for growing timber before some other group lays claim to it."

Forestry schools and SAF, when considering membership requirements, accreditation of forestry programs, and certification of foresters, forget Warren's admonition at their own peril.


ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT

Ecosystem management, touted as a "paradigm switch" , is more politics than science. Proponents stress that its implementation will require "cooperation" by federal, state, and private landowners. In addition to the likelihood that it will encroach on our freedoms, this approach is hampered by the difficulty of defining and delimiting an ecosystem and the hopeless complexity of trying to manage one if you can figure out what and where it is.

The most serious problem with ecosystem management, in my opinion, is that the inherent complexities and uncertainties will provide our opponents with even more weapons to halt all meaningful forest management, further impacting the timber industry and rural communities.

The idea of returning our forests to some imagined condition in the past, usually severely limiting human influence, is troublesome also. I often say, trying to point out the absurdity of this notion, that I am kind of partial to the ice age. Why don't we return our agricultural lands to a pre-human condition so we can solve all our problems through starvation?

BIODIVERSITY AND ENDANGERED SPECIES

Every forester today should read "In a Dark Wood" by the philosopher, Alston Chase "Broken Trust, Broken Land" by the forester-sociologist Robert G. Lee , and "Saviors of the Earth" by the forester and environmental educator Michael S. Coffman . These authors trace the development of today's biocentric thinking, in many ways a return to primitive earth worship. Chase defines biocentrism as the belief that all things are interconnected (the "circle of life" espoused by New Age folks) and no organism is more important or valuable than another. It is a deadly philosophy dressed up in politically correct sentimentalism.

Karl Wenger, our Vice President, wrote in a letter in the J. For. (Nov. 1996):

"...native peoples set the forest afire annually, sometimes twice a year. Then during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, land was heavily logged without regard for the future. Fire followed and woodland grazing was widespread. Wildlife populations were decimated, erosion filled the streams with sediments, and floods were frequent and damaging. That current land management practices are threatening or endangering 1,300 species of the survivors of that period, as claimed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, is simply not believable." He is absolutely right!

THE NEW WORLD PLANNED FOR US

Someone must produce! We cannot just trade trinkets produced in the "Cottage Industries" promoted by our eco-friends. In my speech, I point out here that the lights on in our meeting room are on because someone dug coal, or someone built a dam, or someone drilled for oil, or someone constructed a nuclear power plant. Again, someone must produce! Robert Lee, in a paper entitled, "The Futility of Seeking Common Ground," (Proc.For. Prod. Res. Soc., 1991) states:

"There is not a well-articulated ground in this debate. Advocates for radical change in forest management practices are seeking to revolutionize the social and moral order by challenging industrial capitalism and promoting "biocentric ethics" in place of "homocentric ethics.""

Eco-extremists have a nightmarish plan for us, viewed as utopian by them, as "...jobs would concentrate in urban area...as vast lands in the interior of North America return to a wild state. " (Am. Sci. 84:166). The Wildlands Project, returning over half of North America to the wild state and pretty much eliminating man's access, may take 200 years to accomplish, by their estimate. Unfortunately, at the rate they are succeeding today, they will reach their goal much sooner. People and jobs receive scant attention by them.

While visiting in Seattle, a cold, rainy evening prompted our desire for a fire in the fireplace. A quick trip to the store provided neatly wrapped artificial fireplace logs. Printed on the box was:

"No trees were cut to produce these logs. Only sawdust, a waste product, was used."

My daughter suggested a big rubber stamp print on each piece of lumber:

"No trees were cut to produce this lumber. The boards fell out while producing sawdust to make composite fireplace logs."

A forester suggested the other day that on every roll of toilet paper, every ream of writing paper, plywood sheets, etc., we should print "Product of our Renewable Forests."


IN THE POLITICAL ARENA

It has been my pleasure to serve on North Carolina Congressman Charles Taylor's
Forest Science Panel. He was a sponsor of the "Salvage Rider" which was bitterly fought by eco-extremists. At a public meeting in Asheville, NC, a reporter asked me, "Do you think the Salvage Rider was a good thing?" Amazingly, my answer, "Yes, and it's too bad we can't manage our public lands so we don't need a Salvage Rider." was quoted correctly the next day in the local press.

Also, it was my privilege to testify on "Criteria of Forest Health" before the Committee on Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, chaired by Helen Chenoweth, Congressional Representative from Idaho. She, like Charles Taylor, supports real forest management. I testified as President of SAF and independently as a forester and concerned citizen.

The SAF report on this topic was provided. Testifying independently, which I clearly differentiated, I stated:

* as humans we experience the joy of birth, the vigor of youth, slowing down with age, and finally, death; few of us believe the "hands-off" approach is appropriate for maintaining human health.

* the same is true for forests; a well-managed forest is the healthiest possible.

* criteria of forest health include an adequate cadre of professional foresters; the flexibility to manage the forest unhampered by poorly conceived environmental laws, frivolous appeals and lawsuits, and tax codes that discourage
long-term investments; strong forestry research programs in the USDA Forest Service, universities, and the private sector; and that forest management remain science based with a complete toolkit (prescribed fire, herbicides, clearcutting,
etc.).

I summarized by saying that the answer to forest health problems is more not less forest management, and that the primary responsibility for managing our forests should in the hands of those best qualified to do the job - foresters!

A later witness, obviously an environmentalist, said, "I can't believe the arrogance of anyone saying that they can manage the forest better than god." Those few words tell us volumes.

AN ECO-GOLIATH

One of my more thoughtful critics, not implying that most are not, wrote saying the environmentalist would welcome SAF trying to stand up to them since they outnumber us so. He has a point. Recent data indicate the mainline environmental groups in the U.S. have a membership about 350 times that of SAF and budgets that total more than 80 times ours. Those are challenging odds. Alston Chase is quoted as saying it took the Sierra Club 100 years to reach the first 100,000 members and just two years to recruit the second 100,000 and Greenpeace, which started in the U.S. in 1978, is adding 10,000 new subscribers to its publication every month. Truly, the environmental movement is an eco-Goliath.

I suggest SAF has three little stones, TRUTH, SCIENCE, and ECONOMICS. With the proper sling, such as the TV campaign, perhaps we can prevail.

An article by an environmental educator, J. H. Lehr (in press or published in Soil & Ground Water Cleanup Magazine), wrote:

"The world has just witnessed an environmental backlash that lasted less than two years.
... a newly elected Republican Congress was thought to be set on dismantling abusive environmental regulations. Some were sure they would succeed. Others...were not. They knew that the environmental movement, for better or worse, had done too thorough a job brainwashing the world's population...Yes, the battle is over...One can only be in awe of the leadership of the environmental movement for laying so strong a foundation that even logic, common sense, good science and economics could not knock the building from its moorings...
Today we are an environmentally activist society - so you may as well lean back and enjoy it. Continue to speak the truth, advise reason, logic and good science, but don't be disappointed when such wisdom is ignored. With psychic hotlines a 300 million dollar industry today, what can we expect..."

