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Posts tagged ‘Invasive species’

The Dying Trees – III

We returned this week to Quabbin Park, in Belchertown and Ware, Massachusetts to continue exploring the story of the dying Red Pines in New England Forests.  Just to recap, Quabbin Park is the more or less officially designated visitors area for the Quabbin Reservation, home of the massive and wonderful reservoir that sustains much of eastern Massachusetts.  The accidental wilderness there was created in part by the rebirth of natural forests once farming there ceased, but also by the planting of millions of pine trees to aide in the natural filtration of the water.  In places, the population is quite mono-species and as such, is vulnerable to infection.  Invasive species moving north as the climate warms attack, the forests, the most notorious being bittersweet, that overwhelming vine that is now common place in our forests, draping itself around the trees.  (Think back, if you’re a New Englander, it mostly wasn’t there when you were a kid.  I’m from Virginia and it wasn’t even a big deal there.)

The second most obvious invasive species in the Quabbin area is Red Pine Needle Scale, on loan from Pennsylvania and further south.  It attacks Red Pine trees only but makes really quick work of them. Here’s the forest near the Winsor Dam spillway.  Three years ago, these pines were all nice and green.

The stand of Red Pines along the red side of the road, for about 100 yards or more in, is now dead.  It clearly has become a potential safety hazard, and the Division of Conservation and Recreation who managers the land in the Reservation is now taking those trees down. I’m going to switch to black and white imagery here, as, at least for me, it captures more of the mood of the work in process. Things begin to get a bit otherworldly.

They are making progress it seems.  This is seriously difficult work, requiring heavy equipment and traversing some challenging landscapes.

Your taxes and water bills at work…  As I’ve stated in previous posts though, I don’t see that there is any choice here.  We should keep in mind though that to the extent climate change or other human actions play a role in these species migrations, our bill will continue to rise.

That being said, life goes on, sometimes in spite of our best efforts.

The Dying Trees – II (And it won’t be the last)

I’ve talked on several occasions about the impact of Red Pine Needle Scale at the Quabbin Reservoir, including here if you’d like some more background. In essence, Red Pine Needle Scale infects and quickly kills Red Pines.  In the Quabbin forests, inside the Reservation there are numerous stands of Red Pines.  They are all vulnerable and many are dying.  This is taking place in part because of the migration of the Scale into New England, from south of here (perhaps due to climate change, as some believe), and in part because mono species cultures are vulnerable to attack.  (We should think about this, whether or not there are too many people in one place or too many cows/chickens in a barn. The Asian Long Horn Beetle which is currently attacking Worcester, Massachusetts is successful, in part, because too many maples were planted in the city after Worcester was victimized by a massive tornado.  It did seem like a good idea at the time.  It’s just too easy for any sort of disease to spread from one member of a species to the next.)  The impact here is quick and intense.  This was, only about four years ago I’d say, a very normal and healthy looking stand of Red Pine.

Now, the stand is dead.

This was taken, last week, in August.  Of course, pine trees aren’t supposed to be barren at any time of the year.  The stand is about 100 yards deep it would appear.  Though there is pain in the tops, where the needles belong, there’s still a hint of beauty down below.  If you just looked down, you might not notice anything.

DCR, the Division of Conservation and Recreation, is now removing the stand.  They have to it seems to me.  One strong down draft and the highway that runs through Quabbin Park would be littered by these dead trees, and someone could get hurt.  The process has just begun it appears.

Even in the midst of this we can already see what nature has in store.

We cut the trees, then we replanted, now nature is taking them down.  Our environment is very dynamic and subject to change.  We play a role in that change, like it or not.  Red Pine Needle Scale will change the face of the Quabbin Forest.  I’ll follow up in a few weeks to see what this area looks like after the trees have been removed.

Battling an Invasive Pest – The Asian Longhorn Beetle at Dodge Park in Worcester, MA

Worcester, Massachusetts, for those who don’t know, is currently at ground zero in a major battle against an invasive specie, the Asian Longhorned Beetle.  This particular critter probably joined us via wood palette, courtesy of global commerce.  Here are a few links that will give you more information about the pest and the battle if you’re interested.  We paid a visit recently to the front lines of the battle, Dodge Park, in the Burncoat section of Worcester.  Here’s what we saw.  (Click on the image for a better view.)

(You can see the full sized panorama posted at gigapan, and get geographic coordinates for the shot here.)  If you take a visit to Dodge Park via Google Earth, this is not what you’ll see, at least not yet.  Their most recent satellite photos will show a park that is completely forested, largely with maples.  All of the maples and other susceptible trees were cut down in the past few months from what I am told. You don’t see any stumps in this image because the stumps have to be ground up as well.  The Beetle can’t live in ground wood evidently, so the wood can actually be repurposed to an extent, in this case to make paths through the now rather Martian looking landscape.  It’s quite eerie there.  The good news is that the State’s Division of Conservation and Recreation is now involved in doing some replanting.  This is a big park though, and recovery will take some time.

