Bill’s Bark and Bytes

When I first began to formalize the idea of posting a blog, I was counseled by a professional journalist to make each segment brief in order to keep the reader engaged.  With that advice in mind I ended the previous edition with so much left unsaid that I feel obligated to pick up where I left off after only a brief delay.

The White Oak Initiative, which was the subject of the bulk of the previous effort, included not only the aforementioned information provided by forest economist Bill Luppold of the U.S. Forest Service; but also a discussion of Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) and its role in determining necessary metrics by Tom Brandeis also of the Forest Service; and a very basic but concise explanation of white oak silviculture courtesy of current Acting Chair of the University of Kentucky Department of Forestry, Dr. Jeff Stringer who had taken leave from a family vacation in Florida to make a whirlwind trip to Lexington in order to chair the proceedings.

Without any intent to minimize the value of the information provided by the first three speakers, Tom Martin, President/CEO of the American Forest Foundation, gave a presentation that provided a very compelling snapshot of what he believes the successful White Oak Initiative must encompass.

Even though the theme that had been focused on throughout much of the previous presentations, and is critical to the success of the overall project, was the quality log that is the primary focus of the cooperage and bourbon industries, Tom made it clear that any successful program must take into account the need to profitably merchandize, not just stave quality logs, but logs falling both below, and in the case of veneer, above the ideal criteria necessary for producing staves.

Tom’s discussion caused me to reflect on my early involvement with the cooperage industry at a stave mill in Virginia during the summers of 1964 and 1965 – seemingly a lifetime ago.  As a summer intern and forestry student I spent a significant number of days assisting our logging crew.  This group was directed to fell only stave quality white oak trees.  Once the tree was on the ground the timber cutter would start at the butt and block out 40-inch long segments until the quality of the tree was no longer suited for stave production – in those days that was essentially at the point of the first knot.  The remainder of the tree was left where it laid and, although I never witnessed the process, I was told that a crew from a cross tie mill would follow behind us and salvage whatever they could utilize.

To summarize, a successful White Oak Initiative must include a multitude of markets, not confined to the cooperage industry but involving veneer mills, sawmills, pallet mills and outlets for byproducts including wood chips, bark, and sawdust.  It will involve end users worldwide manufacturing products as diverse as furniture, flooring, pallets, railroad cross ties, paper and charcoal.

One extremely critical observation that Tom made is that the forestry community needs to identify examples of well-managed stands of white oak that can be utilized for instructing all stakeholders on what the ultimate management objective should encompass.  With this in mind, it is not too early to begin assembling a file on any tracts that might meet the necessary criteria.

The other presentation that I found extremely intriguing was given in the closing session of the three-day meeting by Tom Howard Vice-President for Government Relations For Domtar Paper Company, who dealt with two distinctly different, but equally important, areas.

Tom’s first topic had to do with Domtar’s ongoing research into the development of new products, unrelated to its traditional line of paper products, from the basic components of wood – cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin – that are recovered from the pulping process.  This coincided with some of the findings I had encountered during my visit to the Forest Products Laboratory during my visit to Madison, Wisconsin last November and could well be critical in developing new by-product markets for wood product manufacturers.

Tom also made mention of something that I believe has tremendously positive implications for forestry regardless of one’s political leanings.  You may remember that in his first week in office President Trump convened a meeting of the CEOs of some of the countries’ largest and most influential companies.  Included in that group was Mark Sutton, CEO of International Paper Company, whose inclusion in this assemblage was, in itself, significant; but more importantly, the President made it clear to Mr. Sutton that he was well aware of the nature of the critical issues being faced by the forest products industry.

Before I bring to a final close all discussion of the KFIA Annual Meeting I would like to take time to thank the following foresters: Phil Horsley who staffed the KDF booth; Pam Snyder who faithfully assumed her accustomed position at the Tree Farm booth and Stewart West, Ray Campbell, Steve Kull and again Pam who attended the White Oak Initiative meeting and were on hand to provide information as needed.  I would also like to offer my congratulations to Service Forester Lisa Armstrong who was recognized as the Tree Farm Inspector of the Year.