After one of my talks, a forester reported to me that his daughter was given a t-shirt in kindergarten which pictured a loaded log truck. Printed underneath was "If only trees could scream!" It starts in kindergarten but continues through our educational system. A college textbook of ecology says:

"Consider the ultimate form of external environmental disturbance - total destruction of the habitat, such as might result from logging of a forest, or an asteroid collision, or a nuclear holocaust."

The challenge is almost overwhelming. As I said in my campaign statement:

"A vote for me is a call to battle. I cannot promise victory, nor can I promise fame and glory... But you will know you fought the good fight."


THE CAMPAIGN STATEMENT

The campaign statement (J. For., Sept. 1995) read:

"It has been a generally orderly retreat, but a retreat nonetheless. Now our backs are against the wall, and powerful voices in our ranks urge surrender. I heard the early salvos in northern California. Facts proved inadequate against a foe unhampered by truth, and the once-powerful redwood industry dried. Next, clearcutting, undoubtedly our best silvicultural tool, came under attack in my home state of West Virginia. Foresters stood shoulder-to-shoulder, but we lost ground steadily. Now school children are taught by propagandized teachers that clearcutting is a despicable and evil practice. The Pacific Northwest, probably the best timber-growing region in the world, has been lost to anti-utilization forces. Thousands of families and hundreds of communities have suffered in the name of the Northern Spotted Owl. The public does not understand that the owl was never the real issue; it was merely the excuse used by those determined to stop timber cutting and destroy the timber industry. Increased paper, lumber, and housing costs; use of metal studs in construction; and even lowly plastic bags in grocery stores testify to our defeats. There are those among us who say it is not "us against them," as if we can wish an enemy out of existence. "Ecosystem management,""sustainable forestry," and a dozen other vague and meaningless terms are incorporated into the surrender document. Some of our number are even accepting the ludicrous notion that forests should be returned to some "pre-settlement" condition. Should we do the same for agricultural land so we can all starve? The flag under which SAF should rally should proclaim our devotion to science-based forest management, with the main focus on furnishing basic human needs…wood for shelter, paper, and hundreds of other necessities. I, for one, would rather lose under that standard than see SAF become just another weak and vacillating organization under the banner of political expediency. Foresters know how to grow trees on a sustained basis, and that is the primary strength of our profession and its reason for existence. We have demonstrated time and time again that good forest management is compatible with the other uses of the forest: watershed, wildlife, and recreation. We have a proud history, but do we have a future? The forestry profession is viable only as long as forest industry is strong. Park rangers do not need forestry degrees! I recognize this is not an uplifting "all-is-well" message. I truly fear for the future of the profession and SAF. A vote for me is a call to battle. I cannot promise victory, nor can I promise fame and glory. If you join me, I must warn you that your character, motives, and intelligence will be assailed. But you will know you fought the good fight. Perhaps we can reverse a prophecy I penned some time ago in somewhat biblical form.

"In the latter days an anti-wise-use force will arise and will deceive many. It will reign for one generation. Mills will be closed, prices will rise, and once-productive forests will be filled with dead and dying trees. The sound of the saw and the ax will be heard no more. The woods will be the habitation of agitators, negotiators, and commentators. But this too shall pass. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. The people will cry, "Why are we wasting this renewable resource? We cannot afford homes as our fathers before us, and lowly paper is beyond our means. Ecosystem management is a false god with a thousand faces, equating humans and salamanders, and calling no management ‘good’ and good management ‘bad.’ It is used by those destroying our means of production." And a new generation of foresters will come forth, once again guided by science-based reason and the knowledge that the stand has always been the basic silvicultural unit, and timber the most important product of the forest. It will be understood that man cannot live by bread and shelter alone, but he surely cannot live without them."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Notes from the Road (1) - Loading Big Wood

Out on the road last week, it occurred to me that some of what I do and see out there would interest a few of you, occasionally. So I'll start a new series, Notes from the Road, that will feature brief clips of what people are saying and doing out there in the world of wood. Maybe I'll go back and re-post a couple of previous notes from my travels for you newer readers.

The thought occurred to me just as a couple of forklift operators were set to load a trailer in Winchester, Virginia, last week. It's an example of something I thought other people would be interested in knowing...how do they get those whole-house truss packages on the trailer? They used to stack smaller bundles on the trailer, and then strap the whole thing together...but that took a lot of time.

Now, with some planning, care, and synchronization, they can do it all in less than three minutes. Pretty ingenious.




Wednesday, June 10, 2015

World of Wood 2015

I hinted a couple of months ago that we would be holding something big this summer at Penn State. Just how big, I didn't fully realize. This is going to be bigger than the time Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over the lantern while it was being milked. Although with less destructive results, hopefully.

World of Wood 2015 will soon be upon us. From July 20th until the 23rd, some of the most interesting wood people in the world will descend on State College to discuss just about every issue, every detail, every lignocellulosic factoid on wood known to man. Where else, tell me, where else where you be able to listen to a world-class furniture artist share his knowledge with you and then relax with a scientifically-developed ice cream cone?

Where else, tell me, where else, will you be able learn how DNA sequencing and high-resolution computer vision is being applied to the battle against illegal logging, and then compete in bidding for various fascinating specimens of [legal] exotic specimens of wood?

Where else, tell me, where else, can you learn to identify wood species by their cellular structure, and then apply that knowledge to identify the wood in a one-of-a-kind 18th-century piece of history?

Where else, tell me, where else, will you be able to learn about the fossil forests of Ethiopia, and then tour a world-class arboretum to see living relatives of those very fossils?

And where else, tell me, where else, will I be on July 20th, 21st, 22nd, and 23rd?

No where else than the World of Wood 2015.

Where else, tell me, where else, can you stand in the shade of a 100-year-old American Elm?

So, if you're not doing anything else the third week in July, and want to talk wood all week while sipping suds and soda, join me, The Wife, and about a hundred of only our closest friends in this extravaganza of xylophilic delight.

