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September, 2009

Gypsy Moth Defoliation Decreases Nearly 75 Percent in Virginia

The insect defoliated 29,048 acres in the Commonwealth, a substantial decrease from the 112,340 acres damaged in 2008.Annual figures are in, and officials with the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) say that the gypsy moth declined significantly this year. The insect defoliated 29,048 acres in the Commonwealth, a substantial decrease from the 112,340 acres damaged in 2008. Nearly 12,288 acres of defoliation occurred across the George Washington - Jefferson National Forest, much of it close to the West Virginia state line. An additional 7,473 acres affected Shenandoah National Park. Unlike last year, a majority of the defoliation was classified as “light.”

Wet weather is credited with reducing the impact in Virginia. VDOF Forest Health Specialist Dr. Chris Asaro said, “Gypsy moth caterpillars often succumb to disease caused by a fungus and a virus, especially when cool, wet weather occurs during their feeding period in May. In most areas of the state, precipitation occurred every few days during the spring, and the fungus thrived in these conditions.” Caterpillar mortality meant that there weren't mature caterpillars to feed on leaves, thereby reducing defoliation this year, and fewer adults to lay eggs for next year. Next year's defoliation levels could continue this downward trend.

While overall defoliation levels were lower, intense defoliation pressure in recent years has resulted in locally heavy mortality of oak trees. Some of the areas with the heaviest mortality include Giles, Roanoke, and Augusta counties. In southwest Roanoke County, the forests along Poor Mountain and Bent Mountain have been devastated by gypsy moth since 2005; thousands of acres of dead oak trees cover much of this landscape.

John Miller, VDOF's director of resource protection, said, “The fire danger in these areas is significantly greater due to the high number of dead trees. Over time, the large standing dead trees also create special dangers for our firefighters, making an already tough job even more dangerous.”

Your Forest - After You're Gone

Change may be inevitable, and forestland may change hands with succeeding generations, but that doesn't mean forestland has to be converted to development. With 10.1 million acres of Virginia's 15.4 million acres of woodland in the hands of 373,600 family forest landowners, the current generation must plan for the future of Virginia's landscape. That was the message from forestry officials at “Land Transfer to Generation NEXT,” a two-day estate-planning workshop.

Family forest landowners control nearly two-thirds of Virginia forests, and most of these owners are aged 55 years and older. “In the next 25 to 30 years, Virginia will see the largest intergenerational transfer of forestland in its history. The decisions landowners make now have a profound effect on the scenic beauty of the state, as well as for our environment to provide clean air and water,” said Mike Santucci, forest conservation specialist for VDOF. He added that 27,000 acres of forestland are converted annually, mostly due to commercial and residential development.

Few challenges that Virginia's family forest land owners face are more important than the issue of passing the family forest on to the next owners. Aging forest landowners, concerned that their legacy may be seen by heirs as a tax liability, may believe it to be inevitable that future generations will develop their forestland inheritance is inevitable. But proper estate planning can protect their wishes.

“You may use a will to transfer ownership of your property, but a will typically isn't enough to ensure that your goals and desires for the land will be maintained,” said Julie King, PLC, an estate-planning attorney in Charlottesville. “You should talk with your family about goals for your land. These are conversations you may want to avoid, but there is security in knowing your wishes will be carried out.” King also encouraged landowners to look at all their assets, and consider whether alternatives, such as organizing ownership as a trust or limited liability company, or placing their land in a conservation easement may better achieve their goals.

During the second day of the workshop, participants worked on estate-planning scenarios, gaining real-world experience to help them plan for the future of their property. The land use and development implications of the workshop earned it primetime coverage on NBC29 in Charlottesville and WVTF Public Radio in Blacksburg. Additional workshops are planned for the eastern and western parts of Virginia.

Prevention Specialist Honored for Smokey Bear Story book

The unique three-sided, freestanding format allows teachers to read the story of Smokey Bear on the back of the book as students view representative pictures on the opposite side. The story text and fire prevention messages are offered in  both English and Spanish.Finding ways to educate children about fire prevention is an ongoing challenge, and one VDOF employee came up with an innovative tool. Fred Turck, assistant director with the resource protection division, developed a Smokey Bear story book. The story book debuted as part of a National Campaign in celebration of Smokey's 65th birthday.

The unique three-sided, freestanding format allows teachers to read the story of Smokey Bear on the back of the book as students view representative pictures on the opposite side. The story text and fire prevention messages are offered in both English and Spanish.

Turck and several writers worked on the text and messages for the story, and Joe Kulka, an artist specializing in children's books, created the illustrations. The U.S. Forest Service honored Turck with a framed panel of original artwork by Kulka.

Teacher and student versions of the book can be purchased online at www.symbols.gov. Using the “Search” box, type in Item Numbers 99288 and 99289 to locate the books.















Investigator, Dog Recognized

Forestry Technician Brad Whittington and his tracking dog, Summer, receive a certificate of appreciation at the Virginia Outdoors Sportsmen's Show.The VDOF Arson Investigation Team is well-practiced in tracking down those who intentionally start fires. The Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance recently recognized those crime-detecting skills.

The alliance presented Forestry Technician Brad Whittington and his tracking dog, Summer, with a certificate of appreciation at the Virginia Outdoors Sportsmen's Show. The certificate recognizes the efforts of Whittington and Summer who tracked a man now charged with first-degree murder in the commission of a rape in Mecklenburg County two months ago.  Whittington and Summer were called in about 36 hours after a woman was reported missing. After picking up a scent from the steering wheel in the woman's abandoned car, Summer tracked the scent nearly 2 miles - right to the suspect's home.

During the awards ceremony, the presenter called Whittington a “true American hero.”