 

Bill’s Bark and Bytes

When one attains the point in life where not just the years but the decades that he has spent on earth begin to add up to a significant number, it is easy to reach one of two conclusions, or perhaps both.  Either you are getting old and/or you have been blessed.  What brought this bit of sentimentality (or in its abbreviated form – senility) to mind came as a result of my attendance at last week’s Kentucky Forest Industries Association (KFIA) annual meeting.  Prior to the board of directors meeting last Tuesday, I was trying to determine how many of these meetings I had attended and, if my math is correct, this was my forty-ninth.

All of the forgoing is a rather lengthy way of congratulating this fifty-two year-old organization for, not only its longevity, but the tremendous service it has provided to the forest products industry and forestry in general since its humble beginning in the mid 1960’s.

This year, as was also the case two years ago, the KFIA meeting was the site of an earlier meeting that preceded the annual event and provided insight into what potentially could become the most exciting development in the Commonwealth from a forestry perspective to take place in recent memory.  The subject of this meeting was the “White Oak Initiative” and it brought together some one hundred people from not only the forestry community but other groups with vested interests in the future of the white oak resource as well.  This list included loggers, landowners, foresters, sawmillers and educators as well as cooperage and distillery management personnel.

What I took away from this gathering was that there is a significant interest that goes beyond normal forestry-related groups to develop a plan to sustainably manage the white oak resource, not only in Kentucky, but throughout its entire range.  Similar initiatives have been implemented with varying degrees of success in the southern states in separate efforts to restore both shortleaf and longleaf pine.

While white oak should not in any way be considered an endangered species at present, it does run the risk of becoming unable to support the seemingly insatiable demand of the bourbon industry for the white oak barrels that by both tradition and statute are required for the aging of its product.

US Forest Service economist Bill Luppold, perhaps the most knowledgeable and credible source in the nation on such matters, shared a discovery that he had uncovered a few years back while reviewing white oak inventory data.  What he learned is that, while there is still a significant volume of mature white oak timber on the stump, the totals representing the smaller size classes are alarmingly low; while those species, notably beech and maple, that compete with both red and white oak for growing space are increasing.

What this implies for all interested parties from landowners and foresters all the way up the supply chain to loggers and producers of the finished barrel, is that those sites that will support stands of quality white oak timber need to be intensively managed with the ultimate objective of white oak sustainability in mind.

Some initial steps to address this situation have already become reality.  The two KDF nurseries have made a concerted effort to ramp up the production of white oak seedlings and this has been aided by the current bumper acorn crop.  Also, in conjunction with the University of Kentucky, KDF has received a grant that has assisted in the establishment of the Forest Health Center that is engaged in research to determine, among other things, what can be done from a scientific standpoint to facilitate the typically long growing cycle of a white oak tree.

Perhaps the most critical part of the entire equation has to do with what we as foresters can bring to the table.  White oak is not the simplest species to establish and manage to maturity.  Unlike a potential prescription for the two species of pine that were the subject of the two earlier initiatives, the answer cannot be found by simply establishing plantations.  White oak can and should be at the heart of such reforestation practices as strip mine reclamation, but the success of the initiative will ultimately depend on the proper management of existing stands through such silvicultural practices as timber stand improvement, patch clear cuts, and professionally managed harvests.

For the first time in my rather lengthy career the forest products industry in Kentucky has been able to engage some non-traditional partners in its quest to better utilize its substantial and under- appreciated resource.  These newcomers have a need and potentially the wherewithal to make the White Oak Initiative a success.  If the necessary funding can be coupled with the management expertise that KDF, as well as consultant and industry foresters, are capable of adding to the recipe I can foresee a very favorable outcome for this marriage.  It is the type of collaboration that has long been absent in the industry, but it is potentially the catalyst that could lead to forestry receiving the long overdue credit it deserves as a major contributor to the economy of the Commonwealth.

Bill’s Bark and Bytes

During these days of tight budgets and the close attention that must be paid to every dollar that is being spent, it is not unreasonable to question whether or not every state and federal program serves a useful purpose or, for that matter, justifies its very existence.  One might ask that question about forestry in general or the multitude of diverse programs that the field encompasses.

One of the areas that has come under scrutiny from time to time and may well continue to do so is the tree nurseries.  It is no secret that these two facilities have not operated in the black for quite some time, if ever.  Under the direction of Branch Manager Eric Gracey and Nursery Superintendents Charlie Saunders at Morgan County and Joanna Davidson at John P. Rhody we have narrowed the gap in the past year and I am cautiously optimistic that we will eliminate more, if not all, of the deficit in the next fiscal year.