Who knows, you may find yourself the topic of a future post on Go Wood. :-)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Voices of the Future (14) - Ruffed Grouse and Aspen

by Justin Vinglas
Forest Science Major, graduated May 10, 2015
jwv5103@psu.edu




The ruffed grouse is a species that heavily relies on an aspen forest for its habitat, source of food, and protection from predators.  The dense young growth of an aspen forest provides a source of protection from predators for the grouse, and the flowering buds of the mature aspen trees is a major source of food for this game bird.  The reason these patches grow back so thick is because of the tendency of the aspen trees to root sucker.  Once a patch of large aspen trees are cut it exposes the ground to more direct sunlight which helps the buds on the root system of the aspen tree to sprout, and a thick layer of new aspen trees begin to emerge.  A single aspen tree can produce hundreds of new aspen trees.

This species relies on a mix of young and old aspen stands so the best habitat for this bird species is 5 to 20-acre aspen patches that are close together but of different age classes. Aspen trees that are around 15 years of age and older provide for the best sources of food where aspen trees that are this age and younger provide for the best source of cover from predators. The understory of the younger age class of aspen trees are good for young grouse chicks because there is not a lot of thick understory vegetation.  There is just enough vegetation for a food source besides the aspen trees themselves and the trees provide the source of cover.




One organization that supports the ruffed grouse habitat projects is the Ruffed Grouse Society.  This organization has been involved with ruffed grouse and woodcock habitat since the 1960’s.  This society provides financial and technical assistance to public agencies that provide early successional habitat for species such as the ruffed grouse.  They help to promote small block cuttings to the agencies that usually conduct large timber sales and cannot afford to conduct smaller sales that the ruffed grouse needs for survival.  They currently are hosting 700 projects across 28 states and their funding will exceed $4,000,000 from 1985 to 2014. I think that this society supports a good cause.

If we do not support these small scale timber sales that promote early successional habitat for the ruffed grouse, this species may eventually make its way to the endangered species list.  Many times it is not economically feasible to build haul roads and landings to harvest a small 5- or 10-acre block, so it is important that this society keeps funding public agencies so they can continue to manage for ruffed grouse.  I worked as an intern with the PA Game Commission for two summers and I know that this agency does a lot of work with the management of ruffed grouse as well.

I remember very well the day I heard my first ruffed grouse in the woods when I was twelve years old.  My grandpa and I were actually turkey hunting on a cool spring morning along the edge of a clearcut when off in the distance I could hear a faint thumping in the distance. I kept hearing it so I asked my pap what it was and he told me it was a ruffed grouse.  That same turkey season we began hearing them more and while moving into a new spot to turkey hunt one morning I flushed my first grouse.  As I grew older I became more interested in this game bird and found them to be very unique.  It was a very neat experience and I will never forget my first spring turkey hunt where I saw and heard my first ruffed grouse.

What I would like you to remember most from this blog post is that a timber sale does not have to be large to make an impact on wildlife, it can just be a small 5- or 10- acre aspen clearcut to make a world of difference for the ruffed grouse in your own forest.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Voices of the Future (13) - The Northern long-eared bat: how a small mammal nearly crippled the logging industry in the Eastern U.S.

by Aaron Yablonski
Wildlife and Fisheries Science Major, graduating May 2016
aty5023@psu.edu

If I had a dollar for every time I have heard the phrase “bats are just rats with wings,” I would be able to afford a degree at an Ivy League university. Unfortunately, this is the way many people view these creatures. Due to decades of seeing movies about vampires who morph into our familiar flying friends, among other things, there has been a negative image of bats that cropped up but that has thankfully been fading away over the last few years.

Source: http://www.fws.gov
In reality, bats are not the evil bloodsuckers of past nightmares but peaceful creatures that play an important role in not only the ecosystem, but also our economies. Many common bats in Pennsylvania are insectivores, meaning they subsist on a diet entirely consisting of bugs. These insects, which include gypsy moths, tent caterpillar beetles, and mosquitoes, can cause detrimental effects to both plants and humans. So instead of fearing these amicable creatures, we should be befriending them and in fact have been. However, over the last decade, bat populations have been under attack.


White nose syndrome is a deadly condition thought to be a fungus that has wiped out upwards of 99% of the bats in Pennsylvania. As a result of these dire circumstances and because of the bats’ value, steps have been taken to protect both them and their habitat.

Source: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/virginiafield/pdf/NLEBinterimGuidance6Jan2014.pdf

Recently, there was a decision made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the northern long-eared bat (hereafter referred to as the NLEB) under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. This is where the situation became a bit hairy. If the NLEB was listed as “endangered" under the ESA, the logging industry in Pennsylvania would have been decimated. PA is the country’s number 1 producer of hardwood, employs nearly 80,000 individuals in the logging industry, and sold roughly $17 billion in hardwood. Clearly, we value our wood. Under the ESA, a species that is listed as “endangered” may not be taken in any part of its range. No problem, right? Well see, with 112 known hibernacula spread out all across Pennsylvania and with a habitat of forestland the little buggers can’t easily be avoided. NLEB habitat is bound to be impacted by logging, it really is unavoidable. To avoid hefty penalties, it would be safer for companies to avoid logging in certain areas altogether. This leaves very little industry. 

Source: http://www.agriculture.state.pa.us/


Obviously listing the NLEB as “endangered” isn’t the best idea since we still want our precious wood. And of course we can’t do nothing to help protect it since it is so essential to us. So what could we do? Thankfully, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to list the NLEB as “threatened” with a 4 (d) rule. Without this 4 (d) rule, the bat would have been essentially an endangered species. What this basically does is list it as a threatened species, but allows exceptions to be made so that certain activities will not be as heavily impacted by the listing. This listing lets the logging industry continue in areas where the NLEB occurs, but under heavy restrictions. 
Under the listing, harvesting of trees may not occur within 0.25 miles of a known hibernacula, cutting occupied roosting trees during the pup season (June and July) is prohibited, and clear cutting within 0.25 miles of a maternity roost during the same time period. Personally, I believe these restrictions are still not suitable protection for the NLEB. According to the USFWS’s conference on the NLEB in January of 2014, there should be a minimum 1.5 mile buffer zone around roosting trees in the summer, suitable forested habitat within 5 miles of a hibernaculum in late summer and the fall, and minimal noise disturbance during the winter months. These restrictions under the listing clearly contradict what the conference had decided was appropriate. Why did the USFWS say one thing and do another? I could write an entire blog post about what I think is the real reason ($$$) but this isn’t the time or place for that discussion. 

These restrictions are based around providing suitable habitat for the bats to recover and frankly, 0.25 miles isn’t going to cut it. Have you ever been within that distance of a logging operation? Do you think you could take a proper nap that close to one? Unless you sleep like the logs being produced, I don’t think so. These bats are already in a vulnerable state with white nose syndrome and excessive noise won’t do them any favors. Furthermore, during the pupping season, females need to have an increased intake of food in order to supply their offspring with the proper nutrients. Large roosts are going to need much more space than 0.25 miles in order to feed themselves. 