The battle is not without controversy.  The taking of the trees, which is actually a Federal (Department of Agriculture) and not a State decision obviously has a terrible aesthetic and natural set of consequences.  Indeed, as reported in a recent Boston Globe article, some scholars question the value of some fights against invasive species. (Though evidently very few question the value of the fight against the Beetle.)  What is at stake of course are the economic consequences of not fighting the Beetle, including the loss of the maple syrup industry in Vermont if the critters make it that far north (a possibility to be sure) as well as significant impacts on the lumber industry.  Government intervention to stop the spread of disease is as old as humanity and often quite necessary, though at the same time, painful.

On the other hand, it is difficult to know what we could possibly do to stop an invasive such as Pine Needle Scale, which I’ve written about frequently.  The reality is, the Red Pines will die, and other species will reclaim their place in the sun. Perhaps the question as to whether or not to fight an invasive isn’t the only one we should consider.  Another question might have to do with lessons learned.  On our visit to Dodge Park we had the pleasure of chatting with a DCR supervisor who was happy to answer our questions.  She said that one of the factors that promoted this particular epidemic was the Great Worcester Tornado of 1953.  The tornado passed through this part of the City and obliterated much of the standing shade trees. Replanting at the time relied heavily on  one particular species of maple, a species highly susceptible to the Beetle.  Mono species populations packed in too tightly are in general more vulnerable to the spread of disease.    This is true of Red Pines, Maples and who knows what else.  Diversity, in the face of global travel and global warming, is likely a very good thing.

The Dying Trees

If you run a WordPress blog such as this, you can access a statistics page which will provide you with all sorts of interesting information, such as how people got to your site.  I’m occasionally surprised and given to some self doubt.  One of my more popular posts was “Things to do on a rainy day” in which I presented a variety of ways of photographing wood on the side of an old bar(n) in Vermont.  I have a feeling that my title threw off a bunch of parents who, desperate, tried to google their way through a rainy day and probably found instructions for photographing wood to be less than helpful.

Sometimes though, you see something quite powerful.  Recently one of the Google searches that led someone to this blog was titled “Why are the trees dying at Quabbin Reservoir?”  That got my attention.  In fact, the situation isn’t quite that dire.  They are not all dying, thankfully, but the Red Pines are, due to Pine Needle Scale.  Pine Needle Scale is an invasive species, joining us from Pennsylvania and parts south, that is nearly always fatal to a Red Pine.  Increasingly, you can see its impact at the Quabbin forest.  (Click on the images for a better view.)

This was taken at Gate 52, inside Quabbin Park.  If you look carefully, you’ll notice a small deer feasting off the vegetation on this small island which lies just off Little Quabbin Island.  (This is what the folks at National Geographic call a “scale element.” It’s a tool to help the viewer get a sense of size.)  Here’s another view, this time of Little Quabbin Island itself.

What you see are small clumps of dying trees amidst otherwise healthy hardwoods. Each individual clump by itself doesn’t look so alarming. The real impact though, probably the impact that drove the sad Google search is experienced through a view of the big picture.  Here’s a small version of a very large panorama.

The real panorama, full size, is posted at Gigapan here.  Have a look.  We live in an amazingly small world, from an environmental perspective.  Some of you may have followed the story of the Mountain Lion that was unfortunately killed by a car in Connecticut.  In the Boston Globe this morning, it was reported, in “New England in Brief,” that the Mountain Lion was actually from the Black Hills of South Dakota, by way of Minnesota and Wisconsin.  It was tracked by authorities using DNA samples, presumably from its scat.  This was not a captive animal escaped.  This Mountain Lion made the journey in the wild.  It is one of the longest journeys ever recorded by a land mammal.

While taking this panorama, we were joined by one of the most beautiful birds we’ve ever seen in the wild, a Scarlet Tanager.

Of course I had the wrong lens on at the time, one of my strengths when it comes to wildlife, but you get the idea.  This little guy and his buddies will be leaving soon, for their winter home in Central America.  It is a small world indeed.


Where are we heading?