My point in addressing this subject at the present time stems from the fact that, as we approach Arbor Day, tree plantings and tree giveaways are popular events in many communities.  We are even planning to have one, as I have mentioned previously, at our headquarters in the Sower Building on April 7.

Since these annual celebrations are quite commonplace, it may come as a surprise that I have singled one out for special mention.  This is one that KDF participated in last year and we have been approached to be involved in it again this year.  It is the Ran Wild 5K Run/Walk and it will take place in Casey County on Earth Day, April 22.

What makes this event so special is that it is run in memory of Ransom-Wilder Elmore who died in infancy as the result of a prolapsed umbilical cord.  Not only did Ransom become the youngest organ donor in UK Hospital history, but his parents Cassy and Ronnie Elmore and their many friends wanted to do something special to perpetuate his memory.

Cassy is a teacher in the Lincoln County School System who in her words is “an endorser of environmental education with my students and the students that I come in contact with in my home county of Casey.”  It seems likely that this was the basis for determining that, not only would the Ran-Wild 5K be run on Earth Day and in Ransom’s memory, but, in addition to the traditional race souvenir of a t-shirt, each participant would receive a seedling grown at the KDF Morgan County Nursery.  Last year the seedlings were burr oak and KDF contributed one free seedling to go along with each one that the race organizers agreed to purchase.  In return we were listed as a race sponsor.

The tree promotion is a fantastic and unique feature of the race, but that is just the beginning.  The rest of the story, as Cassy explains, is that “the money raised this year will be put into the ‘Handsome’ Ransom Wilder Elmore Scholarship Fund and will be awarded to a senior from Casey County (our home county) and one from Lincoln County (my work county) who is pursuing a career with an interest in Science/Environment or a trade school.  We will be awarding AT LEAST two scholarships – one to a senior in each county – but MAY award more as well, it all depends on the $ raised.”

I have always felt that our nurseries have a greater impact on the Commonwealth that just providing seedlings for reforestation or Arbor Day festivities, but I think this is a classic example of the impact that this particular sector of KDF can have on education and environmental awareness in our state.

For those who may have an interest in participating, the link to the 5K race is: http://www.raceenrtry.com/races/ranwild-5k/2017/register

On an unrelated note, Branch manager Pam Snyder and I had the opportunity to attend the Kentucky Woodland Owners Association annual meeting this past Tuesday and Wednesday at Natural Bridge State Park and it was a very well-attended and informative event.

I want to extend my thanks to KWOA president Frank Hicks as well as Michael Thornberry at Powell Valley Millwork and Tom DeFilippo at H&S Hardwoods who hosted us for the industry tour.  I would also like to offer my congratulations to our own Josh Frazier who was recognized as the Service Forester of the Year.  Josh and wife FIA Forester Hailey are also to be congratulated on the birth of their daughter whose arrival almost trumped Josh’s appearance at the meeting.

Bill’s Bark and Bytes

During these days of tight budgets and the close attention that must be paid to every dollar that is being spent, it is not unreasonable to question whether or not every state and federal program serves a useful purpose or, for that matter, justifies its very existence.  One might ask that question about forestry in general or the multitude of diverse programs that the field encompasses.

One of the areas that has come under scrutiny from time to time and may well continue to do so is the tree nurseries.  It is no secret that these two facilities have not operated in the black for quite some time, if ever.  Under the direction of Branch Manager Eric Gracey and Nursery Superintendents Charlie Saunders at Morgan County and Joanna Davidson at John P. Rhody we have narrowed the gap in the past year and I am cautiously optimistic that we will eliminate more, if not all, of the deficit in the next fiscal year.

My point in addressing this subject at the present time stems from the fact that, as we approach Arbor Day, tree plantings and tree giveaways are popular events in many communities.  We are even planning to have one, as I have mentioned previously, at our headquarters in the Sower Building on April 7.

Since these annual celebrations are quite commonplace, it may come as a surprise that I have singled one out for special mention.  This is one that KDF participated in last year and we have been approached to be involved in it again this year.  It is the Ran Wild 5K Run/Walk and it will take place in Casey County on Earth Day, April 22.