Despite all that the USFWS got wrong, this decision is a step in the right direction. Their decision will not in fact cripple the logging industry in Pennsylvania while providing the first step in recovering an incredibly important pest control species. We as citizens should continue to fight for the protection of our bats until they get the care they need and deserve. For now however, we must take what is given to us and be grateful. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Voices of the Future (12) - Wetland Draining: A Concern For the Future

by Shawn M. Seely
Wildlife and Fisheries Major, graduating May 2016
sms6445@psu.edu

As I drive to and from school every day on Pennsylvania Interstate 99 my curiosity has always been sparked by the little wetland areas along the highways that sometimes have water in them but for the most part are dry. I know from traveling that they are not just on interstate 99 but they are along many highways as well as housing complexes and business corporations.

I have always wondered what exactly they were doing in this more populated area which, at one point, was under heavy construction. As I have taken classes, here at The Pennsylvania State University on wildlife and ecology I have learned that these little wetlands were put in in place of ones that were once destroyed by the construction of these highways and buildings. These are known as mitigated wetlands. To better understand this it is best to know that in order for land to be considered a wetland it is required to have hydrophilic soils, plants, and contain water above or just below the surface for most of the year.

I often wonder which of these three requirements must be in place for the state to require mitigation permits to be in place as the highways and buildings are constructed. As I really look into these wetlands along interstate 99 I have noticed most of them look like at first they were great attempts with nest boxes put up around them and if there was water or even wetland plants at least in some of them. As a need for wetlands and biodiversity increase and many wetland species are very sensitive to change, the mitigation of destroyed wetlands is not taking the place of the once strong supporting wetlands. As regulated by DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) these new wetlands are supposed to be a 1:1 size ratio with the original and in forested wetlands there is even 2:1 ratio. Also, they are required to meet the same functions and values as the original wetland as well as planting of locally-native hydrophilic plants.

One of the biggest renewable resources that are being depleted is fresh water. Wetlands are one of the largest filters for rainwater and run-off that we have on earth. Here is video of a well-known scientist giving us the meaning of a wet land.



Many people have little to no knowledge of the need for these small, but largely diverse, ecosystems. As the world’s population is increasing we are in need of more farm land. As a result we are draining wetlands in the midwest (prairie pothole region), which is the number one breeding ground for 80% of the nation’s waterfowl population. Overall, there needs to be more strict regulations on the mitigation end if we are going to allow the delineation of the original ones. DEP states that there is a minimum of 5-year monitoring on the wetland to be sure that it is fully functioning. As I see in many areas, these wetlands along highways are very dry and need longer monitoring periods to ensure they are functioning properly. Here is another video put together by Ducks Unlimited of Canada that really drives home the importance of wetlands and the constant struggle to keep them from being destroyed.



Personally, I think that there need to be more heavily-enforced rules on the mitigation of these wetlands as well as raised awareness of their importance to our environment and to the people who use them. More people use wetlands indirectly than they even realize. If you haven’t noticed all of these wetlands along our major highways please take the time to notice them as some of you drive by them every day commuting to work. Take the second to notice the dried up land and lack of biodiversity as well as the dilapidated nesting structures placed nearby that have not been maintained. If you are interested in ways you can do more to protect your wetlands as well as improve them you can contact and join organizations like Clearwater Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, Society For Wetland Scientists, and your local government officials about the maintenance of the already existing wetlands.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Voices of the Future (11) - On Reintroduction of Species

by Shelby Harkless
Wildlife and Fisheries Science major, graduating Spring 2016
sah5588@psu.edu

In terms of policy, there are very few set guidelines when it comes to the reintroduction of a species. There are a few guidelines from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), but these only account for animals born or held in captivity, and they are not widely enforced. The IUCN does have guidelines on the reintroduction and translocation of species, but does not touch on specifically monitoring the stress of the individuals. Since the AZA and IUCN do not hold any legal power, it is essential to form laws ensuring reintroductions are performed as appropriately as possible, with minimal stress. This is a critical topic since it is believed we are entering the next great extinction. To slow, or counteract this process, we are able to take measures to reintroduce extinct or extirpated (absent from a specific area) species back into their native environments. Every species found on Earth has a specific niche within its ecosystem. Even the smallest organism can impact all other species found around it, from bacteria to wolves, with its absence.

Regulating reintroductions is near to my heart because it is the topic of my honors thesis. Sources to reference for your own personal gain will be cited numerically in parentheses, with their accompanying information listed at the end of this post. I am researching how the stress of an individual arctic ground squirrel affects their dispersal and survival rates after being introduced into an area in Kluane National Park, Yukon Territory, Canada where the species was previously extirpated (1). The squirrels were tracked using radio telemetry to determine survival and dispersal using GPS. The new environment was also altered in one of four different ways (tall grass no artificial burrows, tall grass with artificial burrows, short grass no artificial burrows, and short grass with artificial burrows) to determine if habitat type may determine the habitat use by the animals. In previous studies, it has been shown that increased stress, determined by measuring fecal glucocorticoids, will cause higher mortality and higher dispersion (2).



If studies such as mine can show that lower stress does in fact improve survival and lower dispersion, then it would be critical to ensure lower stress in future attempts. This can be accomplished by performing several different methods of reintroduction. For example, my experiment used soft release and hard release methods to compare how they affected the stress level of the individual. In the soft release, the squirrels were placed into holding cages for approximately two weeks to acclimate to the area. Inside the cages, the squirrels were protected from all predators, provided with fresh water and food, and also provided with shelter from the elements before being released into the new area. Once released, the animals were still able to enter the cages which were now open, and were also still protected by an electric fence for an additional two weeks. On other hand, the hard release squirrels were immediately released into the new area without any acclimation period or assistance.




This comparison will be beneficial to determine if acclimation to the area can affect the outcome of the reintroduction as a whole. If an elevated stress level does hinder the success of the reintroduction, then every measure which could possibly lower the level should be taken. Future studies should take this into account. Similar to my study, others should use a variety of methods to determine which will result with the least amount of stress on the animal. At first, this should be practiced with smaller, less endangered animals at first to improve the quality of the attempts. Once this has been perfected, it can be used with more vulnerable animals which cannot afford to be lost to poor practices.

Since reintroductions are performed at the collegiate, state, and even national level, a national policy mandating stress evaluation be conducted during a reintroduction should be established. This way, all parties involved would fall under the same guidelines. There are some rather simple ways to make this happen. You can simply talk to your state legislature to educate them about the issue and solution, or bring it up to the ecology/wildlife and fisheries departments of colleges and universities. I believe educating the source of the reintroduction itself is key to ensure people are willing to abide by the new practices. Laboratories which are able to perform the stress analysis need to cooperate with this new procedure in order to ensure its success. With your help, we can help improve the success of future reintroductions of our precious species.

