The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Thursday, April 30, 2015

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

by Zachary Byers
Forestry major, graduating December, 2016

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

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.

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


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 acre 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 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.


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.