What makes this event so special is that it is run in memory of Ransom-Wilder Elmore who died in infancy as the result of a prolapsed umbilical cord.  Not only did Ransom become the youngest organ donor in UK Hospital history, but his parents Cassy and Ronnie Elmore and their many friends wanted to do something special to perpetuate his memory.

Cassy is a teacher in the Lincoln County School System who in her words is “an endorser of environmental education with my students and the students that I come in contact with in my home county of Casey.”  It seems likely that this was the basis for determining that, not only would the Ran-Wild 5K be run on Earth Day and in Ransom’s memory, but, in addition to the traditional race souvenir of a t-shirt, each participant would receive a seedling grown at the KDF Morgan County Nursery.  Last year the seedlings were burr oak and KDF contributed one free seedling to go along with each one that the race organizers agreed to purchase.  In return we were listed as a race sponsor.

The tree promotion is a fantastic and unique feature of the race, but that is just the beginning.  The rest of the story, as Cassy explains, is that “the money raised this year will be put into the ‘Handsome’ Ransom Wilder Elmore Scholarship Fund and will be awarded to a senior from Casey County (our home county) and one from Lincoln County (my work county) who is pursuing a career with an interest in Science/Environment or a trade school.  We will be awarding AT LEAST two scholarships – one to a senior in each county – but MAY award more as well, it all depends on the $ raised.”

I have always felt that our nurseries have a greater impact on the Commonwealth that just providing seedlings for reforestation or Arbor Day festivities, but I think this is a classic example of the impact that this particular sector of KDF can have on education and environmental awareness in our state.

For those who may have an interest in participating, the link to the 5K race is: https://www.raceentry.com/race-reviews/ranwild-5k

On an unrelated note, Branch Manager Pam Snyder and I had the opportunity to attend the Kentucky Woodland Owners Association annual meeting this past Tuesday and Wednesday at Natural Bridge State Park and it was a very well-attended and informative event.

I want to extend my thanks to KWOA president Frank Hicks as well as Michael Thornberry at Powell Valley Millwork and Tom DeFilippo at H&S Hardwoods who hosted us for the industry tour.  I would also like to offer my congratulations to our own Josh Frazier who was recognized as the Service Forester of the Year.  Josh and wife FIA Forester Hailey are also to be congratulated on the birth of their daughter whose arrival almost trumped Josh’s appearance at the meeting.

Bill’s Bark and Bytes

Ever since I assumed my current position with KDF I looked with envy at those foresters and rangers who sported Carolina (ugh) blue on their shoes and longed for an initiation into the prestigious “Papa Smurf Club.”

By way of explanation, this past Tuesday I accompanied Forester Lisa Armstrong, Ranger David Hurt and Chief Forester Robert Bean to the Lose property in Breckinridge County for the purpose of marking the second stage of timber stand improvement on their scenic Ohio River-view property. The first half of this sixty-eight acre tract had been marked long enough ago that the treatment had already been completed.

To the uninitiated, timber stand improvement, known more commonly in forestry circles as TSI, in its simplest form amounts to removing undesirable vegetation from a particular tract of woodland.  In the case of the Lose property the main objectives were to remove damaged or cull trees, eliminate competition for both “crop” trees and oak regeneration and eradicate non-native or invasive species, which, in this case, consisted primarily of tree of heaven and paulownia.

The material destined for removal is marked with the aforementioned powder blue paint with one dot sprayed on trees less than five inches in diameter which are to be cut at the stump; an “x” on those trees which exceed the five inch diameter limit and will be girdled rather than felled and two dots on the invasive species indicating that they will receive basal-bark spraying with an approved herbicide mixed with blue dye to verify that the chemical has been applied.  Chemical is also to be applied to the stumps or girdles of the trees in the first two categories.

This procedure readily lends itself to self-decoration under ideal circumstances and, when any degree of wind is added to the equation, it quickly becomes evident as to why the Papa Smurf appellation can accurately describe one’s appearance after even a brief period of adorning the undesirable vegetation.