1. Wheeler, Helen C., and David S. Hik. "Arctic Ground Squirrels Urocitellus Parryii as Drivers and Indicators of Change in Northern Ecosystems." Mammal Review 43.3 (2013): 238-55.
2. Sheriff, M. J., et al. "Mountain‐top and valley‐bottom Experiences: The Stress Axis as an Integrator of Environmental Variability in Arctic Ground Squirrel Populations." Journal of zoology 287.1 (2012): 65-75.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Voices of the Future (10) - There’s No Crying in Water Issues!

“Seriously, we can’t afford the tears.”

By Sarah Xenophon
Environmental Resource Management Major, graduating Spring 2017
sxenophon1@gmail.com

History:

Water issues and water use policies have been a bit of a busy topic since, well the beginning of human collection of climate data. (A quick disclaimer: This is not a post about climate change gloom and doom. However, whether you believe that humans are the cause or not, there are many scientific studies that point to drastically changing global weather patterns and ultimately, climate change.) Recently, with California Governor Jerry Brown mandating a 25% reduction in water use across California, things are getting a little heated…literally. Now into its fourth year of record-breaking drought conditions, California is feeling extreme pressure to reduce its water consumption and save itself from desertification. Shown in the figure below, precipitation has dropped to dangerous levels and the temperature has been on the relative rise since the start of the 20th century.


It’s no surprise that California has implemented such a drastic policy to combat the declining conditions in the state, but with the long-standing water allocation policies in the west, the reduction has a variety of effects on different individuals and rights owners. This will be explained further in the next section of the blog, but for now, all you need to know is how water allocations work and what might be causing the shortage issues at their roots.




Water allocation, in its simplest form, is a long line for a limited resource. There are many straws in every natural waterway running through the west and as populations rise, more new straws are added. Allocations are basically claims on the water that strengthen with age. The older your claim, the higher on the list you fall for rights to the water and the more likely it is for you to receive all of the water you need. However, in recent years, it has been increasingly difficult to keep track of who is using what water and allocations have been found to be consistently higher than the actual amount of water available. In other words, more than 100% of water that is meant to be allocated is being allocated. This leaves a recurring deficit in waters that are required for other prescribed uses.

How could this be in the age of science you ask? The answer is poor quantification of actual water supply and tracking of uses. Policy makers are relying on often-incorrect and out-of-date information to make decisions on whose use should be restricted and where it is most necessary to show concern. It makes it more of an accounting issue rather than a rain dance type of situation to rectify the over-allocation issue. To learn more about over-allocation in California and what needs to be changed in order to make the policies already in place more effective, Waterblog has some excellent explanations and data sets to clarify the situation.


New Policy Outlook:

Let me just start by stating the obvious. A 25% water reduction in modern California is a lot of water. In fact, it’s a reduction of around 9.5 billion gallons per day, which is almost 3.5 trillion gallons per year according to the USGS. To achieve such a drastic cutback, the Governor has declared several water saving directives. Such directives include lawn replacements, consumer goods replacements, reduced irrigation on certain properties, and irrigation bans on other certain public lands.  Fifty million square feet of grass lawns are on the chopping block under this new policy. Grass is to be replaced by native, drought resistant plants that require far less irrigation and homes are prohibited from irrigating unless they use water efficient drip systems. Golf courses and other highly irrigated properties, like campuses and cemeteries, are to reduce their water consumption. There is also a state rebate program in place working to have consumers replace household appliances with more water and energy efficient models.

If you’ve come to the conclusion that most of these reductions are focused on the activities of home and private landowners, you’ll be glad to know that the locals did too. Many Californians who are most affected by these cutbacks are angry with Governor Brown for the restrictions, pointing fingers and blowing whistles at big agriculture. After all, around 80% of California’s water is used for irrigation in agriculture. What many people might not know is that they are already on it! Plus, having borne the harshest economic hit caused by this drought, farmers are more than eager to find ways to reduce their water use and thus their resource cost. Allocations have been reduced, water management plans must be submitted, water usage reports shall be collected for better understanding of where water goes, and local water suppliers working with the California government will enforce these directives. 

Why do I care? (And so should you!):

Well to start, I can’t get enough of water-related education in my life.  Water issues are to me as perms were to rock stars in the eighties. But in all seriousness, global water stewardship and ensuring clean water for future generations is the epitome of my college career. Aside from my personal mission to save the waters of the earth, you can see from the earlier video and make educated inferences that water issues in California, or anywhere on this planet for that matter, are really bio-indicators for potential water issues elsewhere. With an exponentially growing human population, there is a high demand for increased agriculture. Where there is a need for more agriculture, there is an intrinsic need for more clean water.

If California loses the capacity to supply roughly $37.5 billion in produce annually, more than any other state currently does, this agricultural production falls on the shoulders of other states, or is removed from the net US food production. The obvious direct impacts would include rising prices in products ranging from veggies to nuts to oils to everyday staples. It would also cause an increase in water use in other states trying to fill the hole California has left. This might not seem like a bad idea until you find out that the water tables in many other states have also dropped and added agriculture would cause more stressors on local watersheds.  Some of the most prominent water issues in my home state, Pennsylvania, include nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment runoff from you guessed it, agriculture. Seeing as it’s already a tough situation to control, a high demand on farming would only intensify the problems. To avoid such increased stressors on our local environments and on your local watersheds, the best course of action would be to contact your local and national governments and voice your concerns about the growing water issues. Along with that, in the modern era of NGO lobbyists, joining agencies like the Nature Conservancy, Water for People, or any number of other non-profits that are concerned with water conservation would be a great way to become more active.

Think you’ve got better ideas? Lay down the law and contact your legislator!


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Voices of the Future (9) - Erosion & Sedimentation Plans are Necessary but can be Too Strict

by Zach Gentilesco
Forest Science Major, graduating May 2016
zgentilesco@yahoo.com

Over the breaks and a few weekends, I like to go back home from school to work in the woods for either of my uncles who are loggers. I first learned how to safely use a saw at 12 and learned how to operate a skidder before I learned how to drive a car. Working in the woods is something most of the males in my family are accustomed to.

This past winter break my uncle had a several-acre clearcut planned for us to do. Due to the strict environmental and sediment plan that was required we have yet to fell a single tree. This ordeal lasted several months and resulted in my uncle losing interest in the job. I guess I should mention now that the area that we were going to cut was not to be managed, but intended to be developed and have condominiums constructed.