There could be some dark days ahead for our environment.  The new folks in Congress seem to be determined to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency.  Their antipathy toward the science behind global warming is well known.  If you don’t like the scientific results, outlaw them.  Takes us back to the Inquisition telling Galileo that what he was seeing through his telescope were not the moons of Jupiter. Galileo had little choice to recant, or face the rack.  His expedience though didn’t change the fact that what he was seeing were indeed the moons of Jupiter regardless of whether or not that was convenient for the Church.  The science will ultimately carry the day, perhaps though not before it’s too late.  The rest of their attacks on the EPA though are truly intriguing.  My favorite:  they want to eliminate any protection for the Chesapeake Bay.  I grew up near the Bay and remember when oysters, among other delights, were plentiful.  No longer.  The Bay is dying.  It needs protection, largely from the drainage of huge amounts of chicken waste.  Thank you Mr. Perdue.  But, seriously, why not save the Bay?  Certainly the hunters and fishermen/women who flock there want it saved.  State tourist agencies want it saved.  Even the Navy wants it saved.  It’s not that hard to raise chickens in a way that won’t pollute the water.  The list of rather strange actions on the part of the House of Representatives goes on and on.  Fans of Mercury poisoning may want to take note, that little trick could be making a comeback.

All this begs the question, what are they afraid of?  It’s not the deficit.  The EPA is not breaking the bank and environment action tends to stimulate economic action, not inhibit it.  There’s money to be made and to be saved in environmentalism.  But somehow that statement in and of itself seems to frighten some people.  We drive hybrid cars. They now cost about the same as comparable non-hybrid vehicles.  YOU SAVE A FORTUNE BY DRIVING A HYBRID.  For starters, you’re using 87 gasoline.  That saves you over a quarter, per gallon.  And, you’re getting 40 – 50 miles per gallon.  You actually have to remind yourself to fill the tank.  Nevertheless, I’ve had people try to convince me that my math must be wrong.  There’s no real savings in driving a hybrid. Sorry, those really are a bunch of moons orbiting planet Jupiter.

We’ll have to see how this plays out.  Hopefully, you will speak out if you agree with me.

All is not lost, however, even if some of our leaders are.  We had a chance last weekend to attend a presentation by Mr. Herm Eck, head of forestry at the Quabbin Reservoir.   We left the presentation with a fairly strong sense that the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, who own the water in the Quabbin, have no intention of paving over the surrounding woodlands. I make this comment not with the intent of entering into the debate over whether or not any commercial logging should take place there.  There is a real difference between managing a forest, in other words a population, and managing a tree.  Once viewed in that light, things become quite complicated.  Deer in sufficient numbers can make it impossible for the forest to regenerate.  They eat many different kinds of vegetation, including the leaves of very young trees.  If the forest ultimately goes away, the deer go away.  What is best for the population, may not be best for an individual deer.  Massachusetts will soon be classifying publicly owned forests as to the relative degree to which human dominance of the ecosystem will be allowed (meaning commercial logging, commercial activities, motorized vehicles, etc.).  Although far from perfect, I increasingly have the sense that the right questions are being asked, in a thoughtful way, and that Massachusetts could represent a model in the search for ways of fostering human/forest interactions that supports the needs of both.  (Of course, I realize I’m sounding like the guy who says he’s so glad he missed that awful traffic jam, thereby jinxing himself and assuring almost certainly that around the next corner will be, a traffic jam.)

What is far more alarming, as mentioned last week, is the growing threat represented by invasive species.  Here the policy makers seem  stumped. We know that global warming is a significant factor in that the warming climate encourages species from the south to expand to the north and attack new populations.   Mr. Eck’s most not wanted list for the Quabbin Forest:  Bittersweet, Japanese Barberry and Hemlock Wooley Adelgid.

I first noticed Bittersweet on a train ride through the southern United States.  I was absolutely dumbfounded by the degree to which vines had taken over whole southern forests.  I remember thinking with some relief that the damage tended to be localized to the south.  Now it’s right down the street.

You may have seen the Japanese Barberry on this blog before.  It’s visible in many places inside the Quabbin forests.

It certainly looks harmless.  But it can take over the forest floor in places where we’d hope new trees would grow.  It can destroy the forest’s ability to regenerate.  The Hemlock Wooley Adelgid (you’ve got to love that name) represents a potentially catastrophic threat to our vast stands of hemlock. I haven’t had the pleasure of running into that little critter, that I know of. Interestingly, the Hemlock Wooley Adelgid, which joins us from Japan, did not cause havoc there.  In its own native environment a variety of factors tended to balance out impact of the adelgid.  Not so when taken out of its natural environment.

Mr. Eck also did mention the Red Pine Needle Scale, which I discussed last week.  I erroneously have been leaving off the “Red.”  Red Pines are the target.  The scale turns this..

Into this…

And ultimately this…

Those are dying trees.  There is nothing that can be done to prevent their death. We will likely have to face a significant and on-going threat from invasive species and other impacts of global warming as we move ahead. And in all fairness, our environment, our forests, face other challenges as well. Adults are called upon to face their fears, not to run away from them. Yet increasingly, we seem to be confronted with leaders who believe that if we deny what is happening, then we won’t have to worry about it. Sorry, things just don’t work that way.