This particular stand provided another interesting challenge that has and will become an issue that numerous landowners both in and out of Kentucky will have to deal with.  Scattered throughout the entire acreage were a significant number of merchantable ash trees.  Since Breckinridge County is located on the western edge of those counties where the emerald ash borer has been detected, the ash trees in this particular stand showed virtually no evidence of damage, but, unless they are harvested within the next year, their value will be severely diminished.

With the foregoing in mind, Robert suggested to Lisa that she should consider discussing with the landowner the possibility of harvesting the ash before considering any other treatment alternatives.  This would involve a modification of the management plan but, from an economic standpoint as well as providing a means of escaping the inevitability of totally wasting a valuable resource, I am in complete agreement with Robert’s analysis.

In addition to having the opportunity to spend a third day in the field with Robert, this outing afforded me the opportunity to become better acquainted with two more of KDF’s long-standing employees.

This was, in all likelihood, the last chance that I would have to work with David Hurt as he plans to retire at the end of April after twenty years of service.  I could not help but respect the timing of David’s decision made to coincide, in his words, with the date that will give the division “ the most time between fire seasons” to determine how to compensate for his departure.

As for Lisa, it is hard for me to imagine anyone with more toughness or a greater desire to continue performing in her chosen field of endeavor.  This amazing lady is just getting back to full strength after having undergone hip replacement surgery and this on the heels of an earlier hip surgery and a knee replacement.  I personally cannot imagine the challenges she had to deal with in navigating treacherous terrain prior to having been bionically recreated.

So aside from feeling compelled to call ahead to prepare my wife for my altered appearance while encouraging her to have some paint thinner at the ready when I appeared, I am now waiting patiently to receive my membership card and attend my first official function as a fully initiated member of the Papa Smurf Club.

 

Bill’s Bark and Bytes

Last week I devoted almost an entire column to fire and I felt that was appropriate because we are currently in the midst of spring fire season.  I made mention of the fact that suppressing wildland fire is quite likely the most visible activity that we engage in.  This begs the question, does visibility necessarily imply importance in ranking the relative value of the services provided by KDF?

Without question fire is visible, it is tangible, but it is also destructive and expensive; both in terms of the cost of suppression and the devaluation of the resource – a number that UK researchers have computed to amount to some $404 per acre.

One of the less recognizable services provided by KDF, but one that has the potential to provide multiple benefits, both from a financial and an aesthetic perspective, is stewardship, sometimes referred to as our “flagship program.”

Since stewardship is not a term that is readily recognizable or as frequently used as fire, I decided that perhaps I should educate myself on its proper definition.  Webster defines it as “the activity or job of protecting or being responsible for something.”  Another definition states that it is “an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources.”  One final explanation is that it is a “theological belief that humans are responsible for the world, and should take care of it.”

Certainly one way to provide good stewardship is to protect the land from the devastating effects of fire, but, beyond that, what else does the realm of responsibility (note that this was a recurring theme in each definition) require?

To begin with, fire is not the only enemy of a healthy forest.  Most of us – yes even yours truly – are too young to have experienced the devastation that the chestnut blight wreaked on what was once possibly the most valuable and versatile species in the eastern woodlands, but we are just beginning to see how pervasive the damage caused by the emerald ash borer will ultimately be.

Not only can an “invasive species” cause irreparable damage to a major variety of tree species, but it can also have a far-reaching effect on the overall composition of the forest.

Foresters Katie Williams and Sarah Shewmaker were tasked with gathering FIA data in Floyd and Pike Counties last week and, with the mortality in the ash overstory, coupled with the proliferation of bush honeysuckle, a different type of invasive in the understory, Katie wondered with seemingly some justification if there was a basis for classifying some sylvan stands as other than forest.  The sad truth is that the honeysuckle may well crowd out any valuable species that, under more favorable circumstances, would regenerate to eventually replace the ash.

So forest health is definitely a component of stewardship and it will, almost without exception, be a point of emphasis in a stewardship plan.

Among the other topics that will typically be included in a discussion with a landowner who is interested in a stewardship plan are timber stand improvement; a harvest, complete with the marking of merchantable timber; wildlife habitat development; recreation and reforestation.