The real work of logging is not felling and skidding. It is getting past all the red tape of erosion & sediment plans and getting bonds to use county roads for the single log truck my uncle owns. Life is already tough enough for the small time logger that is trying to put food on the table along with paying taxes and the never-ending battle with fixing equipment. In my opinion, I think that the tedious and strict e&s plans required to log should be loosened depending on the intentions of the landowner and the size of the operation. For instance, if a logger is only cutting down snags and hazard trees, he should not need to have an e&s plan. This idea is in practice in some areas, but is not practiced in my home county.

A logger should only have to focus on removing trees to the best of his or her abilities. They should not be put on hold due to a strict e&s plan that sometimes will make no difference due to the decision of the landowner. Should e&s plans be loosened all together? No, they shouldn’t for massive logging operations that cover an entire landscape, or for the companies that are doing the construction; but for small operations that will not do any harm to riparian zones or any open water, they are over the top.

People lose their minds if a little dirt falls in a stream, but no one seems to complain about all the salt that the state spreads on the roads during the winter. In the spring all the salt has to go somewhere and it is not into some containment area that safely stores the vehicle eating salt until next year. It goes into the streams that are near roads. I am not a wildlife and fisheries person, but I don’t think all that salt is good for the wildlife that live in or use those open water sources.

Below is a video that goes into great detail about the planning and precautions that go into an erosion and sediment control plan. All the work that goes into an e&s plan is a little over the top for a small time logger to complete.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Voices of the Future (8) - Wind Turbine Setback Regulation

by Ryan Conner
Majoring in Wildlife and Fisheries Science, graduating May 2016
rec5295@psu.edu

After our guest lecturer, Mr. Barton, gave his amazing speech, I decided I was going to look into the regulation for setbacks of wind turbines. Mr. Barton went through PA’s model for setbacks, things like the nearest building or public road should be at least 1.1 times the total height of the turbine, and that the nearest occupied building should not be within 5 times the hub height of the turbine. These all seemed like reasonable restrictions, but then Mr. Barton mentioned that these were just guidelines and they were not actually mandatory. This instantly struck me as being strange. I could not believe that there were not actual regulations that needed to be followed, especially because I felt like it would be really unsafe to have a turbine right next to a house. That is what spurred my interest in looking into turbine setbacks, and the first thing I stumbled upon was this video.


The video really surprised me. I never really thought about the wind turbines causing problems to people’s health because of the load constant noise. Although I could not find the report that was mentioned to come out sometime this year, it seems like there is information defending both sides of the argument. On the one side, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) mentions that “these allegations of health-related impacts are not supported by science.” On the other side, in a review done by the Minnesota Department of Commerce on the international policies of wind turbine setbacks, they mention that noise limits are one of the most used means for determining the placement of the wind turbines. So in other words, many countries would have to believe that the noise from wind turbines can cause problems for humans.

After seeing all the regulation for other countries I had to see what type of regulation the United States had for the placement of wind turbines. In The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ (NARUC) report I found that only a very small portion of states actual have regulations that need to be followed and then a few like Pennsylvania have models that can be followed. A lot of them had no regulations at all. I just don’t understand why some states can basically ignore the risks of wind turbines (noise, shadow flicker, ice-throw, and blade and tower failure) while others have policies they have to follow. All states should have to follow some kind of setback regulations. It might vary for different areas because certain areas may need more or less distance for it to be safe, but there will still be regulation they need to follow. At the very least I feel that no buildings or roads should be within 1.1 times the total height of turbine. That way people should be safe from most of the harm except for the sound which is still not seen as a threat to human health.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Voices of the Future (7) - Hours of Operation of Turbines to Minimize Wildlife Kill

by Ryan Klinedinst
Wildlife and Fisheries Science Major, graduating May 2016
rmk5339@psu.edu

Wind energy - it is renewable, environmentally friendly, and somewhat efficient...but with all good things there comes a cost. A hidden cost of wind energy and turbines is that it has an effect on song birds, birds of prey, and bats. Yeah, there will be some wildlife death when you change an environment and add something unnatural, but we can limit its effects on the wildlife.

The following statistics in bold are taken from a presentation Mr. Mike Barton gave us in class.

  • “The PA Game Commission did a study and found that one turbine kills about four song birds a year.” Now to some people four doesn’t seem like a big number, but think about how much turbines you see on one mountain and each one of them kill’s four birds a year! “Most of these deaths occur in the fall and spring time, when birds are migrating.” 


  • The birds of prey such as red-tailed hawks, coopers hawks, and turkey vultures are also affected by the turbines, which makes sense since they use high wind currents to glide and look for food. “According to the PGC about 86 birds of prey are killed a year.” Check out this video. Warning: this may be too violent for some viewers.





  • The most interesting part to me is the death toll that wind turbines have on the bats! Now bats are out mostly in the night time, but the turbines are running at night too. Since these turbines have lights on them, those lights attract bugs. Due to the turbine lights attracting bugs, bats fly around trying to get a meal, an effort that sometimes results in death or injury. The PGC states that “twenty five bats are killed by one turbine in a year.”


Now there are policies and laws in place that regulate the amount of time a turbine can be running. The turbines also get turned off at certain times of the day to try to prevent wildlife death from occurring, but it isn’t a perfect solution. I honestly don’t know if there is a perfect solution to prevent wildlife death by turbines, but I believe it is possible to improve the chances for the wildlife. I believe that we can make policies that can add more regulations to the activity period of the turbines. We already have laws in place that during migration times that the turbines are shut down.

I believe that we could have more regulations in place, such as:

  1. Let the turbines run in the middle of the day, compared to morning and evenings when birds are more active.
  2. Another thing we can do to help prevent death in bats specifically is not have lights on the turbines, like I said before the lights are attracting bugs and the bats eat bugs. So wouldn’t it make sense to not have lights on the turbines, or if they need lights use a light color that doesn’t attract bugs?
  3. Also why not turn off the turbines after a certain time of the night like around midnight and then start them back up around eight or nine o’clock in the morning to help reduce the bat mortality. This is how I believe that we can help out the wildlife and hopefully prevent less death from turbines.

Check out this video on wind turbines and birds:




Friday, May 15, 2015

Voices of the Future (6) - Wind Turbines are Worth Your Investment

By Todd Techentine 
Forest Science Major, Graduating May, 2016 
ttechentine20@gmail.com


Over the past couple years the amount of wind farms has increased significantly. In Pennsylvania alone there are 24 operating wind farms with a total of 717 wind turbines. With this increase of wind farms comes a lot of questions. Such questions as “Are they worth building, how long until they pay for themselves, what are the benefits of having then, and etc.” Most of these questions come from taxpayers and people who think they are worthless investments.

The total cost for everything when building a commercial wind turbine comes out to be around four million dollars for a two megawatt (MW) capacity turbine. The 2MW capacity turbine is the one you see mostly for commercial use. Now yes, this is a very high number to install these wind turbines, but compared to commercial solar energy per MW it is pretty cheap. There is no denying that. This money does come from grants from the government and yes also out of taxpayers’ pockets. With this number being so high, it makes people think that there is no way it can pay for itself. But in fact a wind turbine can pay for itself in just one year. This is, however, if it is placed in an efficient place. By that, it has to be able to get wind with no interference. This way it can get the maximum amount of wind hitting the blades allowing it to turn more, thus producing more electricity. With the more electricity produced, the faster it will pay itself back.

Now knowing that they can pay themselves off, let’s look at the many benefits that come with investing in windmills. Some of the advantages include economic, social, and also environmental. One major economic advantage is that the increasing number of windmills also increases the demand for workers. People are needed to build these wind turbines as well as perform maintenance on them when they are built. The biggest advantage, however, is with the environment. As you know coal has been a major supplier of electricity for many years. This is done by burning the fossil fuel in plants called co-generation plants. They burn the fuel which causes a large amount of emissions. These plants also take a longer time to pay for themselves compared to wind turbines.

Source: http://www.world-nuclear.org/Nuclear-Basics/Greenhouse-gas-emissions-avoided/

At first glance it is easy to see why people think wind turbines are a bad investment. It’s not hard to tell that two million dollars per MW is a lot of money. But when you look into the benefits that wind turbines produce, and the payback rate it makes, it is a no-brainer to invest in wind turbines. In time, you may not even have any other choice but to have to invest in them, so why not start now? In a couple years, the major producer is going to either be solar power or wind power. So getting used to investing in wind turbines now will just get you ready for the future., because wind power is the next big thing.

Also, wind turbines are not as bad as people make them out to be. People say they produce a lot of noise, look bad, and hunters say they scare deer out of the area. I disagree with every one of these statements. I live in a little town that recently just put up wind turbines. Now yes, there were some minor problems at first. That’s everyone’s first reaction to something new and different.  Now, after having them up for a couple months they are actually an attraction. As for me personally, I think they are pretty incredible. I know for a fact that they also do not scare the animals around them. I hunt relatively close to these wind turbines and every year I manage to shoot a deer. As for the noise, yes they produce a noise. This noise however can only really be heard when you’re really close to them or just about under them. And the last thing, they do not look bad or cause a lot of damage to build them. I actually think they are pretty to neat to watch them blowing. You can actually see the whole blade spin to catch the wind. So based on what everyone says, it is not necessarily true. If you ever get a chance to see these wind turbines, stop and take a few seconds to admire them instead of just listening to what everyone says about them.





Friday, May 1, 2015

Voices of the Future (5) - Fuel From Poo? I think YES!

By David Snook
Forest Science Major, Graduating August, 2015
snook1190@gmail.com

According to the U.S EPA there are over 2.2 million farms in the United States. Face it; the majority of farmers out there aren’t doing if for fun. Most of these farmers either raise beef, dairy, swine or and/or poultry to create either all or some of their income.

Either way… that is a lot of poop! What do these farmers do with all this manure? You may be familiar with driving through the obvious aromas of manure while farmers are spreading it on their fields.

There are many regulations to how farmers use their manure. I know from my own experience living on our family farm, that my father has to document the amount of manure every time we clean out our barns and when we spread it. For chicken and turkey farmers, they must store the manure in a building that is built simply for that purpose.

Ask yourself this. Is there anything else that farmers can do other than spread it on their fields? The answer is yes! Use it for energy! There are two ways that farmers can utilize manure for energy. They can either dry it to below 20% moisture content to burn for cooking or heating, or they can make a nice sloppy mixture of manure and water, and let it ferment in an air tight tank to create methane gas and carbon dioxide, which is then used as fuel for electricity and heating. What is even more amazing is that if the farmers don’t just burn it, they can use the byproducts of manure from the fermenter to spread on their fields with the same nutrients as before they fermented it. IT’S THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS!

Even though this seems like an amazing combination of poo and energy, there are only about 150 farms reported to have digesters capable of converting manure to energy. WHY?? Because this is an expensive operation! On average it costs $18,000 – $30,000 to get one of these up and running. Now that’s some expensive gas! There aren’t too many farmers that I know of that would spend that kind of money on one of these systems. The government needs to assist farmers in building these digester/fermenters to convert manure to energy. You may be wondering why the government should fork out money to help pay for these? The more people who use these fermenters, the better off the environment is. Besides, the government spends a ton of money on a ton of other less important things right? How can this be?

There are many benefits of having a fermenter!

-Decrease methane gas to the atmosphere
-Decreased smell of manure
- It is a renewable resource (cows are always pooping!!)
- Farmers can still use manure as fertilizer
- It will help farmers greatly decrease or completely get rid of their heating & electricity bills
- Can also provide energy for others

As you can see, there are many benefits of converting manure to energy. The government should be encouraging farmers to build digesters (they should help with the bill!) to better the environment and help with the fight against global warming with harmful methane gas. With more fermenters across the country and around the world it will make a big difference!

Videos for your viewing pleasure!







Thursday, April 30, 2015

Voices of the Future (4) - Invasive Plants in Pennsylvania

by Zachary Byers
Forestry major, graduating December, 2016
zrb5057@psu.edu

Our nation’s lands hold a wealth of diversity, impacted by the lifestyles and cultures of the people occupying it. While many of these additions have allowed America to grow and prosper, throughout the years there have always been a number of missteps. One of the clearest representations of this is the number of aggressive exotic plant species that continue to threaten and cause problems within our native landscape, known as invasive plants. The vast majority of these species, such as Garlic Mustard or Japanese Barberry, were introduced to the land on purpose. The reasons for doing so very greatly, from being ornamental to being a quick source of nutrition or even in hopes of preserving soil or water quality.

It’s not that these invasives are inherently bad; they simply cause too much stress in an environment where it can impact other species. The idea can be very straightforward, and even be explained in no more than two minutes like in the video below:



One of the greatest misconceptions that are often found when dealing with invasive species is that many still confuse them with ‘exotic’ species. An exotic plant species is any plant that does not natively originate from our area. An invasive plant species goes another step beyond, as a plant that was not only brought to our land from somewhere else, but also poses a threat to our lands or our other existing native species. For most agencies and legislative policies dealing with invasive plants, their management is typically similar. They are to be removed or controlled depending on how much of a threat they present on the other species in the area. Total systematic removal of invasive species on most federal and state lands is relatively uncommon, species being suppressed by various land management techniques as they are seen to pose a potential threat.