There are many challenges involved with first providing, and ultimately implementing, a stewardship plan.  Currently, approximately 30% of the total forested acreage of the Commonwealth is covered by a stewardship or management plan.  Of the remaining 70%, there are various reasons why a plan has never been developed.  Some could care less, some are absentee landowners who may not even know exactly what their ownership consists of, and some probably have never even heard of a stewardship plan.  To go one step further, just because a plan exists does not mean that it has or will be implemented and this can provide a real source of frustration to the service forester who has given a special effort and made it a source of pride to produce exactly the correct prescription that can deliver the most benefit to the land and its owner.

Once a stewardship plan has been completed the bulk of the responsibility belongs to the landowner.  In a perfect world every tract of forest land in Kentucky would have a stewardship plan and every plan would be implemented.  What, you might ask would be the ultimate outcome of such a utopian idea?  I would be so bold as to suggest that the forest products industry, which currently contributes nearly 14 billion dollars to the economy of the Commonwealth on an annual basis, would have such significant impact on the state’s bottom line that it might finally assume its rightful place in the same conversation with tobacco, bourbon and thoroughbreds whose combined gross sales it already surpasses.

Bill’s Bark and Bytes

I cannot speak for the rest of our KDF folks, but it seems to me that most of the conversations I am engaged in at this time of year, both during and outside of working hours, manage to get around to discussing a question or two related to fire.  The more I have become acquainted with people in Frankfort and as they have become aware of my line of work, the more likely it is that at some point our conversation will include a discussion on the latest fire news and conditions.  These conversations rarely make mention of such year round activities as stewardship, forest health, urban forestry, or nurseries but everyone is seemingly aware that KDF is the state’s number one line of defense when it comes to wildland firefighting.

With the foregoing in mind, and considering that we are now closing in on completing the first month of spring fire season, it seems only appropriate that the subject matter for this edition of the blog would have to focus on fire.

So far the spring fire season in Kentucky has had the benefit of just enough precipitation to provide breathers after each brief period of high fire incident days to allow us to control and extinguish all active fires and the prognosis for the future seems to point to a continuation of this pattern.

It was this likelihood of a continuing favorable weather pattern in Kentucky that provided acting Fire Chief James Wright, with input from other experienced firefighters, to make the determination when the South Central Compact was activated on March 7 for the state of Oklahoma, that Kentucky would be able to commit resources to the Sooner State without compromising its ability to address any situation that was likely to occur on the home front.

What followed was an incredible display of teamwork across the entire division.  In the space of ten hours or less, two dozers and transports, three type six engines, three additional pickups along with a task force leader, a public information officer, plus seven ranger technicians, a regional ranger  and two foresters  were packed and westward bound.

The situation in western Oklahoma is hard for me to fathom.  When I compare it to what seemed like a most significant fire season last fall when over 50,000 acres of Kentucky woodland burned during a ten week period it seems inconceivable that Oklahoma has a single fire that is currently engulfing nearly 700,000 acres.

My field activity for the week found me in Madison County where I witnessed an exercise that addressed two related topics – chain saw training and fireline maintenance.

This beautiful spring day found me in the Berea College forest in the company of Regional Ranger Matt Haywood, Ranger Strider Deaver, Forester Phil Horsley and Seasonal Transport Driver Stan Tipton.  Berea College currently has some 9,000 acres of woodland and in an effort to limit the spread of potential wildfire on its property, permanent firelines are maintained in areas where the proximity to a major highway increases appreciably the possibility of a human-ignited fire.

A major fire that had previously occurred in the area where we conducted our training exercise had created mortality to the extent that some downed trees had actually fallen across the existing fireline while other dead snags had the potential, if ignited, to fall and serve as a conduit to transfer flame across the line.  These two circumstances afforded an excellent opportunity for instruction on level one chain saw training that pertains to bucking up downed trees and level two training which is geared toward felling smaller standing trees.  A major component in the training, as in every aspect of wildland firefighting, focuses on using all of the proper protective equipment including chain saw chaps, something that sadly I rarely encountered in industry.

All of the above continues to provide proof that firefighting is a skill and, just like any talent that we may desire to become more proficient in, there is no substitute for gaining actual hands-on experience.  In my opinion Kentucky has some of the best wildland firefighters in the eastern US, the result of continuously gaining additional training and experience; and since there is little doubt that there will always be a demand for those who are qualified to engage in this pursuit, it remains the goal of KDF to utilize every opportunity to increase its overall skill level in every aspect of wildfire suppression.