One of the most essential tasks in making sure that invasive species are well understood is being able to explain why they’re considered ‘invasive’ in the first place. At first glance, many invasive species may seem completely harmless, and could even have some degree of biological and aesthetic value within an ecosystem. There are several exotic species that exist within our lands now that aren’t considered invasive, and they are allowed to live in our ecosystems for precisely this reason. Unlike typical exotic species, invasives can cause a great deal of stress on our existing native species. They occupy living space, can take up resources needed to grow and develop, compete for natural roles within the ecosystem, and some even create secondary plant compounds which actively act to displace other species within reach.

The issue that’s most commonly dealt with by certain areas is not over whether or not invasive species should be controlled or even eradicated in a general sense, so much as whether or not some species are truly invasive. This means that invasives have to be handled more on a species to species basis, rather than taking the same action for any plant with the same designation. Multiflora rose, for example, is a species that has been established within our state from Asia and was spread for the sake of soil conservation and to provide ‘living barriers’. Since its establishment it’s been valued further as cover for small game, aesthetic beauty and a source of forage. The issue lies in the plant’s heartiness, far exceeding American native roses while netting into large shrubby masses which can act as barriers and prove very difficult to remove once established.

With similar differing qualities in mind it isn’t uncommon to find two individuals who differ greatly on the value of an ‘invasive’ plant in their ecosystem. This indecision often leads to difficulty agreeing on how to properly manage the plants beyond continual suppression, and makes the possibility for wide-scale eradication highly unlikely.

Of course, on the topic of large-scale eradication…would such a thing even be possible? Most invasive species still exist within our lands today because they’re so resilient against both man and nature’s attempts to remove them. In fact, you could go onto just about and piece of state or federal land with a checklist of invasive species, and spend hours ticking off examples dotted here and there. While in a perfect situation it would be great to pluck every threatening bush, stump or blade of grass from an area, it’s just not feasible.

But, there is one promising method that has started to make a comeback within our state. After many long years of suppressing fire from our natural environment, the practice of prescribed burning has been allowed and is slowly but surely becoming more frequent in our forests. Regardless of what opinions people may have on the use of fire, it is easily one of the most promising methods we have towards stemming the impact of invasive plants. Our native species have not yet lost their predisposition towards handling and recovering from low-intensity burns, and many invasive species have little to no tolerance from fire even in their native ranges. It’s true, running the entire state’s understory under a cleansing blaze would still not be a total end-all solution to our invasive plant problems. It will, however, provide us with an extremely valuable way to bring highly-damaged regions back into our control.

In a way, invasive plant species are likely to be our environment’s “criminals” forever, murdering native species and stealing valuable resources. If we were to leave the lands to follow nature’s course, then over time evolution would probably equalize these invasives until they were a part of our native ecological balance…but allowing this would cost us a great deal of the species that we cherish so deeply. In my opinion ‘policing’ invasive plant species as we have for years truly is our only option. We are more conscientious about the presence of hazardous life in our ecosystems now than we have been in the past. These invasive species are not strangers to us now. We know what they are, and we have the tools we need to keep them in line. All that’s left for us is to stay mindful, and do all we can to keep that long list of invasive plants from getting any longer.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Voices of the Future (3) - The Plight of the Muskrats

by Dylan Bakner
Wildlife and Fisheries Science major, graduating May, 2016
dlb5567@psu.edu

The muskrat, a native species to North America, is a medium-sized rodent that inhabits a variety of aquatic ecosystems. This semi-aquatic mammal’s diet is largely based on vegetation that can be found within their habitat. The breeding season lasts from March through August. Females can have up to four litters, bearing an average of six kits per litter. Trapping season for muskrats in Pennsylvania lasts from the middle of November to the middle of January.

The muskrat population has been on a steady decline since the early 1980s. During the trapping season that spanned 2010 and 2011, Tom Hardisky, a furbearer biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, conducted a study looking at the juvenile-to-adult ratio of muskrats in the state. After accounting for 8,924 muskrat pelts, he found eight juveniles for every three adults. This study disproved the popular notion that disease was causing the population decline. Despite ruling out disease, Hardisky was unable to arrive at the underlying problem. Hardisky believes that runoff from farms, which used to provide muskrat’s vegetation with rich nutrients, is no longer reaching their habitats.  This argument is backed up by a Penn State study conducted by Jeffery Everett.  Aside from this, riprap is being put into the banks of streams as a measure of preventing erosion.  Before the installation of this riprap, muskrats were able to burrow into the existing sandy banks of streams. The riprap similarly affects vegetation in the areas inhabited by muskrats, thus making their effects two-fold. Future studies could increase chances of sustaining the muskrat population.

Speaking from the personal experience of someone who has trapped muskrats since childhood, the installation of riprap has caused a visible decline.  On a larger scale, my father, who has trapped for forty years, has noticed an increase in predators of the muskrat, as well as a loss of habitat.  The muskrats in South Central Pennsylvania are adapting to the lack of vegetation by resorting to less favorable food sources such as clams and fish, according to Paul Errington’s book “Muskrats and Marsh Management.”

Following is a graph of my personal recordings of muskrat pelt harvest over the past seven years. Included in the graph are three separate locations, along with their respective statistics of harvest.  The three locations used to provide my father with forty to fifty muskrats each.



The amount of vegetation at location 1 (from the graph above) 15 years ago.

The amount of vegetation at location 1 (from the graph above) today.

Reasons why sustenance of muskrats is important:

Muskrats provide a healthy food chain for hawks, owls, mink, raccoon, fox and many other species.
Revenue from hunting and trapping licenses goes to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which in turn uses it to help maintain all wildlife in Pennsylvania.
Muskrat lodges built in open water can be used for nesting sites for waterfowl, frogs, snakes, turtles and more.

Some of my youngest childhood memories include trapping muskrat, along with my father, brother and grandfather. It has become a family tradition for my family and I to set our first muskrat traps of the year on Thanksgiving Day. As a young child, my brother and I were always excited to go trap our local waterways for muskrat, raccoon, and mink. I’m thankful for having such a patient father to take us trapping with him because most of the time we ended up falling into the frigid cold water. To this day, I still manage to fall into the water along with my older brother; however, now we have upgraded to wearing chest waders rather than hip boots, so we don’t get as wet.

I’ve never had the ability to not fall in the water! Still to this day I end up falling!

Muskrats are fascinating and magnificent creatures in my eyes. Muskrat trapping is hard work. The years I’ve spent trapping them have made a great influence on my life. The trap line has taught me to have a strong work ethic. There is no other place I would rather spend my time in the fall months, than being out on the muskrat line.

My brother (on the right) and I in 2002, with a hard earned muskrat.